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Reality TV: Home Sweet Home for Dysfunctional Black Women

Cast of "Basketball Wives" season three

It used to be difficult for anyone who displayed any type of dysfunction at all to be successful, but not anymore in the age of buffoonery, self-centeredness and reality television. If you are a black woman who is dysfunctional, reality TV is, no doubt, the place for you.

I must be candid and admit that I have not seen too much of this, but where else can one be a “wife” when she is divorced, was never married or has no husband. Where else can a former stripper be called a “housewife” and parlay it into working for The Donald? Nowhere in the real world, but, for certain, on reality television. Yes, reality television, a never-never land of contrived events that would never manifest in the general public. Like a circus sideshow, 20 women under the age of 25 can vie to obtain the make-believe love of a 50-year-old hip-hop hype man with gold teeth or chase after some famous professional athlete, displaying groupie qualities while maintaining they are the epitome of womanhood.

From “Celebrity Apprentice” contestants Star Jones and NeNe Leakes to Oxygen’s “Bad Girls Club” and VH1’s “Basketball Wives,” there is not one presentation of what it means to be ladylike. In all cases, regardless if they are the ex-wives or the baby mamas of wealthy professional athletes, they parade around as if they cannot go anywhere without their weaves and acting as if the only word in their vocabularies is “b—-.” Even worse is the appearance that civil discord is impractical and that the only way to deal with a problem or conflict with others is to scream, curse and speak down to people with the might of all of their anger, giving the impression that violence is the only way to solve one’s problems. Even shows like Keyshia Cole’s promote dysfunction as if it is commonplace among African American women.

These shows are an abomination, and it is evident that the more destructive they are the more viewership they gain among young African American women. I used to think hip-hop videos were bad. Now, I’m torn between the two. I just wonder, will we ever see African American women portrayed as they really are — or used to be — in our community? This thought has me afraid that this may be what our women have actually become.

torrance stephens, ph.d.



17 Comments

  1. ladyjane on June 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    AGREED, Dr. Stephens!!!  It is a sign of our sick society and the demise of morals and values. Celebrity is the goal of many…at any cost. But, what can we, who still see the truth, do about it? It almost seems insurmountable.

  2. Areshia on June 9, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    Perhaps you should check out Braxton Family Values. You may just find some redeeming qualities on that show. Or go read a book and stop being so darn judgmental.

  3. JANE DOH! on June 9, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    why are you or anyone else shock.
    the entertainment industries has always love showing black folk looking dumb and ignorant. and black folks just being all to willing to step up to the plate and bugged out the eyes and shuck and jive for them.

  4. Sannscott12703 on June 10, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    I hope these ladies read this and take a look in the mirror. Hopefully if just one would realize this and change. Our you women today need positive people and situations to look at. Not a hot mess like these shows.

  5. Nik on June 10, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    This was written by a man and is completely on point. Will the media ever recognize that the majority of black women are loving, respectful self sufficient queens and not just the trife bunch of shallow pretentious screaming banshees that tv loves to display!

  6. Life36000 on June 10, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Great article! A large number of the viewers actually talk about the “actresses” as if they know them personally. I HATE reality television! 

  7. Khayes007 on June 10, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    I totally agree with this assessment!

  8. Nicholas Lafayette Henderson on June 10, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    I think this just shows the reality of what people go through in life. We expect people of a certain status to be perfect in living life and that’s just not true. So its not just about black women being dysfunction but it shows that everybody has some type of situation going on in their life. There are no perfect people in this world so stop tripping and let shows such as these help you in correcting the error of your ways PEACE. Nicholas L. Henderson

  9. Nicholas Lafayette Henderson on June 10, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    I think this just shows the reality of what people go through in life. We expect people of a certain status to be perfect in living life and that’s just not true. So its not just about black women being dysfunction but it shows that everybody has some type of situation going on in their life. There are no perfect people in this world so stop tripping and let shows such as these help you in correcting the error of your ways PEACE. Nicholas L. Henderson

  10. Nicholas Lafayette Henderson on June 10, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    I think this just shows the reality of what people go through in life. We expect people of a certain status to be perfect in living life and that’s just not true. So its not just about black women being dysfunction but it shows that everybody has some type of situation going on in their life. There are no perfect people in this world so stop tripping and let shows such as these help you in correcting the error of your ways PEACE. Nicholas L. Henderson

  11. professor0401 on June 10, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    I agree that this new trend of dysfunctional portrayals of African American women has put stereotypes of AA’s on a new level of destructiveness. It now wears the banner of “reality” which many accept as true. My master’s thesis was about stereotypes and i found that degrading stereotyping of Black people began way before slavery…at least as far back as the 1400’s. It will take huge measures to begin to undue the deep rooted impact of generations of negative stereotyping on African Americans and society in general. Awareness is a beginning.

  12. Bill on June 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    These shows are the equivalent of a modern day   “Birth of a Nation”. read below “professor0401”
    We are the one of a few races that glorify violence.  Don’t forget hip-hop videos and concerts. This modern day uptick in violence being acceptable can be seen in the dark videos. Everyone has on  dark glasses, dark clothing and pants on the ground. If you give me the impression that you are a gangster, I am going to take you as such an treat as such.

  13. Swesburks on June 10, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    I totally agree Not long ago I was asked if I’d do the show Love & Hip-Hop and I passed. No amount of money can make me, make myself look like an azz on national television. Nor will I allow television to destroy my home. Besides, in my current job, I have a reputation to uphold as well as the integrity of our 100 year history and tradition. As a proud black woman, wife and mother of two, I simply cannot contribute to the further destruction and ultimate demise of a character many fought and died to obtain and then maintain. At the rate things are going it’ll be a character many fight to regain. Too bad they don’t see it… 

  14. MsMobetter on June 10, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Dr. Stephens,
    I was discussing the drama and b-fights we are currently witnessing among black women on reality TV with some of my friends and none of us can ever remember having relationships with each other where we fight or even argue such as seen on many of these programs. In fact, we have beautiful, long term relationships that are loving, supportive and caring. It is truly disturbing in this time where young black girls need mentors as opposed to negative images.  Instead of imitating black women on shows like Basketball Wives and Housewives of Atlanta, we should contact the producers and ask them to present more positive images and relationships with black women and relationships with black men or we will boycott watching these shows which rank tops among black TV viewing audiences. http://mobetterbysheila.blogspot.com

  15. Wylliewilson on June 10, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Great points and I wish tv could go back to the Cosby show. BUT, viewers don’t like respectful reality. It’s blah to them.  So, if the viewers don’t watch, you know the networks wont get money from sponsors and so on and so on.  I wish we could leave in a world where reality is a fantasy. Oh well, there goes that wish!

  16. OneCutie on June 13, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    You do realize that reality tv is an “equal opportunity” image tarnesher. Shows about African American women only make up a fraction of the reality shows. There are like 6 Real Housewives shows, and only ONE has a black cast. I agree with you that black women tend to be portrayed as dysfunctional in realty television, but so does everyone. Also, sir, I get tired of the majority of the blame being put on black WOMEN. You focused on us, but black men in reality tv seem to lack values as well. Right now, the shows about the black women are just more popular. And you know what, who cares. It’s TELEVISION. I don’t look at “Jersey Shore” and assume all Italian people are sex crazed, hostile, profanity riddled, idiots. So what makes you think others watch “Basketball Wives” and assume all black women are similar? This was a well written piece, but not well thought out. IMO

  17. milwood on June 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    I hate to say it but you are right. It’s like they sold themselves, their values, to be on TV.In their defense this saying applies,”I’m getting paid.”