Black Women On Televisoin

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It’s Not Just Entertainment!

Deborah Gray-Young Promo Port 121812In a recent survey of professional women of color, nearly 60% said overcoming stereotypes was a major challenge for them in their workplace.  Stereotypes are borne out of biases and prejudices.  One of the ways old stereotypes are perpetuated and new ones are introduced is through entertainment and media.

The slate of television programming is set, and the season well underway.  It brings mixed expectations.  One television program after the other presents its comedic offering at the considerable expense of women.

And women are now participating in their own degradation in the name of artistic pursuit or more to the point, to pay the bills. But it’s not just entertainment, these television programs that vilify and disparage women, especially women of color.

What is the residual impact of the negative portrayal of women and girls?  Who and what is it giving permission to participate in the devaluation of women of every age?  What does the societal devaluation look like?

As more and more women graduated from college and began to move up the ranks in corporate America, women became publicly characterized as dogs (the “b” word) and cats (cougars).  Then we began to act and treat each other like same.  Television networks are making a fortune with reality shows and dramas based on this.

In viewing trailers of some of the programs for the current season now mid way, almost none of the networks, in the pursuit of ratings and revenue could resist developing at least one show that sensationalizes the ridiculous and eliminates intelligence, grace and class.

More fights, more bickering, more back biting are prime time fare.  Most networks gave into this temptation because based on the ratings (the percentage of people who watch the program), network executives believe this is what women want to watch.  And they would be right because we haven’t told them otherwise.

“My guilty pleasure” is how women characterize these programs. But the impact and influence of television programming is insidious.  Before you know it the behavior and attitudes slip into your psyche and begin to subtly or not so subtly influence you, how you are perceived and how you perceive others.

Television programs are not just a guilty pleasure.  In many instances, television programs are perpetuating negative stereotypes as well as creating new ones. Although television characters are largely presented as fictional, they are who and what television executives and programmers think you are.  And it is influencing how women are perceived and treated by peers and now our children.

Don’t think so?  Why launch a clothing line based on the fashions worn in a top show?  Don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with the fashion line that’s been introduced.  But why produce a clothing line if you do not believe the characters and imagery are powerful and persuasive and will influence the audience.

How can the clothes be persuasive and the behaviors not?  How can the audience be influenced by the clothes but not be influenced by the stereotypical actions and behaviors of the characters?   Just something to think about.

A colleague shared with me that he noticed that his teenage son and his friends do not socialize with the black girls in their school.  Why?  Because the boys find it difficult to have a conversation with the girls without the impersonations of certain reality television characters interfering and taking over.

“We can’t have a conversation without eye rolling, neck popping, or some negative or demeaning comment”  the boys said.

YIKES!  I said. Oh, and they dress like them too, he said!

Seriously? Why are high schoolers walking around looking like reality television personalities?

I know I’m on the verge of pushing water up hill on this.  But the reasons Black women are not taken seriously involve layered complexities tethered to stereotypes that go way back.

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They are the types that bind us.  And frankly, we are doing more than our fair share of perpetuating them as well as creating them anew.  While you may get 60 minutes of enjoyment out of your guilty pleasure, it’s not just entertainment.

“When they confront race and gender stereotypes, black women are standing in a crooked room, and they have to figure out which way is up.  Bombarded with warped images of their humanity, some black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion.”   From Sister Citizen, by Melissa V. Harris-Perry.

Which stereotypes are unknowingly plaguing your personal and professional life? Where do the stereotypes come from and why is important that you know? How can you address them if you don’t know what they are?  Is your guilty pleasure helping to paint an unfair picture of who you are?

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Life is about choices.  What are you choosing for you today?



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