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Women of Color and Reality TV: the Bad, the Worse, and the Downright Offensive

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November 16, 2012

This post is part of a series about reproductive justice and the media done in partnership with Women, Action, & the Media.

Being a woman of color, specifically an African American woman of Caribbean decent, I grew up with little to representations of myself in the media. But looking back the 90’s were really a golden age of television shows with women of color. Shows like Living Single, Moesha, and Family Matters were shows that really shaped my childhood. But when the 90’s ended those representations slowly but surely faded away. By the time I hit high school what began to really take charge of television networks was something I consider absolutely evil…reality TV.

Fast forward to the here and now, 2012, where reality TV is no longer the no holds bar semi-reality of its forefathers. Reality TV isn’t real! It’s largely scripted and allows for minimal variations. It puts its participants in high drama situations so fights will ensue. Women of color specifically have been really harmed by the false and often times controversial light that is shed on them. Now with shows like Bad Girls Club, Real Housewives of Atlanta, Basketball Wives, and Love and Hip Hop, women are painted as sad examples of women who slept their way to fame. These shows are chock full of drama created to make everything about their contest of life, “Which rich famous Male can I lock down.”

These shows construct black women’s sexuality as a commodity — something to be traded for the wealth and status of the high-profile men in these shows. But as with any other product that is bought and sold, there must be competition. This competition between the the women is the main force of these shows. Black female sexuality is seen as a performance and competitive by nature, and that’s why there is lot of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse.

So that you can get a better understanding of exactly what I mean, I’d like to take the show Basketball Wives because it’s such a perfect example. Only two of these women were actually wives and there were hardly any basketballs ever seen. How did their lives play out you ask? Well most of these girls met their “baller” partners when they were in normal day to day settings and back then these women didn’t rock all the extravagant gear that they wear now. When they would finally get in a long term relationship and are financially secure, they would have to compete to keep their men. No hair must be out of place, they must look a certain way, make sure they always look their best. Unless of course they feel threatened by another female in which case they will get physical.This video shows depictions of women of color are and how these depictions can be harmful to us as an entire group.


Another great example of reality TV and women holding status competing with other women for a male with prominent status is Love and Hip Hop and specifically the fight between Kimbella and Chrissy. The fight broke out because Kimbella was being intimate with Fabulous, a well known Rapper, while her fellow cast member was in a relationship with him and  had  been pregnant with his child at that time. Now watch this and really think with images like this being such prominent images of women of color, how can we move forward and compete equally in the world and workforce?


Now I’m not saying that every one of these women holds no real substance, no education, and no common sense. Quite the opposite, these women have gone on to start their own businesses, hold music and media careers, or explored other profitable ventures. What is so problematic however is that through the wonders and magic of editing, these women are depicted (even if it’s not the case) as damaged, broken, and women that are reliant on their male partners.

If this could just be chalked up as fluff television and watched for peer comedic relief that would be one thing, but these reality shows are very popular with young women viewers. Young women watch these black women and other women of color degrading themselves over and over and over again and generalize all women of color that way. This is dangerous because it undoes the work that strong independent women of color from the past, our foremothers, and our sheroes have done. This opens up women of color to be generalized and our basic rights to be questioned.

Another consequence of all of this ratchet television, is really affecting younger generations of women of color. Black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, multi-racial, middle- eastern young girls are starting to think that this is the way to make it. That shaking it for some money is normal and okay. Fuck school, fuck getting an education and working, being independent and working for your success. This brand of reality TV shows girls that if you can do a couple of tricks on the pole, if you can conform to a certain standard of beauty, don’t mind being half naked, and are half good at lying on your back you can get your pair of red bottoms, and your piece of the great American dream too.  Even Kanye West shed light on how video girls make it in the industry with “Kanye’s Workout Plan”:


But these girls don’t understand that it’s all a dream, we need to wake up! This is maiming our culture and putting us back 100 years for something that isn’t sustainable. I can’t yell this loud enough. REALITY TV IS NOT REAL!!! Instead of TV cameras watching these women travel across the country fight and compete for these men that think this woman is a dime a dozen. We need to show positivity instead of competition, show women of color helping and supporting women of color. Show the girls of these latter generations and reaffirm the faith of the young women of my generation that our culture hasn’t gone to complete shit.

I challenge all the women, in all these shows to go visit a school, a girls home and YWCA and instill some of their entrepreneurship knowledge to these girls or donate some of that money spent on the newest pair of Christian Louboutins so these girls can have new books, new computers, or maybe more meals for the next couple of months. If we as a country took time and television airing time to focus on that we’d have a group of women that is a lot better off and make our foremothers proud.

Fuck Reality — let’s get real!

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