Watching While Black: Centering the Television of Black Audiences

Watching While Black: Centering the Television of Black Audiences

Watching While Black: Centering the Television of Black Audiences

Watching While Black: Centering the Television of Black Audiences


Television scholarship has substantially ignored programming aimed at Black audiences despite a few sweeping histories and critiques. In this volume, the first of its kind, contributors examine the televisual diversity, complexity, and cultural imperatives manifest in programming directed at a Black and marginalized audience.

Watching While Black considers its subject from an entirely new angle in an attempt to understand the lives, motivations, distinctions, kindred lines, and individuality of various Black groups and suggest what television might be like if such diversity permeated beyond specialized enclaves. It looks at the macro structures of ownership, producing, casting, and advertising that all inform production, and then delves into television programming crafted to appeal to black audiences--historic and contemporary, domestic and worldwide.

Chapters rethink such historically significant programs as Roots and Black Journal, such seemingly innocuous programs as Fat Albert and bro'Town, and such contemporary and culturally complicated programs as Noah's Arc, Treme, and The Boondocks. The book makes a case for the centrality of these programs while always recognizing the racial dynamics that continue to shape Black representation on the small screen. Painting a decidedly introspective portrait across forty years of Black television, Watching While Black sheds much-needed light on under-examined demographics, broadens common audience considerations, and gives deference to the the preferences of audiences and producers of Black-targeted programming.


Beretta E. Smith-Shomade

This project has been engaging my thoughts for nearly a decade. I was forced to actually address it while sitting in our temporary home in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, watching world satellite tv with virtually no Blacks on it. in Nigeria, I became acquainted with Paris-based Fashion tv, U.S.-based Style Network, and the Australian production McLeod’s Daughters. Outside of M-Net’s Africa Magic, a network dedicated to showing Nollywood productions primarily, television was anything but Black. This whitening of the televisual frame, even in Black Africa, made me begin to consider the dearth of knowledge circulating about Black television programming, even when abundance exists—of how this lack of knowledge could contribute to programming selections. Closer to home, I thought about how that same “whiteout” existed in U.S. scholarship on television production and viewership and their cultural flows. I realized that I needed to move from reflections to response.

Discussions about the transforming reception/audience/user landscapes pervade every mediated outlet—whether scholarly engagement within Media Studies or Communications, journalistic pieces from technology sectors and from new media theorists and practitioners, or within business, public-sphere, and institutional spaces. Evidence of the divergent and fragmented deluge of media consumption and production demands attention but is often invoked as if a coherency exists. Moreover, acknowledgment that certain aspects of this media landscape have always been fractured, minimized, and ignored rarely surfaces.

In 1990–1991, Nielsen Media began to demarcate the viewing patterns of African American audiences from other American demographics. Nielsen’s ability and desire to bring into focus taste and cultural preferences according to discrete identity categories (race, gender, age, class, and sociopolitical orientation), all for the benefit of corporate advertising, remains a source of consternation and fascination. Yet differences between what Black viewers watch and what “all others” watch has not received much critical examination beyond parenthetical variations of “oh yeah, they watch different stuff.” This dearth of incisive examination points to a critical gap and negation in discourse—both past and present.

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