Must We State the Obvious?

So Jay Z launched this week, his new music streaming service. I poked around a little. It looks like a haven for music lovers. For a fee you can gorge yourself on whatever genre of music you want, and apparently you’ll be able to access exclusive content from artists as well.

My beef came yesterday morning as I drove to the train. I habitually flip through my favorite stations on the off chance they’ll actually play a song rather than talk, and Jay Z was the topic of discussion. Some rapper/artist-type person — I don’t know who because his comment got on my nerves and I immediately turned on a CD — offered this opinion: I think it’s a great (or something along those lines) thing because as a businessman, as a black business man; that’s when I turned him off.

Why must we always qualify everything with race? I understand that in certain situations it’s appropriate. First black female CEO, unfortunate, but I get it. First Mexican to win the Academy Award for best director, also unfortunate, but again, I get it. Firsts are notable. They’re memorable. The details are relevant. But it’s not always about a first. So, why point out the obvious? 

Everyone already knows Jay Z is black.

He looks black. His wife is black. His baby’s black. If that wasn’t enough of a clue, most members of his entourage are black, as are many of the artists he works with and promotes. Also, he’s a hip-hop legend. Hip-hop began as a black-dominated music genre.

It reminds me of how quickly people are to qualify a successful woman’s statements by reminding everyone she’s female. As though under those circumstances, her accomplishments are even more significant. As though, she, heavy on the pronoun, is beginning at a loss and managed to overcome it.

In addition to being black, Jay Z is also a phenomenal business man. He’s a hit-maker on and off the charts — the Barclay Center, the basketball team, the music (his and others), the clothing label, the HP ads. That’s the fact to lead with on the Tidal story — Jay Z is a phenomenal businessman; let’s see what he does with this latest venture.

How is anyone going to judge an individual on merit, individual performance or any other defining characteristic besides race if we start every conversation about a successful minority with, ta-da, race?

Let’s stop qualifying minority success. It’s limiting, another way to minimize or to discredit, to call out as special for a reason that is not in fact special. Let’s stop immediately feeling the need to remind everyone that a successful female executive or black businessman is female or black. It’s not helping. Just the opposite, I think.

The goal is to — as Shonda Rhimes says — normalize, rather than simply diversify.

Diversity is. It’s here. It’s undeniable. Now what we want to do is work on inclusion, and a big part of that is to get past the face and color and breasts, and focus on the person. Jay Z the businessman and music mogul, not simply a black man who made good.