What the response to Gayle King’s Lisa Leslie interview reveals about “dragging culture”
"There's a laziness to "hot take" dragging culture that is insidious. And even though we all allegedly know that, it's clear that as soon as someone annoys us we perpetuate that same mob mentality with ease as if we don't know it at all."
Last month, I had the painful task of writing about Kobe Bryant and the impact that his unexpected and untimely death appeared to be having on the Black men around me.
As a woman and a journalist, it took everything in me to step back from my personal feelings enough to give our readers the sort of objective insight I felt they needed even in that deeply personal moment. And the response we got from it – specifically from Black men seeking an outlet for their grief – was humbling.
Despite my own fondness for Bryant, even in that op-ed I made a fleeting and tactful mention of his assault case. I had to because to completely omit it would have felt journalistically dishonest.
For those who are unaware, journalistic integrity is a code of ethics centered on cultivating public trust, truthfulness, fairness, integrity, independence, and accountability. It means that in order for you to consider yourself a good career journalist (as opposed to a casual blogger for instance), then you are vowing to tell the truth as best you know it and ask hard questions that hold people accountable, even when you would rather be at home hiding under the covers.
A perfect example of this at play was that infamous moment last year when Gayle King confronted R. Kelly with the facts surrounding his legal case, the accusations of his alleged victims and the pushback from his critics who very loudly demanded to be heard.
Even when Kelly became emotional, distraught and in some instances looked like he was on the verge of physical violence, King remained calm and played devil’s advocate, giving him an opportunity to directly address those who he believed sought to take him down.
And we applauded her for that.
Which is why Wednesday morning when I logged onto my social media and saw King being dragged for doing the exact same thing again, I was confused. Specifically by those who said really rudimentary things like, “How dare she ask that question?”
She asked those questions because that is quite literally her job. And for those of you who sincerely don’t understand how the public (and even some celebrities) went too far with their dragging of King this week, let my words below be a quick lesson on what objectivity looks like in action. Even when you don’t like the fact that it’s inconveniently pointed at your fave.
Statistically speaking, this was bound to happen
My writing hero James Baldwin once famously said: “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”
So it is in that spirit of love manifesting as education, that I am penning this piece when in reality, I could have just stayed quiet and remained on a lot of your “good sides” by riding high on the applause I received from my last Kobe article.
But because I value elevating the conversation more than feeding my own vanity, I’m going to have to step out on a limb and point out: Ya’ll really need to chill on how quick you are to drag folks – particularly Black women – on the internet.
And before anyone says, “Why does this have to be a Black woman thing, everyone gets dragged on the internet equally,” let me stop you there and clarify that this statement is factually untrue. Studies show there is actually one group that gets dragged the most, and I’m going to give you three guesses what group that is.
In 2017 both Amnesty International and global artificial intelligence software product company, Element AI, did a study in which they surveyed 1.1 million tweets received by 778 public figures from the United States and the United Kingdom.
After painstakingly analyzing all the data, the group extrapolated that abuse toward women on Twitter is even more excessive than we thought, with female Twitter users receiving abusive content on the popular social media site every 30 seconds. As is often the case, abuse towards women of color – especially towards Black women – was the worst.
In fact, the group discovered that Black women were 84 percent more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive messages related to gender, race, and sexuality, with one in 10 tweets mentioning Black women containing problematic rhetoric, compared to one in 15 for white women. And female journalists were particularly predisposed to get an ugly rise out of people.
“We found that, although abuse is targeted at women across the political spectrum, women of color were much more likely to be impacted, and Black women are disproportionately targeted,” Milena Marin, senior advisor for tactical research at Amnesty International, explained in a blog post. “Twitter’s failure to crack down on this problem means it is contributing to the silencing of already marginalized voices.”
So when I say, “Chill on dragging Black women, especially Black women who are journalists,” I am not only asking this just from a place of compassion but also based on research that shows that Black women who seek to hold society accountable are disproportionately treated like its punching bags.
Why would you want to take part in making that worse?
Gayle King explains what really happened
Whenever I see an edited clip that makes me red with rage, I’ve trained myself to hit pause on my knee jerk reactions and instead ask, “Where’s the rest of the footage?”
This habit has come from years of watching public sentiments be wildly manipulated by intentionally edited snippets only to later find out the full story was far less salacious.
Context truly does matter, which is why I was pleased when we all woke up Thursday morning to King speaking out on how that now-infamous interview with Lisa Leslie really went down.
“I’ve been up reading the comments about the interview I did with Lisa Leslie about Kobe Bryant. And I know that if I had only seen the clip that you saw I’d be extremely angry with me too. I am mortified. I am embarrassed and I am very angry,” King said in an Instagram video.
“Unbeknownst to me my network put up a clip from a very wide-ranging interview, totally taken out of context and when you see it that way it’s very jarring. It’s jarring to me. I didn’t even know anything about it. I started getting calls what the hell are you doing, why did you say this, what is happening. I did not know what people were talking about.”
King then went on to explain how the interview in its entirety respectfully examined the life, legacy, and impact of Kobe Bryant and that the edited clip’s hyperfocus on one segment wasn’t a true representation of the tone in the room. She also said she’d be calling her network to task on how they chose to package the teaser.
Disagreeing > Dragging
Not to sound like Laurence Fishburne in the Matrix but… what if I told you it was possible to disagree with someone without dragging them? Would you believe that was true?
Because check it, even if you saw the full Lisa Leslie interview, you can’t objectively get over the fact that King’s job requires her to ask uncomfortable questions, and want to voice your personal disdain on a public platform, you could still do all of that without coming off as if you wanted the lady to take a long jump off of a cliff.
The level of vitriol, anti-Blackness, misogyny, and assumptions (masquerading as facts) that I saw on my timeline this week was deeply disturbing and a completely overblown reaction to what actually happened.
I feel compelled to repeat for the umpteenth time that: feelings are not facts.
Just because your favorite conspiracy theorist has convinced you that Gayle King and Oprah Winfrey sit around a cauldron casting spells meant to “take down Black men” accused of sexual assault while writing love letters to Harvey Weinstein, doesn’t mean any of that is actually happening in real life.
I know tempers are high right now, and even get why when a bunch of white feminists came out against Kobe Bryant mere minutes after his death, the timing felt incredibly disrespectful and grating to those who loved him. But a Black journalist who was (self-admittedly) fond of him letting another Black woman who flat out LOVED him like a brother, speak on his behalf – is not the same thing. And I really want whoever is reading this to sit with that nuance for a second and recognize it as potential truth.
There’s a laziness to “hot take” dragging culture that is insidious. And even though we all allegedly know that, it’s clear that as soon as someone annoys us we perpetuate that same mob mentality with ease as if we don’t know it at all. Which is a shame, because if there’s one thing that Kobe’s death reminded us last month, it’s that life is a bit too short to be wasted on pettiness like this.
Kobe’s last tweet was him showing love to Lebron James and for many, that post ended up perfectly summing up his character as a man. So if this ended up being your last day on the planet would you really want your legacy to be that you spent it dragging someone on the internet?
We gotta do better fam.
Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric