Reality television is the new minstrel show. This is the reality I came to Monday night as I emerged myself in the latest television travesty, Love and Hip Hop Atlanta.
Minstrel shows emerged as American entertainment in the early and mid 19th century. This entertainment “art form,” which consisted of music, dance, comedic skits and variety acts, embodied racial hatred. Both Black and White performers would often wear blackface to portray characters who were depicted in an extremely negative light. These “Black” characters became stereotyped caricatures who portrayed Blacks as lazy, buffoonish, submissive, carefree, childlike and eager to please and entertain the Whites they interacted with.
Fast forward 200 years. Enter reality television. All too often the images of Black women on these shows are both negative and over the top. Like minstrel characters, reality television “stars” are depicted as stereotyped caricatures. They are angry, violent, oversexualized, desperate for male attention, and infatuated with fame and fortune at all costs.
What’s most disturbing about our modern day minstrel shows is that we sit back and watch, completely disconnected from how these images affect us. Not only are these images influencing the perception that others have of Black women, but they are also influencing the way our daughters view themselves and feel they should behave. Little Black girls everywhere are growing up thinking these behaviors are normal, to be expected even. They are idolizing and impersonating traits that will only hinder and inhibit their personal and professional development.
We could passively sit by and watch the train wreck that is reality television collided with our daughters, or we could shut up complaining and do something about. I suggest we do the latter. While there are many options, below are the three that immediately came to my mind.
Let our voices be heard. One thing that stood out in the video on minstrel shows posted above was the quote “Blacks had little power to protest their characterization.” Thankfully, this is no longer true. So if we are truly disgusted with reality television like we pretend to be, we should let people know. Contact Mona Scott Young (@MonaScottYoung), the show’s executive producer. Call, write, email, tweet, Facebook, and send smoke signals to VH1 and Viacom. Let them know that we do not appreciate the images of Black women they are promoting. If angry social media mobs can get the slavery Adidas’ pulled from the shelves, we can change television programming as well.
Use the programming as a teachable moment. Let’s deal with reality. This crap is on television and folks are watching it. This isn’t going to change tomorrow. So as long as it’s airing, let’s use it as a tool to teach those who don’t get it why this behavior is inappropriate. Instead of angrily bashing what we dislike and the people who enjoy it, let’s engage in conversations about why this behavior is inappropriate and the effects it’s having on the culture. I’m all about teachable moments, and if this is approached correctly, we can actually enlighten the masses. People do better when they know better. Let’s begin teaching them better.
We must create positive media to counter the pop culture trash! I believe in being the change I want to see in the world, and with the power of technology and social media, we have the ability to counter reality television images with images that reflect our lives. Whether that means blogging, creating webisodes, writing books, etc., just do it. No, we won’t have the power of Viacom, but if we keep flooding the Internet with positive and diverse imagery of Black women, it will take root. More importantly, let’s live the images we want others to see. Our lifestyles are more important and influential than any televised image. Let’s remind others that these images are not who we, as Black women, are, and let’s explain to our children why the behavior being broadcast is not healthy, wholesome or appropriate. Let’s stop waiting on things to change and began being that change.
As bad most of these reality television shows are, I’m actually not an advocate of snatching them all off the air. I understand that this is someone’s reality, and if my story deserves to be told, so does theirs. What disturbs me is the lack of diversity in the stories being told and the volume of the negative images being shown. I hope one day this will change. I pray that in my lifetime I won’t be grossly offended by the likes of Love and Hip Hop, Basketball Wives and the Real Housewives of Atlanta because they will be in the minority of the diverse images of Black women being broadcasted in the media.