“As-Salaam-Alaikum” (“Peace be unto you”)
Redefining HERstory: “This is not MY Reality or Black Womanhood!”
The mass media’s structure can be categorized as being a racial and sexist system capable of influencing viewers’ philosophies about minorities and their behaviors as well has established, promoted, and manipulated a standard of televised White normalcy for womanhood. Throughout history, White women were viewed as being innocent, passive, demure, pure, and pure; the epitome of womanhood while Black women were viewed as morally corrupt, overly aggressive, brassy and sassy who are hypersexual beasts and were exposed to the same disparaging ideologies, treatment and harsh sufferings as Black men (Dugger, 1988). Our identity is entwined with being Black and female.
Therefore, the Black woman’s identity and experiences are rooted in gender and racial oppression and the White woman’s identity and experiences are rooted in privilege. Thus, Black womanhood is more complicated and does not reflect society’s preconceived ideologies that have generalized us as being Black which reflects the Black man or female which reflects the White woman (Dugger, 1988; Keating, 1995; King, 1998). Unfortunately, with the utilization reality television, these unique experiences are presented through tainted lenses riddled with sexist and racist illustrations of Black womanhood. They are not reflective of our experiences, presence, or uniqueness and have flooded the airways with fallacious ideals and televised representations of womanhood that has blatantly rendered the Black woman’s true identities nonexistent.
According to the May 2016 Nielsen Media Research data from the 2015-2016 television, 22 out of the 100 shows that were listed on the popularity list were reality based television shows among viewers ranging from 18-49 years of age (Schneider, 2016). Of the 22 featured reality shows, four shows featured an all-Black female cast. Three were from the VH1’s Love and Hip Hop franchise: Love and Hip Hop, Love and Hip Hop Atlanta, and Love and Hip Hop Hollywood the other one featured was Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta (Schneider, 2016). According to the Nielsen Total Audience Report released in September 2016, Blacks watched 24.6% more television than Whites – 19.8%, Hispanics – 17.6% and Asian Americans – 13.8% per adult (Nielsen.com). Another report from Nieslen.com: Nielsen – the African American Consumer Report 2013 showed that Black women were the heaviest viewers of television. Therefore, it can be concluded that Black women are the leading viewers of reality television that feature a predominately all-Black female cast.
This overwhelming fascination with reality television has become a revolutionized avenue for television networks to continue to perpetuate and exploit misguided ideologies about Black womanhood by filming their real-time interpersonal interactions in different ‘everyday settings.’ By hiding discriminatory depictions under the umbrella of reality television and its elemental structure that is similar to dramatic films, television shows and comedies (Hartman, 2013); these shows only perpetuate degrading ideologies of Black womanhood while enlisting the viewers to get attached to the characters through their dramatic storylines that promote conflicts and negative behaviors.
These images or portrayals are a reflection of televised, societal norms that have stereotypically characterized these enactments as being real depictions and characteristics of the Black woman; as being their true identities. As a Black woman, I truly know that I do not behave in that manner as well as the many other Black women that I know. So why do we continue to support television shows through our viewership that depict us in that manner and keep helping them to perpetuate damaging ideologies of Black women and their version of Black womanhood?
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Dugger, K. (1988). Social location and gender-role attitudes: A comparison of Black and white women. Gender & Society, 2(4), 425-448. doi: 10.1177/089124388002004002.
Hartman, C. (2013). Why do people enjoy watching reality TV — especially given that it’s often fake? Retrieved from: https://www.quora.com/Why-do-people-enjoy-watching-reality- TV%E2%80%94-especially-given-that-its-often-fake?redirected_qid=1682358#!n=12.
Keating, A. L. (1995). Interrogating whiteness, deconstructing race. College English, 57(8), 901- 918. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/378620. doi:1.
King, D. K. (1988). Multiple jeopardy, multiple consciousness: The context of a black feminist ideology. Signs, 14(1), 42-72. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3174661.
Nielsen (2013). Resilient, receptive and relevant: African American consumer report 2013 report. Retrieved from: http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/reports- downloads/2013%20Reports/Nielsen-African-American-Consumer-Report-Sept- 2013.pdf.
Nielsen (2016). The nielsen total audience report (Q2 2016). Retrieved from: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2016/the-nielsen-total-audience-report-q2- 2016.html.
Schneider, M. (2016). These are the 100 most-liked TV shows of the 2015-2016 season: Winners and losers. Retrieved from: http://www.indiewire.com/2016/05/most-watched-tv-show- 2015-2016-season-game-of-thrones-the-walking-dead-football-1201682396/.