Recently, I hosted a Twitter chat via TheGrio’s Twitter account that discussed the ongoing assault on the image of black women in the media, specifically through reality television such as the newly-spawned hit Married to Medicine.
I went into this inaugural conversation entitled “From Julia to NeNe: Has Reality TV Destroyed the Image of Black Women in the Media?” with an open mind regarding the types of responses that we would receive from participants in the chat.
Many participants shared that they felt shows like Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love and Hip Hop, and Basketball Wives reinforce harmful racial stereotypes and teach viewers to disrespect black women. Concern was expressed not only about how these shows are influencing adult viewers, but also how they are impacting the minds of those who are not the targeted audience of these shows, such as children.
Now, I hate to burst a reality TV enthusiast’s entertainment-fueled bubble of denial, but kids are watching these shows. As much as many parents will insist “not in my house,” there’s a good chance that your child has swallowed reality show toxins.
Case in point: At a recent Girl Scouts event, I had a fifth grader tell me that Bad Girls Club was her favorite television show. Not Doc McStuffins. Not SpongeBob SquarePants. BAD GIRLS CLUB.
One person tweeted that it’s the parent’s responsibility to oversee their child’s television consumption habits. In an ideal world, that would great. But in the real world, it’s highly improbable, as it presumes the awareness or even a concern by all parents for how the media is influencing their child.
It’s true that a girl’s best role model should be a mother, or another family member: someone present and accessible to talk to, rather than a carefully manufactured larger-than-life character on a TV screen. But we can’t deny that as hard as some parents might work to be constantly present for their children, life has a habit of getting in the way.
Few of us can claim that they’ve never had a moment of divided attention when their television became the de facto babysitter. Yet, when we hire an actual childcare provider, it’s common practice to ask for references and qualifications. But when we think about the biggest, most omnipresent influence on a young person’s life — the media — why is it okay to turn it on and walk away?
And what about the parent who doesn’t allow their child to watch Love & Hip Hop, but still watches it herself? For years doctors have said that second hand smoke was killing the people who lived with smokers.
Research has proven that a child who grows up with a parent who smokes is twice as likely to start smoking themselves. If our children hear us gleefully sharing the latest exploits of their favorite reality show brawler with our girlfriends, doesn’t that send a message that fighting is okay? After all, Mommy doesn’t see anything wrong with the fighting on Married to Medicine. This is how these “second hand” images infiltrate the mind of a child.
Perhaps it’s because we think of television as entertainment, not as an influential guide to living. As adults, we’re sure that we separate the media from our real life. Cognitively, we recognize a separation between the two. But when we see images repeated time and again, we can’t help but internalize a negative ideology.