I am a rising junior at Spelman College. I am writing to encourage and solicit participation in what is becoming a national campaign to combat the negative, one-dimensional, stereotypical and misogynistic manner in which Black Entertainment Television portrays black men and women.
Let me first explain how and why this campaign was started. A professor at Spelman, Tarshia Stanley, is truly the reason and the foundation. My experiences with Dr. Stanley literally changed my life because her class, “Images of Women in the Media,” showed me a very progressive and critical way of interpreting and analyzing the media and several other agents of socialization.
Dr. Stanley birthed an interest in me regarding images of women in the media, particularly problematic images, during my first semester at Spelman. In seven minutes, a film demonstrated more than I could have learned in years — it featured various clips from cable television (but mostly from BET) of black women and men in very compromising and even disgusting ways.
Watching it was uncomfortable but enlightening. It made me realize that I had to do something about the way black women were portrayed. I began to feel as if combating these images was necessary for my survival.
I planned a convocation and letter-writing campaign to BET the following semester. The convocation was magnificent, but we had only eight participants for the letter-writing campaign. I was devastated.
However, Dr. Stanley and I started a group at Spelman, WORTH (Women Offering Representations That Heal). WORTH’s mission is “to raise awareness concerning the one-dimensional images of women in popular culture. We encourage women to empower themselves to resist these limiting images through creative activism. We promote social, political and sexual consciousness that challenges the assumptions and constraints of what is depicted as womanhood.” WORTH was actually a revitalization of a group that Dr. Stanley had started a few years ago, RAW (Raising Awareness in Women).
WORTH sponsored several programs at Spelman, but the most meaningful and sacred to me was another convocation and letter-writing campaign conducted by WORTH, similar to the one I did the year before.
During that first campaign, Dr. Stanley and I worked tirelessly, but I became discouraged several times. I did not think we could do it and I began to feel that I “bit off more than I could chew.” But I begged my four best friends to help, and they came through.
A year later, I found myself planning the same event, but this time with 75 students, and they were not just helping because they were my friends. They were involved because they wanted to help fight one-dimensional images of women.
Not only had WORTH grown much faster than I anticipated, but the response from the school was much more encouraging. This year, WORTH was able to sponsor a weeklong letter-writing campaign with support from several groups and two classes on Spelman’s campus.
Those co-sponsors were Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta, Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA), Afrekete (the gay-straight alliance), and two classes, “Violence Against Women” and “Images of Women in the Media.”
I am elated to write that we received more than 250 letters from Spelman and Morehouse students! We also created a thank-you petition to TV One for its multidimensional representation of black people. We had even more signatures for the TV One petition than letters for BET! I was delighted.
Just when I thought we couldn’t get any more support for the letter-writing campaign, I was contacted by a reporter at the Final Call newspaper whose daughter attends Spelman and who had participated in the campaign. The reporter did indeed do a story about the campaign, and it was posted on several Web sites. My e-mail address was included and I have received more than 100 e-mails from across the country from people who want to start the campaign in their communities.
We do not have to accept what BET airs as so-called entertainment. The network is falsely educating our youth, and slowly but surely helping to destroy our community.
I met Debra Lee, the CEO of BET, this past March. I can assure you, Ms. Lee and BET are not going to change their programming as long as ratings are high and the company is making a profit.
Ms. Lee did say that the network pays attention to complaints. Thus, I ask you to send her countless complaints. We do not have to let BET poison our families any longer. BET markets itself as a network for and about black America. It has successfully conveyed to the world that black people are little more than “hoes,” pimps, thugs and occasionally athletes.
If you are the slightest bit concerned, start a letter-writing campaign in your community. We can do something. We can affect change. For more information, please visit WORTH’s Web site at www.myspace.com/spelmancollegeworth. There, you can find three different form letters with three different tones. You can also find a copy of the petition to TV One and the mailing information. Also, please post any comments or questions that you may have on WORTH’s Web site.
Sadly, this is a much more urgent problem than many of us realize. We must not only fight the problem, we must educate our communities.
Angela Boudreaux is a rising junior at Spelman College.