Reality TV Trashes Black Women

By Samuels, Allison | Newsweek, May 9, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Reality TV Trashes Black Women

Samuels, Allison, Newsweek

Byline: Allison Samuels

An unsettling new formula: Eye-rolling, finger-snapping stereotypes.

Donald Trump's birther battle with President Obama may have captured all the headlines, but the drama that's really had Trump viewers glued to their sets is the catfight between his Celebrity Apprentice contestants Star Jones and NeNe Leakes.

The show has been a runaway hit for NBC this season, thanks in large part to the sniping between Jones, the embattled former cohost of The View, and Leakes, the former stripper turned Real Housewife of Atlanta. "Bossy, manipulative, conniving," is what Leakes called Jones during a visit to The Ellen Degeneres Show. And how does Jones feel about Leakes? "I really don't make a point of spending a lot of time with strippers," Jones tells a NEWSWEEK reporter over pastries in Los Angeles.

The mud-slinging makes for watchable TV, but it also highlights an unsettling new formula for the reality-TV genre: put two or more headstrong African-American women in the same room, and let the fireworks begin. From Oxygen's Bad Girls to Bravo's Real Housewives franchise, the small screen is awash with black females who roll their eyes, bob their heads, snap their fingers, talk trash, and otherwise reinforce the ugly stereotype of the "angry black woman." Take VH1's Basketball Wives and Love & Hip Hop, which feature the scorned ex-wives and baby mamas of rich NBA stars and rappers. No episode is complete without a bitchy confrontation or a threat to do bodily harm.

"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.

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