Friday, February 9, 2007

Misidentified Black People (cont'd)

You don’t think it happens a lot? You think I’m just trippin’?

Well, quite by coincidence, my friend “ShyOneLung” encountered this phenomenon while watching basketball on TNT last night! She blogged thusly:

“Just in time for Black History Month, TNT featured an interview with new Pistons forward Chris Webber’ s ‘father,’ Mayce Webber, all about how Chris is making the transition to playing for his hometown team since signing with Detroit a couple weeks back. Nothing wrong with that, you say. Well, it is when the guy [Craig] Sager interviewed wasn’t Webber’s father, but his (I believe) AAU coach. Oops, wrong black man.”

Goodness. Will my MBP database need to include television as well?

Maybe so. Because one year ago, during live coverage of Coretta Scott King’s funeral, Malcolm X’s eldest daughter Attallah Shabazz was misidentified on TV screens as “Malaak” (one of Malcolm’s youngest daughters). This mistake was pointed out by blogger Kim Pearson and by the Black World Today news site.

I offer big thanks to Canadian journalist Craig Silverman, who catalogs all kinds of media screw-ups on his naughty-fun blog, Regret the Error. He emailed a few beauties for my fledgling database. Like this December 15, 2006, correction in the Bergen County Record:

“In some Wednesday editions, a photo that ran on A-10 was misidentified as Harriet Tubman. The photograph was of Mary Ann Shadd Cary.”

And this August 21, 2006, correction in New York’s Daily News:

“Monday’s Divas piece credited the wrong rapper with an appearance on Beyonce’s new single. It’s Jay-Z, not Nelly. The latter appears on Janet Jackson’s single.”

Silverman also documented my new all-time favorite MBP on February 6, 2006, from the pages of the Chicago Tribune:

“On the back page of Thursday’s Sports section, a photo of Serena Williams with members of the group Destiny’s Child was misidentified as Beyonce Knowles.”

Finally, it seems this phenomenon reaches all the way to the White House. Here’s an Associated Press item from June 16, 2006:

“In the self-blame department, White House spokesman Tony Snow had a political doozy.

“ ‘I apologize for being an idiot,’ Snow said Thursday during his daily briefing to the news media. ‘I misidentified Representative Sheila Jackson Lee as Cynthia McKinney.’ ”

Oops. Wrong black woman.

Don’t be left out of the fun, people. Play along at home! If you come across a well-known MBP, please email me (at the address on my profile page). In the meantime, if you’re black… umm, I hope you don’t get pulled into any police lineups.

UPDATE (02/10/07): Big thanks to Carmen Van Kerckhove at Racialicious. She picked up on the version of my MBP piece which was posted at Romenesko.

Two Racialicious readers posted fantastic comments. “Lyonside” wrote yesterday:

“This happens in daily life too… 2 weeks ago at the post office, I asked for a book of stamps with Ella Fitzgerald. It’s my own fault for not looking at the book before I got in the car, but the clerk gave me Hattie McDaniel… Yup, Mammy.”

And “Anna” wrote today:

“I used to work at a photo agency for many years… and this was always a problem (I am white as was nearly all of the staff in the department). Unbelivable doozies, a recurring error was mixing up Colin Powell and Louis Farrakhan, we spent 10-15 minutes at meeting looking at their photos and it still happened afterwards. …

“After I got a reputation for making less of these errors (just meticulous about any person’s name and knew reliable web sites to check), I was called on all the time to verify Black, Latin, or Asian celebrities, politicians etc. It never occurred to managers that a more diverse staff would be more helpful than just designating one white girl as the racial expert.”


SJ said...

Wow this is surprising. Nice work uncovering all the different examples...I'll keep an eye out.

Undercover Black Man said...

SJ: I bet you see one before the end of February. It is, after all, Black History Month. Somebody's bound to confuse Ralph Abernathy with B.B. King.

Dougfp said...

I must admit, even members of my own (quite caucasian) family can occasionally misidentify black people. A few years back, my grown daughter and her (then) boyfriend were in a hotel in Miami. While the boyfriend goes to the bar, an older, rather distinguished-looking black man walks up to my daughter and tells her that she's very pretty. Then he joins a group of friends across the room. When the boyfriend returns, my daughter says, "Hey, I think Quincy Jones just hit on me." The boyfriend looks over and replies, "Dope. That's Jesse Jackson."

True story...

Undercover Black Man said...

Hee-heee... Great story, Doug. Thanks for sharing!