When Colin Kaepernick sat out the National Anthem in silence to protest police brutality, he knew that he ran the risk of others speaking for him. Unfortunately, many of the voices that rose to fill the void he purposely left have been more interested in co-opting his message or in magnifying the man over the mission. Fortunately for Colin, one of those voices belongs to one of the biggest rappers in hip-hop.
As Jay-Z took to the Saturday Night Live stage to perform “Bam” and “4:44,” he wore a customized jersey emblazoned with the number 7 and “Colin K,” a clear reference to the deposed NFL star, but besides standing in solidarity with the former Super Bowl quarterback, Jay’s wardrobe decision lent all the weight of his cultural authority to Kaepernick’s protest.
It was no empty gesture to show so-called “unity” — we have had more than enough of those. Instead, the jersey signaled that Kap had a powerful ally — not just on the field, or safely sequestered in a recording booth, but in the halls of power, where Jay’s corporate connections come into play, despite the lyrics from “The Story Of OJ,” his song that almost directly correlates to Kaepernick’s present standing in the public’s perception.
“Light n*gga, dark n*gga, faux n*gga, real n*gga / Rich n*gga, poor n*gga, house n*gga, field n*gga / Still n*gga…”
Jay-Z knows, perhaps better than any other supporter of Colin Kaepernick, the injustices and indignities imposed on minority citizens by law enforcement; not only are his own encounters with law almost religiously documented through his own music, but he has personally financed the documentary Time: The Kalief Browder Story, and written his own extensive critique of the exploitative jail system that effectively places a ransom on members of the poorest population for the slightest offenses.
So he is no average celebrity caught up in the wave of hype surrounding the kneeling protest of the National Anthem; he’s been in the fight for years. The difference between a Jay-Z co-sign and, say, Cardi B’s or J. Cole’s is that Shawn Corey Carter is one of the most wealthy and recognizable public figures in the world, and his statement took place in one of the most mainstream outlets in America.