TV still stereotyping black women Look at Jerry Springer, 'Supernanny' or 'Grey's Anatomy' for characters with no balance at all.

Posted: July 12, 2006

Chances are you've watched her, the dark-skinned black woman with the weave and the polished clothes. She may have a couple of master's degrees or a doctorate. It doesn't matter because when you see her on TV your immediate perception is to hate her. She's the woman that people laugh about in private, the one they call the "angry black bitch."

Are all black women really like this? Of course not. Yet television networks, which control the images presented to the public, perpetuate these stereotypes.

Look at the Jerry Springer or Maury Povich shows. Young black women are presented as sluts, whores, welfare cheats and bad single mothers who don't know who their children's fathers are.

Contrast that with the ABC-TV show Supernanny, where Jo Frost visits the homes of white women who are invariably good mothers. They bake cookies, cook, clean, love their husbands and children, and live in big, beautiful, spacious houses. These white women live the perfect "American" dream. Has Frost ever visited a black middle-class family with children in suburbia?

Another stereotype is the sassy, overweight black woman.

On ABC-TV's The View, it was Star Jones Reynolds' job to be the Aunt Jemima of American television. However, once Reynolds got married and lost the weight, mainstream America hated her. She was fired, apparently because she no longer wanted to be the punch line.

Of course, the stereotype goes beyond live television or reality TV shows. On the ABC drama Grey's Anatomy, Chandra Wilson plays Dr. Miranda Bailey, who is known as the "Nazi." Bailey is overweight, confrontational, unattractive and a loudmouth. She's also the only black female doctor on the show. By contrast, the star, Ellen Pompeo, is white, young, feminine, fit and attractive.

On the CBS show Close to Home, Kimberly Elise's character Maureen Scofield is the "black widow." She's a lawyer who is single, bossy and aggressive. By contrast, Jennifer Finnigan plays Annabeth Chase, who is loving, vulnerable and feminine. She illustrates the difficulty of balancing a career and a happy marriage.

Some see talk-show host Oprah Winfrey as a positive image, yet she is just another stereotype: the faithful black "mammy." She's the "nurturer" who ignores the friction between black and white women in order not to upset her white female audience.

The few positive images of black women on television are relegated to the fringes. On the UPN show Girlfriends, Joan, Toni, Lynn and Maya are intelligent, attractive, educated black women with successful careers. The show is one of the few devoted to the young black woman's experience. The only other one that comes close, Half and Half - also on UPN - may not return.

Black feminist Audre Lorde wrote in her 1984 book Sister Outsider that white women falsely assume they share a "global sisterhood" with black women. You wouldn't know that from watching television. White women are consistently presented in a more favorable light. There is no balance. Too often, black women are depicted as devils and witches while white women are saints.

It is disingenuous of television to ignore diversity and present such a biased view. There are rich stories and experiences about black women that need to be told. Directors, producers, writers and network executives need to reflect reality.

Orville Lloyd Douglas is the author of the poetry collection "You Don't Know Me."

Contact Orville Lloyd Douglas at venusebony@yahoo.com.

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