Is America Colorblind?
Russell Simmons is an entrepreneur, author, activist and philanthropist who has used his boundless creativity and eye for talent to launch superstar careers and groundbreaking enterprises in arenas as varied as music, film, television, fashion, comedy, poetry, digital platforms, Broadway plays and finance. Simmons’ achievements have earned him a spot on a USA Today list of the world’s 25 most influential people of the past 25 years, as well as a fortune that places him among the wealthiest figures in hip-hop history. Underlying all his trend-setting endeavors are a passionate sense of social responsibility and an unshakable belief in justice for all people, regardless of race, class, religion or sexual orientation. After having produced or managed artists such as Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, Whodini, Jimmy Spicer amongst many others, Simmons and producer Rick Rubin joined forces founding Def Jam Recordings. During his tenure as Chairman of the record label beginning in 1984, he helped sign acts from the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, LL Cool J all the way to Jay Z and Kanye West.
Simmons is widely known as a champion of social justice and equality for those who are discriminated against for any reason. A longtime advocate for LGBT rights, he was honored with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Award. Simmons also has worked to foster racial and religious reconciliation through the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which supports interfaith communications between religious and ethnic leaders in 40 countries. He remains a staunch supporter of the Occupy movement, which is dedicated to giving the people a stronger voice than corporations.
Also a devout vegan and strong advocate for animal rights and received the PETA Man of the Year Award in 2011. Simmons’ many charitable endeavors include the Diamond Empowerment Fund, a global organization that supports educational initiatives for disadvantaged people in diamond-producing African nations and Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, which gives young people the opportunity to create and appreciate art. Simmons has written three New York Times best-selling author on happiness and well-being: Do You! 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success, Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All, and Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple. Simmons grew up in Queens and has two daughters, Ming Lee and Aoki Lee.
Question: What’s the next barrier African Americans need to surmount?
Russell Simmons: Having a black president is a nice statement about the potential of an African-American is and having a Tiger Woods is nice and having a Jay-Z, I guess is on of the Kings of Pop, that’s great. I guess Jay-Z is the first time that African Americans create something and the king of that thing is, like blues, or jazz, or rock n roll. There are no African-American representation when you think of the king in those genres. But I think Jay-Z I think is pretty fair to say now, after having more number one hit records than Elvis Presley that he’s maybe the King of Rap, at least, right. I’d say that would be the first.
I think it’s great that Americans are open enough and they can see each other in this post-racial way in some instances. But you know, when people are living in poverty and they live in ghettos where they don’t see anybody outside of their race, and all they can see around them is poverty, then even in their communities there’s a lot of frustration still associated with the condition that the find themselves in. And there’s still a view that the police are occupying forces and is still a view that all those on television who are living in these middle-class comfortable communities are the oppressor. Of course, we know there are many white poor people, but I don’t think people in the black communities who are living miles from any white people at all are living a so post-racial a mindset. And I think lots of people see those people and then when they see people in the street they see me. They don’t pick me up in a cab because I had a baseball cap and all that, so, I can’t say it’s post-racial, I do need to see a real integration of resources, an economic shift where everyone feels comfortable sharing and being more inclusive.
I’m the only African-American in the jewelry business; I’m alone. I was one of the only ones in the clothing business only a few days ago, and still now, those businesses are not as hot, so there’s not a real integration. Although culture, the effect of the culture, is the most profound are they the best brand builders, it’s just that the African-American don’t own any of the brands that they built. So, there’s an economic issue that is somehow related to race or the condition of the people who create the cultures. But there’s a lot of work to do.
I still believe in some kind of affirmative action. Black people slip further into poverty and some rise, there’s still got to be some discussion, some actual effort to go into these communities and educate and give opportunity. So, I don’t think that’s the President’s job, he’s not the black President, he’s the President. I don’t know what all the answers are, I think that equal high-quality education would be good for everyone – got great number of poor white people would like to go to a decent school and I like the idea of – I think that’s the best way we can do affirmative action is to give people education and opportunity and that’s one of the things that we are still lacking in, education reform.
Recorded on October 27, 2009
Russell Simmons is still the only African-American in the jewelry business. He talks about whether President Obama has prompted a post-racial consciousness.
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