Dy-No-Mite! Stereotypical Images of African Americans on Television Sitcoms

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Stereotypical Images of African-Americans on Television Sitcoms

The more television changes, the more it stays the same for the genre of African American sitcoms. Some critics believe that African Americans will never accept the images they see of themselves on network television. Like whites, African Americans on television sitcoms should be portrayed “in the full array of cultures that exist in our society.” Most likely, the majority of white television viewers see a sitcom as no more than 22 minutes of broadcast time and eight minutes of commercial intertwined with a laugh track. Nothing serious. But look deeper. For African Americans, sitcoms have long been hotbeds of racial stereotypes disguised as entertainment. Put the laugh track on mute and there will be few African American community leaders and established entertainers joining in on the fun. The history of using African Americans as entertainment and not as entertainers began in post-World War II and continues to the present. Everywhere on the small screen, unflattering images persist. While African American sitcoms of the 80s and 90s offered more choices for viewers, those choices were not of high quality. For the most part, primetime television - even cable stations and the new networks - producers and show creators have failed to answer the needs of viewers for more realistic and flattering shows about African Americans. It is not only that these harmful television images reinforce stereotypes. They are insulting and embarrassing, and have been proved to have a particularly destructive effect on the self-esteem of young African American viewers.

1. As a group, young African Americans watch more television than their white peers, and are more likely to accept the validity of the images they are shown. To add to the dilemma, African Americans actors on these shows are given scripts with characters that demean each other with insult humor, projecting the idea that African Americans do not respect each other, and often see themselves as inferior even when whites are not around to demean them. Also, the widespread practice of televising the type of profane "street comedy” used by stand-up African American comedians further “reinforces the acceptability of social dominance and control by whites as a theme in popular culture.” And these images are affecting what is and is not acceptable behavior. The Associated Press recently reported that college “theme parties” mocking black stereotypes have been thrown by white students. This practice has drawn the ire of college officials and drawn heated complaints from black students who say the antics conjure the worst racial stereotypes. At Tarleton State University in Texas, white students held a “gangsta party” in which they dressed in “gang gear and drank malt liquor from paper bags.” A white Clemson University student attended an off-campus party in black face over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. A fraternity at Johns Hopkins University invited partygoers to wear ``bling bling,'' and “grills,” shiny metal caps on their teeth. Photos of a ``Bullets and Bubbly'' party thrown by University of Connecticut law school students were leaked to MySpace.com.

2. Sadly, the photos showed white students clad in baggy jeans and oversized jackets as they held fake machine guns. The students told university officials that these are the images they are exposed to daily on MTV (Music Television) and BET (Black Entertainment Television). They thought it was “cool” and harmless to portray the hip-hop images popularized by young African Americans. James Johnson, an African American psychology professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, said he is more discouraged by the rap performers who perpetuate stereotypes than by the white students who are throwing these...
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