Why do black women continue to sabotage our own image?

Allison Samuels at Newsweek wrote a column, lamenting the rise of the old familiar stereotype of black women on the tube: finger-snapping, neck rolling drama queens ready to take off their gloves at the drop of a hat. Samuels quotes notable black actresses such as Diahann Carroll (the first black woman who started in her own show Julia in 1968) and Phylicia Rashad (who played the lawyer wife in the 1980s hit The Cosby Show).

Both women were dismayed at the tide turning for the worst despite the country seeing more black women become successful business owners, doctors, lawyers and elected officials.

What I see now on television for the most part is a disgrace, as far as how we’re depicted,” says Diahann Carroll, who was the first African-American woman to star in her own television show, Julia, in 1968. “I won’t and don’t watch it.” Phylicia Rashad, who played Bill Cosby’s lawyer wife in the iconic 1980s comedy The Cosby Show, recalls what the late NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff told her after the show went off the air. “He said it was going to get much worse before it got better in terms of diversity,” she says. “He was right.”

I know some of you are thinking, “Well, white women are poorly portrayed in television shows, too. It’s not just minority women being stereotyped.” That’s why the next graph in the column stands out to me as why this trend is a problem.

As any fan of Jersey Shore knows, reality TV is an equal-opportunity offender when it comes to stereotyping. “Listen, there are plenty of white women acting a fool on television every night,” says Holly Robinson Peete, the runner-up on last year’s Celebrity Apprentice. “But there’s a balance for them. They have shows on the major networks—not just cable and not just reality shows—about them running companies, being great mothers, and having loving relationships. We don’t have enough of that.”

Black women are well aware there is indeed a lack of diversity in the array of characters we’re allowed (yes, allowed because these characters are concoctions of a producer or writer’s mind) to portray. The majority of black women on television are making waves in reality TV shows, which are typically edited in a way to play up to the expectations of viewers to see more drama, more cat fights and more angry black women. We do not have the luxury of having 10 different shows that feature 10 different characters of black women. We don’t have the diversity in characters to show mainstream America that we, too, are just as diverse as the white women they encounter on a daily basis.

As black women, however, why do we keep doing ourselves this disservice? Why do we continue to support the madness by proudly embracing the angry black woman stereotype on reality TV,  by watching these shows and relishing in the drama black female characters convey to viewers?

This link to the clip from Sunday’s Celebrity Apprentice episode in which the never-ending drama between NeNe Leakes and Star Jones is a prime example of how black women are portrayed–and how they portray themselves–in reality television. In the clip, Leakes of Real Housewives of Atlanta fame bolsters her “street game” by rolling her neck and talking smack in Jones’ face. The white onlookers, including birther,racist fraud Donald Trump and nonsensical rapper Lil’ John, look on amused as if they were expecting the drama to happen. Later in the Newsweek column, Jones did admit “there’s a method to the madness.”

Pitting us against each other is good ratingsSo we’re the ones who had to be smart enough to know how to handle it,” Jones says. “From the moment I was cast in Celebrity Apprentice I knew exactly what I was there for. I was there to raise money for heart disease and to publicize my book. Look at every clip of me and you see my book or the symbol I wear for heart disease. Honey, I had a plan.”

Well, at least she’s honest about her “plan” to show her ass in order to raise money for heart disease and promote her new book. Nothing like a black woman willing to throw us all under the bus just to promote her image and cause…

So far, we haven’t demonstrated how “smart” we are to handle it. We continue to fall for the same plot created by producers that pit black women against each other, thus creating situations in which the Angry Black Woman will emerge from the script. I mean, who really wants to watch a black woman acting normal for a change?

One may wonder how ironic it is to watch black women put us all to shame just so they can line their wallets and promote their brand. One can only wonder why so many black women continue to support the foolishness being passed along as pure entertainment. Black women have demonstrated their ignorance and apathy towards the past and how black women like Carroll and others had to *fight* television networks and movie studios to get positive black female images onto the small and big screen. Black women today haven’t a clue what it was like for black actresses to be strictly relegated to the roles of Jezebels, Mammies, Sapphires, maids, nurses, janitors, etc. in movies and television. I can only imagine how black women whose careers came of age in the mid-to-late 20th century feel to see their hard work and progress they contributed to go down the drain.

Instead of paying homage to the trailblazing black actresses of the previous century by not caving into the temptation to embrace stereotypical black female characters, we proudly embrace the trash-talking, finger-snapping, neck-rolling loud, angry black woman as the image we want the world to see.

9 comments on “Why do black women continue to sabotage our own image?

  1. Why are you throwing nurses in there with maids and Saphires? Obviously you are too young to remember that black people were very proud in the ’60s when Dianne Carroll began portraying a nurse in ‘Julia.’ That was a big advance in terms of our overall portrayal in the media. Nurses are skilled professionals who save lives every day. They work independently from doctors. Most have bachelor’s degrees and many have master’s as well. Some have doctorates.

    1. LOL you obviously didn’t read my opiniom clearly. No one was/is bashing nurses. Once you go back and re-read the post, let me know what your feelings are on the topic. Thanks!

  2. I did not need to re-read your post because I read it carefully the first time. So LOL back atcha. “Relegate” means to rank something or someone in an inferior position. You used this word to describe the phenomenon of black women being portrayed as nurses back in the bad old days. I’m arguing that nursing is a skilled profession that is very often highly compensated. I should know, my aunt is a nurse and makes six figures.

    Black folks knew this back in the day which is why ‘Julia’ was so groundbreaking, and which is why was largely heralded as a big step FORWARD in terms of media portrayals of black women. Especially within the context of how black women were typically depicted as working in only unskilled labor.

    So your lumping nurses in with jezebels and saphires (negative stereotypes) and maids and janitors (uneducated) was inaccurate. In fact, ‘Julia,’ coming on TV as it did during the black power era, actually marks the beginning of the time when black folks were just starting to break out of the old stereotypes.

    1. Well, thanks for your comment. Once again, the post clearly does not trash nurses or lumps them in with Jezebels and Sapphires. I am sorry you feel the need to use this diversion tactic to rant about something that’s clearly not evident. Thanks for your contributions!

  3. Hey calm down, we disagree on a minor point, big deal. Any part of a post is fair game for comment, so I don’t consider what I said to be a diversionary tactic. You listed nurses along with maids and saphires and so I commented on that.

    Any journalist/blogger worth her salt should be willing to debate a point without being “sorry” that folks are actually engaging with what she said. What is the point of blogging if all you’re looking for is the amen corner.

    I notice though that you did not address what I actually said, so I guess you are not really interested in discussion. Fair enough.

    1. I have been calm. I wasn’t the writing a 3 paragraph response to something that’s clearly not evident in the blog post. There is really nothing left for me to say except your diversion tactics won’t work at this blog.

      Once again, re-read the entire entry and feel free to provide a response of substance on the issue at hand–not something you’re pulling out of very thin air.

      Until you do that, I won’t engage in a back and forth with you about a nonexistent subject. Thanks!

  4. Just to chime in, I read the article and debate between blogger and lynn. I don’t think NBW intended to lump nurses together with maids, janitors, and jezebels. I think she was simply trying to say that black women were being cast as only those things. There is nothing wrong with nursing, as it is a well respected position. But there is a problem if black woman are only being casted as nurses (I immediately thought of the nurse Eleanor from the sitcom Roc). Today, outside of reality tv, the only role I see black women playing are police/detectives (I actually have a list). While being a police is also a respected profession, casting black women as hard-nosed police detectives is quite interesting.

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