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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  • Joyous

    Our First Lady, Michelle Obama does more to uplift the image of Black women than just about anything I can think of. Her very presence just destroys every negative stereotype about Black women in this country. Yes, she is one person, but who she is, and how she carries herself, and the way she is honored and respected is great for us as a collective. She is the most well known woman in the world. I would have thought by now, that most Black women in this country would have a clear understanding of our global presence and significance. It is important to listen to, watch, and read those things that are empowering, uplifting, and showcase Black women in manner that is respectful and honorable. It is also important to create those things ourselves. I love that show ‘Black Girls Rock’. That was created for and by Black women who wanted to promote positive images. ‘My Black is Beautiful’ is another great campaign that promotes positive images. As for music videos, it goes back to listening to music that is empowering and uplifting. The videos will fit the music. Many of the music videos that I have watched that show Black women in the most beautiful way are from international artists.

  • C2

    But you Black women love “Scandal”!
    Olivia Pope is the biggest Jezebel on TV, but you treat her like a hero!
    …and Beyonce, an artist that made a living by shaking her butt and dancing like a stripper. But she wonders why White men have no problem slapping or grabbing her butt when she performs on stage.
    Those are just two examples.
    Black Women bring it on themselves!

    • @Huey:
      I can see what you’re trying to say. Trash attracts trash. I get that. There are some opinions that I have about your comment.
      I don’t know about other black women, but I started watching Scandal because I liked Kerry Washington and wanted to show some support. Just like I tried to watch Deception and other shows because I was tired of reality tv. I watch the show faithfully because of the PLOT and the twists and turns, not because she’s sleeping with white men. TBH, that’s what I don’t like about the show.

      You stated: “Recently had a conversation w/ my wife on this very same topic. I by no means govern what she wears but I did ask her to consider that on how she dresses not only determines how people choose to consider her but also reflects on me as well.”….. Was she dressing like this when you two were dating? You didn’t have a problem with it then but now you do? That’s all I’m going to say because I believe in the old “less is more” thing.

      You stated: “With all this being said, I ask black women to consider the stark contradiction in their behavior and stop supporting/consuming this trash called entertainment (e.g. “Scandal”, “Housewives of …”, etc.) Please note that you will never see Asian, Arabic, Jewish, etc. women portraying themselves to be sexually forward as the norm or cultural standard.”…. You forgot about Sex and the City and those white women were sleeping with anything with two legs and a heartbeat.

      Society sees white women as “owning their sexuality” or “exploring their sexuality”. When black women do the same thing they are accused of being whores.

      If you look at the majority of black rappers, actors, comedians and athletes in Hollywierd, they’re not dating or desperately seeking sisters that are the cool round the way type of ladies that are working and trying to make their own way in the world. They are wifing up and hooking up with non black women, or the ones that don’t look TOO black that dress and act like golddiggers and opportunists. In the real world I would see black men with non black women that were “aesthetically challenged” but the sistas gotta be as fine as wine in order to get some time. It’s this silent expectation that black women have to be absolutely flawless to be deemed worthy of love or acceptance in this society and everyone else can be as lowgrade as they really are and yet they get a pass. Or maybe that’s just a sorry ass excuse that some black men and white people make because they’re just too cowardly to come out and say “it doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll never be accepted”.

      Truth be told the media does not want to see blacks in a positive light unless it’s some white person in the wings “showing them the errors of their savage ways”. The media is owned by whites and to keep everything in their favor, the media’s job is to promote fear,suspicion and entertain the white man’s or woman’s secret fantasy. That’s why if you notice with some of these shows like Scandal, Luther, Ironside and Sleepy Hollow they aren’t paired with a black love interest. okay rant over.

    • Meme

      @Huey – Never watched Scandal but I do know some ppl who stopped because it started to become trashy. There are quite a few black women on TV in major roles that are sleeping with older white men in a trashy fashion -even on Oprah’s OWN network-Tyler Perry’s “The Have and Have Nots” features the same tired plot. They can uplift but they wont. So, that’s why I stick to reruns and HGTV.

  • Ms. Vee

    Shouldn’t we be just as pissed off with the black women that co-sign our collective degradation? As vile as the media is they do not force us to juck-n-jive as baby mamas/jezebels and belligerent broads.

  • Sheena

    Precisely why I don’t watch the garbage that’s on TV that feature black women at their worst. Some of you have said things like “we shouldn’t care what white people think” and why do we measure ourselves based on what white people think of us”. Because we are human, we are just as worthy of fair representation as they are, and because (some of you don’t want to hear it, but it’s true) in this world, white ppl have the power to bend other people’s opinions of us any way they want too and we have to be the ones to show them that that isn’t what WE want to see on tv!! Point blank. Period.

    And it’s not just white people whose opinions of us are dependent on what they see on TV. It’s all races. So something must be done to combat this problem. To just let it go and think “Imma do me. Eff what white people think” is only perpetuating the problem and making it harder on us all. Nobody’s asking black women to kiss up to white people or to people please. What I’m saying is that there is room (plenty room) to fight these mostly negative images of us on TV and demand better representation. Have more Claire Huxtables out there to counterbalance the rachet messes of “reality TV” (i.e. RHOA, Basketball Wives, Hip Hop Wives, etc.). Olivia Pope is better (yes, I’m a fan of Scandal), but like it’s been said, she still represents the jezebel stereotype. I’d like to see a strong, smart, well-spoken Black woman somewhere else on television that wasn’t a mistress, or had a funky attitude. It’s only fair.

    White women can be seen on TV acting a damn fool and, no, they don’t get stereotyped because there is equal representation of all personalities and all types. Actually, let me correct myself, they are represented more positively than negatively. So society at large doesn’t drop them into a box when they see the women of Jersey Shore or Bad Girls Club, or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo on tv. Black women don’t get that fair shot and IT’S TIME! We shouldn’t just have to deal with and make excuses by making exclamations about how we should just “do us” and not care what white people think when they are cutting us down with every flick of a remote control.

    I personally boycott those shows that paint us in the least positive light. I don’t give that sh*t the time of day. I was raised to be respectful and intelligent and I try to speak well to anyone I talk too, no matter their race. I think of myself as kind and caring. I don’t do these things purposefully (sp?) to kiss up to white people. I do them because I am a product of a loving, caring household and parents that were more likely to be watching the news or something on PBS than black folks shuckin and jivin for Massa. But I realize that not all of us were raised that way, but we’ve got to teach our girls better. Teach them better than to watch this garbage and teach them not to repeat it in their own behaviors. We also have to teach other races better by speaking up when we see that they believe crazy stereotypes about us and letting them know when they are wrong. Petition, boycott. Don’t give up because you think it’s about “kissing up” to whites or trying to please them. It’s not about that at all. It’s about not taking bullsh*t lying down.

  • Joyous

    There is a great show the Africa Channel called ‘Jacobs Cross’. Its a drama with excellent acting. Its mostly in English. All Black cast, of course, given its set in South Africa and Nigeria. There have been Black American actors/actresses on that show as well. I just happened to turn to that channel one day, and was just amazed at seeing Black people in the center of everything. There are films, news shows, travel shows, award shows, literary shows, music, etc. The channel showcases Black people from Africa and throughout the Diaspora.