When we think about alleviating the economic woes of the Black community, what can we learn from the actions of LeBron James?
When analyzing the political stagnation of the Black community, what role is played by our community’s undying loyalty to the Democratic Party?
How can the “360 deals” (popular in the music industry) shed light on the inability of the Black community to prosper?
The answers to these seemingly unrelated questions hold important keys to creating a different reality for the Black community in 2012. The lessons we can learn from each of these scenarios are critical to both understanding and allaying the economic and political ills currently plaguing our community.
As we enter the last days of 2011 many have began formulating their New Year’s resolutions. But, unlike most people who are crafting individual goals for 2012, my thoughts are more collective in nature—they are thoughts about New Year’s resolutions for the Black community as a whole.
Scenario 1: The Curious Case of LeBron
When LeBron James made the decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers after his contract ended, many questioned his loyalty to the city and the fans. Some denounced the “greediness” that supposedly motivated his interest in other teams, and still others condemned his signing with the Miami Heat as being “bad for basketball.”
In actuality, the actions of LeBron James—as well as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who assisted in bringing him to the Heat—displayed a degree of independence and autonomy previously unseen in the NBA. In the past, superstar athletes thrived off the benefits that come with being the one “great” player on a team full of “good” players. Additionally, superstars were content viewing the superstars on other teams as “rivals” to be defeated in competition. But, with the actions of LeBron, the self-centeredness of the “great” player was replaced by the common goal (an NBA championship) of multiple players and one-time “rivals” who had been transformed into teammates, working together toward that common goal.
Needless to say, Black men organizing, thinking independently and acting collectively has always been met with opposition, especially in the NBA where the owner-player relationship is often reminiscent of the owner-slave relationship on the plantations in the antebellum south.
Scenario 2: Democratic Loyalists
The undying loyalty of the Black community to the Democratic Party came bubbling to the surface recently with the comments of Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain. Pointing out this ironclad allegiance, Cain characterized Black people as being “brainwashed” into supporting Democrats and Democrats only. Whatever you think of Cain’s use of the term “brainwashed” the history is clear. Since the early 1960’s, 80-90% of the Black community has given their support to the Democratic Party. To be sure, the reasons for our support of Democrats are also clear: Democrats have historically championed civil rights, affirmative action, education and other social programs that benefit our community. But, Cain’s partisan politics aside, even Black Democrats are beginning to question the loyalty given by the Black community to the Democratic Party. The following quote from Jack & Jill Politics summarizes this rethinking:
“Although the Democratic Party is the better choice, our unconditional loyalty to the Democratic Party has weakened our ability to negotiate and further our interests.”
In truth, the Democratic Party has withered in its support of traditionally Democratic issues like social security, welfare, civil liberties and the support of “Main Street” over Wall Street. Add to this the complete disregard by the party (and the current administration) of issues impacting the Black community and we begin to see that while we’ve been unwavering in our support of the Democrats, the Democrats have begun to abandon us.
Our unrelenting support of a party that, at best ignores, and at worst undermines our community’s needs continues to “weaken our ability to negotiate and further our interests.” And, to the Democratic Party, it renders our support for them a foregone conclusion.
Scenario 3: The Infamous 360 Deal
Today’s music industry has been engaged in a virtual scavenger hunt for revenue streams. Facing plunging profits and having resisted instead of embraced entry into the digital age, the music industry has recently resorted to more “creative” and exploitative ways of securing profits—“Multiple Rights” contracts, otherwise known as “360 Deals.”
Simply put; in a 360 deal a music company signing an artist receives a percentage of EVERY aspect of said artist’s career, not just the recoupable costs related to the promotion, recording, publicizing and sales of an album. For example, a typical 360 deal now allows a company to receive a percentage of the money an artist makes on touring, merchandising, endorsements, TV and film appearances and ANY OTHER REVENUE generated by the artist’s “360 degree” sphere of activity.
To further highlight the oppressive nature of 360 deals:
“Back in the day, labels took roughly 87% of the pie while giving the artists 12% of the money AFTER the artist paid back everything spent on them from that 12% share. This means that if the artist sold $500,000 worth of CDs, and it cost $50,000 to market and promote that CD (a very low example), the artist share of $60,000 (12% of $500k) would be divided between paying the label back that $50,000 and a check for the remaining $10,000. The label would receive $490,000 for its investment and belief in that artist while the artist made $10,000.”
Today’s 360 deals continue to drain money away from artists by taking from the revenue (touring, endorsements, merchandising etc.) that artists have traditionally used to make up for their menial 12% share on album sales. For the artist, these new “Multiple Rights” deals have made a bad situation worse.