Sharee Silerio

The recent antics and happenings of reality television shows have crossed the boundaries of decency on many levels. One show that is distinctively offensive and cruel is Basketball Wives.

In spite of the abusive language, frequent physical assaults, lack of control and back-stabbing typical of reality TV, many write it off as "entertainment" and see it as having no effect on them personally.

There seems to be a hidden agenda behind some of these shows, one that is detrimental to all. This type of programming has a unique influence on those who watch it because the premise is that it is natural, untouched and genuine.

Primetime television programs consistently under-represent women and people of color. However, within the last few years, reality TV has provided a means to expose their lives to the world, particularly African-American women.

In 2011, four of VH-1’s reality programs were among the 10 most-watched series for African-American women. One of them is Basketball Wives, which features a predominately-black cast. The participants are famous for the exchanges between them, which involve verbal cruelty, alcohol-induced outbursts, arguments and physical abuse.

Depictions that have plagued African-American women in America for hundreds of years come to mind. The "characters" in reality TV programs rely on deep-rooted, commonly held beliefs and stereotypes, such as the Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, Welfare Mother, Matriarch, Freak, Diva, Gold-Digger, Baby Mama and Angry Black Woman.

Racial stereotypes are strongly intertwined within the culture of America, and the media is a tool to maintain them and keep them relevant. The media often depict African-American women as promiscuous, focused on money, selfish, bearing children for material gain, hostile, angry and argumentative.

Such portrayals eventually have an effect on the way we view others and ourselves. If African-American men internalize views of African-American women as domineering, undesirable, materialistic and untrustworthy, they compromise the quality of their relationship along with intimacy.

Black children have an attraction for characters who resemble them, making African-American participants in reality TV more influential when it comes to their values, behaviors and views of the self. This is devastating when the bases for the majority of depictions are stereotypes.

Television viewers, along with media creators, should view the content of reality TV as more than amusement or an opportunity for profits, but as a direct reflection of how society defines its members.

Media literacy is the means to dissolve these negative images; it also has the potential to encourage a culture where audiences are critical and aware of the media they consume. As a nation heavily involved with the media, it is beneficial to understand the implications of cyclical views of people that are demeaning.

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