Essence Magazine Study Claims Images Of Black Women In Media “‘Only Scratch The Surface”

October 16, 2013  |  




From Black Voices

Character’s like Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope on “Scandal”, and Nicole Beharie’sLt. Abbie Mills on “Sleepy Hollow” are a breath of fresh air for many black women, according to a recent study.

It’s not often that you see images of black women in the media that deviate from the stereotypical archetypes like the ones identified in a recent study by Essence magazine.

Essence surveyed 1,200 women about the images of black women in media and found that respondents felt the images were “overwhelmingly negative,” falling typically into categories including: “Gold Diggers, Modern Jezebels, Baby Mamas, Uneducated Sisters, Ratchet Women, Angry Black Women, Mean Black Girls, Unhealthy Black Women, and Black Barbies.”

Black women ages 18-29 in particular reported seeing more negative images, with 89 percent of respondents saying they regularly see baby mamas in media and 87 percent reported seeing gold digger images, while just 41 percent reported seeing images of “real beauties.”

“What we’re trying to say in the study is that, if there were balance, if we saw more diversity, and it was more multi-dimensional there would be a truer picture of who we really are,” explained Essence magazine Editor-in-Chief, Vanessa K. Bush, in an interview with Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC. “You would see our complete humanity. What we’re seeing now is just a scratch of the surface.”

But perhaps most disturbing was not just young women’s awareness of those images, but the study’s finding that the women were “also more likely to find them compelling.” And in a world where some of the highest rated reality shows include Oxygen’s “Bad Girls Club” and VH1’s “Basketball Wives,” this discovery sadly isn’t too surprising.

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  • Sian Rose

    We need to stop using the actions of a few to define us as a whole.
    There are lots of white obnoxious, weave wearing baby mommas on TV. Only thing is the entire race does not get up in arms. Some embrace it and others decry it but they don’t vaildate the negativity by doing polls and studies. Articles like these only serve to make the trash more relevant.
    What does it say for our race when I can get the weekly wrap up of Love and Hip Hop on the same site (Madamenoire) that I can read about black empowerment?
    If given a choice what do you think young people will choose to read sensationalism or real sense?
    As I wrote this post I scrolled back up the page to look the highlights…. Misbehaving uniforms ‘the olympics’, Lost celebrity talent, Tacky rich celebrities, celebrities aging badly, and black celebrities who don’t look black are just a few of the highlights…. Maybe what we need to do as a race is accentuate the positive and let the negative fall by the wayside.

    • Val

      I agree with everything you said except that we are the only group that gets upset about our images in the media. When Jersey Shore was popular lots of Italians were up in arms about the negative images. Same goes for the Sopranos. Also, a couple of years ago ABC was planning on making a series about poor Whites, essentially redn*cks, and there was outrage and ABC cancelled their plans. Lots of Whites also complain about Honey Boo Boo.

      Images in the media are important. If a group is portrayed in negative ways it can seriously impact that group’s lives. And I’m not talking about what a random White person thinks of us. I’m talking about that White police officer that’s just pulled one of us over after watching some stereotypical stuff on TV. Or a White doctor or a White teacher.

      And worse of all is many young people grow up seeing almost no positive or balanced images of Black folks. And those negative images become a model for how they think they should behave.

      Images matter.

      Otherwise, I totally agree with you about us needing to promote and support more positive things.

      • Sian Rose

        Val, you entire second paragraph said it all.

        If the media did not feed this stuff to a captive audience they would quickly become irrelevant. After an hour or two the average person moves on to the next conversation. I don’t watch most of these shows but I am familiar with most of the characters because sites like this one keep the conversation going. On the other hand I love Scandal and still watch GH so what does that say about me. Lol

      • skates

        I whole heartedly agree, however it seems that although whites have similar images, these images are rarely visual in day to day living on the street. On the other hand the negative images in media that relate to blacks are in many cases duplicated by teens and adults. Example: How many Chief Keefs are in our community today? How many Nicky Menag exist in our community. Women with RED hair and unsuccessful men wearing a mop on their heads is the problem. How about starting a movement to encourage blending in with society instead of duplicating the ignorance of these rich entertainers.

    • Alexis

      I would say that I do not let actions of the black community define me, but to say that it is a FEW defining the whole is a HUGEEEE understatement. let’s just be realistic about that. Our race started a lot later in this country so the majority is set back. The majority lives in communities where these stereotypes are continuously perpetuated. I’m sure you are not one of them and neither am I. But the word FEW is definitely incorrect. Yes, the white race has its own negative images. However, in reality blacks and whites are equal but not the same. We are continuously used as the scapegoats of society. Their wrongs will go unpunished because we are the elephant in the room. It would be really interesting to see what would happen if black people (or at least the majority) got themselves together. There would be no one left to distract the public