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Watch: Does Beyonce’s ‘I Was Here’ Work Challenge Belafonte’s Criticism?

On August 19, Beyoncé released a video capturing her recent performance at the U.N. in celebration of humanitarian workers. To honor their volunteer efforts, Beyoncé sang “I Was Here” from her last album 4 at the U.N. building in New York City to promote World Humanitarian Day and hopefully inspire millions of new volunteers to aid those in need across the world. I wrote about how this emotional song made me cry like a baby when I watched her rendition during her Live at Roseland DVD screening earlier this year and I teared up watching this morning on my couch. What is wrong with me? I need to listen to more Lil Reese.

I do find it interesting that her humanitarian team up comes after Harry Belafonte’s comment in The Hollywood Reporter denouncing Beyoncé and her husband Jay-Z’s small contributions to ‘the struggle.’

THR: Back to the occasion of the award for your acting career. Are you happy with the image of members of minorities in Hollywood today?

Belafonte: Not at all. They have not told the history of our people, nothing of who we are. We are still looking. We are not determinated. We are not driven by some technology that says you can kill Afghans, the Iraqis or the Spanish. It is all — excuse my French — shit. It is sad. And I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyonce, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now you’re talking. I really think he is black.

To parse Belafonte’s comment though, you have to look at his history. I’ve always respected Harry’s work in the progression of black people and last Christmas I watched Sing Your Song, a documentary on his life. I gained a completely new respect for him, like Paul Robeson, Belafonte used his celebrity to benefit the fight for civil rights in a real, life-threatening and non-capitalistic way. For example, when he had own primetime show during the 1950s and wanted to employ a mixed race cast and the network didn’t, he quit the program. He was so busy plotting with Martin Luther King Jr., Sidney Poitier and Miriam Makeba that his daughters barely got to spend time with their father, and now in his golden years, he’s taking on the prison industrial complex and lending his hand there. Belafonte’s humanitarian arc is authentic and broad so I can see why he would look at what appears to be Beyoncé and Jay’s all-too-perfect community service photo opportunities as “shit.” But I don’t think our generation takes the concept of being a “race man” in the same way our parents and grandparents did, unless we’re talking about David Banner. The Mississippi MC and producer stays in the trenches and while I find him preachy at times, I respect his work, personal motivation and dedication to ‘the struggle’ here in America, and “Like A Pimp” was also one of the greatest body roll jams of our time.

Thoughts folks? Discuss.

Last 5 posts by Hillary Crosley

  • SJB

    Mr. Belafonte’s comments were spot on. You don’t have to be preachy, over the top or race-obsessed to be socially conscious. Jay-Z and Beyonce have done NOTHING to earn the pedestal that society has put them on other than make millions and make catchy tunes that talk about it. And if that is what we aspire to as a people, then we are in a bad bad place. I am scared for my children and grand children’s future if this is who we are looking to as heroes. With all of the money that they’re making and the power that they hold, the are not doing a tenth of what they could be doing for our communities. Perhaps that’s just not in their DNA.. and not everyone can be Bruce Springstein.. or even Nas for that matter..