Interrogating Interest Convergence: Jay-Z, the NFL, and the Lives of Black Folk

Jay-Z is America’s favorite Black capitalist. He rests as the pentacle of a favorable Black American dream: a Hustler (note the capital H) to a millionaire, Beyonce’s husband, a reformed cheater, an advocate for the black community. If you just heard a record scratch in your head when reading the phrase an advocate for the black community, then you’re likely not alone.

Jay announced on August 13th that he was teaming up with the NFL for a social justice initiative. Vague in the announcement, we were left with a video of Jay-Z at a press conference on a room full of white men, presumably NFL affiliates, asking everyone if they knew what the cause of Colin Kapernick’s protests were. Every person answered, “Police brutality.” Then, Jay-Z said it was time to take on an actionable item (this is all my paraphrasing, peep the direct receipts here).

Never mind that Colin Kapernick was not involved in this actionable agenda Jay was vaguely speaking of – that in of itself is complex, considering Colin did receive a settlement from the NFL. However, as many of us waited sans baited breath and instead many a side-eye for Jay to drop what was supposed to be the most fire social justice initiative the NFL has ever signed onto, there was a doubtful energy looming amongst the subsequent headlines.

Apart of the complexity of this matter rests in the identity politics at play. Jay-Z loves money. He speaks on this love frequently and has been known to use his wealth for the advancement of the Black people. So, why team up with the NFL to create the Inspire Change initiative? All Inspire Change offers to do is sell merchandise with proceeds benefitting organizations that inspire change. Yet, one of these organizations – Chicago’s Crushers Club – appears to be even more problematic than this whole situation. From stating All Lives Matter to cutting off a young man’s dreadlocks and saying this was a sign of his change and forward progression, this isn’t exactly the first Chicago-based organization I would think should be pocketing money.

On the flip side, wonderful black artists who regularly engage in meaningful work like Meek Mill, Vic Mensa, and Rapsody have signed on to either perform at the free Inspire Change concert and/or mentor youth. To provide a quick recap: Jay-Z partners with racist organization who blackballed Colin Kapernick from having a job to promote social justice in an initiative that sells clothing and donates subsequent proceeds to organizations doing “meaningful” work like cutting off a young black man’s dreads in the name of personal advancement but is also partnering up with wonderful Black artists who are consistently engaging in transformative. What gives?

This is something called interest convergence. Interest convergence is a Critical Race Theory term used to better understand the deep-rooted strategies of structural oppression. In short, interest convergence is when a dominant party (dominant meaning they hold more social power) provides the target party (target meaning they are oppressed and are systemically targeted by the dominant party) with resources, support, or some form of measurable power for the betterment of the dominant party’s image. In interest convergence situations, the dominant party is always benefitting more than the target party, however the target party is also reaping some benefits.

To apply this to Jay-Z, the NFL, and the associated parties, think of the NFL as the dominant party or the oppressor. They hold a large amount of social power through their organization and the supporters of their organization. Jay-Z and, well, Black people, are the target party. Black folk hold a large amount of social power as well – don’t get me wrong – but politically speaking, it is disproportionately less than the NFL’s. Jay-Z is a Black person directly benefitting financially from this partnership, along with affiliated artists who are likely being compensated for their performances, and the message of social impact is being broadcasted. Sounds pretty good, right? Wrong. The Crusher’s Club mess stands as one of the cracks that often appears when interest convergence is at play. Crusher’s Club clearly as an agenda of their own, one that is palatable to the conservative, heterosexual, white male agenda of the NFL. This actionable agenda feels like another charity-driven ploy to line the pockets of the NFL – similar to their Breast Cancer Awareness Initiative where only 8% of the proceeds went towards breast cancer research.

Some may say any awareness and money benefitting Black-focused social justice initiatives can be seen as a positive. But, read the fine print and maintain a skeptical mind. All that glitters isn’t gold, the black man is getting paid but best believe he is still sleeping in the master’s house.

To learn more about Critical Race Theory, consider purchasing a copy of Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. Through purchasing the book via the linked website, you are supporting a Black-owned business!