For many people, reality shows Basketball Wives, Miami and Real Housewives of Atlanta have metastasized in America’s psyche as a poisonous stereotype of African-American women.

Cloaked as entertainment, our marginalization as angry Sapphires and promiscuous Jezebels is encapsulated in each and every episode. At times, both juvenile and superficial — with a painfully obvious need for fame and external validity — these women have yet to realize that every cat-fight and backstabbing antic solidifies their pioneering role in a new Blackface era, where strong, successful women are reduced to mere caricatures of themselves.

Which is why it is so intriguing that the shiniest star in the BBW orbit is Evelyn Lozada.

You wouldn’t guess it by the petition spreading like wild-fire across the black wide web, but Lozada, a proud Puerto-Rican from the Bronx, is not African-American. Whether she considers herself to be black or not is a topic tackling race vs. ethnicity that is tangential to this article. Still, without fanfare or warning, she has become a symbol of many of the stereotypical depictions that have plagued African-American women since the dawn of time and all she needed to do was act like a damn fool.

How exactly did this happen? How was our distorted media image transferred so seamlessly to Lozada?

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, host of MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry and author of the book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, said in a discussion at the University of California, Santa Barbara, that many black women feel shamed by stereotypical images – many which have come to life in the contemporary narratives of Basketball Wives and RHOA — because we are still grappling with our identity in this country and asserting our right to shed the stigma of being black in America. With powerful honesty, she told the audience that seeing ourselves portrayed in a positive light instinctively “means something to us.” With this in mind, it would make sense that when we see these historical stereotypes weekly in high definition, the “color” of the person embodying them ceases to be important.

Not surprisingly, the topic of “race” is approached with extreme caution and vagueness on both shows. Leading many viewers, perhaps subconsciously, into believing that both Evelyn and Kim Zolciak of RHOA — the token white woman who tries so painfully hard be a stereotypical “sista”  — are anomalies in a world where they are not representatives of their respective cultures. Rather, they are viewed as “honorary members” of our own – at least the mischaracterization of it that is spoon-fed to the world. Unlike the inescapable “otherness” of black skin in this country, their racial identity is safely tucked between the folds of what is stereotypically considered an African-American woman’s existence. Simultaneously, a fun-house mirror reflection of Black culture is being broadcast all over the world, then boomeranging back to polarize our communities.

In a previous Clutch article, I hypothesized that to feel disrespect, one must feel that a characterization is abusive, and to experience that abuse on a visceral level, one must feel that even if it’s not true of them as individuals, it is often true of their kindred in the collective. This is amplified on BBW and RHOA, where critics continue to cast judgment on what blurs into an all-Black cast and many of us will continue to shoulder the “shame” of two small groups of women because how we are represented “means something to us.”

While this concern is admirable, and at times necessary, the idea that black women must always be perfectly well-behaved — or risk shaming the community-at-large – is both unrealistic and unfair. We are fighting a battle that is unique to women of color in this country, and that is the duality of asserting our individual identities separate from stereotypical imagery, while fighting for the elevation of our communities as a whole. This places us in the precarious position of not being able to ignore the pervasive effects of reality television, while still recognizing that every, single one of these women has the right to present themselves to the world as they choose – whether anyone agrees or not.

At some point, the debate must be expanded to encompass not only how our narrow representations in media are affecting our communities, but to also address the more nuanced ground of individual identity – something to which black women seem not to be entitled.

Dialogue is essential.

And a good place to begin would be to examine why black women have been elected as torch-bearers for the entire African-American community at-large – trapped in a cycle of stereotypes that refuse to disappear.

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  • TAE

    this whole race vs ethnicity thing really confuses the hell out of me. I am an african american/ black woman and I don’t even know what to call myself anymore. It kind of troubles me that it seems anybody can identify as black but black people can’t be anything other than black, if that makes any sense. And then there’s the whole question of what exactly it means to be black? My opinion is that now black really has nothing to do with race or ethnicity and everything to do with culture. Anybody can be black if you talk the part, walk the part, and dress the part, our whole culture is one big stereotype in which anyone can step into at any time. This is the work of popular culture. The asian man at the beauty supply store told me he was black. He held up his hand and said, “My skin not black, but i’m black” I really didn’t have anything to say. I’m not sure if that was supposed to make me feel closer to him or buy more products but I didn’t. I actually felt closer to him before he said anything, especially that. I just find it mildly disturbing how some non black people of color throw their “blackness” at me. It’s like hey I’m just like you girlfriend. And inside there is a tiny voice that says, no you’re not. I mean we are all one people, this is true, but we are definitely divided into tribes and more often than not those tribes are determined by ethnicty and culture. My “blackness” doesn’t just come from how I dress, what music I listen to, the way I talk. It’s how I was raised, it’s in my dna, I got if from my momma and my daddy, who got it from they momma and they daddy before them, who got it from they momma and daddy before them. So I have a difficult time looking at a woman like Evelyn Lozada and feeling like she is just as african american as I am. But at the end of the day I love all people, and people are gonna do and call themselves what they want.

    • Kim

      TAE, you have just expressed what so many of us older black woman feel. Thank you.

    • AJ

      @TAE: “My “blackness” doesn’t just come from how I dress, what music I listen to, the way I talk. It’s how I was raised, it’s in my dna, I got if from my momma and my daddy, who got it from they momma and they daddy before them, who got it from they momma and daddy before them. So I have a difficult time looking at a woman like Evelyn Lozada and feeling like she is just as african american as I am. ”

      Evelyn Lozada’s “Blackness” is in her DNA too! She is descended through the African slave trade to the Americas as much as me or you. She is as African-descended as anyof us. She is Black – just like a Jamaican, just like a Brazilian, just like an African-American,

      However. you are right – you should NOT Look at her as being as African-American as you- because she’s not. She’s NOT African American (meaning us long-term descended Blacks in the are now called the U.S.), but she is Black.

      Funny how everyone gets this if the person is from the English-speaking Caribbean countries – we get that a Jamaican is Black, but not African American. But as soon as the languages changes to spanish or portuguese, confusion seems to set in.

      Boy, miseducation is a beast! The colonizers did a great job on EVERYBODY in the Americas, whether English speaking or Spanish speaking.

    • TAE

      @AJ, first off, what up? All I can say is I guess that the colonizers did a good job, I’m not sure if that was just a mere observation or meant to be insulting but I’m secure in my pov so it’s all good.

      My main point was that “blackness” especially what it means to be a black american, which I have had to identify myself as on all my tests and such for the duration of my existence, confuses the hell out of me. Then there’s the whole black vs african american thing.

      Growing up puerto ricans was puerto ricans, they never called themselves black. They hung out with us, black folk, hard core but they made sure to differentiate themselves from us, black folk, in every way they could. They had “good hair” unlike us, “pretty complexions” unlike us, and made sure to pronounce every word like they just stepped off the boat. I remember my homegirl used to tell everyone that she was born in Puerto Rico, pronounced Pwereto Rriiiccooo she was tough with the dramatized accent lol, but confided in me one day that she was born right over here just like me. This was in middle school so I think it was mainly young kids trying to find their selves, but my point is there are differences between us which cannot be overlooked and I acknowledge and respect those differences. I have never met a Puerto Rican tell me they were black, well a few now that I’m older and live in a more racial conscious area but they will always let you know that they are both Puerto Rican and black, not exclusively black. So describing Evelyn Lozada as black will never be a correct assessment in my book, but as I said to each his own, she can call herself purple for all I care. My problem is not with her, or women like her, but the concept of blackness itself.

      I remember I was having a conversation with a gentleman I used to date and he was explaining to me how all people of color are essentially black since all people are descended from Africans, right? This same man just a few months prior told me that he broke up with his middle eastern gf after spending a lot of time wrestling with the fact that she wasn’t black. Black women are his preference and he was not comfortable carrying on a serious relationship with her. Now this is where things get sticky. He was sitting and trying to sell me on the fact that all people of color are black but he contradicted his own logic by breaking up with his ex who was Pakistani and Pakistan and North Africa damn near kiss. He wanted to tell me that there was essentially no difference between a woman of color like J.lo, which he used as an example, and myself yet his turmoil over his relationship with another woman of color tells a different story. I get it, we are all DESCENDED from Africans but I feel some of us got a little more Africa in us than others and from what I was made to understand growing up here on this continent, being black means that you got more Africa in you than anything else.

      I have mad native american ancestry, but can I call myself native american? No, people laugh it off and think I’m just another black girl trying to be exotic, trying to be something that I am not. But we all know, that black women are the epitome of exotic but I digress. The fact of the matter is that sure we are one people, but we are many tribes. Now I am not confused by the language barrier when it comes to the truth there are afro-latinos, just as you have pacific islanders and asian ethnic groups with heavy visible African ancestry. I would never call a Cambodian black, a Cambodian is a Cambodian. Or take the new singer Yuna, she’s a perfect example, I thought she was black straight up. Turns out, she’s Malaysian. I would never call her black and you can see the Africa all up in her face. To me it would be a disrespect to label her as something that clearly does not correctly define the totality of what or who she is. Much like what has been done to black people in america who have to deny or are ignorant of parts of their ethnic heritage because, we just black. All I’m saying is as a black woman in america the older i get the more it seems like everybody can jump into my box, my box is sooooo inlcusive, but I can’t jump nowhere but right where I stand. I am limited by my blackness, while others can slip in and out of it as they choose. This, in short, perplexes me, but I can say I am growing into a new understanding of race.

  • Ms. Information

    When Hispanic or Latina women display “ghetto” behavior, they are seen as “fiery”…a black woman exibiting that same behaviour is seen as ghetto…

  • I guess for me it is not about her race as much as it being more about the negative depiction of women in general. That goes for Evelyn, Kim, NeNe, Tami… whoever. If you look around you can see all ethnicities of women perpetuating this ghetto mentality divergent of their race. The United States has all sorts of people from varied races that are loud, obnoxious, sex kittens, and bullies. So for me in 2012 with these women having this kind of platform I wish that it was more authentic to who women really are and not this baboonery. We almost had a woman as our President for god sake!

  • befree

    I know Evelyn is not black because Chad would not be with her if she was :).
    I had to.. I could not help it :P

    • LOL…zing!

    • AJ

      She is Black, but Chad just hates his own ETHNIC GROUP of women. The jokes on him. He ended up with a Black woman anyway, just by way of Latin America and the Caribbean.

      It’s the equivalent of hating Black U.S-descended women and preferring Haitian women. Preferential treatment of one group of African-descended women over another.

    • befree

      AJ, sorry until Evelyn self identifies as black.. I ain’t buying it. If you saw the episode with Tami and Evelyn and Tami asked about black women and Breast cancer. After the advice on how of black women should get checked Evelyn said something to the affect YOU
      ( Tami) have to go once a year.. she didn’t say WE.

  • Merci

    Great article. Great comments. How do we define Black? Most African Americans have white, black and native blood similar to latinos.

    Based on pics, never watching the show, I assumed she was black.