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A few weeks ago I wrote an opinion piece for theGrio.com on how viewers of reality television shows likeLove & Hip Hop Atlanta were actively supporting VH1’s and executive producer Mona Scott-Young’s racist and misogynistic assault on the image of black women in America.  Given that L&HHA was the most popular show on cable among black women aged 18-49 this summer, I knew there would be some who would defend this form of “entertainment”; after all black women comprise the majority of its 5.5 million viewers.

Commenters on various Internet news websites cited capitalism, personal apathy, and the shameless exhibitionism of show cast members as reasons why we should give VH1 and black female executive producers such as Scott-Young and Basketball Wives producer Shaunie O’Neal a break. These reasons for some seem to justify putting out television programming that attacks African-American women and decimates black love on a weekly basis.  And, it’s a damn shame that any black woman in a position of power would feel comfortable exploiting her sisters in her quest for the almighty dollar. But in my opinion the two larger issues that need to be addressed are:

1. The fact that cable networks think it’s acceptable to perpetuate racist and misogynistic stereotypes of black women, and

2. That black women feel comfortable watching and defending these networks’ stereotypical programming.

While we can argue our personal views on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the show genre from here to eternity, what is difficult to refute is the emerging research showing the negative effect these modern day, real-life minstrel shows are having on the health of black women and black relationships. This is why we must address their continuing media dominance now.

Studies have shown that reality programming like L&HHA has an adverse effect on the emotional development of girls and young women. Young women who frequently view popular reality shows are more likely to embrace stereotypes that depict women as sexual objects. They also tend to equate a woman’s primary value to be based upon her physical attractiveness. I get that there has always been an association between beauty and hypersexuality in entertainment. Who can forget Pam Grier’s Foxy Brown? But before reality shows became our most popular form of television programming, there was a more diverse group of black female archetypes for our young women to mimic on television.

Now, whether we like it or not, reality television is playing a part in the way our girls and young women are conceptualizing their femininity, sexuality and how they handle relationships.  And it’s not just girls who are being affected.  A recent study has shown that reality programs like L&HHA increase aggressionin adult female viewers. Sure, some who would argue that bullying and other forms of relational aggression are just a part of normal female-to-female interaction, but come on — it’s not a normal response for a woman to jump over a table and try to rip another’s weave out over a difference in opinion. Yet, shows like these are re-socializing women who should be less impressionable due to age that this isnormal.

Much of the violence between women on L&HHA stems from envy and jealousy for male attention, a bitter irony.  Of all the racial groups in America, black women are the most frequent victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and intimate partner homicide.  Our teenage girls have the highest rate of dating abuse among high school students.  Given the causal link between media consumption and behavior, it isn’t a stretch to say that recent increases in incidents of intimate partner violence are due in part to people mirroring behavior that they are seeing on popular television.

One thing that is crystal clear to me as a survivor of domestic violence and a five-year public advocate against it is that show producers and networks don’t know what constitutes abuse – and neither does its audience.

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  • chanel

    I am a young single black female 21 years old just getting started in the world… I used to love watching these shows they are guilty ratchet pleasures. But I recently got a job and of course I’m the only black girl in my department. And there is one black man, he’s African, but still black. I say all that to say that I didnt understand the effect these shows had on my image until now.

    A couple situations have arisen and he has made comments about how black women are, but that’s not me. I am far from the ratchet sisters they show on these shows , I don’t even curse. But my brown skin puts me in that category with them. I can’t disassociate from them nor do I want to. I love my skin tone, and my people. I love being black! But if this is the only representa,tion we get let’s quit now. Call it a day collect the last check, and find a new hustle.

    And I am curious if anyone is questioning the effect it has on the men… love and hip hop atl had some very shady men on there but not all black men are out here trying make 2 women “get on the bus”!!! **side note Stevie j is an idiot*** both sides are being misrepresented… and I can say that unless I catch a random clips won’t be tuning in anymore.

  • Smilez_920

    I watch L&HHATL. It’s ratchet but I’m sorry it’s funny/ entertaining ( stevie J) and it hasn’t effected me ( except K. Michele and her story i feel Bad for her)

    It’s VH1 They’ve never really held the crown for positive imagery. But I get it some ppl can’t seperate reality tv from their own reality, and with so many girls only having celebs as role models , unfortunately they copy what they see on tv.

    But you know what keep these types of shows running other than ratings?

    1) The fact that when we do put out ” positive shows” we have to beat it over people’s head to support it.

    Now I understand that people want to be entertained and me along with others are sick of the same old carbon copy Cosby show theme. I wish I could see more black casted shows that looked like Big Bang Theory, Breaking Bad , The Walknig dead etc…

    2) in our own media ( black tv, blogs, articles etc) we don’t represent our own relationships in a positive light most of the time. Yes there are some positive articles, but for every positive articles there are 4 articles talking about , ” why black women aren’t this” , “black woman are to this”, ” girl your man is a dog” and those articles have the biggest comment section most of the time. So If an executive at VH1 hears Mona love and hip hop idea , then she shows them ratings from other shows and from the Internet and says ” this is what gets the urban community going” then of course their going to buy it because they feel that type of audience is there.

    I could live with love and hip hop if I had more shows that views us in a positive light.

  • paul

    “It’s worth considering that maybe some disturbing trends in the black community (such as our divorce rates and higher rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, intimate partner homicide and HIV infection) will decrease when we stop tolerating or embracing harmful shows like L&HHA and Basketball Wives that promote relational aggression, sexism, infidelity and verbal, emotional and physical abuse as the norm.”

    Hmm

    I just question the ethics of invoking “disturbing trends in the BC” merely as a means to censor the screening of behaviour that embarrases us.

    Shouldn’t we just be talking about the “disturbing trends in the BC” rather than the non-existant link between those “trends” and a tacky tv show?

    See, I don’t believe there’s anything “trendy” or new about the problems in the black community, those problems were with us long before the emergence of L&HHA and RAP and all the other pop culture decoys that are conveniently served up as scapegoats to take the blame for the ills in the black community.

    So I’m sorry but it’s a bit of a stretch to connect longstanding problems in the black community with the out of control and boundaryless behaviour of middle class black women in reality tv shows – –

    that were spawned less than two years ago.

    This is about damage control to preserve an image that aspirational (read snobby) middle class black women want to cultivate for themselves.

    Ok do that –

    but do it some other way,

    because I think it’s the height of “ratchetness” to invoke the problems of real people to pursue such a shallow cause.

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