Dez Bryant’s call out of Jemele Hill shows Black women cannot critique without contempt

OPINION: A Black woman is the easiest target when one needs to change the subject from their own misdeeds

NFL player Dez Bryant and Jemele Hill,
Left to right: NFL player Dez Bryant and Jemele Hill (Photo: Getty Images)

Maya Angelou famously said, “when you know better, you do better.” There is nobody better at making sure you know and do better than Black women. So why is it that when a Black woman offers critique or correction on social media it is met with such hostility even as many others make the same critique?

We see this double standard play out almost weekly on social media. It usually starts with a celebrity or prominent person going viral for saying something that sends social media into a frenzy. Said celebrity then gets criticized and at times ridiculed in tens of thousands of social media posts. Despite the widespread and large volume of critics, it is the posts by prominent Black women that are often singled out and responded to with particular ire and contempt.

Two recent examples of these online clashes immediately come to mind: those between Dez Bryant and Jemele Hill, and Nicki Minaj and Joy Reid.

To be fair, any person that broadcasts their opinion is subject to and should be prepared for pushback; and to be clear, Black women are not exempt from having their critiques challenged. However, the pattern of celebrities using a prominent Black woman to redirect the outrage and criticisms lobbed at them is troubling.

A study conducted by Amnesty International found that Black women are the most abused group of women on Twitter. According to the study, Black women were “disproportionally targeted, being 84% more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive or hateful tweets.” Given this already toxic environment, the hostility perpetuated by prominent targeting of Black women cannot be ignored. When pushing back against critiques and corrections, all users but especially ones with large platforms need to take care to not turn a response into a targeting campaign. 

The common sentiment expressed by those singling out their Black women critics is ‘how dare you.’ People, whether subconsciously or not, often expect Black women to come to the rescue and to be their biggest cheerleaders. Black women are given plenty of space to boost those around them with a well-timed ‘yaaas, sis!’ and ‘I see you, king!’ However, when they don’t tow the line, the reprisal is swift and indignant. This was on full display this week in an exchange between former Dallas Cowboys star, Dez Bryant, and journalist, Jemele Hill.

Dez Bryant,
Dez Bryant #88 of the Baltimore Ravens warms up before the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Buffalo Bills at Bills Stadium on January 16, 2021 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Bryant went viral from a clip of his appearance on the “I AM ATHLETE” podcast for accusing former star quarterback turned activist, Colin Kaepernick, of not creating jobs and not being there for the people who stood with him. The clip immediately garnered hundreds of thousands of views and sparked thousands of tweets, but it was Jemele Hill’s response that was singled out by Bryant. 

Hill wrote on Twitter, “With all due respect @DezBryant, this is uninformed. Colin Kaepernick has created a publishing company, a SPAC that’s raising $300M for social justice initiatives, a production company, etc. On top of founding the Know Your Rights Camp. I don’t get the point of dragging his name.” 

Bryant responded, “I’m a product of media hate so I get it.. @jemelehill you could have called me & got a better understanding of what I was saying ..but you have your own motive… I’ve reached out to kap for yrs and no response…raising 300 mil would be easy if we had unity amongst athletes.” 

In addition to Bryant’s bizarre expectation that Jemele Hill privately reach out to him when his comments were very public, his accusation of ulterior motives and media hate in the face of a respectful fact check is excessive. Instead of Bryant admitting his words were inaccurate and taking accountability, he chose to vilify Hill. Thankfully, their brief exchange did not lead to an abusive targeting campaign that Hill has frequently experienced when singled out in the past.

The same cannot be said for a recent exchange between rapper Nicki Minaj and cable news show host Joy Reid. 

Weeks ago, Nicki Minaj famously tweeted a Ripley’s Believe it Not style story claiming, “My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied.” 

Minaj’s tweet instantly went viral and was the topic of discussion for days. The evening of Minaj’s tweet, Reid admonished Minaj on her MSNBC show The ReidOut stating, “For you to use your platform to encourage our community to not protect themselves and save their lives … As a fan, I am so sad that you did that.”

Nicki Minaj and Joy Reid,
Nicki Minaj called out MSNBC host Joy Reid. (Photo: Getty Images/MSNBC via Twitter)

Nicki Minaj furiously responded repeatedly calling Reid a “dumb ass” and a racial slur “uncle tomiana.” Minaj’s tweet storm of several abusive tweets sparked a massive and vitriolic targeting campaign against Reid and those who defended her. While many prominent people were much harsher toward Minaj, it was the Black woman she felt the most emboldened to attack. The reason is clear, Black women are the easiest targets when one needs to change the subject from their own misdeeds; and yes this ploy even works when the deflecting is done by a Black woman. Save for a handful of superstars like Minaj, Beyoncé and Rihanna, there is rarely a cavalry swooping in to demand a Black woman is not abused online.

The only way this troubling pattern changes is by not letting people put the bullseye on Black women who dare criticize or correct them. Hold or continue to hold people accountable for their own words and actions. Celebrities and people with large platforms need to own their mess and take responsibility for how they landed in the social media hot seat in the first place. Instead of seeking solace in lashing out at a prominent Black woman critic, they should find solace in the fact that a Black woman cared enough to challenge them to know better and to do better.

Reecie Colbert,

Reecie Colbert is a political commentator and founder of BlackWomenViews Media, a social media haven for the expressions of unbossed and unfiltered Blackness. She appears weekly on the Roland Martin Unfiltered Show and the Clay Cane Show on SiriusXM UrbanView.

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