Take a journey with me. Lets go way back. I’m talking more than 10 years. I can recall a time when I was actually excited for 7 o’clock on a week night because I knew that my favorite Black shows would be coming on. Shows like A Different World, The Cosby Show, Living Single, Martin, Family Matters, Fresh Prince Of Bel Aire, The Parent Hood , Roc and so on. Then, nothing compared to African American Entertainment. The thirty minutes (minus commercials) of visual pleasure that they gave me stays with me to this day. In fact thinking of these shows puts a smile on my face and I still become excited when I catch reruns. These shows were part of the 90’s movement that displayed successful African Americans living their lives. They gave us a subculture that installed in us that Black love existed, Black people were business minded and that it was possible for you to be from the hood and still be successful without “selling out”. For some who never saw that lifestyle first hand in their own lives likes myself they gave me something to aspire to. They confirmed the complexities that sometimes accompanies being an African American. The dualities that many of us go through in our career versus our home life. Most importantly, they were FUNNY. They were funny without having the stereotypical coon images or having constant slap hi jinx from the African American cast. No there was no need for the Black faced negro shucking and jiving his way to higher ratings while popping gum. They kept it real AND kept it balanced.
I am disappointed in African American television today because it glorifies the same stereotypes that we have tried for years to fight. There is no balance within the characters. They are usually extremely ghetto or the polar opposite. In fact, I would go as far as to say that there isn’t any quality African American programming currently on TV. The new wave of reality shows and newly aired shows like TV One’s Love That Girl for instance have the same simple stereotypical characters. Therefore they do not count as far as quality Black programming. For instance the lead characters brother in Love That Girl wants to be a stand up comic but refuses to work meanwhile to support himself. Instead he slums off his newly Real Estate licensed sister. Another example would be the receptionist at the Father’s Real Estate Office who can never seem to utter a sentence without chewing gum and doing some type of hand or neck motion to emphasize her point. As far as reality show madness, VH1 takes the cake with their array of African American reality series which displays images like Black women fighting over some washed up African American talent who is “looking for love”. Sure….. Or my newly favorite annoyance! The new Fantasia Barrino reality series where.. guess what.. she too has a family who refuses to work and would rather slum off her. More specifically her big, grown, ashy brother who seems to be floating through life without a care in the world, expecting her to financially support him, while Fantasia struggles to revive her singing career and care for her own child. Seeing previews for that show makes me quiver with annoyance inside out every time. Every time.
The other shows that reach popularity on TV that feature African Americans are other reality series like Keyshia Cole’s The Way It Is. I did not have too much of a problem with Keyshia’s behavior on the show but her family! Wow. If there was a casting for stereotypical ghetto people to be put on blast they would meet the criteria. I never even bothered to watch a full episode of the Frankie And Neffie reality show. Nope, that madness was not going to be a part of my reality. Nor was the drama filled show that is Real Housewives Of ATL. Helping to facilitate the stereotype that Black women are catty and cannot play nice together.
To be honest, I am not even upset with Keyshia Cole or her family. They are just being themselves and collecting a check for their foolery. I am more upset with the networks who are choosing to portray such low quality images of African Americans. It would be different if we already had primarily African Americans shows that displayed us in a more positive light but we don’t. Therefore there is no balance. Therein lies the problem.
The handful of recent shows that did show African Americans in a positive light and with characteristic balance, meaning they were not over the top ghetto or so engulfed in the 90210 lifestyle that the average middle class African American could not relate to the characters were quickly taken off the air. Or they were only allowed a few seasons and abruptly ended. Think the Girlfriends and The Game, (I cannot be the only one who felt that Girlfriends did not receive a proper series finale).
The truth of the matter is that we are lacking in Black entertainment television so when there is a new show I immediately become excited and want to give it a fair shot. So far, I continue to be disappointed and have to turn to box sets of DVD’s of old shows or searches online for my quality African American programming. No not everyone is a “high class negro” but not everyone is on the corner shooting dice either. Frankly, I really do not want to see either. Where is the balance I ask you! Where?
They say that the media responds to what we demand and to what we express the need for. If that is the case then I am insulted at the notion that the networks feel that there is not a demand for quality African American programming. Either that or they feel that it will not be successful, so they do not attempt to put anything close to a positive Black image on prime-time. It is as if the only way we can secure a show is if we are shucking and jiving. Shuck or jive or fear cancellation. Someone needs to remind them that the African American audience is a mosaic of individuals who yearn to see shows that have more complex topics than what a reality series for a has been celebrity, an R and B singers family or a rappers baby moma can provide.
Oh Well, there are always reruns…..
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