Despite its name, reality TV is anything but. Arguments are often set up and tense situations are regularly manufactured in an effort to spark drama, and hopefully garner high ratings. But when on-screen arguments involve black folks, and specifically black men, why is it that we are often made to appear violent and out of control?
In a recent episode of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, former late night host Arsenio Hall got into it with with former Danity Kane member Aubrey O’Day. Apparently, Hall was pissed that O’Day attempted to take control of the task that he was in charge of, and although he held his tongue throughout the project in an effort to keep the peace, when the team got into the boardroom he let his true feelings be known.
After the boardroom, the team retreated to their suite to await Donald Trump’s decision. Although O’Day didn’t rejoin her team, Arsenio’s frustrations boiled over and he continued venting to his teammates, telling them that O’Day wasn’t “going nowhere” in the competition because she was only out for herself.
Although Hall was extreme in his language, his frustrations were valid. However, teammate and New Jersey Housewife Teresa Giudice (who’s known for flipping over tables) said Hall’s outburst was scary and Comedian and Apprentice contestant Lisa Lampanelli described it as violent.
This isn’t the first time black men have been made out to look “violent” because of their argument style.
During the first season of MTV’s The Real World, writer and activist Kevin Powell became the embodiment of the scary black man stereotype when he argued with Julie, the sweet innocent downhome girl. The show painted Powell as overly concerned with race and, of course, perpetually angry.
While these depictions make for juicy TV, they also further the notion that people need to be afraid of black men–all of them. Even the seemingly nice ones, as Giudice says she thought of Hall, can turn on you in a minute.
These on-screen images not only fall in line with commonly held stereotypes, but also set up situations when everyday people transfer their fears of black men onto any and every black man they meet. They also set up situations in which a young man is deemed suspicious because he’s wearing a hoodie and walking in a “good” neighborhood at dusk. As the tragic death of Trayvon Martin shows us, the constant portrayal of black men as scary, angry, and potentially violent can lead to very real and disastrous results.