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Monday, June 17, 2013

Race and gender in the U.S. media

Two prime-time television dramas present a different perspective: 'Deception' and 'Scandal'. True the shows contain historical stereotypes such as the Jezebel, who is promiscuous, and the independent Black woman, who succeeds at everything--but relationships. However, they still deserve accolades for illustrating the idea of a true "post-racial" society devoid of racial preference, discrimination and prejudice.

Meagan Good   (Photo: Vibe.com)
Previous studies indicate stereotypes of Black women center on dichotomous representations depicting them as oversexed or asexual, unintelligent or extremely educated, drop-dead gorgeous or down-right ugly. Such stories fit a convenient narrative pattern that storytellers have used for more than a century to relegate Black women to their perceived roles in society.
The colorblind cast of 'Deception' includes Meagan Good, who is African-American, Puerto Rican and Cherokee. Scandal includes Kerry Washington, who is African American. Both scripts were written with no race in mind for the characters.


The portrayals are positive for the most part; however, there is a catch. Joanne is the daughter of a former housekeeper who worked for the family she is investigating. Although her mother was respected and known as the "head of household," she was still a “servant” for white people. 

The other negative portrayal is both women have loved white men who don’t reciprocate publicly. Olivia is in love with the married, white president of the United States. Joanne was once in love with the son of the wealthy family that employed her mother.

Both roles, while flawed, are actually a step in the right direction in improving portrayals of Black womenJoanne and Olivia are not “angry,” hoochy mamas, crack heads or welfare recipients who sponge off the system. Olivia Pope is a professional fixer. Joanne is a private investigator. 

Kerry Washington (Photo: http://smashvault.tv/)
Although Olivia and Joanne fail at forming healthy relationships, they are independent, intelligent, and highly successful women. They are not afraid to take charge. Historically, media stereotypes have demonstrated the difficulties black women have in forming positive relationships with men. 

The task is dismaying. Either she is too educated and independent to need or want a man, or she is desperate and lost without a man. As such, portrayals pit her against women of other races in the battle to maintain a healthy relationship with the opposite sex. Hence, she becomes frustrated and “angry.”

The two shows are refreshing because they also illustrate the idea that everybody is a flawed, not just black woman. The white males on the show are  power hungry, ruthless, lustful and cowardly. Are portrayals of Black people getting better? These two shows indicate they are.

More importantly, are Black people in a better position than they were four years ago? According to a recent poll, many Black people believe they are. The Pew Research Center conducted a poll in conjunction with National Public Radio that indicated that 39% of persons of African-American descent felt they were in a better position than they had been five years ago, an increase of 19% from the previous poll taken in 2008. 

This story was originally written by Mia Moody-Ramirez, Ph.D
Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez is an assistant professor of journalism, public relations and new media at Baylor University. She has conducted research in the areas of portrayal of minority women in the media, reality television, racial stereotyping of women in rap music, the pros and cons of using social media in political campaign.  She has been featured in reports by NPR, Boston Globe, MSNBC and CBS Dallas/Fort Worth magazine. You may visit her website at http://hewitttx.wix.com/miamoodyramirez