The Gross Misrepresentation of Black Women in the Media
By Tracey Ricks Foster
I often times reflect on my youth. As probably many middle-agers do from time to time. Instead of the usual trip down memory lane that feature summer escapades of hide and seek, bike riding, and day dreaming about marrying Michael Jackson, my mind drifts to the images of Black women that surrounded me. Whenever I am in this state of mind, it usually is the direct result of what I may view in my daily travels or what is displayed on the idiot box, also known as the television.
I may be exaggerating a bit, I really do not believe that I am, but I cannot recall any other time in Black history that the image of Black women is more prevalent, yet questionable. Black women are celebrated and elevated, regardless of how briefly, more than ever before. In the last two years alone, Black women have won Oscars and Tonys, broken world records in sports and entertainment, soared through the corporate glass ceiling, and excelled academically. We as Black women are front and center, even if we have not cognitively recognized it. Little girls and young women of all ages and ethnicities are imitating today’s Black woman and embracing her. There is where my mind veers.
As much as I applaud the achievements of Black women in all areas, I am concerned with our image. When I look around me, I am not at all in love with what I see. When I was coming up in the 60’s and 70’s, the image of the Black woman on television mirrored my world. Black women on television carried themselves with dignity and respect. My mother never felt discomfort as I watched these women perform their craft. She never considered them a danger to the way I perceived my womanhood, or a questionable representation of Black women. Musically, the Black women in the industry wore clothes. They were young, sexy and feminine, beautiful and talented. I loved the Sylvers. The sisters in the group were beautiful, but they were fully clothed and still appeared attractive. Remember Stacy Lattisaw? She and I were preteens at the same time and she was not sexualized or barely clothed. I never had to deal with image problems because the Black women I admired were like me.
In 2014, I cannot say the same. I am completely thrown and mildly disgusted with the way Black women and the image of Black women are being systematically exploited by the media and the ‘artists’ themselves. It is easy to blame the media for the sexualization and exploitation of Black women. I find, however, that it is even more easier for me to blame Black women. Why? I understand that to remain what some like to call ‘relevant’ in the entertainment industry, a female entertainer has to arrive at some general conclusions. First, she must realize that each year she is in the business, she is aging. There is always a younger woman on the come-up who could potentially snatch her audience. So what is said female entertainer advised to do? Compete. Compete not with talent. Compete with body image. Buttocks and breasts become larger. More flesh is exposed short of being classified as pornographic. Music lyrics leave nothing to the imagination and womanhood is sold out cheaply for fame and notoriety.
When Black women bow down to being objectified, what we are really doing is submitting to the theory of the ones that enslaved our ancestors, which is that we are highly sexualized animals who deserve to be exploited, used, and discarded. Viewing these type of images daily disrupts the pride and esteem that we are naturally born with. When we view the sexualized bodies of Beyoncé or Nikki Minaj, what message is being subliminally telegraphed to our psyche? What message is being telepathically sent to our daughters?
One of the perks of being a child in the 70’s, was the number of positive images of Black women I was exposed to. I will always feel a sense of indebtedness to Soul Train founder and host, Don Cornelius. Watching an hour of power, as I like to call it, that featured positive Black images, infused the Black community with the knowledge that we can do and overcome anything. That hour of Soul Train conveyed the idea that we were special, beautiful and talented. For that one hour a week, Black America collectively came together with pride. Commercials filled with queenly images of Black women made me feel inspired and alive. Proud. I carry that pride with me today. I am not saying that all Black women in media are at fault for perpetuating a negative and sexualized image. What I am saying is that the sexualization and objectification of Black women is hurting us as a culture. It is killing our daughters self-esteem and projecting the image to Black men that we are merely sex objects for self-gratification.
We need to get back to the positive and inspiring images of Black women. We need to open the vaults of our past and familiarize ourselves with the beauty and queenliness of Black womanhood. Rebuild our self-esteem and insist that the Black women who represent us in the media carry themselves in a dignified manner. Only when we do this can we rid ourselves of the misrepresentation of Black womanhood that is on display today.