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Jay-Z says Trump’s election forced a conversation on race, but talking is not enough

Jay-Z performs in Paris in 2013. (Reuters)
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Hip-hop artist Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter believes that President Trump’s election has forced Americans to have a dialogue about race that perhaps people were unwilling to have before the former reality television star entered the White House.

Carter discussed the topic with New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet:

Baquet: Some people think that the election of Donald Trump has revived the debate about race in America. Some people think that, in fact, there's always been racism in America; that it hasn't changed and that the debate isn't any different. It's just people are paying attention to it. What do you think?
Jay-Z: The great thing about Donald Trump being president is now we’re forced to have the dialogue. Now we’re having the conversation on the large scale; he’s provided the platform for us to have the conversation.

The idea that Trump’s election — and perhaps more particularly, his comments regarding race — have started a “national conversation” is a frequent talking point of his supporters on cable news.

The president has called NFL players protesting racism in America “sons of bitches,” appeared to equate anti-racism activists with white supremacists whose protests led to three deaths, and used what was viewed as a slur toward Native Americans to offend his Democratic rivals.

It's true those actions have provoked conversations.

But Carter isn’t giving Trump credit for being a conversation starter. Carter, who supported former president Barack Obama and Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton, is saying that Trump's actions have allowed Americans to discuss things publicly that for far too long were ignored.

Jay-Z: Yeah, there was a great Kanye West line in one of [his] songs: “Racism's still alive, they just be concealin' it.” [“Never Let Me Down,” from West's 2004 album, “The College Dropout."]

The hip-hop artist was explaining that Trump didn’t begin something but simply revealed what was already present.

The majority of Americans — 70 percent — think race relations in America are fairly bad or very bad, according to a recent poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.

And nearly 6 in 10 voters say Trump has encouraged white supremacists, according to a Quinnipiac poll. In the interview, Jay-Z addressed how Trump is engaging these conversations.

Baquet: Do you think the debate over race in America is happening in a healthy way?

Jay-Z: Well, an ideal way is to have a president that says, “I'm open to dialogue and fixing this.” That's ideal. But it's still happening in a good way, because you can't have a solution until you start dealing with the problem: What you reveal, you heal.

Obviously white supremacy existed in the United States long before Trump's election and has played a role in many of the flawed systems that we look to presidents to fix, including a president who was on the receiving end of racism — Obama.

On Obama, he said:

“All he could do was the best he can do. He's not a superhero. And it's unfair to place unfulfillable expectations on this man just because of his color. You're actually doing the opposite. It's like, what do you think is gonna happen? He's there for eight years. And he has to undo what 43 presidents have done. In eight years. That's not fair.”

The question now is where will the conversation about race go now that Trump, according to Jay-Z, has supposedly elevated it to the national stage. One could argue that solving a problem is impossible before truly acknowledging it. But it also appears that to some Americans, Trump's election didn't magnify what's wrong with white supremacy; it legitimized their message.