Rapper Jay-Z delivered a thoughtful assessment of President Donald Trump’s now-infamous “shithole” remarks in an interview with CNN’s Van Jones that aired Saturday, describing them as “disappointing” and “hurtful.” The hip-hop legend also pointed out that Trump’s touting of the black unemployment rate doesn’t erase his treatment of the black community. “Money doesn’t equate to happiness. It doesn’t. That’s missing the whole point,” he said.
The president on Sunday morning hit back at Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, in a tweet bringing up the black unemployment rate. “Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!” he wrote.
Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2018
Van Jones did exactly that on Saturday night.
Jay-Z did call Trump a “superbug.” He also noted he is a human being.
Jay-Z discussed a wide range of issues in the premiere of The Van Jones Show aired Saturday on CNN, including his family, the #MeToo movement, and, of course, President Trump. He was critical of the president but also at least made attempts to put himself in his shoes.
Trump earlier this month sparked controversy when he made racist remarks in an immigration meeting, referring to Haiti, El Salvador, and some African countries — nations populated by black and Latino people — as “shithole” countries he didn’t want immigrants from. Jay-Z said the remarks were “hurtful” and “misinformed” but added that they’re a symptom of a greater problem in America.
“You are so misinformed because these places have beautiful people and beautiful everything. It’s just this is the leader of the free world speaking like this. But on the other side, this has been going on. This is how people talk. This is how they talk behind closed doors,” he said, mentioning Donald Sterling, the former Los Angeles Clippers owner who was caught on tape making racist comments. Sterling was banned from the NBA, which Jay-Z described as spraying “perfume on the trash can,” essentially sweeping the broader problem of racism in America under the rug. And that, he said, is how you arrive at Trump:
You don’t take the trash out, you keep spraying whatever over it to make it acceptable. As those things grow, you create a superbug. And then now we have Donald Trump, the superbug.
But, he added, the president is also a human being. “Somewhere along his lineage, something happened to him. Something happened to him and he is in pain, and he is expressing it in this sort of way,” he said.
About that unemployment rate
The black unemployment rate reached 6.8 percent in December, the lowest recorded rate since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began breaking down the numbers by race in the 1970s. (The overall unemployment rate is 4.1 percent.) Trump has repeatedly touted low black unemployment and taken credit for it, but the truth is it’s not really about him.
“Trump has had nothing to do with the decline in African-American jobless rates, or any other group’s rates,” Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, told Vox’s P.R. Lockhart recently. “He’s completely riding a trend he inherited.”
The unemployment rate among African Americans is indeed at a low point but it’s a continuation of an eight year trend that has little or nothing to do with @realDonaldTrump. pic.twitter.com/fSJKLamxcM— Ben White (@morningmoneyben) January 28, 2018
Unemployment among black Americans has been declining steadily after approaching 17 percent in 2011, in the wake of the financial crisis, and dropped by nearly 6 points, to 7.8 percent from 13.7 percent, during President Barack Obama’s second term. As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump points out, the prior lowest black unemployment rate came in April 2000, following the economic boom of the 1990s under President Bill Clinton.
Jones on Saturday noted that, whatever the cause, unemployment among black Americans is lower under Trump, to which Jay-Z responded that, frankly, given consistent evidence of Trump’s racism, it doesn’t really matter. “It’s not about money at the end of the day. Money is not, money doesn’t equate to happiness. It doesn’t,” he said. “That’s missing the whole point. You treat people like human beings, then that’s the main point.”
If Trump wants people to think he’s not racist, he might want to stop targeting black people
President Trump has developed a pattern of lashing out at black public figures — athletes, celebrities, and so on — while at the same time overlooking some of his white detractors. He has attacked or picked fights with Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry, ESPN anchor Jemele Hill, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, outspoken basketball father LaVar Ball, and, of course, President Obama. He called Kaepernick a “son of a bitch” at an Alabama rally last fall, and he propelled himself to the White House, in part, by questioning Obama’s place of birth. He has repeatedly railed against black NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence.
Meanwhile, Trump has often let slide some of the white figures who criticize him. While he lashed out at Jay-Z on Sunday, he’s said nothing of white rapper Eminem, who has been publicly bashing him for weeks. And while he’s targeted Curry, he’s said nothing of his coach, Steve Kerr, who decided that his team wouldn’t visit the White House to celebrate their NBA championship and has criticized Trump. Trump has never reacted to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who last year called him a “soulless coward,” either.
Whether Trump himself harbors racist sentiment, or whether he just knows it’s a way to harness white resentment and rally his base, is unclear, but at some point, it doesn’t really matter anymore. And so he has again picked a fight with another black figure: Jay-Z.