Media

Essence Magazine recently did a survey on the images of black women in media and the results shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who watches cable TV. Essentially, survey respondents found that the negative images seem to rule the airwaves. And the positive ones? They’re scarcely to be found.

Appearing in Essence’s November issue currently on newsstands, the survey asked 1,200 participants what they thought were the most common types of black women seen on TV, in social media, music videos and other media and they responded they mostly saw “Gold Diggers, Modern Jezebels, Baby Mamas, Uneducated Sisters, Ratchet Women, Angry Black Women, Mean Black Girls, Unhealthy Black Women, and Black Barbies.”

This was then contrasted with the images respondents felt they saw the least of black women: “Young Phenoms, Real Beauties, Individualists, Community Heroines, Girls Next Door and Modern Matriarchs.”

Other highlights from the survey:

“Negative imagery of Black women is seen often twice as frequently as positive imagery. For instance, 85% of our Black women respondents reported they regularly see representations of Baby Mamas in media, while only 41% said they often see Real Beauties. The type seen least often? Community Heroines.”

“ Modern Jezebels and Gold Diggers are the types that cause Black women the most embarrassment. Our African-American respondents reported that they are most uncomfortable when White women view these sexual and greedy typologies.”

“Non-Hispanic White women cited negative typologies as most representative of Black women they’ve encountered in real life — namely, Baby Mamas, Angry Black Women, Unhealthy Black Women and Uneducated Sisters.”

“African-American women reported higher levels of happiness with their natural beauty and appearance, plus their spiritual lives and religious commitments. Meanwhile, White women reported higher satisfaction with their homes, their relationships with significant others, and their savings and investments.”

But the most interesting findings to me were these two:

“Younger women — ages 18-29 — were more likely than older women to be aware of negative typologies and also more likely to find them compelling. This may be because younger generations consume more media overall, especially digital media, where many of the negative types run rampant.”

“Interestingly, women who were compelled by negative typologies also reported they find physical features including lighter skin and straight hair to be most beautiful.”

Now where-oh-where would these younger women be internalizing these negative images and seeing them as “compelling?” Where would they get that lighter skin and straight hair to be the most beautiful?

Let’s be honest. We all know where to point the finger here because it’s some of the most popular tacky media consumed online and in black households. I’m talking “Basketball Wives” and “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and “Bad Girls Club” and … well, just turn on VH-1, Bravo or Oxygen or cruise any black gossip blog or watch just about any music video in relation to popular music or hip hop and you’ll be inundated with those images of fiery Jezebels and other arrays of ignorance in the form of shallow, status conscious, looks-focused, be-wigged, over-bearing black women. It’s the self-hate, self-hate created. Watch nothing but “Love & Hip Hop Atlanta” and you too might find yourself wishing you could invest more in weave and consume vast amounts of alcohol wherever you go, because that’s what those shows “glamorize,” that’s what they put on display for our entertainment.

Last year, “Basketball Wives” in particular caught a ton of heat for how negative the show was, considering the gross amount of bullying, jumping on tables and obscene behavior that took place. This season, Shaunie O’Neal and company decided to tone it down … and by tone it down, I mean they tried to rebrand themselves as “positive” and turn the episodes into elaborate infomercials for their personal ventures in nail polish, clothing design and “Basketball Wives” themed stage plays. But even in this effort, there was still plenty of cattiness, and even with all the “positive” imagery, it was pretty hard to polish a turd that consisted of a group of women who obviously don’t like each other pretending to be friends for the sake of a check. Ratings have plummeted this season. But rather than recognize she’d created a monster that can’t be truly reformed, producer O’Neal took a different view.

People watched the drama. They don’t watch the “reformed”  version of the show. So it’s all on you, the viewer. Not her, the producer.

She told Sister2Sister:

“As much as people complain, the numbers seem to show that they like it. It is what it is. I’m proud of this season more than any other, and I love that. I hope it doesn’t affect the numbers, but if it does, I’m still very proud of it. I wouldn’t change it for anything,” she said, who is paying close attention to the ratings.

Shaunie said the numbers will be a real indication of what fans want to see. Will they continue to tune in once the women tone things down?

“It will show in a lot of ways what people want to see,” she said.

With a thought process like this and shows like these, how can anyone be surprised that the young women who consume these shows like candy are affected by them, internalizing their views on beauty and behavior when the messages these shows send about both are horrible. How can they not be affected when in music videos black women are reduced to simply being a gyrating behind … and that’s in every music video, whether it’s Juicy JRihanna or Miley Cyrus. Black women are on display in the worst possible way.

But what do you think we can do to combat it besides encouraging more people to turn off the TV?

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  • I do not watch any of the reality shows because i find them to be boring. As for black women being portrayed negatively all i have to say is art imitates life. You should see the black women in my neighborhood.

  • rhea

    Nope, Shaunie.

    The truth is that if these images of women, particularly women of color, are not largely negative, sexualized, or violent, then they do not know how to produce anything else. The numbers don’t neccessarily show that people are hungry for drama and BS. Instead, the numbers show that producers don’t know how to make good television without making it trashy. If we really want to make different television, the folks making the decisions have to go back to the drawing board and relearn their craft. Learn how to make television that doesn’t suck, isn’t syrupy and boring. Then people will watch.