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

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by Tambay A. Obenson
May 10, 2013 4:48 PM
25 Comments
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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.

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25 Comments

  • Charles Judson | May 11, 2013 12:39 PMReply

    He's a TV and Media critic doing his job as a critic. A critic who is also black. He critiques various aspects of the media from multiple angles, which is pretty much a definition of a critic. Anyone curious enough to do so, should read some of Deggan's past work and then judge this piece in the context of his writing and focus overall. http://www . tampabay . com/writers/eric-deggans

  • artbizzy | May 11, 2013 12:18 PMReply

    You can focus on ending exploitation through one group of people such as black people who are endlessly exploited in the media but the main focus should be ending exploitation of all people. It's horrendous to see black women and black men exploited in film, videos and tv and it is also horrendous to witness the exploitation of a six year old white girl from the sticks. Equally so? Hell no, because we are over-saturated with our own negative imagery but it still makes me cringe, especially because Honey Boo Boo aka Alana Thompson is a child. Poverty exploitation sells but it sells much more across the board if you are black. I don't like stereotypes of any kind but those of my own people bother me much more. Still, I just can't stand it when let's say a reality show featuring the exploits of toothless white meth addicts from the Ozarks comes on or a reality show about ashy black female strippers in Atlanta airs or a show about the scandalous love lives of a group of trampy Mexican maids or Flavor Flav's sorry ass (sorry flav believe me I don't hate the player I hate the game) wants love with a woman half his age for the 16th time, or another show about the Italian mafia where everybody sounds like a broke ass Don Corleone. I hate it all. All of it. It's boring though we keep watching all this shit though we know it's disrespectful to humanity in general. It's dumbing us down and those being handed a lot of money to act like assholes need to start stepping up and REFUSE THAT SHIT. Say this everyday if you have to until it sinks in: "no amount of money is going to let me denigrate myself for the benefit of the lowest denominator possible. I will not disrespect myself or my ancestors and sanction or even turn a blind eye to the exploitation of other groups of people in the media and otherwise, in particular black women, all women and children and black men. No amount of houses, cars, diamonds, and "status" in this mixed up, pathological world is worth it. I am young, old, middle age (or whatever you are) gifted and black and was "freed" a long time ago. Now I'm going to act like it."

  • artbizzy | May 12, 2013 11:59 PM

    @Troy That's not what I am saying at all. Lots of people are creating these reality shows and dramas that foster stereotypes because that's what sells. Pathology sells. We don't have to sell our selves out or our people out just because we want to be paid. Remember, Bamboozled? These things have long term effects. I love a good story with nuance that shows that their are different levels to all characters involved. I also love comedies that explore these stereotypes as a way to get us thinking about them instead of just continuing to perpetuate them. Dave Chapelle did this brilliantly.

  • Troy | May 12, 2013 5:58 PM

    So only positive and inspiring images or art should ever be created? Should their also be no conflict in the story lines either? Should we also advocate for actors and actresses who are typecast as the villain only to be hated for what a character they portrayed did to the good guy. I hope you don't have cable or Internet. If every scripted and reality shows only had positive characters that wouldn't stop news stations from telling you who the villain of the day is. George Bush should have waged war on Iraq without labeling their malicious leader as such. The last 15 years has worsened the stereotype of the scary Arab but even if they weren't portrayed negatively in fictional media the news has made sure Anericans see them as the enemy.

  • CareyCarey | May 11, 2013 9:36 AMReply

    In the soulful voice of Ray Charles... Oh, it's cryin' time again, you're gonna leave me, I can see that far away look in your eyes, I can tell by the way you hold me darlin' that it won't be long before it's cryin' time.

    That's right, some of you are not going to appreciate what I'm about to say, but Eric Deggans is far from an idiot. Granted, Tambay has - again - fired up the usual suspects with another race tinged piece of poppycock, but his premise/foundation/references are weak at best.

    That's right, Tambay and the usual suspects are firing off their mouths as if they're Hitman Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) holding a Nickel plated Star Model B 9mm pistol.

    "And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you!"

    But in essence, the crowd of angry black folks are carrying what amounts to a squirt gun filled with salty tears. What, that's not true? Okay, lets go there. But first, a hat tip to GETTHESENETS. He opened the door to the most poignant piece of this debate, but his words received a blind eye.

    Well, is case some of you practice selective memory, lets juxtopose his words with those of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who said "the problem with stereotypes isn't that they are wrong, but that they are incomplete. Hmmm, they are NOT WRONG... hummm, okay, hold that thought. Now GTNs said, "Nascar demographic embraces the fact that they are unapologetic about who they are. The "you might be a redneck" guy became a HUGE star getting people to laugh at themselves and their redneck ways."

    UTT OH, the stereotypes are not wrong and some folks can separate art from reality. BINGO BABY! But lets go back to the original primise of this argument. S&A's new voodoo doll, aka NPR's Eric Deggans said 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. Okay, first, and arguably foremost, that's a true statement. I mean, even Tambay seconded that emotion but the issue becomes cloudy when the usual suspects rationalize and justify their vengeful tears.

    Now I can only assume what was on Mr. Deggans mind, but maybe he knew the following:

    1. Maybe he knows "We've got lots of practice criticizing degrading images of black and brown people, but 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"... and that stain is there 24/7... TWENTY FOUR/SEVEN!

    2. Maybe Eric Deggans knows there's little merit in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's ambiguous and misleading suggestion that black stereotypes are incomplete! How are they incomplete when every single day there are positive black faces/voices on tv and in the world? And please, since the beginning of tv/cinema (as Eric suggested) there has been stereotypes of white people. In fact, for every film one would consider a "negative" black stereotypes, there arguably 1000 white films of a similar nature.

    3. Maybe Eric knows that white folks have figured out the best way to move forward, is not to cry and rehash the same old tired moot points.

    4. It's possible Eric knows white folks are just like us. Neither are subhuman, less intelligent than the other, nor unable to discern right from wrong. So maybe Eric knows white folks (just like us) will NOT depend on fictional characters as their major source of information.

    5. Maybe Eric has figured out that art and fictional characters have their place, but some folks just don't get it. I believe Eric knows that, and maybe he assumes every black person should have that same understanding.

    6. I think Mr Eric Deggans is a very wise man who's asking the simple question: What-does-some-black-folks-get-from-all-that-crying-all-the-time?

    In short, maybe Deggans knows that some white folks (those who don't cry,bitch and moan over tv images) knows some folks give way too much power and responsibility to fictional characters. So have at it, all you fake Jules Winnfield's of the world -- who are not going to bust a grape, but cry-cry-cry a river.

  • Ghost | May 10, 2013 11:44 PMReply

    It's called variety and that is what white folks have that we don't. It's also something we don't understand. We have bought into stereotypes so much that we don't believe anything else.

    And yes whites do complain about shows like Honey Boo. They also do what we don't-NOT WATCH and respect the opinions of others who don't support it.

    Just like the discussion about blacks being thirsty for anything that looks like them. We are so scared that if we dare ask for better we won't get better programming. Anybody (and that includes Tyler Perry) that tries to veer from those black stereotypes-get no support. How are we suppose to get better when we support negative images.

    Instead of him fussing at white folks, he needs to call out his own people and ask them why do you support negative stereotypes.

  • Troy | May 12, 2013 5:37 PM

    Since they will never stop supporting and making sure their kids support the church all other negative stereotypical images are okay with me.

  • Miles Ellison | May 10, 2013 8:17 PMReply

    This guy is an idiot. White people have protested what they consider to be stereotypical entertainment. The criticism of The Sopranos, Goodfellas, The Godfather, and just about every other film about the mafia by Italian-Americans is well documented. Back in the '80s, there was a miniseries on NBC called The Gangster Chronicles. The protests from Italian-American groups was so vociferous that the network ran a disclaimer before each episode praising the contributions of Italians to American culture. There are numerous examples of this. The difference is that white protests aren't dismissed as PC looniness the way black protests are. The other fundamental difference is that most white people don't believe that the most negative stereotypes of white people are real. They think they're entertainment. Conversely, the most negative stereotypes of black people are not only perceived as true and realistic, but their very existence is considered entertaining. Exhibit A is the deluge of auto-tune blackface associated with Charles Ramsey.

  • Troy | May 12, 2013 5:34 PM

    Yet Bishop Eddie Long and Crefalo Dollar still appear on television with the support of thousands.

  • slb | May 10, 2013 6:51 PMReply

    This is easy: Because despite any stereotypes of whites that may appear on television of movies, there are the images of whites are so diverse they work to counteract the stereotypes. There is a balanced representation that does not exist with Black characters.

  • Troy | May 12, 2013 5:31 PM

    White images are diverse but they are not positive. For those protesting people of color would still protested the Baby Momma show even if there were 100 more shows depicting black life. Which means they were protesting a sexually irresponsible black man who was trying to benefit off his poor life choices. You know just God's people making sure others miss their blessings.

  • ALM | May 10, 2013 11:21 PM

    +1

  • lauren | May 10, 2013 7:35 PM

    Cosign

  • FactChecker | May 10, 2013 6:13 PMReply

    I agree with Tambay, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's quote, 1000 %.

    I normally respect and enjoy commentary from Deggans, but he poorly framed his argument on this one. Smart black people will say to themselves, "Duh! Really, Mr. Deggans, you don't understand?" And what's obvious to black people won't be obvious to the 99 percent of white listeners on NPR that he's targeting.

  • WHAT! | May 11, 2013 8:45 PM

    Check YOUR facts, FACTCHECKER! What "smart" people are you referring to? The fact is not all black people viewed this issue as YOU did. And who IS NPR's target audience?

    I believe your facts are skewed. So pickup your game or change your name to NO FACTS.

  • britgirl | May 10, 2013 5:59 PMReply

    I am just here for the comments :-)

  • britgirl | May 10, 2013 5:58 PMReply

    I am just here for the comments :-)

  • donnadara | May 10, 2013 5:36 PMReply

    He and LL Cool J can get together and lead a chorus of white people in a verse or two of We Shall Overcome. What is up with these privileged black people acting like racism is over and we should stop oppressing white people?

  • Troy | May 12, 2013 5:25 PM

    We should stop oppressing other black people by protesting them making money.

  • K | May 10, 2013 5:22 PMReply

    That's what he and Jada Pinkett don't get. White people can cry about anything because even if there are stereotypes there are still many shows that don't have them. For "POCs" stereotypes are kind of the be all and end all.

  • getthesenets | May 10, 2013 5:20 PMReply

    Writer is pandering to white audience by writing the piece.

    Let individual ethnic geographic or specific demographic groups fight their OWN battles.

    MFers don't care or lose one minute of sleep about YOUR concerns, don't act like you care about theirs.


    This guy sounds like what Malcolm X described as a "professional Negro" meaning it's his profession to be a/the Negro for white people to speak through.

    =================

    for the record though Italian groups DO protest jersey shore and the slew of mafia films that came through the hollywood pipeline....
    I've always gotten the impression that the Nascar demographic embraces the fact that they are unapologetically who they are...and not what LA or NY tells them to be. the "you might be a redneck" guy became a HUGE star.....getting people to laugh at themselves and their redneck ways.

  • urbanauteur | May 13, 2013 3:31 PM

    Exactly, this guy sounds like jazz critic/white apologist;Stanley Crouch.

  • Troy | May 12, 2013 5:23 PM

    I was hoping he was making a financial statement about how the protest of All My Babies' Mommas is taking potential earnings from these women and their kids. People are proud that being the only fact. All these people have viewed and supported offensive material in some shape, form, or fashion.

  • Gary C. | May 10, 2013 5:15 PMReply

    It's simple: Whites control their own imagery. They can put out any caricature of themselves they choose. Honey Boo-Boo or any other so-called negative characters are put on and controlled by whites. Not having the power to decide what image the world sees of you and thus thinks about you is what creates stereotypes in the first place.

  • Troy | May 12, 2013 5:18 PM

    Do you think the protesting people of color are expressing their power over the media to encourage them to produce better content? Or expressing power for power's sake. The fact that black people take pride in keeping other black people from profiting off their own image is hilarious. While they watch even more gross exaggerations of reality tv's most hated characters played by their favorite actors and actresses. Only to laud them with praise, financial success and NCAAP Image awards for unrealistic imitations of life. Slave God forbid, televising a quasi-famous black person's drug addicted mother, only to hear the backlash that people who live vicariously through others on television are embarrassed by someone else's real life struggle.

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