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.