In the world of reality television, if you can get eyeballs on you—by any means necessary—then you’ve won the game. Case in point: The controversy of the moment surrounds the show “Basketball Wives” and the violent behavior of some of the cast members. The show has gone so far left that critics have created a petition on Change.org urging a boycott of BBW, and a proposed spin-off by diva/villainess Evelyn Lozada.
Television host Star Jones even tweeted: “It sickens me when young sisters think that behavior is acceptable. You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution… The impact of toxic television can kill our image, but not paying attention to our #HeartHealth will kill us dead. Now that is #Truth.”
Faced with a boycott, sinking ratings and advertisers jumping ship, might one assume that “Basketball Wives” (and shows like it) have hit a wall? Have viewers had enough of that “reality?”
No, probably not.
Unfortunately, there are many who still delight in the stereotype, which says that “truth” and “reality” in the black community equate to acting out. In other words, no matter how gorgeous the women of BBW may be, no matter how much money and how many advantages they have, when you scratch the glitter off the surface, all you’ll find is drama, pettiness, small mindedness and a penchant for throwing punches like a man.
I suspect that these are not accurate depictions of Evelyn Lozada or the other women of BBW, regardless of how they behave on the show. I know it isn’t an accurate depiction of any African-American woman I know. But these are the images that are showcased, week after week, on this show and others like it. Narcissism and exaggeration are rewarded. Carefully crafted fictions are dressed up as truths and spoon-fed into the cultural consciousness.
And there appears to be no end in sight. BET has reported that Fox Searchlight is set to make a “Basketball Wives” movie with producer Tracey Edmonds. Evelyn Lazado has also announced that she’s accepted a book deal for penning a series called The Wives’ Association.
This may be a little disheartening, but it’s not surprising. In our culture today, where visibility equates to credibility and validation, salaciousness is hard, cold currency. This isn’t a phenomenon that is unique to black folks, of course. But it is something for us to remain aware of. It’s a pressing reminder of why we need to turn our attention (and our viewing time and our buying power) toward authentic depictions of who we are—not spotless or idealized, just honest. Real reality.
Black women are finally thriving in our society primarily because we’ve maintained the ability to see the power and potential in ourselves, our families and our communities, even when nobody else was willing to co-sign on that vision. As one author wrote, black women in this country survived by being fierce angels. What would happen if we consistently fed our young people with that kind of imagery? What if the norm revolved around showcasing archetypes for greatness, rather than wallowing in stereotypes of mediocrity? Maybe then we’d start to see truth and reality merge in an entirely new and exciting way.
Kuwana Haulsey is an award-winning novelist and author of the upcoming memoir, “Everything I Ever Needed to Know, I Learned from a Six-Month-Old.”