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What If Jay-Z and the Black Elite Modeled Shame Resilience?

Updated: Nov 28


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Shame, (the use of the term and the felt emotion), it seems to me that it jumped out of that Jay-Z clip everybody is talking about (if that's even him).


I wasn’t going to talk about it because others have said what needs to be said. Plus, outrage sells, and I’m trying to mind my own business and not have anybody raise my blood pressure. Including celebrities who are paid and flourishing, as I sit here and talk about them for free, unpaid. But here we are, jumping on the bandwagon, late to the game as always.


I start this by saying it is not clear, at least not to my understanding, if it’s been confirmed whether that was actually Jay-Z in that clip or not.


We can’t see his face, and though the voice sounds like his, there are also impersonators who also sound like him too. I’m sure it is him, but a part of me is still in denial that he is still stuck in that narrative. I want to believe that he’s evolved in a way that gets us to creatively think of new solutions, rather than getting stuck in the same conversations of calling him out and in. It’s easier to think someone is impersonating him.


But alas, reality. (No judgment. I’m stuck too in many ways so, there’s that). If it is him, I won’t say what others have already said. “Read a book,” others have said. “You can’t be a revolutionary and a capitalist at the same time,” said Black Twitter. “Huey would never!” people said, repulsed. “Do you even know the history of Black revolutionaries,” others have questioned? It’s been said. I won’t recreate the wheel.


Instead, I’m interested in how emotions show up and what it’s doing to us, both Hov and us as listeners.

 

I study shame, so that’s the specific emotion that I want to address. How did it move Jay-Z to say what he said? How did shame move us, as the audience, to respond? Because whether we like it or not, shame was present in that Twitter space, and it leaped out all over us.


In staying in my lane, I ask, “what if Jay-Z and other so-called, “Black elites,” the “1%,” the rich and wealthy, the billionaires (also looking at you millionaires), the real-life bourgeoisie (with nothing petite about them), the “upper class,” or “capitalists,” call them what you will, what if instead of the defensiveness and projected animosity back at us, they modeled for us how to build what Brené Brown calls, “shame resilience?”


Dr. Brené Brown (2011) defined shame resilience as “the ability to recognize shame, to move through it constructively while maintaining worthiness and authenticity, and to ultimately develop more courage, compassion, and connection as a result of our experience” (p. 4). Brown suggests that building shame resilience requires us to talk about our shame. Not just to share it with others, but to understand for ourselves why shame happens. Assess the stories we give to our shame, and make sense of the meanings we create to ascribe it.


What would it have looked like if Jay-Z were to instead of talking about how he gets shamed for being a capitalist, were to recognized his shame in being caught up in capitalism as a Black boy who made it out of the hood? What would it have looked like for him to move through that shame constructively with us, while still maintaining “worthiness” and “authenticity” as Brené Brown suggests?


Would his message have landed differently for us? Would it have created more connections? I don’t know. It’s just a hypothesis and question I’m asking myself as a shame researcher.


Because as a poor Black woman who has dreams of accumulating enough resources and wealth so I can generate intergenerational wealth for myself, my lineage, and the different communities who raised me, both abroad and here, I can keep it real about how my own shame and financial trauma shows up when I’m having these conversations. I’m honest that it’s shame that has me critiquing people like Jay-Z the way I do, not just books and facts. I can’t always separate bitterness that rears its head. Nor can I disavow the disgust and resentment I feel sometimes toward the rich. To act like these emotions don’t show up is dishonest. Even if I’m engaging in an intellectual conversation that is not emotional per se.


But that’s just it, there is no binary between logic and emotion. Reason and rationality operate within an affective economy. I can say that shame comes up for me even as I reach for some of those same things that I have an issue with. It’s complicated. I’m complex. We know this.

 

But other than people like Laverne Cox, Oprah, and others who talk freely and openly about shame and vulnerability, so rarely do I ever see folks in Jay-Z’s position keep it real about how they negotiated messy emotions on their way up, or even right now to date.


It reminds me of when Kim Kardashian said that “nobody wants to work anymore” thing. It’s a simple statement loaded with lots of historical and socio-political meaning that we needed to unpack. But there was a force filled with emotions behind that statement, at least for me. As a highly sensitive person, there was a lot of emotion in that clip, as subjective as emotions are. What I read as one emotion might be completely different for another person looking in from the outside. I spoke about this in the last post on fear.


She seemed disgusted that “nobody wants to work anymore”. There was, in my opinion, bitterness and resentment that is uncomfortable to admit. Which is why people felt the darts in the statement, for those who know what darts even are. It's uncomfortable for any of us to be real about the complicated emotions we feel and sense within and around us.


It makes you look like a bad person to say, “you know what, I resent that I’m busting my ass and you all are laying around resting at home." "I’m jealous that I don’t have the luxury of not working." (she does). "I hate that you get to be lazy while I grind my ass off.” That’s what was communicated without her ever saying it. Because words carry emotions that we decode and give meaning to.


We all know we can’t be honest about our emotions fully, never mind celebrities who are held on a pedestal.


Hardly ever do these celebrities name their shame. This is why I love when Laverne Cox goes live on Instagram and talks about it. But it’s also uncomfortable that it’s the Black feminists, trans, non-binary, and queer celebrities that are pushing these uncomfortable conversations forward. Most think it's self-sabotage. Cringe. Not worth losing money over. Terrible for public persona. Emotional manipulation. Yuck. Gross. Not. Emotions.


 

Instead, they do like the dominant classes do and project it back to us.


They do like Brené Brown says, and “fight shame with shame.” They punch down and shame poor people instead. “NoBoDy WaNtS tO WorK aNyMoRe,” says Kim. “WhAt ArE yOu DoInG fOr ThE mOvEmEnT,” Jay-Z asks. Petty. But to be clear, we all are to some extent. It’s just that those with money and power will always win the pettiest award. Always.


But is that what we want if we call ourselves revolutionaries? Is fighting shame with shame what will get us forward? I ask knowing damn well I engage too. But I don’t have the same platform Jay-Z has. I don’t have billions of dollars to enact real change. I’m not in the room. I don’t even have a room to call my own. So yes, I got some questions for you, sir.


What if you paused and worked through (with us or not) how us shaming you informs how you approach the work you do. Does the shame motivate you more? Does it annoy and irritate you? Does that shame make you hate poor people even more? Does it make you want to distance yourself from us even more? How is shame honestly moving you and subconsciously getting you to move in this world? Call me nosey, but as a shame researcher, I want to know.


Because how billionaires are negotiating their shame (or not) affects all of us. The shame likely trickles down if you aren’t willing to face it. It gets projected onto us like white shame gets projected onto Black bodies as Jack Halberstam’s work says.

 

Can we just start talking openly and honestly about what shame is doing to us, because it is doing something to us, which is, what shame is meant to do, separate and divide us. If we want to move together and toward each other, we need to get real about the emotions that distance us. We need people like Jay-Z to be more transparent about his emotional work, if he even does any at all.


I’ll go first.


I feel survivor’s guilt for wanting to move up in my career. Those ahead of me certainly must have grappled with it too, no? When did guilt show up for you? What did it make you want to do? How did you silence it? Did you address it at all, or like grief and other difficult emotions, did you push it away, repress, and numb it in overwork? No judgement.


But billionaires acting stoic. Like they don’t feel or struggle with emotions like shame, it's doing us all a disservice. It’s not helping anybody. Jay-Z and Kim Kardashian are in their bags, we get it. But clearly, there are some hurt feelings too. They are in their feelings too. They are humans. Emotions don’t just avoid celebrities and billionaires. They do a lot of work to keep them at bay, which is a topic I’ll be posting about shortly.


 

Jay-Z talks in that clip about making it out of the Marcy Projects. He talks about what it was like for him, how many people were living in one unit. He knows firsthand what poverty is like, more than people like myself even. Therefore, he was critiquing the system too. He knows its flawed. Set up to make us lose. He talks about it in the clip.


So logically then, transitioning into being in the same rooms as those he used to talk shit about, or critiqued, that must have been jarring, probably still is. Sir, (and I don’t mean his son), we need you to talk about that instead, or in addition. That would be the more productive conversation.


This nonsense clip did not push the needle forward. It only served to divide us.


Be vulnerable with us. Tell the truth about how you feel shamed while still being proud of your accomplishments. Some of us can’t be the only one talking about our shame and shaming you all for it too. If you’re going to shame us right back, at least keep it real about how you also feel shame too. It doesn’t make sense otherwise. You lose us as an audience. We can’t connect. It’s not relatable. It just triggers and pisses us off, and makes us angry and irate. You only come off as more of a sell-out. We trust you less. It’s annoying.


Do I come off as an angry hater? Most likely. But at the risk of being misunderstood, we have to speak anyway, Audre Lorde said this.


See all the emotions that I’m naming. That’s not me being an angry Black woman. That’s me being a grown-ass woman and naming the emotions that show up and asking others to also openly communicate their emotions so we can both/all have an honest dialogue.


It’s not by force, but won’t you try?


Because when we don’t name the emotions that show up, it only takes power over us. We start getting passive-aggressive. Taking digs. Hitting below the belt. Fight shame with shame. The message gets lost. And ironically, we get in our feelings. Which is why it’s important to name and know what emotions show up. To identify any that postponed, derail, or collapse the efforts we’re making.


Knowing what emotions show up helps us to regulate them. We can consciously pick and choose what shows up. We can use logic and ration to transmute what isn’t helpful. Put aside what’s destructive. Invite what generates ideas.


 

I do all of these things.


I pay attention to how shame distances me from others. I literally studied how shame got in my way and now I barely have any friends and can’t connect with people. That’s the whole point of shame. Of my dissertation. Emotions like shame will separate and divide us if we’re not more knowledgeable about what they do to us.


I’m sitting in the real-life aftermath of just how powerful emotions are in moving us away from one another. There are affective costs to the work we do. Speak on that too. More financial literacy, yes. And emotional intelligence too. Because as I’m sure he already knows, emotions are relational and move his audience toward or away from him. Which is likely why he said exactly what he said.


I’m going to end it here and record part two because I have more written down that I want to address. Stay tuned.


Until next time, in solidarity.

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