In the past few months several Change.org petitions have surfaced calling for the cancellation of various "ratchet" reality shows. While it remains to be seen how successful this petition will be in its’ efforts, one thing is becoming clear: more and more Black women are speaking out against the minstrelsy of Black women on negative-themed “reality” shows. Could it be that Black women are finally getting sick and tired of the “Crazy Black Reality Chick” meme?
Last year violent, “ratchet” reality shows were all the rage. The stereotype of the materialistic, loud, aggressive Black woman is still the dominant one on cable however it now seems that the interpersonal violence is not as frequent (most likely due to economic & legal consequences via lawsuits by current and former cast members).
There's still a long way to go in rehabbing the overall depiction of Black women in various forms of media. But it does appear (at least on this date) that two things are happening right now around the reality TV genre: 1. Public sentiment around these “guilty pleasures” is shifting away from blind acceptance, and 2. Violence on the shows seems to be decreasing.
What was the impetus for this subtle change? In large part, I believe it's due to the actions of the following four women.
- Meeka Claxton: After being physically attacked by fellow Basketball Wives cast mate Tami Roman, Meeka filed suit against Roman and the Vh1 network. No word on the disposition of the case, however her decision to hold Tami accountable for her actions sent a loud signal to the network that violence between cast members could have some potentially serious financial and legal consequences.
- Kelly Smith Beaty: Her “Will the Real Black People of Atlanta Stand Up” Huffington Post op-ed brought attention to the constant battering that the image of Black women in Atlanta are receiving via the reality show genre. Beaty’s impassioned plea for the networks last summer to stop defaming the image of Black Atlantan’s was a viral success and garnered tremendous attention on the stereotypical representation of Black women.
- Sabrina Lamb: When the teen financial empowerment guru behind WorldofMoney.org saw the trailer for the horrific Oxygen network spawned “All My Babies’ Mamas” (a reality show featuring G-Unit rapper Shawty Lo and 7 of the 10 mothers of his 11 children), she hit the roof. Lamb's uber successful Change.org petition is largely credited with getting the show yanked from the air.
- Michaela angela Davis: This image activist has been an instrumental force in the reshaping of Black women’s definition of beauty since her days as Editor-in-Chief of Honey magazine. Never one to shy away from taking a public stand, in December of 2012 she announced the launch of the “Bury the Ratchet” campaign. "Bury the Ratchet" focuses its efforts on changing the depiction of Black women in Atlanta on reality television and gave a catchy name to the anti-reality show movement, asking Black women to support each other instead of the negative shows.
Thank you, Meeka, Kelly, Sabrina, and Michaela, for having the courage to stand up for Black women, our image, our young girls and our future. There is much, much more work to be done in how Black women are portrayed not just on reality television, but in media overall. As a complement to the ongoing efforts of the aforementioned women, Truth in Reality has launched the Responsible Reality TV Movement. For it is only through collective effort that true social change can occur.
The Truth in Reality Responsible Reality TV movement focuses on three steps to create social change:
1) Raise awareness about the adverse effects of negative reality TV shows are having on our communities
2) Advance our advocacy efforts to change the existing broadcast standards and practices for cable networks by encouraging them to practice Principles of Responsible Reality
3) Mobilize the Black community through digital activism to create a movement of change in our collective attitudes towards interpersonal violence, with the end goal of ultimately reducing our disproportionate rates of interpersonal violence
It is our belief that if we can affect change on a micro level (such as in how Black women are being portrayed on reality television), eventually this will create a shift in our imagery overall in media. Petitioning via sites such as Change.org can be a very effective means of letting the media know that stereotypical and exploitative programming is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. However, we must do more than react to offensive and damaging media. We must be proactive in assertively challenging existing definitions of Black womanhood, educating media consumers on the real impact that misogynistic programming such as negative reality shows are having on the Black community, and empowering viewers to make informed television viewing choices.
Sil Lai Abrams is a writer, inspirational speaker, anti-domestic violence activist, Ebony.com’s relationship expert, contributor to TheGrio.com and author of ‘No More Drama.’ She is also the founder of Truth in Reality, a grassroots media advocacy organization committed to changing the way women and interpersonal violence are portrayed on reality television. Follow her on Twitter at @Sil_Lai