Alicia Keys vs. Fantasia Barrino
Both singers allegedly stepped out with a married man. All similarity ends there. Guess which one gets a pass and which one gets labeled with a scarlet letter -- and why.
Perhaps the mainstream media respect Keys' career more because of her metropolitan background and traditional career path, whereas Barrino is from small-town America and, some would argue, lucked into her success in the recording industry. With the exception of Kelly Clarkson early in her career and Carrie Underwood, American Idol winners have not been able to reach superstar status in the ways that those who come up through the traditional route do. Or is it easier to go after the small-town girl who made it big rather than the city girl who made it bigger?
Are the media willing to lambaste Barrino because she seems to fit certain stereotypes about black people? That of the poor, downtrodden black girl singing her way out of the hood -- or, in this instance, the country -- whose laughter is clearly hiding a lot of pain? She does a little jig to make you feel better and sings her heart out while crying about her circumstances -- she is as American as apple pie in terms of media representation. She's the girl who refuses to leave North Carolina, setting up shop in Charlotte instead of going to New York, Los Angeles or Atlanta, as many black music artists do who have hit the big time. She will not leave her past behind, even though, if you watch her reality show, you know it is her past that is getting in the way of her present and her future.
But even that doesn't fully explain why Barrino is being labeled a home wrecker while Keys gets a pass. It doesn't explain why Barrino's affair has been covered so much while Keys' has not. It has been reported that Cook reconciled with his wife at one point after the affair. Beatz, however, left his wife, divorced her and married Keys in record time. In the end, Keys got her man; Barrino didn't.
Clearly, Keys has a better publicist than Barrino. Maybe it's because the mainstream media would have to admit that this "perfect" woman, whose image they helped construct, is, in fact, far from perfect. How can you make a song like "Superwoman" and sleep with and get pregnant by another woman's husband? Supporting women isn't just about equal pay.
Keys has crafted a Teflon image that even the mainstream press won't touch, but Barrino is an open target. Some of you think that karma is swift and Barrino deserves what she is getting. You may be right, but the way she's being raked over the coals while Keys' actions are completely ignored exposes a hypocrisy in our culture. Both women are wrong. What's also wrong is the difference in the way their bad behavior is covered by the mainstream media. And that makes absolutely no sense.
Nsenga K. Burton is editor-at-large for, and a regular contributor to, The Root.