Keeping up with the Kardashians might just be keeping African-American children lagging.
And watching Jerry Springer and Maury Povich is a recipe for failure and the antithesis of what black children should be consuming, according to mental health experts and others who said the effects of reality television has been devastating to the growth of young African-Americans.
“Last week, I was invited to speak to a group of our girls at a summer camp,” said Dr. Froswa Booker-Drew, an author, adjunct professor at the University of North Texas at Dallas and director of community affairs and strategic alliances for the State Fair of Texas. “The instructors were frustrated because of their behavior. The girls could not see the opportunity before them of a summer of learning and exposure for them, by people who look like them and understand their challenges and community.”
In an incident that started as a play fight among the girls but quickly became real, someone decided to film it to go viral; unfortunately, the individuals involved saw the commotion as an opportunity to do reality television, Booker-Drew said.
“Many of their aspirations include being famous and on television,” she said. “Sadly, they don’t know that most of what they watch is scripted. Nene [Leakes of the reality show “Real Housewives of Atlanta”] could not work on Broadway or sell her clothing line if she was difficult to work with, throwing water on everyone and telling people off.”
Shannon Mondesir, a Brooklyn College student, wrote a dissertation, “Dismantling the Coonery of Reality Television,” in which she argues that shows that make their money by ridiculing black stereotypes have only helped worsen race relations and need to be taken off the air.
There are several popular reality television shows including “Jerry Springer” and “Maury,” Mondesir noted in her March essay.
With African-Americans most commonly appearing as the guests on their shows, Jerry and Maury rake in millions of dollars showcasing “black coonery,” Mondesir said.
“[The shows] perpetuate the black stereotype, thus keeping African-Americans back from proving the stereotypes wrong altogether,” she said.
The stereotypes of African-Americans — lazy, ugly, violent and ghetto — are extremely negative, Mondesir argued.
Black culture, despite a few aspects emulated in the cultures of other races, has generally been negative. Hip-hop, a black-oriented musical genre, is accused of exploiting gangs and violence, kinky hair has been viewed as ugly and general physical characteristics of the black body are ridiculed and have been for centuries, she said.
“Nonetheless, people such as Maury and Jerry Springer, two white men, have profited off African-Americans upholding this stereotype for several years,” she said.
However, those are not the only shows that should be taken off the air, she said, noting programs such “Bad Girls Club” and “Love & Hip Hop” are examples of reality shows that perpetuate negative stereotypes.
There are many African-Americans, particularly black women, who tune in to watch these shows where black women fight each other and exploit themselves sexually, feeding into the typecast of angry, overtly sexual black women, Mondesir said.
The argument continues that black men are generally viewed as menaces to society, and black women are seen as sexual objects.
These stereotypes have yet to be altered in today’s world, and while television shows continue to air and increase in popularity, it will be harder to get rid of them, she said.
“Consider this: the western area of the United States has a lesser population of black people,” Mondesir said. “States such as Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington do not have a large population of African-Americans.With a mostly white population, there is a large chance that many of them do not come across black people very often, besides seeing them on television.”
Booker-Drew related her experiences with students who want to be sexy — desirable to boys whom they’ve fought over — and are already deciding their value is based on what they look like as well as believing that other females are the enemy.
“One told me, ‘She better keep my name out of her mouth or I’m going to pop off,’” Booker-Drew recalled. “My response was to the girls, ‘A year from now, will this matter?’”
She said she talked about hopes and dreams and behavior changes and helping one another for success, noting that it’s difficult to reinforce that when television tells the children otherwise.
“It’s easy to say parents are responsible for viewing but phones have made that a challenge to filter everything and they teach one another … especially if parents are also embodying this behavior with their children,” Booker-Drew said.
“There has to be more visible role models who counteract this behavior who demonstrate what reality really looks like,” she said. “More of us must step up to the plate and be more involved in the village.”