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 ratings. So 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.