On the surface, Ron Artest and Jennifer Hudson have nothing in common -- besides sharing melanin content. Still, with the former growing up in the notorious Queensbridge Houses in Queens, New York and the latter growing up in the war zone of Southside Chicago, the media is approaching both of their current controversies as ghetto, Black soap operas being aired around the world.
With about 7,000 known citizens, and 3,142 apartments, Queensbridge Houses, the oldest projects in North America, is bigger than some rural towns. Home to such Hip-Hop luminaries as Nas, Capone -n- Noreaga, Mobb Deep, and the legendary Juice Crew, the enormous urban labyrinth that hugs the East River in Long Island City, New York is a vivid depiction of the beautiful struggle that many people living on meager means face. Gun shots ringing out as crack deals take place in shadowy corners is as common as innocent family days in Queensbridge Park.
It was in this environment that Metta World Peace, formerly Ron Artest, was born and raised. It is also this environment that mainstream media would like to use as causation for his recent "thuggish" behavior -- a purposefully unfair indictment of him as well as "the hood" in which he grew up.
Southside Chicago's Englewood neighborhood, where Hudson was raised, is known for it's desolate landscape, vicious gunplay and gang violence. It is also known for the pride and resilience of it's residents. As reported by Newsone, the homicide rate in Chicago has increased by 50 percent since 2011. 73 percent of those homicides being by gun and over half occurring in the Englewood area. It is in this urban jungle that Hudson lost her mother, brother and nephew -- and the media is not going to let anyone forget it.
It is this blatant, unprofessional need to create controversy out of heartbreaking situations and to also stoke the fires of stigma that surround mental illness -- and "the hood" -- that has made my respect for mainstream media take a substantial nosedive in recent weeks.
Yes, we can take into consideration the infamous 2004 "Malice at the Palace," when Artest charged into the stands in Auburn Hills, Michigan after a fan threw a drink at him. The ensuing riot was like nothing seen in NBA history and it has haunted World Peace to this day. He was suspended for 73 games, and by all appearances, NBA commentators and society-at-large have been waiting on him to make one bad move just so they can hold his past, his upbringing and his mental illness against him all over again -- the fact that he obviously did not intend to cause Harden harm has been largely ignored.
But we can also talk about his enthusiastic advocacy for mental health. In February 2011, he testified before congress about the importance of eradicating the stigma surrounding psychological disorders. He has spoken at schools and even thanked his psychiatrist for her "crucial" role in his development after the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship in 2010. He has also contributed to various mental health charities, including raffling his championship ring in a move that raised nearly $1,000,000.
This growth has apparently evaporated into a cloud of smoke. Various blogs have lunged at the opportunity to stereotype both QB and World Peace by making such judgmental, unfounded statements as "Peace has been a solid citizen the last couple of years, but come to find out you can take the guy out of Queensbridge, but not the Bridge out of the guy." Even NBA legend Magic Johnson -- a man who has never met a foul he didn't cry over and who has made his distaste for World Peace clear on several occasions -- instantly said that he believed that he struck Harden's head on purpose. Even more disappointing, he agreed with his colleague's point that because it's "Ron Artest," he doesn't get the "benefit of the doubt."
Sadly, neither does Jennifer Hudson.
Often accused of "forgetting where she came from" and criticized for not moving her family away from the dangers of the Southside, Hudson has become a central character in a tragic tableau where she is as much a victim as her murdered family members.
Organizations, most prominently the Associated Press, have tracked Hudson's every move since the trial of William Balfour began. Such banal, intrusive reporting as "Jennifer Hudson arrives at the courthouse;" Jennifer speaks softly on the stand;" "Jennifer Hudson closes her eyes when police talk about how they found her mother."
The list goes on and on ad nauseum, and always placed as the menacing backdrop is the socioeconomic status and violence that characterizes the Southside of Chicago. Reportedly, Hudson did not move her family from Englewood because they did not want to leave. Even if her mother had chosen to move on up with her daughter, the specter of domestic violence would have probably haunted the family because of Julia Hudson's relationship with William Balfour. The toxicity of their shared history radiated to encompass Julia's family; however, this has absolutely nothing to do with the location in which they lived.
Wealthy women and those not "in the hood" are also targeted for domestic violence -- not just those on the Southside of Chicago. The harsh reality is that Julia Hudson was in a bad relationship and, more than likely, Balfour would have had access to her family's home even if they had lived in a mansion Beverly Hills.
Hudson lost almost everyone in her immediate family, including a 7-year-old child who had to endure who knows what kind of psychological trauma at the hands of his killer before his death. Instead of that being considered sacred, for ad clicks and page views, mainstream media has sensationalized the case to the point of caricature -- while highlighting that the "horror house" where the crimes occurred now stands "behind a rusty iron fence that separates an overgrown yard from the cracked sidewalk."
Translation: This only happens in the hood.
The media frenzy surrounding Ron Artest and Jennifer Hudson is as much about Queensbridge Houses, Southside Chicago and the stereotypical characteristics that have come to represent urban Black America as it is about the situations themselves. The underlying theme has become that repetitive violence and murder are par for the course when their respective birthplaces are taken into consideration.
Mental illness and violence, specifically domestic violence, thrives just as much in affluent areas as it does in neighborhoods riddled by poverty -- as much as "mainstream" America would like to pretend otherwise. The fact that critics, pundits and water-cooler experts would rather judge Hudson and Artest by the lowest common denominator of their environments -- as opposed to the ingenuity, perseverance, intelligence and talent that both Southside Chicago and Queensbridge Houses helped to create in an NBA star and Oscar winner -- speaks more about their motives and underlying prejudices than any commentary they could ever offer.
It is unprofessional; it is unnecessary; it is pathetic.