African American girls don’t often see themselves depicted in a positive way in the media.
That was the finding of a study done by Gholnecsar E. Muhammad at Georgia State University and Sherell A. McArthur at Boston University published in Multicultural Perspectives. It shows how stereotypical media images affect black girls’ sense of themselves and how society views them.
“Adolescents are affected by popular culture and tailor their fashion, style, slang or sexuality to the music, media and celebrities they listen to and watch,” said the study, which involved interviews with eight Midwest African Americans ages 12 to 17. “Stereotypical images throughout history have demonized and dehumanized black women.
“It is our intention to move toward a horizon of providing black girls the space needed to not only make sense of the representations available through media outlets but also provide spaces to accept, resist, reorient or negotiate such depictions as they develop identity.”
The study can help moms, dads, other family members and teachers understand the pop culture effect on black girls, and then get them to know the truth. It’s sad that this kind of deprogramming and reprogramming must occur, but it’s needed because of the U.S. media.
The study found the media depict black females as loud, angry, bossy, unkind, tough, aggressive, big, violent, confrontational, sexualized and objectified. They’re also judged by their hair — whether it’s considered “good” or “bad” hair.
“Black women are being measured against white, Eurocentric notions of beauty,” the study notes. “Historically, ‘good hair’ is defined as a close approximation to white hair with texture that is wavy, silky, soft and of long length, while ‘bad hair’ is defined as tightly coiled, knotted, nappy and coarse hair.”
What’s sad is these were punishing media depictions when my parents were kids, when I was growing up and they continue today. The girls pointed out that the “negative depictions were purposeful on the part of television shows as a deliberate attempt to make black women look poorly.”
Even Kerry Washington, who has won honors in the TV show “Scandal” as Olivia Pope, is depicted as an oversexualized black woman. Media stereotypes of African American women are ubiquitous in the U.S.
“The perception of being violent and confrontational stems from the Sapphire representation, which characterizes black women and girls as hostile, hateful, violent and dangerous who cannot control their emotions,” the study says. “Sapphire was also a character in the 1940s and 1950s radio and television shows, ‘Amos ’n’ Andy’ who emasculated men, making her unattractive.”
Such depictions trace back to slavery. Black men had no voice in families. Black kids were sold on the open market, and black women provided the only parental glue until forced sales.
Negative media images of black male weakness and black female dominance continued after slavery to maintain a state of disunity. The drawback is the depictions may cause girls to overcompensate and refrain from anger when it might be justified to keep from being viewed as a stereotype.
The study also notes that “teachers pay attention more to the social behaviors of black girls than their academics.” Multicultural education can help dispel stereotypes by teaching the truth. “This study helps educators to better understand the identities of black girls and the need for literacy practices to help young people.”
Teachers should ask students to find, question, discuss, interpret and analyze media stereotypes on TV, radio, film, the internet and in music, magazines and newspapers. “Critical media literacy encourages youth to decode the meanings and messages behind media representations,” the study notes.
Everyone will be better off when we do.