Actress, ex-model, and former First Lady of Turks and Caicos, LisaRaye McCoy, during a recent radio interview with Houston’s 97.9 The Box, shared her thoughts on double standards in the way black female celebrities are portrayed by the media versus their white counterparts. In particular, the former Single Ladies star explained that she feels that black stars can’t parlay sexualized images into mainstream success.
“Because we have different sides, ‘them’ and ‘us.’ And when it’s ‘them,’ they could do whatever they want to do and it’s like you could date five or six guys,” she said. “Like Taylor Swift. We know that she has went through a lot of people at her young age.”
Swift has become well-known for writing songs about her high-profile relationships and breakups.
“[Taylor Swift] sings about it all the time. Let that be a black girl and that’s a problem. Let somebody do a sex tape that’s a black girl and her career is ruined,” McCoy continued. “She’s not going to parlay it into fashion, into stores, and into reality shows, and marriage. So if we know this, to me that’s why we have to brand ourselves differently now.”
McCoy’s unfortunate slut-shaming verbiage aside, she’s voicing a perspective that many fans have expressed on social media for years. In the wake of Kim Kardashian’s ascendance, many have wondered whether the celebutante and her notorious kin could flip a scandal—that is, Kim’s infamous 2005 sex tape—into such a lucrative and decidedly mainstream entertainment empire. After all, Kim Kardashian was barely on the public radar at all prior to her videotaped tryst with singer/actor Ray J—who was far from an A-lister himself. Kim wasn’t exactly on camera sexing a megastar rapper or blockbuster movie star—it was Brandy’s little brother who’d only had a couple of moderately successful R&B hits and TV appearances to his name. And yet, it helped launch Kardashian into the spotlight. And she has only grown bigger in the decade since.
In 2005, Playboy Playmate Nicole Narain was sued by her ex-boyfriend, actor Colin Farrell, to block the public distribution of a sex tape the former couple had made in 2003. Narain wasn’t just a Playboy Playmate, she’d appeared in numerous music videos and had been featured in magazine spreads. By the early 2000s, Farrell was one of the brightest young stars in Hollywood—he’d starred in a string of high-profile films like The Recruit and Phone Booth. But in the aftermath of this scandal, Narain didn’t become a media fixture. Her notoriety wasn’t parlayed into much of anything—except an appearance on Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew.
Karrine “Superhead” Steffans became a much-discussed pseudo-celebrity around the same time, after she published her tell-all Confessions Of A Video Vixen. Steffans had a well-documented history in amateur porn and with several hip-hop stars, including an extended relationship with Lil Wayne. She worked the talk show circuit in promotion of her books, which landed on New York Times Bestseller lists. Steffans has trended on social media a few times, but never really became anything more than a pop culture footnote. No hit reality show, no high-profile endorsements or mainstream magazine covers. And she was linked to one of the most famous rappers in the world.
As it pertains to the Taylor Swifts of the world, it’s not quite as obvious that there’s a double standard. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. Ray J’s famous sister Brandy was at the center of controversy back in 2004 after it was discovered that she’d faked a marriage to producer Robert “Big Bert” Smith. Smith was the father of Brandy’s daughter, and claimed that her mother had encouraged them to pretend to be married (and showcased on the MTV series Special Delivery) in order to preserve the wholesome image the star had cultivated throughout the ‘90s. Now, the stunt was allegedly orchestrated by Brandy’s mother/manager and in hindsight, seems like an overreaction to the star’s pregnancy; but one wonders if a “wholesome” white singer would’ve been in a similar position. Would anyone have even considered this type of ruse necessary for a Mandy Moore or Jessica Simpson?
Swift’s penchant for putting her high-profile relationships at the core of her music isn’t any different from Bob Dylan or Marvin Gaye singing about their divorces in the ‘70s. The hyperscrutiny she endures because of it is incredibly sexist, but it hasn’t cost her anything measurable career-wise. Her image has remained unscathed, which is how it should be—but again, in our patriarchal culture, could a black star go through several public relationships and still be considered “America’s Sweetheart?” Rihanna, for example, has been linked to high-profile men throughout her career—from Chris Brown to Drake. But her image—the “bad girl” of pop—isn’t predicated on maintaining a position as the girl next door like Swift. The country pop star is able to sustain her persona—she didn’t have to go through a dramatic image shift in order to be given license to have a sexual and romantic history, a la Christina Aguilera or Miley Cyrus, either.
Entertainment media has become largely gossip-driven. That’s across-the-board. And so many sites in the urban sphere are forced to compete with bigger platforms by relying on clickbait titles and sensationalized stories. As a result, many black entertainers find themselves in the crosshairs of bloodthirsty gossip sites who drive up traffic by inviting readers to judge and critique every facet of their lives. That only adds to the marginalization that black stars must overcome when dealing with mainstream Hollywood. In essence, most have to choose between novelty or irrelevance from the mainstream, or endure slander from urban media. And female sexuality tends to be scorned when it isn’t controlled or presented by male interests. This is a very slippery slope and LisaRaye clumsily touched on a hard truth. All of these factors are to blame for a culture that penalizes black women for not being chaste while championing white women’s right to define themselves as sexual beings.
But the onus is on the media and those who consider themselves proponents of women’s rights and equality to recognize the biases that make it okay to celebrate P.J. Harvey’s sexual frankness while deriding Beyoncé’s.