On a recent episode of a reality television show filmed in Atlanta, an argument ensued between two women— one White and the other African American. The White woman called the African-American woman a “b*tch” and in response the African-American woman slapped her.
That African American woman was Pastor Sabrina McKenzie of the Style Network’s hit reality series “Big Rich Atlanta.”
McKenzie is also the founder of Dancing Preachers and the International Dance Commission. Considering her participation in reality TV, she decided she would reach out to the African-American community and talk about those behaviors and what effect they had on women in the media.
As a result, this year’s Evangelizing People in Communities (EPIC) Women’s Leadership Conference, hosted by McKenzie at the Hilton Atlanta Airport, held a discussion entitled “Celebrities Speak out on the Portrayal of African American Women in the Media”.
“I felt so many times that I was portrayed like somebody different than my own truth,” said McKenzie. “I just wanted to tell my story. I know what I represent. I know who I am. I’m not greedy, I’m not all about wealth— but I’m about God.
In its 7th year, the EPIC women’s leadership conference dedicated a portion of its three-day event to discussing the topic of African American women and their portrayal in the media with a panel of women from a variety of backgrounds and influences.
The panel included: Tiffany Evans of Law and Order, Mimi Faust of Love & Hip Hop Atlanta (LHHATL), Shani Harris Peterson, Ph.D who is a Professor at Spelman College, Rachael Miller of Color Me Organized and a producer at Trinity Broadcast Network, DeKalb Co. Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton, Wanda Cunningham with the Women of the Southern Region, Inc., and Cynthia Williams with the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., just to name a few.
To start the discussion, a short film was presented by Professor Harris entitled, “Women, Media & Why it Matters,” which shifted the conversation from the media as a whole to reality TV. After Dr. Harris ended her presentation she left the audience with the three trends that media has used to depict the images of African Americans: violence, music and music videos, and now reality TV.
Marcus Coleman, the only male panelist, was not apologetic spoke of panelists like Mimi Faust who are on reality shows like LHHATL that are viewed as the culprits of most of the negative images shown of African American women in the media today.
“Some of the reality TV that’s out today has got to go,” said Coleman who is the President/ Founder at Rev Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Atlanta Chapter. “Now, what can be done since it’s not going away is maybe trim some off the fat of the bogusness that’s out there.
Coleman’s response received applause from the audience and a few nods from the panel. However, a few of the panelists gave some of the responsibility to the viewers of those shows that are believed to give African American women such a bad rap.
Rachael Miller refuted the applause and shared with the room, packed with mostly Black women, that if African-American women really had an issue with reality TV then they should “stop watching it.”
According to Miller, African-American women must not feel that what is being shown on television has that negative of an impact on their social and cultural images if the ratings for most of the reality TV shows out today are in the millions.
“Most of the people watch it because they want to see somebody’s life that is worse than their own,” said McKenzie.
Regardless of who watches reality TV, the responses from the young women from the DeKalb Co. Youth Leadership Academy were the most alarming.
“The ones I see in videos they are either dancing provocatively or they are never covered,” said 15-year-old Tenille Hodge. “It makes me feel like I’m supposed to grow up and be like that.”
Angelic Hogan, 16, believes in order for the media to make a better impression on African American women in the media then it must start with targeting the children.
“You have to target the children and try to mold them into something positive,” said Hogan who said she wants to be a teacher when she grows up.
“I think that we don’t know who we are and in our generation you had a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, people in the community reminding you who you are and whose you were,’ said Sutton who created the DeKalb Co. Youth Leadership Academy “I think the solution is the community and all of us coming forward and investing in our youth.”
Part two of Saturday’s discussion, which ran over thirty minutes will continue with topic of African Americans in reality TV and its social, economical and spiritual impact in the near future.
“Your perception should come from within and from a spiritual component. Don’t base your perception on television because many of these images are not even real,” said McKenzie. “They say its reality, but it’s not. It’s contrived, it’s construed and often times it’s scripted.”