WASHINGTON WATCH: Damaging Images Of Black Women In Reality Television (VIDEO)

Roland Martin talks with writer and image activist Michaela Angela Davis about the damaging images of black women in reality television.

MR. MARTIN:   Welcome back.

If you’ve watched this show on a regular basis, you know how much I hate reality shows like this.


MR. MARTIN:  God!  That’s pathetic.  Seriously.  How many women do you know who act like that?  And what does that say to the rest of society about black women?

We’re talking about that today with writer and image activist Michaela Angela Davis, who joins us from New York.

MR. MARTIN:  Michaela, glad you’re on “Washington Watch.”

MS. MICHAELA DAVIS:  Hi, Roland.  It’s so good to be here.  I wish I could be in the studio with you.

MR. MARTIN:  Well –

MS. DAVIS:  One-on-one with Roland Martin is nothing like that.

MR. MARTIN:  — well, we’ll definitely hook it up again next time.

Look, I really do.  I hate these particular shows.  The other night, I was –

MS. DAVIS:  Yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  — traveling somewhere, and I’m flipping through the television, and “Real Housewives of Atlanta” came on.  It was the same thing.  It was just yelling and cussing and screaming – just over stupid stuff.  And it has to be embarrassing to black women!

MS. DAVIS:  Yeah, it’s emotionally violent.  I mean just listening to that clip, I got agitated.  There’s this constant image of black women in conflict that’s not just embarrassing; it’s degrading, because it – also just every show where there’s more than one of us, we’re in conflict.  So, it’s kind of this glamorous PSA of how to bully and how to be a mean girl.  And we know that there’re so many black women in all kinds of situations, in all kinds of sisterhood and doing all these powerful things, but our biggest sort of image in popular culture is this.

And so it’s troublesome, particularly for our girls –

MR. MARTIN:  What –

MS. DAVIS:  — and I think that’s really where I’m most focused.  The images and ideas that it puts out are very conflicting.  It’s showing you that being mean is profitable. But I think that there’s a certain comfort in the culture with black-girl pain and profiting off of black-girl pain that we’re just numb to.

And so I think what’s powerful about having these kinds of conversations and particularly bringing some media literacy to women to deconstruct these ideas is really important, because it seems that you’re being rewarded for the worst kind of behavior.  And we’re having to deal with – on the ground, we’re having to deal with really intense issues around bullying and violence and brokenness.  And so when it becomes entertainment, with the dearth of other images – look.  “My Wives” could eat the “Basketball Wives” for lunch.

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MS. DAVIS:  Like, those are mean chicks.  But they aren’t the only ones.  They get to be magical on TV.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. DAVIS:  They get to be friends on TV.  They get to be families on TV.  So, every, you know, white, Italian woman doesn’t attach her culture and her character to “My Wives.”

MR. MARTIN:  You are –

MS. DAVIS:  With us, we don’t have all –

MR. MARTIN:  — right.

MS. DAVIS:  — those other options.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.  You are launching this series, if you will, of “Bury the Ratchet” at Spelman College in Atlanta.  And I’ve got to tell you, Michaela –

MS. DAVIS:  Yeah?

MR. MARTIN:  — you’re going to run up against this issue that I want you to speak to.  Whenever I go in on these shows on Facebook and Twitter, I get all kinds of sisters saying, “This is my guilty pleasure.”  And so how –

MS. DAVIS:  Yes.

MR. MARTIN:  — are you going to deal with – and I’m talking about sisters who [are] college-educated, people who have all kinds of –

MS. DAVIS:  Sure.

MR. MARTIN:  — good jobs.  And these sisters say, “Hey, it’s really no big deal for me.  It’s entertainment.”

And so with “Bury the Ratchet,” you know, how do you break through to them to say, “Look, you’re not making this thing easier, because by you continuing to watch it, you’re blowing the ratings up.  And these cable networks are going to simply add more shows”?

MS. DAVIS:  Yeah.  Well, I mean the campaign “Bury the Ratchet,” first of all, is a pro-sisterhood movement –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. DAVIS:  — not an anti-reality movement.  So, first of all, we’re framing it in a way that we just are looking to get particularly young women – and that’s why Spelman was such the perfect place to launch it, so that scholars and young women can decide and define for themselves what kind of women they think are hot.  So, I’m very careful to not make this an “us against them,” because the whole idea is to promote sisterhood.  And when we’re saying “bury the ratchet,” … it’s not necessarily, you know, “end the television shows” and be, you know, protesting against them; but end us being mean to each other as black women, to end the emotional violence.  It is really damaging, particularly to our girls.

And so for the women that are – this is their guilty pleasure, and – they’re safe.  These are professional women, and we have to question how expensive is this “pleasure” to our girls?

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. DAVIS:  What are we saying to the more vulnerable women who don’t have, like, this moment where they get together and sip Bellinis and talk about how funny these women?  This is real for them.  We’re seeing –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. DAVIS:  — these broken women in glamorous dresses, and the signal that gives to our young women about what it takes to win needs to be dissected.  And some of us need to have a conversation about what this is doing to us psychologically – again, in the dearth of no other images.  You know what I mean?

MR. MARTIN:  Well, I certainly hope that – again – folks will embrace this, because it is needed.  And, again, I understand being –

MS. DAVIS:  Yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  — pro sisterhood, but I’ll tell you what.  I just cannot – I will not allow this crap to be in my household – for my wife, my sisters, my nieces – because you’re right.  It is destructive, and it makes no sense whatsoever.

So, Michaela, good luck with it; and we certainly appreciate it.  Thanks a lot.

MS. DAVIS:  Thank you, Roland.

MR. MARTIN:  Folks, Michaela’s “Bury the Ratchet” symposium will be held at Spelman College in March 2013, where she, along with other African-American leaders, will analyze how reality television is hurting black culture [and] the case of bullying on these shows.