This past Sunday, my roommate and I attended a Blood, Sweat, and Heels viewing event, hosted by one of the cast members of the show: Demetria Lucas. This event got me thinking about the impact of reality t.v shows. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this particular reality t.v show, its really like every other reality t.v show out there: a bunch of beautiful women being petty, throwing shade & shopping, etc. Initially, before the show aired, my roommate and I hoped that this show would be more well-rounded than most reality t.v shows since the cast is full of young, successful, beautiful, black women who all seem to be doing quite well professionally. But it wouldn’t be Bravo or reality television, if the depiction of these women stopped here.
Instead of bashing Bravo and other networks like it, for constructing, producing, and airing countless reality t.v shows that perpetuate stereotypes of all races and genders, I’m simply interested in the fact that huge networks like Bravo have re-configured the Black Woman Archetype.There has been a shift in how black women are portrayed in popular culture and that is partly due to the fact that: A.) Popular Culture/ Media has changed tremendously B.) The networks have re-defined new archetypes through the domination of reality t.v shows. Reality shows have changed the landscape of television and exposed society to more Black women on television, which would be great if the scope of depiction wasn’t so limited.
Historically speaking, popular culture has perpetuated 5 major Black Women Archetypes (The Mammy, The Matriarch, The Jezebel, The Angry Black Woman, and The Welfare Queen.) Of course there are outliers, but most depictions of black women in popular culture have fallen under one of these categories. These Archetypes are of course still prevalent, but on a much smaller scale.
The archetypes now at the forefront in popular culture, as I see it, are: The Hood Rat, The Bitch, The Jezebel, The Desperate Single, The Bible- Thumper, and The Drunk. “The Hood Rat” is the black woman constantly shown screaming/ cussing in public and instigating fights. She is often depicted as crazy and irrational (i.e Momma Dee on Love and Hip- Hop Atlanta) . “The Bitch” is the black woman who often emasculates men and often speaks to/about people with little to no tact or regard to people’s feelings. She is often portrayed as angry and aggressive (i.e Mimi Faust on Love and Hip-Hop Atlanta.) “The Jezebel” is the black woman who is depicted as promiscuous (i.e Melissa from Blood, Sweat, and Heels.) “The Desperate Single” is the black woman who is depicted as unlovable, the one who feels she “needs” a man, and who often settles for mediocre men to compensate for her loneliness( i.e not a reality t.v star, but Mary Jane from Being Mary Jane.) “The Bible-Thumper” is the black woman who constantly quotes the Bible, is “married to Jesus,” and often hypocritically judges people for their “ungodly” behavior (i.e Daisy from Blood Sweet, and Heels, and Phaedra from Real Housewives of Atlanta.) “The Drunk” is the black woman often deemed emotional-unstable, the woman constantly drinking too much, and often shown in embarrassing situations due to her inebriation (i.e Mica from Blood, Sweet, and Heels.)
There is a difference between these women’s reality t.v personas and who they are in their everyday lives. In other words, regardless of who these women are, reality television forces them into the nearest archetypal box. Some of them go willingly, because these Archetypes mean major dollars for networks and cast members. And while they’re all getting paid, black women are left to combat the stereotypes and typecasting that is perpetuated by these reality t.v shows.
I made the bold assumption that ALL adults were aware of the fictitiousness of reality t.v shows. And I think the majority of people are consciously aware of this fact, but somewhere subconsciously, we get caught up/sucked in and forget that reality t.v shows are simply re-packaged sitcoms. Black women are the stars of numerous reality t.v shows, so what does that mean when networks like Bravo are predominantly viewed by white women? It means that instead of viewing an authentic depiction of black women, they are simply given the Archetype(s) deemed most entertaining and realistic by the writers, producers, directors,etc. Simply put, society gets a very limited depiction of black womanhood. Society then takes these unauthentic depictions of black woman and accepts it not only as reality, but tries to force all black women into these Archetypes.
In a perfect world, we would be represented on television in a way that is authentic, consistently positive, and inclusive of various depictions of black women. But at the end of the day, we can not depend on nor expect popular culture, reality t.v, and anything in between, to have our backs. To begin with, we must stop supporting these sub-par reality television shows. Many black women watch reality t.v shows not only because they are entertaining, but because to some extent we can relate, but we are more than these few depictions. We must also engage in dialogue with our fellow sisters and others about ways in which reality t.v shows are problematic and enforce negative/harmful stereotypes. Lastly and possibly most importantly, we must to talk to our youth: black girls and black boys about the difference between reality and reality television; they need to know and see that there are black women who do not fit the Archetypal mold. They have to see that there is more. We have to prove that there is more.