20 Times Other Than Ferguson That America Failed Black People in 2014
Without question, black people dominated news coverage this year, but often not for reasons many would celebrate.
As America witnessed the killings of unarmed black people by police, the reality of a broken justice system, the perpetuation of various anti-black stereotypes and racism rearing its head within many major institutions, the country had no choice but to face its racial demons head-on. And although these issues don't surprise many African-Americans, they still prompted widespread outrage at every level. Thousands more took to social media and streets across the country to send a clear message: Black lives matter.
While the year draws to a close — and many reflect on the tragic deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Tanesha Anderson and several others — it's important to remember that these sad events didn't happen in a vacuum. Indeed, they're part of larger system that routinely devalues and denigrates black people. But these moments of extreme disappointment could very well give way to action that will transform America's racial landscape in the years to come.
Taking a look back, here are but a few of the many other times the country failed its black citizens in 2014.
1. A white politician "threw gang signs" while posing with black people.
"This is a photo of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, arm in arm with a man flashing what law enforcement agencies tell us is a known gang sign for a North Side gang," said an anchor for Minneapolis station KSTP. In the incident that would become known to everyone as #Pointergate, reporters and police alike accused Hodges of showing solidarity with a convicted criminal, fearing it would put the public at risk.
All of this because she posed with a constituent while pointing, something people commonly do in photos, especially with celebrities and public figures. The difference here? There's a black guy on one side — and he happened to be a campaign volunteer.
2. Black culture and music kept getting appropriated by white artists.
Rap music found its original roots in the lived experiences and oppression of black people, but the art form has since become universal — so much so that many more white artists have picked up the mic. But there's a fine line between appreciating and appropriating a culture different than one's own, let alone taking leadership within that space. But during a year that continued a trend of white people appropriating black music, dance moves and other black cultural staples, it incensed many to read headlines claiming Iggy Azalea "runs hip-hop" and witness Macklemore virtually sweep the rap categories at the 2014 Grammy Awards.
3. 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture and this is how front pages looked:
The film 12 Years a Slave captured the brutality and dehumanization endured by blacks during American slavery, resonating with audiences so much that it won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was a cinematic feat that made acclaimed director Steve McQueen more of a household name, and called everyone's attention towards diversity in Hollywood, especially as Lupita Nyong'o catapulted into the spotlight. But after the film won top honors, some newspapers created the most offensive headlines about slavery, making a mockery out of an issue that still affects America today.
4. Richard Sherman was called a "thug" after his team won the NFC Conference title.
Shortly after the Seattle Seahawks won the 2014 NFC Championship, cornerback Richard Sherman gave an explosive interview with NFL sideline reporter Erin Andrews. The outspoken Sherman was on an emotional high, celebrating the victory while pointedly putting his critics in line. That one interview earned Sherman the distinction of being called a "thug" all over social media in the moments and days that followed, illustrating a clear double standard — even an educated, professional black athlete can't express himself publicly without it being attached to racial stigma.
5. Marissa Alexander got three years in prison for firing a warning shot.
Near the time of Trayvon Martin's death and national outcry over whether George Zimmerman would be taken to trial, another story emerged from Florida over the storied "Stand Your Ground" laws. In May 2012, Marissa Alexander was prosecuted and sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot in the presence of her husband — a man with a history of domestic abuse who threatened to kill her. Although it resulted in a retrial, she could have faced 60 years if a Florida jury found her guilty. Instead, she accepted a plea deal in November to serve only three years instead.
Whereas Zimmerman got off scot-free for harassing and killing an unarmed black teenager, a woman who fired a warning shot in self defense gets her freedom taken away and hit with a felony.
6. Gap thought an "MLK Day Sale" would be cool to launch.
Quite a few people don't go to work on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday that calls Americans to reflect on racism's legacy and the work of the civil rights movement. But for Gap, it's apparently just another day for people to shop in their stores. The retailer appealed to the masses with an "MLK Day Sale" that totally defeats the purpose of what the observance stands for.
As Colorlines' Aura Bogado wrote, "The company's website and emails to its potential customers do not include one mention of the civil rights movement, racial justice or King himself — but do feature several white women, who are promoting 50% off 500 styles from the Gap."
7. NBA team executives profited from black players but hated black fans.
Two NBA team owners were disgraced and forced to leave their organizations after private remarks about black fans became public, demonstrating the contempt and racist attitudes they harbor toward black people. L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling told his girlfriend V. Stiviano in a recorded tape that he didn't want her bringing black people to games, noting that it upset him to see them present. On the other coast, Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson sent emails to staff complaining that they were having trouble attracting season ticket holders because the environment at the games was too black.
Apparently, it's only OK to be black in a basketball stadium if you're there to be the entertainment.
8. People dressed as Ray and Janay Rice for Halloween — in blackface.
It was the story that sent shockwaves in the sports world, calling attention to a long history of professional athletes committing domestic abuse. The tragic episode played out for the entire nation to see, as TMZ released camera footage of Ray Rice brutally attacking his wife, Janay, in an elevator and dragging her unconscious body out with him. But during Halloween celebrations, numerous people turned it into a punchline, going even one large step further by dressing as the couple in blackface, a form of entertainment that has historically denigrated black people.
9. A school served stereotypes in a "Black History Month" meal.
It's a common racial stereotype: Black people love fried chicken and watermelon. In February, a California high school played right into the stereotype, announcing a Black History Month-themed menu that included both items, along with a hearty side of cornbread. Administrators for the school eventually apologized, but the damage was already done. In fact, according to government data, black people actually don't care that much for watermelon.
Fried chicken and watermelon aren't racist foods in themselves. But as Arit John wrote for the Atlantic, "The problem stems from the way fried chicken is associated with black people, and the historical baggage that comes with it. The same way blackface recalls minstrel shows, the 'black people love fried chicken' image recalls negative portrayals of black people."
10. Vogue credited JLo and Iggy Azalea for pioneering the "booty trend."
Black women's bodies have long been objectified by mainstream audiences, going as far back as the Hottentot Venus during the late 18th century. That doesn't stop many from celebrating their curves in their own way, as numerous black female artists have done over the years, even before Destiny's Child's 2001 hit "Bootylicious" and Nicki Minaj's 2014 summer smash with "Anaconda."
But in an article for Vogue, the magazine highlighted two non-black women as purveyors of the current "booty trend" in Hollywood: Iggy Azalea and Jennifer Lopez. Although Lopez is a woman of color, many took umbrage with how the feature diminished the cultural contributions of black women, panning the magazine with the hashtag #VogueArticles.
11. A New York Times critic calls Shonda Rhimes an angry black woman.
In a scathing critique of the ABC showrunner's body of work, New York Times critic Alessandra Stanley wrote, "When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman." She then took it a step further, sizing up How to Get Away With Murder star Viola Davis as a "less classically beautiful" woman, a take that unfortunately has racial implications given Hollywood's glaring lack of diversity — something Davis has pointedly critiqued.
But the paper's public editor rebuked Stanley's column, calling it "astonishingly tone-deaf and out of touch."
12. Time magazine wrote an entire expose on the word "bae."
In July, Time magazine wrote a lengthy expose on the etymology of the word "bae," a word that's recently taken off in pop culture, as popularized by African-American vernacular English. But for many, it was yet another moment when a mainstream media outlet took a voyeuristic approach to black people and black culture, offering yet another thing for clueless white people to use and discard in a cultural dustbin. In reality, black people have used the word for years.
And just a few months later, the magazine asked readers in a poll if "bae" should be banned from America's collective vocabulary in 2015, confirming what many black people knew would eventually happen.
13. No one cared about Ebola until it started affecting white people.
Before this past summer, many Americans considered Ebola a disease that's only a concern for people living on the African continent. But once the United States had its first Ebola case, news outlets, TV stations and everyday people could not stop obsessing over a disease that, while devastating, only spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids. Some concern is understandable, but it's telling that the nonstop news coverage and panic only picked up when Ebola came in close proximity to a predominately white, Western country, as Mic's Sophie Kleeman noted in response to a poignant illustration.
Worse, some mocked people from Africa, even opting to stay away from them, because they feared those individuals could have the virus.
14. Black people kept getting racially profiled by the police.
While traveling for a dinner in the Los Angeles area, actor Charles Belk was held by police for six hours because he "fit the description" of a suspect. For a lengthy amount of time, he even sat handcuffed on a sidewalk, humiliated as passersby witnessed another unsuspecting black person being criminalized by law enforcement. It was just one of many incidents where racial profiling took center stage in 2014.
15. Nicki Minaj endured racist slut-shaming for baring all.
After Nicki Minaj released the cover art for her summer single "Anaconda," the singer endured many racist insults and fat-shaming targeted at her display of a curvaceous backside. But Minaj was quick to call out the double standard, using her Instagram account to post other examples where thinner, white women modeled or appeared in magazine spreads with their backsides exposed, but not attracting nearly the same level of uproar or criticism.
16. Variety credited Elvis Presley for inventing rock 'n' roll.
In a feature that praised the man known by many fans as "the King," Variety claimed that Elvis Presley invented rock 'n' roll music 60 years ago. But in doing so, they erased the many contributions that black artists like Chuck Berry, Little Richard and other influential black producers and record companies had in creating the sound many Americans love today. People on Twitter were quick to issue a course correction, using the hashtag #VarietyHeadlines:
17. Lifetime and VH1 gave white women "sassy, black" life coaches.
As Erika Turner wrote at Mic, "The media often plays up the resilience of black women to the point where it becomes a caricature. The latest tragedy is Lifetime's new show Girlfriend Intervention, a makeover show promoting the unfortunate idea that, as they say, 'Trapped inside of every white girl is a strong black woman ready to bust out.'"
The idea for this show and VH1's new creation Bye Felicia! is premised on stereotypes of white women as docile and passive, while black women are supposed to be loud and opinionated, a reinforcement of the Sapphire trope.
18. Black writer wins National Book Award, was rewarded with racist jokes on stage.
After winning the National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson accepted the prize on stage, only to be greeted with an off-key racial joke about black people and watermelon from a presenter. Writer Daniel Handler quipped, "I told Jackie she was going to win. And I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned about her this summer — which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind."
19. Everyone learned Thug Kitchen isn't actually run by black people.
The popular, profanity-laden online cookbook and advice site Thug Kitchen went to the masses with a new book this fall, even setting up a tour to promote it. But backlash erupted when the public found out it was actually not run by savvy, black urban food connoisseurs, but instead a white duo from Los Angeles. Immediately, they canceled appearances, as many organized protests to challenge Thug Kitchen's cultural appropriation and promotion of racial stereotypes.
20. The SketchFactor app helped people avoid black neighborhoods.
Launched earlier this year, the SketchFactor app was created by an all-white team of entrepreneurs to help users avoid "sketchy" or "bad" neighborhoods. But in reality, it's a tool to enable racial profiling and persecute minorities whose living situations are marked by race and class divides. As Tom McKay wrote for Mic, "'SketchFactor' might be subtler than an 'avoid ghetto' button, but it has the same effect."
But with this app, as with many other instances in 2014, there's simply no way to avoid facing down the lingering effects of racism in America. Unfortunately, the list goes on and will even become larger as the year comes to an end.
This story has been updated.