Rene Syler Speaks...


Is Reality TV Bad For Black Women?
by Rene Syler of Good Enough Mother

This one’s for all you Reality TV fans out there!

I saw this article in Newsweek this week and thought it would make for great debate. Some of you may be rolling your eyes or saying “Not again” but hear me out, because if you have a TV, this impacts you as well.

The point of the Newsweek piece is that reality TV is not kind to Black women, and chances are, unless you are the head bobbin’, finger poppin’, take-no-sh*t, confrontational sort, your chances of being cast in one of these shows are pretty slim.

A common sight lately, according to the piece, is placing two or more headstrong African American women on the same show and watch them go at each other, a la Star Jones and NeNe Leakes on this season’s Celebrity Apprentice. Sound like a modern day cage match? Yeah, it did to me too.

Here’s my take; you’ve seen me talk about the Angry Black Woman stereotype and the role television plays in keeping it alive. Say what you will about television but it is a powerful medium, one that helps shape the world around us, for better or worse. The concern is that people who may not live in areas rich in diversity, are going to formulate opinions based on what they see come out of that very powerful box. And lately, it’s just been a bunch of black women ready to throw down.

Why should you worry? Are you Italian? How much time do you spend running around lifting up your GTL shirt to show the world your abs? Probably not a lot, but tell that to a young person who may not live in a diverse part of the country but through the gift that is cable TV, gets to formulate an opinion about Italian Americans based on the runaway hit that is Jersey Shore. Not good. Now, lest you think me devoid of humor you must know I’m not saying do away with ALL of it; things like this become stereotypes because there is a kernel of truth in them and some of it frankly, is funny. The problem is when it becomes all or nothing. And based on what we see of Black women on TV, God help us all when Oprah goes off the air.

That’s my opinion; what’s yours? Do you have an issue with shows that cast only stereotypes, to the exclusion of all others? Are you tired of seeing head bobbing black women on reality shows? Start debating everyone…

25 Weigh in!:
Anonymous said...

I think that article was spot on. I had this discussion with my brother about a month ago. And while black males are coming off relatively unscathed in reality tv world, black women on the other hand are just being eviscerated.

Just when you thought that video girls were the worst we could get, here comes reality tv!

I mean where to begin...Love & Hip Hop, Basketball Wives, RHOA....the facade of bourgie-ness and the flip to straight out ghetto-brawling coupled with the materialism and vulgar language..... REALLY!

It's just horrible and there are just not enough other shows (reality, sitcom or otherwise) to counter these images.

And if black women think that this imagery doesn't do damage, they are delusional. It's just amazing that a time when I see black women doing so many fantastic things for themselves, be it career, family, socially, politically, and/or creatively, this (these types of shows) is all we have to represent us.

And I am sorry, but shame on Shaunie O'Neil. She talked about doing the Basketball Wives show and her other ventures as a means to create a legacy for her children, to be able to pass something on to them. Really, this is the type of legacy you want to hand down to your daughters and sons? At what price?

Is it any wonder that young, black men are growing up with a mentality that includes thinking the absolute worst of young black girls. Look at what they think she'll grow up to be like....would you want your son marrying a woman who acts like these women on these shows?

It's all connected and black women are going to have to do some serious damage control to try and rectify this situation. God help us all.

Jessi said...

I agree wholeheartedly. It's a big part of why I don't watch these shows. There was a time where I would try to give each one a chance, but I refuse to support something that sets us back 20 years. We really don't need any help from the media in making our image worse than what it already is.

Anonymous said...

Women of other races are acting angry (fighting, cussing, being messy, etc.) on other reality shows too. I think on the Housewives of New Jersey or perhaps it was New York there was a fight - someone actually grabbed someone's hair. Unfortunately, it all makes for good TV. Of course, we (myself included) could all change that by simply not watching. If the ratings were poor there would be no show.

And on a different note: An early Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers. I am not a mom, but I hear its the greatest job a person could have.

Anonymous said...

I agree and disagree; I do think some of these ladies act a crazy fool on television, but on some of those shows there are varied personalities represented. For example, since we're discussing The Apprentice, Latoya Jackson was on the show as well, and she was a more docile personality; they're not all Type A's.

But I think as a people, we're constantly worried about how others represent us. We're still not really free if we can't be individuals and just be ourselves instead of being a representative for the entire black community.

Dorian said...

Although I agree that reality tv in general is not presenting a positive image of AA women, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that no group - white women, black men, ethnicity, gay men, Americans etc is presented in a flattering light on reality tv. At this point, after watching every fashion reality show, middle America with limited experience around homosexual men must think that every gay man is over the top with his personality to prove his sexuality. Or that every well to do white woman (thanks to the real housewife series) is a ditz who sits around spending money with no idea of where it came from and hopes that her husband won't replace her for a better model. And to the international community who's only reference to our country's culture is through reality tv...we must all (black, white, pink, green) look like a bunch of over hyped, ignorant, ghetto fabulous turds - leading them to think that it's no wonder the US is no longer tops in education and we're importing employees faster than anything else.

As someone who works in the industry, the point is to always cast people who are at extremes - because extremes equals ratings. Typically, the black man is either cast as the "angry black man" who always has a message but no real job, or as a skank. I do watch RHOA and most of the men on there come off looking pathetic. NeNe's husband sounds like a bum and a liar, Phaedra's husband is an X con, Sheree(sp)'s ex husband supposedly doesn't pay child support and the one who just got married last season is married to someone who's got a very old school idea of how the man rules everything - including how much time his wife can spend interacting with her friends. If I didn't already have experience dating black men, and that was my first time learning about them, I wouldn't want one!

It sounds harsh but no channel (including BET, OWN or Centric) would greenlight a program showing calm, perfectly well behaved people who only did good and never had any form of drama. Even TLC's "18 & Counting" tries to inject some form of drama - but even then...watching the squeaky clean Dugar (sp) family is boring. If you were honest with yourself, you'd admit that you wouldn't watch a squeaky clean show either. If we want to learn about being goodie-two-shoes, we'll watch televangelists.

Unfortunately, reality tv is meant to exaggerate because it keeps people hooked. The important thing is to have serious conversations with your kids after watching these shows to let them know that what they see on TV may be a version of the truth - but not the only truth. As influential as TV can be, it's still the parent's responsibility to instill values. I think we're letting parents off too easy by placing all the blame squarely on the television networks and production studios.

Jocelyn said...

I do think the media always shows us the stereotypical angry black woman especially reality shows...but women of ALL races cut up on reality shows. Those women on the other Real Housewives get into it and show their behinds just as much as the women on Real Housewives of Atlanta. Like Anon at 12:18 said, however, there aren't enough OTHER shows/movies where black women are portrayed to begin with, and especially ones where black women aren't portrayed as being angry, loud and confrontational. I think the article also has it right in that there is a kernel of truth in things like this. Media and TV are based on real life...so why are black women always being portrayed this way? I have to admit that I occasionally watch shows like this, and when I do I find them a little funny. If we want to change how black women are seen, however, it starts with us. We don't have to behave this way just b/c we see women on TV behaving this way. If we show people that black women come in many varieties then eventually we can move away from always being seen as stereotypical angry black women...and eventually it will be reflected in the media. We could even take a drastic approach and refuse to watch TV shows that only portray black women negatively...if no one watches them they won't continue to come on. Lastly, I think black men suffer just as much as black women when it comes to negative portrayal by the media. It's getting better, but it takes time (perhaps generations) for people to change their views on things like this.

Amber said...

I know angry black women. But I also know sweet black women, artsy black women, nerdy black women, dead pan black women, ditzy black women, funny black women, the list goes on. The angry black women trope may lose some if its power if there were a variety of different kinds of black women on TV.

Television does shape your view of people. Ironically I did judge an Italian guy from Jersey based of the Jersey Shore series (that I have actually never seen barring a few minutes before I turned). He worked out a lot and gelled his hair. I was a bit wary of him upon first meeting, but upon talking to him, he's nothing like those crazy kids on TV, he and I had a lot on common. I was slightly ashamed of myself for being swayed like that, I'm a thinking, grown woman, I should know better!

Don't underestimate the power of the media. Whether you are like the black women on television or not, people are going to judge you against that stereotype.

And I think it goes without saying I want more kinds of black women on TV. I'm a black woman who avoids conflict as often as possible, hence I do not really relate to or understand ABW. Black women can get angry, but to say that's our default personality? That warrants an eyebrow raise.

sarah said...

"there aren't enough OTHER shows/movies where black women are portrayed to begin with"

simply untrue. i believe this to be the root of the problem. it is us. we believe this to be a truth so we just settle for it. i can't count the number of times i've had this very conversation with people who grandstand as if they care, but they are silently feeding these trashy shows ratings. i also think the "crabs in a barrel" effect works for TV as well. we really don't want to see ourselves do well, but it makes us feel better to have these discussions, as if we are really trying. if you think it's that serious, turn off Real Basketball Wives of Hip Hop and watch something else! there ARE PLENTY of shows where black women aren't acting a fool. one just got canceled because the ratings were so poor. meanwhile, Basketball Wives is filming season 3 because millions of people are tuning in because they find it "a little funny", SMH.

Anonymous said...

I am 21 year old black female who grew up in the suburbs. Everyday I go out into the world worried about how others perceive me based on just what they see. I go into stores with my hands firmly placed at my sides and dont lift a finger unless I intend to buy. I go to restaurants and shush my friends when they get to lound, scared someone will look at us and say "typical black women". I am currently working towards becoming a flight attendant so I can realize my dream of seeing the world. I have an idea of what the world thinks of my race. I am big fan of bollywood films and it didnt take me long to notice that black people are seen as thugs and criminals. All I can do is prove people wrong by being myself but when they are being overloaded with images portraying my race in a negative light I feel sort of helpless. I am not ashamed of being black but I am ashamed of what people think when they think of my race.

Anonymous said...

I'm fine with reality shows until it showcases vile ignorant creatures like Nene who belongs nowhere near tv or any human being. Let's stop beating around the bush Nene is the main person you think of when you read a article like this. It's so sad that now with Celebrity Apprentice she has a much wider audience to view her disgusting behavior. I'm so embarrassed by her I can't even watch and cringe when I see clips of her acting like a rabid fool because even though they are dead wrong you know other races are pointing at her and saying see how they are? Even though other races can behave just as bad or lose it once in a while the difference is she portrays herself like this 99% of the time and it comes out of thin air with no reasoning. I wish unstable people like her were not celebrated and put on tv because she'll never realize she's been hired as the low life joke.

I know my post is harsh and don't want to offend anyone but had to speak the truth.

Dorian said...

To anonymous 1:59...living in fear of being perceived the wrong way won't make those perceptions go away. I too grew up in the burbs, went to an Ivy league school and do travel around the world. I've never had someone treat me any kind of way but politely. I think a lot of it is how you carry yourself. But never forge that you can be as prim as you want to - if someone wants to see you as being inherently negative, they will.

I go to Asia frequently, and normally, Asian culture does NOT have a generally positive view of African Americans. However, I've never been treated any other way but kindly. Likewise, people don't follow me around in stores or give me low class service when I'm here in the States. Project what you want to receive, and you will!

Anonymous said...

I totally understand the sentiments of the young poster who said that she feels ashamed of how we are percieved in the world. Many of us aren't helping the cause either. Lol!

Although I do not feel ashamed, I am totally fatigued of the surprise that so many people unabashedly express when they come face to face with a person who defies the stereotypes they've allowed themselves to believe.
I work in an industry with few black women and when I have to attend meetings of rooms full of old white men, it is God-awful draining to deal with the level of social ignorance that exists.

I realized that I'm not here to represent anyone but me. The media and others can do whatever they want and think of people who may look like me however they like.. I just don't have the enjoy to worry about it - too busy trying to enjoy life. I've decided to just be the best "me" that I can and surround myself with people who have values that are in sync with mine.
I do, however, SMH whenever I see the likes of many of these reality TV stars, but there ARE people in the world like this AND it sells. Unfortunately, even some of us have bought into the hype that this kind of behavior is the norm. People have dissed black women since the beginning of time. I don't think its going stop any time soon.
My personal preference would be to have a world full of empathic, compassionate, intelligent, mannerful, highly spiritual, very health conscious, thoughtful and educated people, but that's MY fantasy. Maybe in the next life. Lol

StaceyMarie said...

I agree that we SHOULD all be allowed to "be free to be me", but there's a big difference between what IS and what SHOULD be. "Should" is a subjective and relative term. I'm a social worker and was a teacher, so I SHOULD make more money than the average NBA player, right? Everyone SHOULD take care of their children. Instead, we are left with the stark reality of what IS. And what IS, is that overall, as a community, we're only perceived to be as strong as our weakest link.

SwanLakeLibra said...

I personally have given up on RHOA, it truly has become ghetto. Neke makes my ass hurt, she always wanna jump in someones face. Someone just needs to whoop that ass one good time. The celebrity apprentice is a joke along with Donald Trump.

Although the other reality shows can be just as negative, the problem is, there are not enough "decent" black shows on cable and/or network TV to off-site what the RHOA, Basketball Wives and The Game, etc is putting out.

Yes, I said The Game; once BET got hold to it, its not the same. What I mean is, the women this season appeared to be insecure, desperate, low-class. I mean Tasha playing around with that little boy, she was a confident self-made woman when it was on UPN. Melanie, had her issues but she stooped too new lows to keep a man for an educated woman. Kelly, oh my goosh, straight up white trash and her daughter. And how the men were portrayed wasn't too positive either.

Because we (AA) women are already stereotyped, it doesn't help. Like my grannie told me when I was a little girl (I'm 43 now), you "can't" do what "they" do. Basically, white people can say and do things and still advance but if "we" do it, you not only affect you but other blacks. We are typically judged as a race based on a "few" blacks and it tends to be the "negative" ones at that.

But I agree, if we stop watching and they suffer poor rating, it will get cancelled and they will stop making those types of shows (for example RHOD.C. was cancelled due to low ratings). That's just my 2cents.

Dorian said...

Yes but RHOD.C. was horrible...none of the characters were really likeable and the only drama they had was from the one couple that crashed the white house event. And then they tried to drag that drama on for the entire season. It just wasn't believable! o_0

Chan said...

Unfortunately Hollywood is full of drama. And to get drama, in some cases they feed sterotypes. NeNe earlier on was trying to be civilized and they called her own it? (sd she was going to ruin her rep?) It's what Hollywood does... This is true with Mob Wives, Housewives of New Jersey, and all the rest. Whatever is considered the prevelant sterotype within any of these cultures that is what they want to see. They don't want educated, proper ladies. That's why Trump chose NeNe because he knew should would come in there and SET it OFF. I mean Omarosa was a different kind of sister, she was educated and didn't roll as much neck, but still full of drama none the less. If we want to see black women in a positive light, we will have to change what we are watching on televison. Bottom line.

Anonymous said...

Funny because I was just having a conversation about the ABW today. Someone stated that I was confrontational and angry like most black women. Then it was said that “All blacks are confrontational” WOW!! I DO NOT watch Atlanta Housewives, Basketball Wives, Apprentice and any show that exploit black women. I agree that we take for granted that everybody does not have our background when it comes to sincere and factual knowledge of other ethnic groups and only can believe what they see. The news, videos, movies, T.V. shows and especially the awful reality shows, represent us in a negative light. They show us fussing, cussing, scheming, backstabbing and overall carrying on with people they consider “friends” and in MY opinion, it’s disgusting. The shows remain on the air because millions support them by watching that nonsense and they become instant celebrities for acting a darn fool……Just my opinion..It may be entertaining for some to watch until they are labeled ABW just because of the color of their skin base on the some silly reality show

Anonymous said...

To the commenter who mentioned "crabs in a bucket mentality" in reference to what many of our own will or will not watch on TV-
You are soooo right! I remember when The Cosby Show was on TV back in the 80's. I was in college. One of the college professors was a very well known black male author who prides himself on being a black nationalist (changed his name and errthang- lol). He literally announced one day in class that "black people don't live like that". I was totally disgusted by him for a number of reasons. Suffice it to say, people like him feel more comfortable with the status quo. Lol

Anonymous said...

well said!

Anonymous said...

^^^^ in reference to Rene

Rene Syler said...

@sarah: What shows are you talking about where black women are portrayed more accurately? What channels are they on? cable vs broadcast (and yes, that makes a difference, as I explain in the ABW piece which you can link to from here). It's not about the number of shows; it's about the number of viewers those shows have, are the roles primary or secondary, cable versus broadcast and on and on. There are many parameters to take into account. Look, I write these pieces because I want to educate based on my decades in TV and want us to think about what's going on.

@Anon 6:39: not sure what ^^^^ means. And thanks to those who wished us moms a happy Mothers Day. Back at ya
Rene

Anonymous said...

I think most of the people they cast on reality tv shows are ridiculous and silly! That's why I don't watch reality tv. Most of it is a bunch of ignorant a$% folks acting like damn fools. I've got better things to do with my time then watch that mess!

Anonymous said...

These images are exported into the virtual stratosphere. I've lived in countries where their understanding of Blacks in America came from New Jack City, Colors and Good Hair. We have a right to be worried about who controls our international and historical image. Italians and other White women, fair-skinned Latinas (even dark-skinned), Asians and Arab women who 'act up' in the media are not viewed in light of the same imagery popularly connected to Black women as vulgar, over-sexed, ugly, violent, talentless, tragic and ignorant brutes.

Positive images exist but the worst ones make more money. I don't like ideas of behavioral censorship and therefore it's up to us to become PR masters and promote how we want to be viewed on-line and in other media. Write in and complain, write a screenplay, stop funding crap and petition others to stop funding it too (Donald Trump), support better images (like Undercovers) and speak up and represent this imagery in non-Black social and virtual spheres.

Anonymous said...

I don't watch none of them...lowers the IQ level, want drama while learning watch a judge show

Anonymous said...

My two cents:

Although the images don't help. We tend to overlook the fact that people also respond to their actual interactions with us and observations of us. I personally find a large percentage of black people in general to act in ways that a less than desirable. Whether it is being super defensive, short tempered, quick-to-get-stink, harsh tone to the voice, or just generally unsmiling or uncommunicative, our "real life" behaviors leave much to be desired. If the image on the screen didn't match the experience others have with us and what we have with ourselves, the images wouldn't make such an impact.

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