Did you read this month’s (April) Essence magazine? I did–and have already ordered a copy of Jervette Ward’s “Real Sister: Stereotypes, Respectability, and Black Women in Reality TV”.
The first book of scholarship exploring the portrayal of black women in reality TV; Real Sister is a collection of essays by ten female scholars that examines how the genre both presents positive images of black womanhood and repeatedly reinforces stereotypes about race, class, and gender.
Ward, an Assistant Professor of English at University of Alaska Anchorage, who is often asked why she chose to focus on the topic believes as a scholar she wouldn’t be doing her job to educate if she didn’t analyze something so prevalent in our culture.
“With all the books that exist out there on the genre of reality TV there was this huge gap of analysis on one of the most prominent groups–black women. If we think about the leading Real Housewives franchise…Atlanta…Atlanta is the most watched franchise out of all of the Real Housewives, and Atlanta is considered to be the black franchise–if this is the number one franchise, the one that’s drawing people in and making BRAVO the most money– why are we not looking at this particular group?”
Discussing the development of the collection in a podcast last year, Ward describes reality TV as broad and growing programming that teaches audiences how to gauge who they are, who others are in their society, as well as what is or is not socially acceptable behavior.
“If reality TV is where we’re learning about life–we’re screwed.”
Rather than renouncing the genre as simply “ratchet TV”, the contributors take a serious approach to the subject, evaluating the images and ideas of stereotypes and respectability through the lens of history, sociology, business and human growth and development.
Ward doesn’t expect regular viewers are considering these ideas every time they watch reality television but that’s her goal for the collection–getting viewers to think about reality TV in an analytical way.
“I’m not trying to ruin reality TV…but I do think that it’s really important for us to be aware of what we’re looking at and aware of the images and ideas that subliminally enter our minds when we’re watching a show”
An edited collection focusing on the portrayal of black men in reality is already in the works with final essays having been collected last month. The follow-up, tentatively titled “There’s No Blachelor: Portrayals of Black Men in Reality TV” aims to address representations of masculinity, comparisons to black women in reality TV, class issues, queer theory, masculine psychology, patriarchal constructions, sexuality, invisibility, respectability, and social activism or lack of activism.