Back in 2015 when you couldn’t turn on your car radio without hearing Fetty Wap’s Trap Queen at least three times in an hour, ET Online ran a story featuring a video actress Kate Hudson uploaded to Instagram of her and her son “rapping” and dancing to the song. The popular site thought the then 36-year-old mother singing along with her 11-year-old was “amazing.” But the only thing I found amazing was watching a White woman get praised for encouraging her tween to sing a song about selling dope and smoking weed, complete with the usual misogynistic slurs. Given what I know about the different standards for Black and White people, though, I suppose seeing a White mother celebrated for the same thing Black mothers are labeled “ghetto,” and sometimes “unfit,” for doing is anything but amazing.
Black people learn early — EARLY — that the rules aren’t the same for us. We see this in how Black teen girls are admonished for getting pregnant while White teen girls are rewarded with the fame and spoils a show like MTV’s Teen Mom brings. We’re reminded of this any time a White person shoots at, or otherwise attacks police, and is taken into custody while Black people are killed during traffic stops for talking back. And lately, watching Danielle Bregoli, the 13 year old whose appearance on Dr. Phil has turned her into an Internet sensation, cash in on her cringe-worthy blaccent, ghetto caricature and criminal behavior is a painful reminder that the difference in “deplorable” and “marketable” is the difference in Black and White.
Adorned with bamboo earrings, because LL taught us way back in 1991 that any “Around the Way Girl” needs at least two pair, Bregoli blurted out a challenge to the audience members who were having a hearty laugh at her expense. Through a mush-mouth attached to a girl intent on proving how tough she was, “Catch me outside. How about that?” became “Cash me ousside. How bow dah?” And as the video racked up millions of views and she became a meme, Bregoli begin laughing all the way to the bank. Yes, as 13-year-old Black girls are ridiculed and condemned for speaking the AAVE (African American Vernacular English) that is a hallmark of their culture, for embracing the dialect that shows and maintains familiarity among their peers, a White girl poorly imitating Black speak has become a celebrity.
To make matters worse, BuzzFeed recently ran an article championing how the teen “defies expectations for White girls,” that essentially branded this child as an underdog who became an unlikely hero. From plugging the merchandise Bregoli is peddling to mentioning the 13 year old is “waving stacks of money in a Kodak Black video,” the piece reads like a PR dream.
Sure Bregoli was catapulted to Internet fame because her parents took her onto the show to humiliate her for her “troubling behavior”—when you’re a White girl, stealing cars, beating your mother and stealing credit cards from her purse, your criminal activity is rebranded. But Bregoli (and her parents) brilliantly flipped it into radio appearances, a following of nearly 7 million on Instagram and 15.5 minutes of fame. She isn’t ghetto or a hoodrat, though, she’s just a rebellious teen with an “affected accent.”
After all, what’s not to love about a middle schooler standing up to Dr. Phil’s bullying and grabbing a little celebrity in the process? Oh, and let’s not forget how her accent came “from the streets” (or so she claims). Dr. Phil’s plan to send her off to be rehabilitated backfired, and according to that Buzzfeed article that should inspire other White girls to rebel and rage against the machine, too. White girls have a new idol in the neck-rolling, cursing, fighting, tough-talking girl who looks like them.
And as if the story painting her as a feminist Rocky for disrespectful White girls who operate with the impunity Whiteness grants, finally rising up to beat her opponent and becoming the victor, weren’t enough to roll your eyes out of your head, the brutal criticism that would surely ensue if Black parents allowed their 13-year-old to monetize her infamy, brag shamelessly about committing criminal offenses, star in a grown man’s video and curse like a drunken sailor who just stubbed his toe is absent. Bregoli’s parents confess they “can’t control her,” and that’s enough to excuse her behavior. Her parents, including a father who set up a Go Fund Me campaign to help him raise money to “save Danielle,” are victims here, stuck with a child who won’t listen to reason.
I’m struck by the fact that there’s no demand for social services to intervene and take custody of this child whose parents have allowed and enabled her to behave so atrociously. There’s no lambasting of her parents for signing contracts for her because a 13 year old can’t sign a contract for appearance fees and selling merchandise. There’s no inquiry into why her parents let her behavior become so outrageous before seeking an intervention. There’s no question as to their fitness to parent or their willingness to exploit their own child for financial gain. They’re White. And White parents always want what’s best for their children even when their actions tell us the contrary.
But perhaps what’s most infuriating is that 13 year old Black girls who have to be tough, who really did procure their language “from the streets,” who steal and fight to literally survive when they are left to fend off poverty and unwanted sexual advances, are handcuffed and fingerprinted for their “troubling behavior.” They don’t get to make money off their authentic struggle. They aren’t redeemed by think pieces spinning their story in their favor. Their social media doesn’t blow up. They aren’t selling t-shirts and blankets. Nah, they are demeaned and degraded and kicked out of school.
I was called a hoodrat more times than I can remember by the time I was 13. The cops who thought running in the subway warranted body slamming me didn’t find my accent entertaining. Teachers who broke up a fight between me and a classmate, whom I definitely told to “catch me after the bell,” weren’t copyrighting my catch phrase to emblazon on a hoodie. When my best friend stole a car in 9th grade, she wasn’t allowed to giggle about it on national TV because cameras don’t go to juvie. Black girls who exhibit the same kind of behavior as Danielle don’t get booking agents. They get booked.
Even more, we all know that in a few years, when Bregoli is 18, they’ll have her back on Dr. Phil to reflect on her immature antics. They’ll have a carefree laugh at how she’s blossomed into a beautiful young woman despite her start. Then she’ll have her own reality show where we’re privileged to watch her apply for college and try to shake the unfair image everyone has of her, while she collects checks for speaking engagements warning teens of the dangers of their “troubling behavior.”
The whole while, her Black peers will have rap sheets. Their Black parents will have permanent records of child protective service investigations as to why they couldn’t control their children. And nobody will give a damn about the double standard.