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Black Journalist Asks Why TV Shows Stereotyping Whites Aren't Protested Like Black Shows

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act May 10, 2013 at 4:48PM

The fact that this was written by black journalist is even more perplexing to me.
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Eric Deggans

The fact that this was written by black journalist is even more perplexing to me.

Eric Deggans, TV and media critic, penned an op-ed for NPR titled On 'Hicksploitation' And Other White Stereotypes Seen On TV, in which he essentially laments what he sees as a double standard when it comes to TV shows that emphasize and exploit stereotypes of white people versus those that do the same of black people.

In the piece, to argue his point, he cites shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Jersey Shore, Mob Wives and others, as examples of TV programming that exploit stereotypes of white people, and compares them to All My Babies' Mamas - the Oxygen network reality TV series that drew protest and was eventually buried.

The backlash against this travesty was immediate and powerful. Radio personalities complained on-air, harsh coverage came from CNN and Fox News, and more than 30,000 protesters signed a petition against the show on Change.org. It worked. Oxygen announced it wouldn't develop the series. 

And then Deggans inquires:

So why haven't these other shows stereotyping white people seen protests just as strong? 

He answers his own question with the following:

I suspect it's because too many folks see stereotypes as a problem mostly for people of color. We've got lots of practice criticizing degrading images of black and brown people. Activists know how to gather the news stories, book the media appearances and assemble the petitions to press their case. Advertisers get nervous and programmers think twice. What many forget is that it can be just as easy to stereotype white, working-class folks, and just as hard to scrub those stereotypes off your TV screen.

I certainly wouldn't disagree with him on how problematic exploiting stereotypes in mass media can be. Although, as author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has said, the problem with stereotypes isn't that they are wrong, but that they are INCOMPLETE!

I LOVE that quote!

And that's where Mr Deggans and I part ways. The reason he gives for why he thinks shows stereotyping white people haven't seen similar protests as those stereotyping black people, ignores one very important fact. And that is, referencing Adichie's quote above, in mass media, there is, and has always been, a far more COMPLETE representation of white people. Black people simply haven't had that luxury. Since the invention of the medium that is television (and let's throw in cinema as well), America (and really the world) has been inundated with a wealth of VARIED representations of white people on screen. For every Honey Boo Boo, there are scores of other kinds of depictions of white people of all classes, on TV and in film. And these images dominate our screens, and have done so for a century, and continue to do so.

The fact that, on an annual basis, articles are written about the lack of diversity in front of and behind the cameras, should be a clue. 

There's just no comparison at all, given that the sum-total of black experiences are limited to a handful of story-types, often at extremes, with stock character depictions. And so this argument that he's making doesn't register with me. Or maybe I should say that it's an incomplete argument!

But that, in large part, is why TV shows stereotyping white people haven't seen similar strengths in protests as those that stereotype black people. I believe it all falls under something called "white privilege."

Let's have this conversation in another 50 years or so, when, we hope, the landscape has changed dramatically, and the so-called post-racial America that some seem to think we currently live in (if only because we have a president who isn't white), actually is closer to becoming a reality.

Feel free to read Deggan's NPR article HERE.

This article is related to: TV Features


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