Trump Misunderstands Jay-Z and the Black Community

The president’s tweet directed at the rapper shows that he still doesn’t grasp the actual issues black Americans are struggling with.

Kevork Djansezian / Reuters

Capitalism has worked out really well for Jay-Z. So well, in fact, that he recently dedicated an entire song to promoting capitalism as a tool of black empowerment. But even with promises of lowered taxes, and financial incentives for the wealthy—things that a wealthy capitalist should in theory love— Sean “Jay-Z” Carter still doesn’t think that President Trump is doing that much good for the black community.

In an interview with the CNN* host Van Jones on Saturday, Jones brought up reports that Trump referred to a number of countries, including many in Africa, as “shithole countries” and then asked if it was okay  for Trump to “say terrible things but put money in our pockets.” Carter unequivocally said no, adding “it’s not about money at the end of the day. Money doesn’t equate to happiness. It doesn’t. That’s missing the whole point.”

Trump took umbrage at the remarks, tweeting, “Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!” As I’ve written before, Trump touting the black unemployment rate ignores some crucial context about the economy: First, the black unemployment rate has been dropping for the past eight years. Trump has only been president for one of them. Second, even at 6.8 percent, the black unemployment rate remains nearly twice as high as that of whites.

Trump’s response to Carter confirms precisely what the rapper was trying to say in the first place—that the president fundamentally misunderstands the aims of the black capitalism and the needs of the black community. Jay-Z, and many before him, have espoused capitalism and economic empowerment as a means to an end: racial equality. Being rich is a secondary benefit to the power, stability, and peace of mind that money can provide in a country that has forced blacks into poverty and segregation.

The president seems to think that a record-low unemployment rate for black Americans is a demonstration of how much he—Donald Trump himself—is improving the lives of black Americans, despite the fact that there’s no evidence that the decline is the result of his policies or leadership. But black Americans still earn significantly less than their white counterparts, even with similar levels of education. Their wealth is still around 13 times less. They are more likely to live in poverty and in poor housing conditions. They are more likely to be imprisoned, seriously hampering their earning potential for the rest of their lives. Those are all issues that Trump’s policies don’t even begin to tackle. And that’s to say nothing of persistent inequalities in other critical areas such as health care, mortality, and police violence.

Trump has frequently been criticized for his misreading of black America. He has talked constantly and inaccurately about the plight of black people living in “inner cities.” He has misrepresented his level of support in the black community. His tweet referencing Jay-Z is just the latest in an ongoing pattern of publicly feuding with prominent black Americans who don’t support him. Again and again, Trump has displayed an inability to grasp the actual problems that black Americans must contend with, and the fact that his policies do virtually nothing to address them.

*This article previously stated that Van Jones is a host on MSNBC. He is a host on CNN. We regret the error.