Jay-Z — under pressure to drop a collaboration with luxury store Barneys New York after it was accused of racially profiling two black customers — said on Saturday he is being unfairly “demonized” for waiting to hear all of the facts.
The rap mogul made his first statement about the controversy in a posting on his Web site. He has been criticized for remaining silent after two young black people said they were profiled by Barneys after they purchased expensive items from its Manhattan store.
An online petition and Twitter messages from fans have been circulating, calling on the star to leave his upcoming partnership with Barneys for the holiday season, which will have the store selling items by top designers, inspired by Jay-Z, with some proceeds going to his charity.
However, Jay-Z — whose real name is Shawn Carter — defended himself, saying he has not spoken about it because he is still trying to figure out what happened.
“I haven’t made any comments because I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barneys,” the statement said. “Why am I being demonized ... for not speaking immediately?”
The two Barneys customers, Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips, said this week they were detained by police after making expensive purchases.
Christian sued Barneys, saying he was accused of fraud after using his debit card to buy a US$349 Ferragamo belt in April. Philips filed a notice of claim saying she would sue after she was stopped by detectives outside the store when she bought a US$2,500 Celine handbag in February.
Barneys said on Thursday it had retained a civil rights expert to help review its procedures.
Barneys chief executive Mark Lee offered his “sincere regret and deepest apologies.”
Kirsten John Foy, an official with the Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, said he would meet with Barneys officials tomorrow to discuss the allegations.
Jay-Z — who rose from a life of crime to become one of entertainment’s biggest superstars — has in the past called for a boycott of labels perceived to be racist. He has become more political in recent years, from speaking out about the killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin to campaigning for US President Barack Obama.
Jay-Z said in this case, he is still trying to find out what happened.
He also dismissed reports that he would profit from the collaboration with Barneys. Instead, his Shawn Carter Foundation, which provides college scholarships to economically challenged students, will get 25 percent of all sales from the collaboration.
Jay-Z said he understood what it felt like to be racially profiled, but said he did not want to jump to unfair conclusions.
“I am against discrimination of any kind, but if I make snap judgements, no matter who it’s towards, aren’t I committing the same sin as someone who profiles?” he asked.