It’s More About Commerce Than Complexion

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In, nah, that ain’t it news, this morning I stumbled along a piece entitled “Alicia Keys vs. Fantasia Barrino.”

Writer and editor-at-large, Nsenga K. Burton, outlines her theory as to why Fantasia Barrino has been purportedly assailed in the mainstream press for her alleged role as homewrecker and not Alicia Keys, who is also believed to have involved herself with a married man.

Short admission: I maintained a blog entitled “The Recession Diaries” for much of last year and have written several pieces for The Root.

That said, with all due respect to the writer, this piece is nothing but failed projection.

Burton writes:

“I’m wondering why the mainstream media are so willing to let Keys off the hook for what many would call socially unacceptable behavior at best, and immoral behavior at worst, while taking Barrino to task for similar behavior.

Is it that Keys is too pretty to be pummeled?

Yeah, I said it. Keys, who is beautiful, fits the dominant standards of beauty in the black, white and brown worlds. Is that why she’s being handled with kid gloves by the mainstream press? We wouldn’t want to beat up on someone who is just so attractive.”


While I do agree with her core point – that regional differences, Eurocentric standards of beauty, and other things that can lead to bias in how people can be covered – I think in this instance it doesn’t apply.

Sometimes we as writers are guilty of overthinking a situation and trying to create a scenario that has absolutely nothing to do with what really is going on. To make our point, to stress something we feel is important, or in some cases, to simply have something to say for the sake of.

As someone who has written entertainment pieces for “urban” and “mainstream” outlets (I assume we can make out the coded terms now), I can confidently say that the only color that matters in this Fantasia story to these outlets (black and white) is green.

An American Idol champion took one too many Advils and Ambiens over stress from the controversy surrounding her snatching up somebody else’s husband and was rushed to the hospital in an apparent suicide attempt.

Of course that was widely reported and naturally the back story would be fleshed out days after the incident.

She was on American Idol. If she were Angie Stone would the likes of Nancy Grace give a damn? Probably not.

Burton makes the claim that “relentless documentation of the illicit affair” followed word of Fantasia’s suicide attempt.

She doesn’t link to this “relentless documentation” nor does she put it in its proper context. The keyword in her sentence is “followed.” That suggests that up until she passed out in her closet over her potential legal troubles and backlash no one cared about Fantasia channeling Mokenstef and “Jezebel” outside of black blogs (to boost their own hits).

More research would have noted that the New York Daily News reported on Mashonda’s allegations that Alicia Keys was the other woman in her marriage with Swizz Beatz. No other white-centered media entity ran with the story because they don’t know who Mashonda and Swizz Beatz are.

It makes sense to sell the happy marriage fairytale about Alicia and her producer because people like those sorts of stories. Ask a relationship blogger. Now, people also like scandal and might have cared for an Alicia man-stealer narrative if she decided to slit her wrist on top of a piano because she couldn’t take all of those “hussy, woman up and talk to me” tweets Mashonda kept sending her. Or fucked Beyoncé’s husband or Queen Latifah’s trainer.

Alicia Keys wasn’t “pummeled” not because she was pretty but because she messed around with a rap producer with a name that wouldn’t sell tabloids at grocery stores or garner clicks from the average Midwesterner in a cubicle passing the time at work on a gossip site.

To make it about complexion is reaching and will only lead to another trite back-and-forth over the brown paper bag – full of the same puerile remarks. If such a debate doesn’t take place at Madame ReRe’s Salon with a dance number between the wannabes and jiggaboos, it’s meaningless.

Save the speech for an event that calls for it.

As for some of other Burton’s comments:

“I’m wondering: If they know that this type of scrutiny is what drove her to try to commit suicide, why would they continue badgering her in the press? But that’s another story.”

It’s a solid point and fair question to be asked, however, I’d also inquire as to why Fantasia’s team is not only repeatedly addressing the media but divulging intricate details about the status of her relationship with Antwuan. That only provides more fodder for the very “badgering” she speaks of.

Alicia Keys has a much better publicist. It’s a point Burton acknowledges but still says doesn’t explain why Alicia isn’t being called a homewrecker on TMZ and People.

Oh, but it does.

I know for a fact that her publicist is out there trying to shut down talk about Alicia and Mashonda. Team Keys isn’t out there saying, “Well, Swizz lied to her but we’re gonna go with God and oh yeah, but her single on iTunes.”

Nor is Alicia filming her a meeting with the married guy at the center of her drama in front of a camera crew for a reality show.

Maybe the piece should have centered on why we have to nearly kill ourselves to get white people to talk about our hoe shit. That would have made more sense to me than Burton’s attempts to tie in legitimate arguments about biases in media coverage in places where they don’t belong.

We really ought to be more careful of when we throw out arguments about race and color. The more we bring them up in issues where they don’t fit the less chance we have of convincing people to care about the situations in which they do.

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