Are African American households participating in the most racist media propaganda campaign in television history by watching reality TV?
In a recent article on theGrio, Sil Lai Abrams argued that the proliferation of Black performers in reality television programming is doing nothing to help create a positive reality of the African American experience. In fact, Abrams says that our increased participation–which should be a good thing–is creating the opposite effect; it is perpetuating negative stereotypes that create false perceptions of Black people for the nation to consume.
The most recent candidate aspiring to make its way to primetime coonery is “All My Babies’ Mamas, starring Atlanta-based rapper Shawty Lo and his ten babies’ mothers.
The trailer sparked so much controversy that the NAACP reportedly sent a letter to Oxygen’s President Jason Klarman expressing its outrage over the proposed show’s negative portrayal of Black families. And a Change.org petition demanding that the show not air has gotten more than 35,000 signatures. The reality series is reportedly in “early development” and is not green-lighted to air as of yet.
Though other reality TV shows that are enjoying successful runs, like “Love and Hip Hop” And “Basketball Wives,” are not any better.
“The underlying message most of these shows send about blacks is that we’re shallow, impulsive creatures lacking in self-control without any vision of life that doesn’t include vacations (or funerals) they can’t afford, slanging rhymes, having too many children, and shopping oneself into bankruptcy,” Abrams said.
Below Abrams outlines how portrayals of Black people on television have devolved over the years:
In the decades since the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, the imagery of black people in media, particularly on television, has changed considerably. Now, I’m not a sociologist, but it is my guess that the materialism and “success at any cost” mindset that pervades modern popular culture today is likely a reaction to the economic uncertainty and hopelessness that is the true reality for many black people.
As a single mother who has struggled against many of the same systemic issues that affect our community (should I list the issues? I think we know them…) I understand the need for escape. Let’s face it: life is hard. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise deserves a serious double side eye. This entertainment is a form of escape.
The “overnight success” stories of individuals who are as a whole largely without any real discernible talent are the driving force behind the most popular shows such as Love & Hip Hop and Basketball Wives. Reality show “stars” present what appears to be an attainable, glamorous lifestyle to a group of women who may not have the wherewithal or resources needed to carve out a financially stable life for themselves realistically.
But, in the process of enjoying this escape, we are ignoring the emotionally abusive and disrespectful behavior of male cast members such as L&HH’s Stevie J that reinforces the idea that a black man’s power is best expressed through unbridled and unprincipled sexual behavior, as just one example of these show’s many horrible messages.
Does Abrams have a point?
Are African-Americans aiding and abetting in the White media’s creation of these shows, which benefit of their bottom lines but degenerate our image as a whole? While many of us are assail the Black people who are “acting” on these shows, should we refocus that disdain on ourselves?