If you didn’t know a thing about Black women, what would you think if you turned on your TV? With shows like Love and Hip-Hop, Basketball Wives, and VH1’s new reality TV show Sorority Sisters; the depiction of Black women in today's society isn't one of much highly esteemed rapport. Many black women are displayed in the media as anything but positive and enlightening. From behavior that includes black females rolling their eyes, bobbing their heads, snapping their fingers, and talking trash; all of these actions play a fundamental role in reinforcing the ugly, negative stereotype of the “angry black women.” In the book, Split Image by Jannette Dates and William Barlow, both authors use an array of references to shape the purpose and reasoning of the African American’s role in being showcased in the mass media.
Within the book Split Image by Dates and Barlow, both made references to historian Joseph Boskin in which he stated, “To create, ultimately, an insidious type of buffoon. To make the black male into an object of laughter, and conversely, to force him to devise laughter, was to strip him of masculinity, dignity, and self-respect.” Although, Boskin focuses on the idea of black males being portrayed in the mass media solely for the object of laughter, this idea can be interchangeably linked to others. More specifically, the idea he highlights with this statement can be generalized and applied to the portrayal of today’s black women on reality television.
Black women are acting out in irrational behavior varying from catfights to fist fights to screaming matches all for the world to see. In the midst of Black women acting in such a way, black women are becoming their own perpetrators of the negative stereotypes that are associated with our specific race and gender. Whether this perpetuation is realized by the Black women that play a role in representing who we are as a whole on reality television; they are not only making themselves, but black women overall, the object of laughter for white people's enjoyment and entertainment. Black women making themselves the object of laughter no longer highlights Boskin’s idea of an “insidious type of buffoon” but has transcended to the modern day idea of an insidious type of “ratchet.”
African American households that faithfully watch reality TV shows are participating in the oppression of our own race and furthering the untrue and incomplete stereotypes and racist media propaganda. African Americans and many others tuning in to watch these TV shows are gaining ratings that are good for business, and setting the foundation for the dominance of these one-sided and untrue stereotypes to never be escaped. Moreover, by black women cast members of reality TV shows feeling unapologetic and unashamed to showcase their irate behavior and lifestyle to the public, it allows for an overall public opinion to be created that shapes people’s overall perspective on black women and the black race. This idea is further explained in the book Beyond Agenda-Setting by Oscar Gandy in which he highlights “Racial representations help to mold public opinion, then hold it in place and set the agenda for public discourse on the race issue in the media and the society at large. Black media stereotypes are not the natural, much less harmless, products of an idealized popular culture; rather, they are more commonly socially constructed images that are selective, partial, one-dimensional, and distorted in their portrayal of African Americans.”
In order to debunk the strongly held perceptions, ideals, and stereotypes of black women, extreme strategic efforts need to be made. African Americans can take a stance in debunking mythical and incomplete stigmas and stereotypes by eliminating the behavior and actions that have won us the white man’s laughter and instead replacing it with content that does the opposite. For example, shows such as Nurse Jackie and The Cosby Show highlighted and portrayed positive images of African American women in all aspects, attributes, and roles. These abilities range from being great wives, mothers, friends, and successful career minded women who are able to balance all the dynamics of womanhood in poise, class, style, and grace. Based on these examples, if television shows provided a balance in which Black women were able to argue and fight, but they are also the anchors of the evening news, or debating on CNN with another expert regarding a topic important to the world; it is no secret that the perception and ideologies of African American women would begin to shift in a more positive spectrum.
So to ask again, if you didn’t know a thing about Black women, what would you think if you turned on your TV? The reality in all of this is that we must decide for ourselves who we are and what we would like to represent of ourselves as Black women on a worldwide scale. Of course, solutions are limited to this growing epidemic because reality television will never be a positive glowing ray of light for anyone, especially African-American women. Despite this idea, Black women can still take a stand to counter the stereotypes and behavior perpetrated by the indignities caught on film and played back to us in our homes. For it isn’t just Americans that tune in to popular programming; but there are numerous others around the world that may never come across a Black woman in their entire life and the image portrayed on reality TV is all they will have to go by.
Books referenced in article:
Beyond Agenda Setting: Information Subsidies and Public Policyby: Oscar H. Gandy
Split Image: African Americans in the Mass Media by: Jannette L. Dates and William Barlow
How do you think reality TV shows portray Black women?