Let me first say, “Lawd, I have sinned”.
I, like millions of viewers, have chuckled at the ignorant antics of popular black reality stars as they popped off sassy one-liners. I took voyeuristic pleasure in seeing the fabulous wardrobes, hairstyles, and houses unfurled before me and the dysfunctional beings who flopped around those marvelously appointed abodes like wounded birds flinging themselves against glass windows.
But then, two things happened…
My first epiphany occurred when I was stuck on bedrest during a high risk pregnancy. I was bored to tears and watched more of these shows than I care to admit. And, truth be told, like so many viewers, I was subconsciously seeking something that allowed me to feel a bit superior and better about my crappy situation. Sure, my hair and nails might look a hot mess and I hadn’t seen the outside world in days since my last hospital visit, but at least I wasn’t those women.
Those women fight and call each other names.
Those women are loud and lewd.
Those women have questionable morals.
Me and my “kind of people”, college educated, professional women, would never behave that way, I thought smugly.
But I began to notice that the more of the poisonous narratives, the fighting, the pure and ugly drama I drank in, the worse I felt psychologically and, at times, physically. I also began to feel deeply unsettled. Like the joke wasn’t just on those women, but also on me in some way. I pushed away the remote and those feelings, and vowed to stop watching.
Then came Sorority Sisters, a reality show that purports to depict what life is like for women in black Greek lettered organizations.
Wait, I thought. Are these supposed to be “my kind of people” ?
Are they trying to depict me?
Efforts to ban the show and its less than flattering representations of organizations that are a source of pride for many in the African American community because of their commitment to service and advocacy fell flat. So, the organizers wisely took to social media and targeted the advertisers. And those companies, chastened by the power of black social media, began abandoning the project.
I applauded, but also felt a bit unsettled.
Why was it okay for me to chuckle at the ignorance in RHWOA, but cry foul when someone insulted my collegiate sisterhood? There is no difference between any of these reality shows seeking to profit from disrespecting representations of black womanhood.
Those kinds of women are my “kind of people”.
They are me.
I’m far from the first person to make this connection.
However, I also don’t think we should get distracted by the whole she-said-she-said arguments for and/or against efforts to end this particular show. There’s a degree of signifying and othering going on right now in each side calling the other out on why there wasn’t more of an outcry sooner.
And while women are bickering over who should have done what when, the masterminds behind pimping these depictions are laughing all the way to the bank.
Regardless as to how and when folks came to their epiphanies, a lot of eyes have now been opened…mine included.
It’s okay to recognize the validity of points coming from a variety of voices…even if that means humbling ourselves and rethinking some of our positions.
Love and Hip Hop, RHWOA, Sorority Sisters, etc… are all part of the same poisonous narrative. These reality shows play on age old stereotypes of Jezebel, Sapphire, and the Angry Black Woman long used to denigrate black womanhood. And those caricatures are aided and further entrenched into our collective cultural psyche as a nation by watching any and all of these shows.
There’s a direct through line from the sad and thirsty minstrelsy in Flavor of Love to the sad misguided hot mess that is Sorority Sisters. And all of this began when we signaled it was okay to promote such ignorance by making those shows popular by watching and laughing along. We are all further disenfranchised by profit-seeking ventures that manipulatively play to black stereotypes and pathologies
We might hold some institutions “sacred”, but financial greed only builds altars to itself.
And yes, such greed and lust for profit will leave your house, my house, all of our houses ravaged in its wake.
Ideologically, sorority efforts to can this god-awful show and grassroots efforts to end other similarly toxic and culturally damaging reality show depictions are linked.
It would be great if the same power leveraged to get advertisers to back away from Sorority Sisters could be used on behalf of these other shows.
But, in any case, here’s something we can all do: Stop watching any of these shows.
And then maybe, just maybe, these shows will go away.