Music, Money and Materialism

This past week two black shoppers at the ultra-chic Barney’s flagship store in NYC filed lawsuits against the store and the NYPD for wrongly profiling in the sad, tired story of “shopping while black”.

Victim #1: A college student walked into the store and purchased a Salvatore Ferragamo belt with the signature buckle, was subsequently stopped and ARRESTED with the accusation of using a fake debit card. Turns out he used his actual debit card and was released without further questioning.

Victim #2: Another college student, mother (with another on the way), was profiled in a subway station a few blocks from the store after purchasing a $2,500 Celine bag. After viewing her debit card and ID, she was allowed to go home.

Both of these situations were wrong and as a college-educated professional earning a substantial income that likes treating myself from time to time, I couldn’t help, but feel like that could’ve easily been me; profiling, stopped and even arrested for buying something with my hard earned money.

However as harrowing as these stories may be, something about victim #2 set me off for another reason.

Phillips, a nursing student, received a tax-return large enough to “afford” her a $2,500 bag while she is raising one child with another on the way.  I couldn’t help, but overlook her profiling partially due to me being slightly desensitized to the young man that made headlines the day prior and the fact that she used money that undoubtedly should be used to support her children to purchase a $2,500 bag.

What would possess someone to do that? Some people said that “everyone deserves to buy what they want”, “its her money!”, and “people can have nice things”. It might be wrong, but the priorities here were so out of wack that I couldn’t even empathize with her.

Did she have some childhood dream of owning the 68 year-old French luxury brand’s bag or did she see it on a show or hear it in a song and think “I gotta get that”.

Unfortunately, I’m going to have to choose the latter.

I believe that African-Americans, a group that will have a whopping $1.1 trillion in buying power by 2015 according to a Nielsen company report, has been a target of guerrilla style marketing through the music industry by fashion conglomerates to encourage conspicuous consumption and material greed.

There is no reason a nursing student that will graduate with two children and is looking to earn around $50,000 (if she successfully lands a position after school in a such a competitive field) should be purchasing a bag that is roughly 1% of her net income on a bag.

Hip-hop has been blatantly marketing designer names through song titles (“Versace, Versace” etc) and even the names of artists (“Gucci Mane”) for long enough.  Its like if its not one evil, its another. We evolved from gangster rap in the early 90’s, to castigating one another and making people feel inconsequential based on their material possessions and money they have.  Unfortunately the way music speaks to us is the way many of us create our realities and that has to change.

Prudential did a survey, African Americans Making Financial Progress but Still Facing Financial Challenges, that outlined some of the leaps and bounds a people that just 50 odd years ago weren’t allowed to drink out of the same water fountains as the general public have made in the realm of financial security. It made it clear that even with our progress we have some work to do and I don’t know if $2,500 bags or having some of the most successful members of the community like Jay-Z striking deals with the same companies that profile us. My people…

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