From Jezebel to Basketball Wives

ImageBy: Erica Thurman, Director of Stepping Stones 

There is a recent trend in network and cable television programming and women of color are at a unique impasse.

With an increased representation of Black women, television and extended mediums provide the opportunity for women of color to choose their own identities. With shows like Basketball Wives, Hollywood Exes and Single Ladies, flatscreen TVs nationwide are being bombarded with reincarnations of Jezebel, Sapphire, the Gold Digger and the Welfare Queen.

These socially constructed identities are designed to postulate women of color as overtly sexual, unnecessarily aggressive and materialistic. This form of labeling, which is firmly rooted in consumerism dates back to the arrival of African women on American soil.

From physical altercations and promiscuity to irresponsible financial management and wine bottles being thrown across the room, these shows are meant to attract ratings. Television leaves little room for women positively achieving academic, career and personal excellence because the media deems these women boring and uninteresting.

So where is the choice I spoke of earlier in this post? As a community, we have a choice as to how we allow these images to affect our community. While the majority of new shows depicting women of color put forth negative images, we have the opportunity to use those images to educate our girls about the harm of such images.

Prohibiting them from watching these shows may not be very effective since these images are so pervasive that despite our best efforts to restrict them, children will receive these images at school, during play and extracurricular activities.

So we should open dialogue about these shows—help our girls understand that while these images affect their lives, they don’t have to define them.

I heard a quote yesterday by Eileen Zubriggen that reads:

“As a society, we need to replace all of these sexualized images with ones showing girls in positive settings–ones that show the uniqueness and competence of girls.”

And therein lies our charge McLean County—to replace these negative images with positive images for our youth.

See the links below for examples of local resources that seek to replace harmful images with ones showing girls in positive settings.

Girls Be U (Girls Leadership and Empowerment program)

http://www.ywca.org/site/pp.asp?c=djIOK7OZG&b=6729199

Project OZ

http://www.projectoz.org/

UNITY Center

http://web.extension.illinois.edu/lmw/unity/

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