Reflecting On Race And Reality TV

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an addict when it comes to watching reality TV, the type that my parents are always calling “trash.” I know full and well that networks like Bravo make their bread and butter on manufacturing drama. But I’ve found no better way to zone out than to let the petty drama of other people’s lives unfold on screen.

I was thrilled when Atlanta, my hometown, first got some love as the setting for a Real Housewives city a few years ago (if only because I might recognize the landmarks in which the women might pull off each other’s wigs). Not to mention the fact that it was the first predominantly black cast of the Real Housewives franchise. At least the exploitation of the attention-craving, batshit-insane nouveau-riche was getting diverse. Right?

Last year, Bravo added “Married to Medicine” to their lineup of quality (read: entertaining but terrible) shows. The cast members were either wives of physicians or doctors themselves. It seems obvious, doctors are educated and need the image of responsibility to practice medicine and I thought this was enough to make the show somewhat more high-brow. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The show’s first season focused entirely on the fallout after two cast-members got into a hair-pulling, bitch-slapping fight at a birthday party.

This fall Bravo debuted a new show called “New Atlanta” and follows a mixed cast of black and white twenty-something socialites in Atlanta. At first, the premise of the show intrigued me; according to the show’s tagline, the cast is supposed to represent the new class of elite Southerners. I liked that the picture they’d drawn was of a diverse and professionally ambitious type. This seemed like a much closer to the reality that Atlanta is home to one of the largest and growing upper and middle class of African-Americans. Just as soon as they’d built up a realistic image of what it’s like to be young and driven in Atlanta, it was torn down by the cast members’ downright clueless behavior. Like the episode where one cast member declares in a public forum how terrible women’s suffrage is for society. Major eyeroll.

No one’s looking to a network like Bravo for accurate depictions of our culture. The proliferation of shows that focus on wealthy, professional African-Americans has also led me to reflect on my fears. I can’t help but think that the way the portrayal of black women, even those who are professionally successful and educated, as having a crass side beneath the surface of apparent education and wealth. Sometimes I feel pressure to act in the exact opposite manner as these shows display. That makes it all the more difficult when I am upset in a public scenario, I’m left wondering whether someone will dismiss a valid argument because of the expectation of overreaction. This is often the case when someone makes a clueless comment like the time I asked a man at party if I could change a song and he replied with, “What do you want to hear? Tipsy?” with just the slightest hint of a neck snap.

I’m hyperaware of being as appropriate, rational and non-confrontational as possible at all times, out of concern of being characterized as histrionic and uncouth. Even worse would be someone blaming my skin color rather than me as an individual.

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Is reality TV mindless entertainment or hurtful to society? Tweet us @litdarling.

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