The notion that super-woke Black culture had canceled Jay-Z was challenged when the “business, man” who was lambasted for partnering with the NFL in the name of “entertainment and social justice” seemed to finally make strides in those departments during Super Bowl LIV in Miami on Sunday night.
Jay-Z got immediate push-back when he announced his deal back in August and said he had “moved past kneeling,” a comment that many people saw as a derisive jab to Colin Kaepernick’s silent protest against police brutality and its countless unarmed Black victims. But from the very start of the Super Bowl, Jay, without saying one word, introduced a new element to the controversy that may have made folks reconsider their stances toward his efforts as a member of the NFL family. By the time halftime had ended, it was clear that Jay was playing chess where many others were anticipating a quick game of checkers.
News outlets seemed to lose their collective mind when they broke the news that Jay, his wife Beyonce and their daughter Blue Ivy remained seated during the singing of the national anthem before the Super Bowl’s kickoff. A video of celebrity trio decidedly not standing quickly went viral, prompting some of the most outrageously nationalistic insults to be aimed at the Carter family.
At once, Jay had confronted two of the most divisive topics surrounding pro football — patriotism and racism — and completely snubbed both, something that could arguably be construed as making a forceful point on social justice that many were hoping he’d be more vocal about all along.
As it turned out, ironically, the brilliant rapper who has made millions from flawlessly putting words together didn’t even need to utter one single syllable in order to hammer home his apparent true feelings about Kaepernick’s kneeling protest that many thought he had dismissed months earlier. In fact, the symbolism of not just him but his immediate family firmly planted in their seats perhaps spoke louder than anything he could have ever said.
Up until that point, Jay had gotten skewered by critics who had chastised him for things like a questionable NFL public service announcement ahead of the Super Bowl that seemed to exploit the police death of Botham Jean for the league’s own personal gain of trying to repair a tarnished image. But if Jay and his family’s defiant act of sitting for the anthem wasn’t good enough for skeptics, the Super Bowl halftime show — which he and his Roc Nation management company were tasked with producing — should have convinced the doubters of Jay’s intentions for his NFL role.
(Never mind that it wasn’t too long ago that Jay and Roc Nation had begun to establish itself outside of entertainment as a bastion of civil rights through the likes of helping to clear an 11-year-old arrested for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in his 6th-grade classroom in Florida; aiding in the release of rapper 21 Savage from immigration detention; assisting in the so-called “hoodie arrest” case in Tennessee in which prosecutors dropped charges against two Black men who were racially profiled; and helping to get rapper Meek Mill released from prison after spending nearly five months incarcerated after a controversial sentence for probation violation. Jay also produced a six-part documentary about the life and troubling death of Kalief Browder, a young man who committed suicide after spending three traumatic years on Rikers Island, New York City’s most notorious jail. But we digress…)
Choosing Jennifer Lopez and Shakira to perform at halftime was not a popular one with the Black community when it was announced. Many said they wanted to see an act that was more pro-Black and would make a pronounced statement on social justice, and the popular belief was that Lopez and Shakira were decidedly not that. Boy, were they wrong.
Instead of the duo being pro-Black, they were pro-immigrant, two topics that turn off the type of MAGA football fans who cheered on President Donald Trump after he called Kaepernick a “sonofabitch” for kneeling. They sang songs in Spanish and featured non-American born performers (except J-Lo) who waved flags that were not American and danced ethnic dances that didn’t align with the so-called all-American football values that the professional game especially espouses.
One of those dances also happened to be very African. When Shakira sang her hit song, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” she performed the Champeta dance which, Okay Africa noted, is a “musical genre that originated from the African descendants of Colombia’s coastal regions, including Barranquilla, where the singer is from.” Shakira also performed the Mapalé, another Afro-Colombian dance, during the show.
In other words, Jay-Z’s choice of performers along with his decision to sit for the national anthem contributed to an uncomfortable environment for many people who just wanted to see a good game (they saw that, too). Jay’s actions and inactions alike disrupted the Super Bowl’s status quo and force-fed different notions of social justice than what many have become accustomed to expecting. And that is no small feat.
Is there still more work for Jay to do? Of course. There are very few Black head coaches in the NFL and racism still runs rampant in franchise’s front offices, among other problems in the league. But for having only been in the job for fewer than a half-year and to yield these results is nothing to sneeze at and hints at the type of seismic change Jay could make with just a little more time to hone his approach.
In the meantime, the Super Bowl (the game and the halftime show) was a raging success, proving once again that Jay will not lose because, as he said, “for even in defeat there’s a valuable lesson learned, so it evens up for me.”