How Kamala Harris, a Tweet and a Pink and Green ‘Screech’ Proves We Need More Black Journalists

Michael Harriot just a moment. 0 comments
Kamala Harris Alpha Kappa Alpha Chelsea Janes Howard University HBCU Black Greek Letter Organizations Sen. Kamala Harris

Just below the reported Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; immediately after the quiet white kid in class wearing the trenchcoat who doodles swastikas in the margins of his Social Studies book; ranks the third-place winner of people you don’t want mad at you:

Black women.

So it is with extreme sorrow that we bring you the story of Chelsea Janes, the reporter who managed to inadvertently place herself in the crosshairs of the sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. while simultaneously proving that news outlets need more black journalists.

Janes, a reporter who knows more stuff about baseball than most people ever will, recently left the Washington Post’s sports beat covering the Washington Nationals to join the paper’s political coverage team. If you’re wondering how a sportswriter made the move to political coverage, need I remind you that her resumé contains Chelsea and Jane which, in the pantheon of Caucasian monikers, is only bested by the whitest name of all time: Tiffany Amber Thiessen.

Anyway, on Wednesday, Janes covered a Washington, D.C., book event for Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). The event at D.C.’s Politics and Prose was extremely crowded as the rumored presidential hopeful hocked her new book, The Truth We Hold. Aside from the fact that the book is being reported as a “soft launch ” for Harris’ expected 2020 White House bid, many of the attendees were reportedly AKAs from Howard University, the historically black college where Harris pledged as an undergraduate.

For the white people joining us, I’m sure that last sentence might have you bewildered. Let me explain:

The “Divine Nine” black sorority and fraternity culture, especially at HBCUs, is a whole different world that most of you don’t know about. While their memberships vary and number in the hundreds of thousands, they each have their own distinct personalities, traditions and culture.

And unlike white sororities and fraternities, joining a black Greek-letter organization is not just a college activity, you belong for life. You get recognition, the mutual respect of members, powerful connections, lifelong affiliations and great parties.

It’s kinda like white privilege, but with much cooler jackets.

The oldest of these sororities is the one to which Harris belongs, Alpha Kappa Alpha, also known as the AKAs (see what I did there?) Now Janes probably didn’t know this because, even though AKAs have chapters at Stanford and Yale, the two colleges Janes attended, both colleges have very low percentages of black students (Yale is currently 7.7 percent black and Stanford is 7 percent black, according to Collegedata).

So, with her lack of knowledge about this, when Chelseaboots heard the AKAs doing their trademark “skee-wee” at the Kamala Harris event, I’m sure she thought the venue was being overrun by very vocal mice or the high-pitched squeals were just a test of the Emergency Black Broadcast System. Janes, having no idea what was going on, tweeted this:

Now, I can guarantee you that our white readers saw the above-mentioned tweet and thought it was innocuous, which, to be fair, it kinda is. Janes’ tweet has no malice or ill intent.

Meanwhile, many of our black readers saw the same thing and thought: “Oh shit! No she didn’t!” Now we are alone, white people, because—knowing what this meant—our melanated constituency has probably left this article and dashed over to Twitter to see the social media molly-whopping that was undoubtedly about to happen.

Don’t worry, I’ll show you the three steps of dragging:

Step 1. The Official Notice: One must issue a formal notice of the dragging along with an explanation of what they did wrong.

Step 2. The dragging commences: Now this is gonna hurt you more than it hurts me ... But it’s still gonna hurt.

Step 3. The explanation: After all butt-whippings, black parents sit down and explain why they exacted such harsh measures. Black Twitter explained to Chelsea why she was so harshly booted. I even joined in:

The point of all this is that any black person living and working in America is required to know about the intricacies and nuances of their profession. If you are black, the idea that you don’t know something because you are unfamiliar with it means you are unqualified. If you are white, you don’t even have to ask. If a white person doesn’t know it, they are still endowed with so much privilege that they feel free enough to comment on a thing, even if they have no fucking clue what it means.

If Chelsea Janes was covering a baseball game with no idea of what a home run meant, she’d be laughed out of the press box if she wondered aloud why everyone was cheering when the man with the stick hit the ball out of the park.

And none of this means that a white journalist is unqualified to cover black issues. But black people are uniquely qualified to cover these issues, yet don’t get the same opportunities. And if they manage to get a job, more often than not, they start out covering the “black stuff,” which means they have to have the same knowledge base as their white counterparts and still know the black shit.

Janes’ paper once reported that the average white person has one black friend (whose name is undoubtedly Jamaal) while the average black person has eight white friends. That’s what it is like to live in a dominant culture. It’s the expectation of knowing the things you don’t even know you should know. And it’s having the things that are important to you—your history, culture and education—the things that makeup who you are as a human being—be dismissed as a weird noise that no one really gives a fuck about.

But, it is comforting to know that there will undoubtedly be one thing that comes out of this piece. I can guarantee some white person will ask at least one question:

“Why’d you have to laugh at her name, though?”

Imagine the disrespect.

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