By: Darlene Ashamole
Why is it that positive images of Black women are rarely shown in the media? Why do more people know about Nene Leakes from The Real Housewives of Atlanta than about positive role models such as Viola Davis? ‘We live in a post-racial society,’many people say, but if we did then why are we (Black women) underrepresented in American culture. As a Black Woman it is hard to find positive images of other Black Women in the media. As the so-called “Black Renaissance” in terms of positive Black woman models such as Oprah Winfrey, Clair Huxtable(The Cosby Show), and Vivian Banks(The Fresh Prince) amongst others prevalent in the 1980’s and 1990’s media have faded away, a new age has come to the forefront, and that is the age of Reality television.
Turn on the television to VH1 or Bravo and you are bound to see black women featured in shows such as Love & Hip Hop, Basketball Wives, or The Real Housewives of Atlanta amongst many others. I went to a Chuck D lecture last year and he talked about Dumba**ification. He defined it as ‘when illogic becomes logic and people embrace the illogical’. This is a problem that I believe goes on today; people play down to the illogical stereotypes expected of them instead of writing their own positive history. Beverly Tatum stated the urgency with which these reality shows create when she said “If we live in an environment in which we are bombarded with stereotypical images in the media…we will develop the negative categorizations of those groups that form the basis of prejudice”(Tatum 1997). These shows perpetuate negative stereotypes and present a negative view of black women to people who do not know much about what it means to be a black woman. As a result when others think of black women these “negative categorizations” come to mind and are passed on to later generations.
In this day and age, many people expect a black woman to be on top of her popular culture and know all there is to know about the aforementioned shows. However, as a Black Woman, I refuse to watch these shows! Gabrielle Union, another image of a positive black woman not shown in the media enough, described these shows as the “celebration of ratchetness.”This means that instead of not supporting these negatively stereotyped shows black women watch it and as a result “celebrate the ratchetness.” Of course the blame can be put on whites who are the ones in power in terms of the media, but black women cannot let themselves off the hook either as Tracy Ross stated in her article When will the Media Start Portraying Black Women Without Betraying Them? (Ross 2012). The dominant group will not care to perpetuate positive views of the subordinate group until the subordinate group takes a stand. As a member of these two targeted groups as Bobbie Harro described them in The Cycle of Socialization, I refuse to be a contributor to these negatively stereotypical shows; after all these shows are able to go on because of the demand for them.
The reality shows that are so prevalent today featuring Black women only show a narrow view of a small percentage of black women who embrace a lavish lifestyle. The ignorant way in which some of the women on the show carry themselves can cause other young women out there to form negative intrapersonal socialization as Harro stated (Harro 2000). While some may think that the shows are funny, they affect how others, most importantly black women think about black women. It can create internalized oppression as Fletcher talked about extensively in Internalized Oppression: The Enemy Within. The problem arises when expectations are lowered for black women after others watch these shows and when the black women begin to play out the negative stereotype because that is what is expected of them anyway. Another danger that the incessant negative images cause is when one begins to hold their own self back because of poor self-esteem or lack of belief in their own abilities (Fletcher 1999). Black women are not all the same and should not be looked at in the same light. Pop culture may present us in a certain way but that does not represent us all. They make it so that as Gabrielle Union stated again, “Black women have to bigger, badder, and better just to be even.” Every woman’s beauty is powerful; it just depends on what they do with it.
I believe in practicing what I preach so I will not waste my time endorsing shows that do not present women that may look like me in a positive light. Instead I will look up to the Viola Davis’, Clair Huxtable’s, Vivian Banks’, Michelle Obama’s, Gabrielle Union’s, and Kerry Washington’s of the media world amongst others. I will not participate in Dumba**ification or the “celebration of ratchetness.” Instead I will be a role model for younger generations and challenge the falsely preconceived notions people may have about my character before they get to know me. I know that I must change myself before I go out and ask others to change. So, I will do right and perpetuate positive views of black women.
Fletcher, B. R. (1999). Internalized oppression: The enemy within. In Reading book for human relations training, 97-102. Arlington, VA: NTL Institute.
Harro, B. (2000). The cycle of socialization. In M. Adams, W. J. Blumenfeld, R. Casteñeda, H. Hackman, M. Peters, and X. Zúniga (Eds.), Readings for Diversity and Social Justice: An anthology on racism, antisemitism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and classism, 15- 21. New York: Routledge.
Ross, T. (2012).When Will the Media Start Portraying Black Women without Betraying Them. http://www.racialicious.com/2012/10/02/when-will-the-media-start-portraying-black-women-without-betraying-them/
Tatum, B.D. (1997). Defining racism: Can we talk. In Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?, 3-14. New York: Basic Books.