Jay Z’s Open Letter to African-Americans and The Privilege of Experiences

“Take your drug money and buy the neighborhood. That’s how you rinse it….”

Jay Z


If there is one thing that has given successful people enough room to excel and become what we see them as, it has to be to the credit of their failures. Failure gives them experiences – of how many times a thing would have to be done before it is perfected, of how not to do a thing and expect a certain result. Experience is a thing that only you can fully understand and that could be a rare privilege.


For every fine records that Beyoncé made and the goodness of her lyrics, credit is owed to the sad days when all was not well. Experiences could make us prepare better for the future. It is one of the reasons parents send their children to school or to get ample skills so they can lead better lives than what they lived.  It is the reason organizations are formed to prevent helpless states. It is the reason we are doing everything to leave the world better than we met it.


I am a Nigerian. I live in Nigeria. I have been in Nigeria all my life but for some rare travels. Most of what I have come to know about African-Americans, the culture, the livings and struggles are from the literature I have read. The books I have read and the movies have informed me of these experiences – whether it is a Spike Lee movie or the poetry of LKJ and I can swear that it is not same as having direct encounter with the forces that have been. But no one wants direct encounter with any demon. The smartest people learn from others. Experiences are expensive. If the African-American community has seen bad representations, then that has informed most of what you would be reading today.  


In The Story of O.J, Jay Z talked about a lot of issues that plague African-Americans, of names and adjective given to distinguish folks. Field nigger. Home nigger. Law nigger. Superstar nigger. Sadly, what they see is a nigger, not whatever affixes used. However, the prominent part of Jay’s letter is of a piece of art he got for a million dollars. There was a growth the next year. It increased to two and then 8. He says in the song that he’d have something to give to his children – something priceless – not just the piece of art but the idea that a work of art is worth much and his children can learn from that and either pursue a career in the arts or just learn to invest wisely.


He asked a question about the Jews, how they control so much in America and why Blacks do not, even with the privilege of experiences – and the growth over time. I am sure that Jay means exactly what has been on my mind. When a Mayweather gets some cool millions, he goes to get a new sports car. The white people build institutions. They built the Oscars and grade you based on their established rules so that even when you are good, you do not believe that you are good enough unless you have been validated with a plaque.


Acquisition of expensive items, mostly liabilities, has been one of the ways Blacks seek validation in a white-dominated society. It is felt that when one appears in all the gold in the world that he reeks of some fineness but your appearance has little to do with years of mental condition, of how the Black man is seen, as a consumer and not a creator. These thoughts may not be all true but Blacks have not fared nicely with money – little investments. There is a need for total overhaul of what we think that money can do – as much as it can buy the flashy things, it can send lots of children to college too so they can be responsible for themselves and it can set up institutions that would shape generations.


Blacks have been in America since the 16th century. It was recently that the black community decided on a history museum, a place where the sweat and contributions of blacks can be recorded exclusively. This singular act would rewrite a lot in history, so that when younger black children grow up and ask questions, they would not just see images on the internet, but they would have an encounter with a Mohammed Ali, see the gloves he boxed with. They could have an interaction with Michael Jackson and see his shoes, his jackets and all.


Investment in things that appreciate and bring returns is one part young black people must be familiar with. You cannot live rich and die broke and extend generations of broke people. You can do a lot with your wealth. You can sponsor conferences of Black Arts, of technologies and improved world powered by black intelligent minds.  It is not late. A lot more can be done. This should be a wake-up call to take money a bit seriously.  

Bura-Bari Nwilo lives in Nigeria. He is the author of A Tiny Place Called Happiness – a book of short stories.  – @BuraBariNwilo on Twitter

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