Truth in Reality

In the past few months several Change.org petitions have surfaced calling for the cancellation of various “ratchet” reality shows. While it remains to be seen how successful this petition will be in its’ efforts, one thing is becoming clear:  more and more Black women are speaking out against the minstrelsy of Black women on negative-themed “reality” shows.  Could it be that Black women are finally getting sick and tired of the “Crazy Black Reality Chick” meme?

Last year violent, “ratchet” reality shows were all the rage.  The stereotype of the materialistic, loud, aggressive Black woman is still the dominant one on cable however it now seems that the interpersonal violence is not as frequent (most likely due to economic & legal consequences via lawsuits by current and former cast members).

There’s still a long way to go in rehabbing the overall depiction of Black women in various forms of media.  But it does appear (at least on this date) that two things are happening right now around the reality TV genre:  1. Public sentiment around these “guilty pleasures” is shifting away from blind acceptance, and 2. Violence on the shows seems to be decreasing.

What was the impetus for this subtle change?  In large part, I believe it’s due to the actions of the following four women.

  1. MEEKA CLAXTON:  After being physically attacked by fellow Basketball Wives cast mate Tami Roman, Meeka filed suit against Roman and the Vh1 network.  No word on the disposition of the case, however her decision to hold Tami accountable for her actions sent a loud signal to the network that violence between cast members could have some potentially serious financial and legal consequences.
  2. KELLY SMITH BEATY:  Her “Will the Real Black People of Atlanta Stand Up” Huffington Post op-ed brought attention to the constant battering that the image of Black women in Atlanta are receiving via the reality show genre.  Beaty’s impassioned plea for the networks last summer to stop defaming the image of Black Atlantan’s was a viral success and garnered tremendous attention on the stereotypical representation of Black women.
  3. SABRINA LAMB:  When the teen financial empowerment guru behind WORLDOFMONEY.ORG saw the trailer for the horrific Oxygen network spawned “All My Babies’ Mamas” (a reality show featuring G-Unit rapper Shawty Lo and 7 of the 10 mothers of his 11 children), she hit the roof.  Lamb’s uber successful CHANGE.ORG petition is largely credited with getting the show yanked from the air.
  4. MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS:  This image activist has been an instrumental force in the reshaping of Black women’s definition of beauty since her days as Editor-in-Chief of Honey magazine.  Never one to shy away from taking a public stand, in December of 2012 she announced the launch of the “Bury the Ratchet” campaign.  “Bury the Ratchet” focuses its efforts on changing the depiction of Black women in Atlanta on reality television and gave a catchy name to the anti-reality show movement, asking Black women to support each other instead of the negative shows.

Thank you, Meeka, Kelly, Sabrina, and Michaela, for having the courage to stand up for Black women, our image, our young girls and our future. There is much, much more work to be done in how Black women are portrayed not just on reality television, but in media overall. As a complement to the ongoing efforts of the aforementioned women, Truth in Reality has launched the Responsible Reality TV Movement. For it is only through collective effort that true social change can occur.

The Truth in Reality Responsible Reality TV movement focuses on three steps to create social change:

1)    Raise awareness about the adverse effects of negative reality TV shows are having on our communities

2)    Advance our advocacy efforts to change the existing broadcast standards and practices for cable networks by encouraging them to practice Principles of Responsible Reality

3)    Mobilize the Black community through digital activism to create a movement of change in our collective attitudes towards interpersonal violence, with the end goal of ultimately reducing our disproportionate rates of interpersonal violence

It is our belief that if we can affect change on a micro level (such as in how Black women are being portrayed on reality television), eventually this will create a shift in our imagery overall in media.  Petitioning via sites such as Change.org can be a very effective means of letting the media know that stereotypical and exploitative programming is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.  However, we must do more than react to offensive and damaging media. We must be proactive in assertively challenging existing definitions of Black womanhood, educating media consumers on the real impact that misogynistic programming such as negative reality shows are having on the Black community, and empowering viewers to make informed television viewing choices.

Sil Lai Abrams is a writer, inspirational speaker, anti-domestic violence activist, Ebony.com’s relationship expert, contributor to TheGrio.com and author of ‘NO MORE DRAMA.’ She is also the founder of TRUTH IN REALITY, a grassroots  media advocacy organization committed to changing the way women and interpersonal violence are portrayed on reality television. Follow her on Twitter at @SIL_LAI

  • http://www.myblackfriendsays.com myblackfriendsays

    It is this step:

    “Raise awareness about the adverse effects of negative reality TV shows are having on our communities”

    that I would be interested in hearing more about. I want to know specifically how these shows have negative consequences.

    When I was growing up I watched Tom and Jerry and never hit anyone over the head with a frying pan. I also listened to sexually suggestive songs as a teen and didn’t engage in promiscuous behavior. I just think the leap from “watching a show” to “doing a behavior” is a long one, and there are so many other important factors that play a role.

  • http://defendingmoney.wordpress.com Marketing Gimmicks

    I’m in total support of having more influential and balanced images of black woman on television but the black audience is very fickle and let’s get honest….there are many black woman who gobble up ratchet reality TV like it’s Kibble’s and Bits. It’s a formula although getting played out; that works. For some it’s a “guilty pleasure” and for many others witnessing “cat fights” and “chicken squabbles” are harmless entertaining fun.

    And yes. We’ve made neck wagging Nene a bonified star. Like it or not she has a fan base (what?????), twitter followers who hang on to her every word, what black woman doesn’t want that kind of success?

    My question would be what exactly do black people want to watch? Like really? If the Kardashians can have spin off after spin off and make Zillions then why wouldn’t some black women want to follow suit? At the end of the day it’s about creating a quick brand and making quick paper. At the end of the day Executive producers Shaunie and Mona Scott young aren’t interested in raising your self-worth and self esteem; they’re about that money so let’s not get it twisted.

    There have been many attempts to having so called “positive” black TV that have failed miserably. There was TJ Holmes, and Reed between the lines, and those Hammy Tyler Perry sitcoms…but for the most part…black reality television has been a microcosm in a garbage filled sea of reality TV.

    Not saying that there aren’t any solutions but my guess is that people are really at a loss at what direction black television needs to go in.

  • http://twitter.com/TamarM3 tamar c (@TamarM3)

    great tips…

    .http://www.change.org/petitions/universal-music-group-and-cumulus-stop-placing-music-w-derogatory-terms-towards-women-over-radio-airwaves-2

    I am just happy these women stood up up hopefully we can all work together to put an end to this stuff on t.v. and music because as of right now the media is definitely pushing the buttons for instance, as of lately many t.v. shows and movies have not censored the term b*tch from their shows. I just read an article where Shawty Lo said Oxygen cancelled his show but that 3 or 4 networks were lined up to play his show….this shows that we will be constantly be fighting to end such negative potrayals and images of ourselves but what makes the situation worse is when it is coming from our own people like Shawty Lo. Common sense should tell this guy that if you heard a huge outcry from the public why still go through with this project. It is just a lack of responsibility on so many levels!!

  • http://melodymoose.deviantart.com/ Catpopstar

    The difference is that Tom and Jerry do not exist. Cats and mice can’t talk and integrate with human society. And there are plenty of people who listened to that music and were influenced. The key is not make it just about yourself, but about our whole society. When our general media only has one portrayal of a very real group of people, it influences how others see and treat you. Especially if that portrayal is their only exposure. Take the red pill…

  • http://twitter.com/TamarM3 tamar c (@TamarM3)

    with that being said not only am I calling for action along with the other women who stood up via their petitions

    http://www.change.org/petitions/universal-music-group-and-cumulus-stop-placing-music-w-derogatory-terms-towards-women-over-radio-airwaves-2

    but I am calling all women and men to stand in front of their local radio stations (like I will be doing )across the country and demand they take misogynist music from radio airwaves

  • http://www.myblackfriendsays.com myblackfriendsays

    I like the matrix reference.

    So is this all about how white people perceive and treat black people? What makes that so important?

    Do you think that white people who treat black people poorly honestly do it because of negative representations they see of us in the media? And if these representations didn’t exist, racism would go away?

    And just like some people are negatively influenced by certain media, some people are negatively influenced by alcohol. But the vast majority of people are able to use alcohol responsibly. We tried banning booze to save those vulnerable few, and look how well that turned out.

  • Rue

    I agree except with Meeka. Last time I checked she signed up for a reality show, knowing about it’s portrayal of black women.

  • Kay

    *sigh* Shaping the public’s perception or running with an image has been done time and time again in history. It’s been done with the anti-Asian sentiments and legislation back around the 19th and early 20th century and the Holocaust. It starts off seemingly harmless but if it goes unchecked, then the general public can be made to believe anything about a group of people. One show shouldn’t have a deleterious effect no, but it’s the culmination of such shows that can make a difference. If there was more balance then that’d be fine. Not to say that we’d have to have a million Cosby show spin-offs, but is it too much to ask to have the yes, the Black gangstas and hood women, but also the, intellectuals, the struggling artists, the lovebirds, the business owners, homicide detectives, lawyers etc. all depicted as well?

    The kind of shrug and just let things happen is why Americans have become so apathetic to our economic situation. We have the power to change things, but just don’t want to, because we don’t care and don’t see the point. That’s how every oppressive society begins, when people just don’t care.

  • http://twitter.com/TamarM3 tamar Cotton (@TamarM3)

    yeah ur rite, i just dont know if they are conscious enough to know about their portrayals or not…..one thing I know is that they are all chasing the dollar signs and that’s whats crippling our community when women/men as Warren Ballentine says “fall for the okeydoke”

  • Nakia

    i think it’s important to remember that our own experience, background and influences do not reflect those of every person in the diaspora. you may have had other strong and reliable influences and resources that made you less likely to be influenced by t.v. and music and other media (now, the internet). a lot of kids lack that. I would say you (and I) are more of the exception in a world that lacks positive images and influences in many homes, neighborhoods and schools and lacks any real dialog around how to process what folks are seeing and hearing.

    on top of all that, I’m sure we spent less time with our media than kids do now.

  • http://www.myblackfriendsays.com myblackfriendsays

    “the, intellectuals, the struggling artists, the lovebirds, the business owners, homicide detectives, lawyers etc.”

    I feel like those people _are_ represented as well. I was just watching Hoarders this afternoon, and they regularly feature a black psychologist as well as a black professional organizer. Beyond Scared Straight, while it often features black wayward teens, it also regularly shows black prison guards that seem genuinely concerned about these kids and want them to get on the right path.

    And these are just two examples, I’m sure there are more. Not to mention scripted television where you can’t really have more than five characters anymore without one of them being black (Lena Dunham’s show excluded ;)

    And all this talk about “the general public” and “others”–isn’t that just code for white people? Why is what they think about black people so important? Is someone that makes assumptions about you based on what they see on tv really someone you want to work for, or be friends with?

    And if these reality personalities are so offensive, perhaps a better strategy would be addressing the roots of what causes them to exist, instead of trying to make sure they never see the light of day on tv–so “others” don’t get the wrong idea.

  • P

    You have my support TruthinReality.org

    Not watching reality tv became very easy when I finally cut the cable cord. I think that one of the main issues is that very few of us can honestly say that we don’t watch one or more of these reality shows ourselves, even if we disagree with the violent stereotypes we still will watch because there isn’t much else on TV starring black women besides Scandal lol.

    I think that what we need is a better BALANCE of shows, more GOOD shows like Girlfriends, Living Single and A Different World running regularly for black women to watch as an alternative to reality TV. How do we make that happen?

  • http://www.urbanexpressive.com J. Nicole

    It’s easy for me to not watch reality shows because I don’t watch tv.

    What I’m starting to realize, when looking at videos people post on Facebook with Black women fighting and making a fool of themselves I wonder, ‘Is this because of reality shows, or are reality shows happening because of this’. So which came 1st, the chicken or the chickenhead.

    I’m sure we all know some women who behave in the stereotypical way, so watching this garbage, they see a reflection of themselves and they think what they’re doing is right. Everyone isn’t going to be a lady, and I’d have no problem with this garbage if there were more images on tv to counteract it all.

    At this point, I feel a majority of what we can do is not show we are not like these images on tv. Be accountable for ourselves and ignore these shows. The only time its ever a topic of discussion for me is when websites report it. Otherwise, out of sight, out of mind.

  • Well….

    I would commend them but the reality stars all seem to be ‘winning.’

    Look at the biggest TV bullies: Nene (don’t forget her pre-hollywood behavior on RHOA) and Tami Roman (who was well applauded on BBW reunion). They are getting acting roles, expanding their businesses, grabbing magazine covers etc.

    Too bad, their ‘success’ will keep this foolery on TV for other hopeful black women trying to cash in. The negative portrayal continues as more shows continue to air. TLC had the pastors wives one, and starter wives. Bravo is bring the doctors one. And WETTV has Braxton sisters (questionable).

  • Kacey

    I support these efforts but Meeka Claxton gets a SERIOUS side eye from me. She joined BBW knowing full well what type of Hornets nest she was walking into. Anyone who watched the show that season knows that Meeka was very eager to get right in the middle of the muck and mire of the various rivalries that were taking place. She declared proudly on the first episode that she had already picked which “team” she was on, then proceeded to grovel and start confrontations accordingly. It was her own desperate, messy behavior that caused her to get assaulted. The other women had all turned against her, and very few viewers had any sympathy for what happened to her!

    If it wasn’t for that, Meeka would still be on that show, a full and eager participant in all the ratchetness. So after getting humiliated she suddenly wants to position herself as being so above it all? She needs to have a seat. I take the other women seriously, but not her.

  • kc

    No one deserves to be assaulted at their place of business. Why doesn’t the black community take violence seriously? If someone attacked her, they should be held accountable.

  • Kacey

    I never said she DESERVED to be attacked! And I never said they should not be held accountable. I stopped watching the show after that season.

    The point is, her participation in that show and willingness to participate in the same behavior she’s now trying to protest, doesn’t make her credible in my opinion.

  • http://twitter.com/TruthInReality_ Truth In Reality (@TruthInReality_)

    Thank you for taking time to comment and for your support! Please consider signing our petition at http://www.change.org/petitions/cable-networks-stop-promoting-encouraging-violence-against-between-black-women-truthinreality, following us on Twitter and “liking” us on Facebook http://www.facebook.org/truthinreality.org.

  • http://lorrikey.com LorriK

    I fully support truthinreality and hope it gets more pub for taking control of our imagery.

  • Anon

    No. There are black women that don’t watch ANY of these reality (or network either) shows that depict black women badly. People see the world through their own eyes. Assuming “very few of us” speaks more to your circle than the populace. We don’t need a “balance”, we need an OVERALL REWRITE of our image. No other group/race of women has an entire segment of internationally played music targeted at degrading them as low as possible by previously unemployed men… and has the SUPPORT of their own community!

    Y’all need to stop playing and GET REAL about how bad this is.

  • Anon

    You can’t ignore when someone is trashing your name all over time and think that it won’t eventually affect you. Black women as a whole “ignored” rap. Black women as a whole “ignored” how black men were trashing black women all over when they had access to different groups. Black women “ignored” the OOW birth rate. Black women “ignored” how so many ballooned in size within a 20 year span (which ran right along with rap’s proliferation). Black women “ignored” how from the late 90′s on, so many “black” movies were black men in drag pretending to be black women, or how any young attractive black women were written out of the general script altogether. And NOW, that it has gotten to the point of contemptuous world-wide ridicule, there’s a growing segment that’s like, I’ll ignore this too?

    WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? And why do you say “stereotypical”? 100% keepin’ it real, those of us in the middle class didn’t get it so bad UNTIL these reality shows started showing slender well-dressed black women behaving like hoodrats. THAT is why you see the push back. What you keep saying is stereotypical was ALWAYS referred to as “low-class”, which is why any black kid who could conjugate a verb was not treated like “the rest of them”.

    Folks need to stop trying to make this into some “deep” discussion and just shut this slandering of black women down full stop. If you relate to these chicks on these shows, it is probably time to reevaluate some things in your life.

  • Anon

    Girl, how simple ARE you?

    You listened to “sexually suggestive songs” and distanced yourself from them because it wasn’t “you”. OTHER FOLKS SEE YOU in those “sexually suggestive songs”. You really think people are envisioning lots of white women being called “h*es”, “b*tch*s”, “corner girls”, etc… when they sing along about “beating that p*ss* up”? NO. They DO NOT.

    Watching a show to doing a behavior is a BILLION dollar industry. Heard of advertising? Commercials? Don’t think too hard on this, it may be confusing, but Superbowl commercials cost a lot of money for companies to advertise on them because of how many people watch.

    J*SUS! PLEASE be common sense on younger black women. Or at least a clue.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/gina.willie Regina Williams

    It is a good to see that there may be a start of the beginning of the end of the negative way black woman are being portrayed on reality tv, it makes it very difficult for us when the most commonly seen image of black woman is the one of us loud, yelling, fighting and materialistic on tv. We are killing ourselves and holding ourselves back, and that’s even worse than when it was someone else telling us what we couldn’t do.

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