Black Women, Stereotypes, and Reality TV

The following is a response to Racialicious, What Tami Said, and New Black Woman’s blog entries describing the negative stereotypes of black women in reality television. This entry follows previous entries regarding black people in the media, the negative stereotypes that are often shown, and the shame it causes. The links to those entries will be located following this blog post.

It seems as if every network must have a reality-based show within its scheduled programming. In the new millennium television itself seems to descrease in value, meaning, and integrity thanks, in large part, to media consolidation and who’s running the shows. With TV becoming more and more dumbed-down seemingly for the sake of ratings, the problems this nation is dealing with appears to be growing stronger behind the scenes. Two of those problems are racism and sexism presented as biased propaganda.

There is, indeed, a lack of diversity in the mainstream media, and part of the truth is that certain people fulfill certain roles according to what the producers want, what’s available, and what the public wants to see. When it comes to women and POC, the roles usually come in the form of racist stereotypes to entertain and, to an extent, “educate” the masses as how “those people” are. With the surge of reality TV, stereotypes are milked constantly, and black women are no exception.

One could say that we are regressing back to the days of minstrel entertainment, resurrecting numerous, negative stereotypes that blacks throughout history have fought so hard to destroy. With the portrayal of blacks in today’s so-called reality TV trend, it looks as if the fight was in vain. In the case of black women their image is limited to the editing made by producers to present stereotypes they want to bury for the sake of ratings. But should black women be held accountable for the stereotypes they present? New Black Woman explains:

Black women are well aware there is indeed a lack of diversity in the array of characters we’re allowed (yes, allowed because these characters are concoctions of a producer or writer’s mind) to portray. The majority of black women on television are making waves in reality TV shows, which are typically edited in a way to play up to the expectations of viewers to see more drama, more cat fights and more angry black women. We do not have the luxury of having 10 different shows that feature 10 different characters of black women. We don’t have the diversity in characters to show mainstream America that we, too, are just as diverse as the white women they encounter on a daily basis.

As black women, however, why do we keep doing ourselves this disservice? Why do we continue to support the madness by proudly embracing the angry black woman stereotype on reality TV,  by watching these shows and relishing in the drama black female characters convey to viewers? Continue here.

I sympathize with New Black Woman’s disdain because I understand how the media tends to portray black people in general in a limited scope that perpetuates negative images for the sake of money and ratings. To put it bluntly this society wants black people to be bad, dysfunctional, promiscuous, and stupid. When it comes to reality TV, people, particularly black people, that are most likely to have exhibit those characteristics are likely to be casted. Why? Because apparently there are people, even black people, that want to see that. Point blank!

No one asks what this does to black women when they see their stereotypes alive and kicking in reality shows. Very few people, including blacks, question the portrayal of black women in the media in general, and fewer will stand up for them.  One thing is true, there are black women who feel shame and annoyance whenever they see one of their own acting as deplorable as Tiffany “New York” Pollard (Flavor of Love, I Love New York) or Nene Leaks (Real Housewives of Atlanta). Tami explains in her 2009 post “Are You a Credit To Your Race”:

…I have been thinking about what it means to represent the black race and how black people act as ambassadors to the mainstream world. There is this tendency, from which I am not immune, to feel embarrassed by and to make excuses for black folks who behave badly, or rather, act in a way contrary to a certain set of values and accepted norms. There is a real reason for this compulsion: Black people and other people of color are often unfairly judged as group by the mainstream. In other words, the actions of one equal the actions of all. And so, many of us, learn from the time we are children to mind ourselves around white folks–to not do anything that brings discredit to black people and, ideally, to live life with the goal of uplifting the race through our actions. Admittedly, this idea of being a proxy for the entire race has been tied to excellence and achievement–both wonderful things. But, ultimately, this way of thinking is a tyranny and a perpetuation of race bias. Continue here.

Questions come up as a result of the reaction when seeing blacks as negative stereotypes. We ask “Why did he or she have to be black? Why do they have to be a stereotype?” Some may also ask “Why should I feel embassed for what another black person did? Why should this person be a reflection of who I am as an individual?” As black people we are conditioned to the point where the actions of one affect the whole race. So, as a result blacks try their hardest not to fall into the “stereotype hole”, especially in public. It can be stressful not to become part of the trap laid out by white supremacy and racism. Black people are respresentatives of their race whether we want to or not–like it or not, and black women are working especially hard not to be seen as jezebels, sapphires, and mammies.

As black men we must support our sistas as we try to dispel the constant stereotypes about us, and some of us are currently making that effort. We must also support positive images about us and not become  selectively attractive just to the negative images the media loves to showcase. The balance in the portrayal of black women, black men, and black youth is greatly distorted by media businesses looking for ways to expand their territories in the pursuit to satisfy their greed. Lastly, we as brothas must not buy into these stereotypes regarding our black sistas and take them as “proof” to make us look and feel better about ourselves. Remember, we are all in the same boat. We must not throw each other under the bus for the goals of advancement.

Keep in mind that what you see in reality TV is anything but real. They are nothing but trivial, edited, highly dramatized shows that illustrate stereotypes, half-truths, sexuality on steroids, while desensitizing imperative issues and shattering dreams while replacing them with outrageous human behavior to satisfy the public’s guilty pleasures.


25 thoughts on “Black Women, Stereotypes, and Reality TV

  1. To put it bluntly this society wants black people to be bad, dysfunctional, promiscuous, and stupid. When it comes to reality TV, people, particularly black people, that are most likely to have exhibit those characteristics are likely to be casted. Why? Because apparently there are people, even black people, that want to see that. Point blank!

    PREACH. However, this is precisely why we can hold these “actresses” responsible for their decisions.

    what you see in reality TV is anything but real. They are nothing but trivial, edited, highly dramatized shows that illustrate stereotypes, half-truths, sexuality on steroids, while desensitizing imperative issues and shattering dreams while replacing them with outrageous human behavior to satisfy the public’s guilty pleasures.

    Despite the public’s protest, the public tends to roll over and accept these images as truth regardless. This is what happens when they view the same thing over and over and over again – it seems to become reality.

  2. It’s sad, but true.

    I think there’s a few reasons behind this trend: Black people who become a part of these shows are seemingly ignorant of the stereotypes they portray. They have little or no knowledge of the legacy of racial stereotypes. Some who are called out are too stubborn and blinded by dollar signs to realize the harm they’re causing, and some are so full of self-hatred that they will become anyone for a little bit of fame and fortune. It may even be a mixture of all three. Whatever it is, it’s likely the trend will continue.

    There are those who prefer to view us as stereotypes to make them feel better about not being black, diminish their guilt, and justify their racial hatred. Anyone outside that box apparently isn’t worthy of the same kind of attention, and there are plenty of black folks that do not exhibit negative stereotypes. There are lots of black people doing positive things, but it’s not considered news, entertainment, or Reality TV material for the most part, but if they do something bad, they have “their” attention.

  3. Thank you for this post, I agree 100%. I tend to be one who tries not to feel embarassed when another black person acts badly or stereotypical. I always tell myself that not all black people are like that, and I personally don’t know any who are. I don’t care what white people think because no one represents me but me. It is unfair because when Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, etc. act out in all their ignorance and criminality, no one for a second thinks that they represent all of white womanhood.

    At the same time, however, I do feel hurt that there are not any balanced portrayals of black women in the media. It is always the same old, same old. You seldom see us in complex, interesting, multi-dimensional roles, or just living normal, boring lives like everyone else.
    Anyway, I got so annoyed that I am in the process of creating my own Black female characters and how I would like us to be portrayed.

    “As black men we must support our sistas as we try to dispel the constant stereotypes about us, and some of us are currently making that effort. ”
    Thank you for saying this. It means a lot to me.

  4. To tell you the truth, Nia, I still struggle with that sense of shame while trying to wonder why should I feel this way when I wasn’t the one responsible. When you think about it, it doesn’t add up if white people don’t have the same problem whenever one of their own screws up, and there are plenty that do seeing as how they’re the majority if the U.S. population.

    The mainstream is severely unbalanced when it comes to women, POC and WOC. It’s been proven and documented several times. Still, they seem relentless on staying the course makng people believe stereotypes like Ankhesen said, and reality TV is partly responsible…

    You’re welcome, and thanks for reading, Nia.

  5. Unreality TV a guilty pleasure to most. Nowadays when I am watching a reality show and they have a black woman there and she seems like she is going to be the bitchy one I just have to change it because I really can’t deal with that any more.

    However I do watch Bad Girls club, yeah I know I am really just want to see the fights. The show always have girls of different races who are as pathetic as each other but after the first season which was way tamer compared to season 2 and beyond they always trot the same roles. Drunk blonde, spitfire latina, bitchy black woman, etc.

    As for different portrayals of black women on reality TV i recommend cooking shows like cupcake wars or something.

    Oh and as for scripted show you should really check out this web show called Awkward Black Girl it is way too funny and already have 5 episodes. I can so relate to her and her social awkwardness

  6. The disgust and general disdain I feel about our portrayal on reality TV was one of the reasons I recently started blogging. I am not perfect, and have a long way to go, but i believe in showing our true diversity. If Black women collectively don’t start standing up and denying these garbage shows entry into our lives, all we will she are Nenes and New Yorks in prominence. Just like any other race, we have a wide range of women: smart, silly, nerdy, wealthy, poor, artistic, loud, carefree, uptight…you get my point.

    I don’t knock Nene – she has been given an opportunity to become famous and she is running with it. But – there is a responsibility for owning your portrayal as a Black woman. When your 15 minutes are up, will she be able to discard the reality show persona, and perhaps be a more intelligent, savvy version of herself, or will she always be held to that rigid standard that won’t let her grow past her stereotype? We shall see…

    Great post, Brotha Wolf!

  7. Well Aiya, it’s funny you mentioned cooking shows because I recently started watching a ‘Cooking for Real’ with Sunny Anderson. I didn’t know the show existed until a few weeks ago, and I’m glad I found out about it.

    I agree, the awkward Black Girl brings is funny.

  8. Razb,

    I agree. Those in the limelight must own up and realize what they’re doing not just for sistas (and brothas) but for themselves. Living the stereotype does nothing but bring more harm, at least that’s how I feel.

  9. I come to this topic late, but find myself nodding “yes, yes, and YES” to it – you’ve illustrated WHY I despise so-called ‘reality’ shows: they have absolutely NOTHING to do with reality, and they do nothing but perpetuate negative stereotypes about POC. Even some of the cooking shows I enjoy seem to play that up – you either see very few POC; when you do, the editing is carefully done to make them out to be angry and/or unreasonable. For instance, on ‘Hells Kitchen’, anytime a POC is featured, they’re always at odds with the white contestants, and the WP always label POC as having ‘ghetto attitudes’. It’s nauseating…

    1. Reality TV is anything but. It is manipulated to entertain the masses with drama, sex, and outright stupidity. We dont need more reality TV shows, but it seems like the networks and the public can’t get enough of it. What’s more sad is that they are all based on other reality TV shows. It’s like creativity is at a premium.

  10. Oh puleeeze!! These ‘sistas’ as you call them are complete idiots and should be held ACCOUNTABLE for the nonsense they portray. They are grown women who most of the time don’t CARE foolish or terrible they look case in point Omarosa. She was a manipulative a-hole who threw Kwame under the bus and was a total screw-up that is on her not any producer.

    1. By that logic, so should the Jersey Shore crew be held accountable for the stupidity they portray?…Wait! How about this? How about the producers who look for certain kinds of people with screws loose to entertain the sick masses who are into nothing but drama, foolishness, and outright non-creative, trash TV?

      We can debate about the whole accountability thing till the cows come home. However, that doesn’t even come close to the very heart of the matter, the dark heart at the center of this nation’s media system.

  11. I get what you are saying in fact I 100 percent agree but at the same time I’m saying we need to hold these people ACCOUNTABLE for what they are doing. Truth to be told many of the black people on these shows could care less what negative images they convey all they care about is the bottom line namely their 15 minutes. That’s all I was trying to say.

  12. So not important, but Nene in this pic looks so wholesome, healthy, and natural (ok-she could ditch the hair-nevertheless,still very cute.) in comparison to the artifice she presents today.

    I try to stay away from white controlled media as much as possible. I’ve determined their media is detrimental to my mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.

  13. I remember some years back a dude by the username of “towelblower” (don’t know what the hell that means…) made the statement that “a big black woman can sing her azz off”…

    if it wasn’t for the fact that his comment was utterly ridiculous i wouldn’t have laughed as hard.

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