Picture This: We Don’t All Look Alike

From Young Jeezy to Alfre Woodard, black folks are apparently indistinguishable to mainstream media.   

Tweet KSAT News sent out Aug. 26, 2014, regarding arrest of “Young Jeezy.” 
Tweet KSAT News sent out Aug. 26, 2014, regarding arrest of “Young Jeezy.”  KSAT News via Twitter 

The idea is this: Once you reach status—legendary-Hollywood-superstar status—the rules change. Somehow you are legitimized, devoid of disrespect, a household name. The tropes should not fit anymore, and slights should fall casually outside your perimeter. That is the black-American-success dream of assimilating without changing who you are; that somehow, in your legitimate work, you are, in fact, legitimized.

So even the arrest photo that the television news will show should be easy to find because you are famous—except it isn’t, because you are black, and therefore easily confused with another black, famous person, because as the old stereotypical saying goes, all black people look alike, even if one has a face and head full of tattoos. 

San Antonio’s KSAT News has become the latest blip on a radar screen filled with markers of black mistaken identity, a happenstance that on the surface is funny, shareable and embarrassing, but one that is also connected to a historical bit that is tired in its repetitiveness.

While reporting on Young Jeezy’s arrest for reportedly being found with an assault rifle in California during the last leg of his Under the Influence of Music tour headlined by Wiz Khalifa, KSAT tweeted out a photo of Young Jeezy Tuesday, except for one problem: The photo was of rapper Birdman.

This isn’t the first news station—nor will it be the last—to run up against the “We don’t know who this rapper is, so plug in any rapper” saga. As newsroom diversity continues to nosedive, it is hard to cover or report the news when the newsroom doesn’t look like the people it is covering.

Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery recently got into a Twitter dustup after he tweeted that black people don’t work at Politico. It was a brash and bold assertion that wasn’t wrong. Unless Politico is hiding some brothers and sisters behind its masthead, a recent look through website photos shows fewer than five black faces in the entire organization of more than 200 employees.

But covering rappers and their sundries is difficult enough, and mistakes excusable to an extent. Their created names don’t follow the usual spellings, and they aren’t household names unless your household enjoys that form of music. I am not versed in country music and wouldn’t know the difference between Blake Shelton and Kenny Chesney if they were both wearing a cowboy’s ten-gallon hat.

Below are three examples that mainstream press never should have gotten wrong. 

1. Danielle Brooks and Retta