NBC Will "Educate" You About Black Women

For the past few days my email in-boxes have been bursting with reminders from my fellow black women to watch NBC Nightly News every evening this week.

No, black women haven't suddenly gone all fan girl on Brian Williams and his uber-orange Mystic tan. Instead, folks have been alerting me that this week NBC News is doing a five part report on the state of black women in America.

The emails have had a tinge of excitement, a little bit of the, "Hallelujah! The mainstream media is paying attention to us!" kind of vibe. I can read between the lines and sense that there's the hope that this will be the start of our nation sitting up and paying attention to black women even when some clown like Don Imus isn't spewing his venom.

Will crimes such as the disappearance of college student Natasha Norman suddenly be reported at the level of the Stacy Peterson story? Will the atrocity that is Dunbar Village be taken up by Nancy Grace and reported on every night until justice is served?

There's also hope that maybe the NBC News series will move beyond the stereotypical. After all, we'd like to think there's only so many times it can be debated in the media whether we're video hos, nappy-headed hos, or just hos who are so controlling and demanding that our men leave us for white women the minute they get a degree and an American Express card.

The emails have also had a little bit of dread to them, a little bit of, "I'm going to watch so I can see what b.s. they say." There's been a concern that NBC News is going to screw this "in-depth" reporting up and reinforce the countless stereotypes about black women. Why? Well since the little two or three minute segment is presented as the key to understanding what makes black women tick, millions of people will go to work thinking they know a little bit more about the one black woman in their office.

And what do black women have to worry about America thinking of us:

1) We're promiscuous.
2) We're bitches with attitudes and chips on our shoulder.
3) We're superwoman. We cook, we keep our hair looking fly, we throw down in the bedroom.
4) We have really big butts. And we like to shake them. And pose on the cover of King magazine.
5) Actually, we're big all over, not just in the behind, because we're drowning our superwoman sorrows in food.
6) We're church ladies.
7) We had a baby as a teenager and our mom is watching it. OR
8) We're single mothers with a gang of kids by different men.
9) We were dateless and bitter in college because there were no black men on campus.
10) We refuse to date or marry men who are not black because we don't want to be race traitors.
11) If the black man we're with doesn't have a degree, we're settling because we don't want to be alone.
12) We talk really loudly and dress in bright colors. And we know how to pop our gum and our neck.

So would these stereotypes be reinforced and rehashed by NBC News or would they be challenged?

Well, tonight's episode started out talking about how there's an "achievement gap" between black women and men. Here we go with the statistics on how 64% of black college students are women and at some schools black women are outnumbering men seven to one.

First of all, aren't there more women in college then men, period? Second of all, isn't it a good thing that so many black women are going to college only a generation or two after Jim Crow officially ended? We'll never know because NBC News isn't going to get into that right now.

Next, we meet the black woman who went to Stanford and she talks about how a degree from Stanford's a "stamp of approval" when she's out in the working world. But forget about asking her what's underneath that comment. Gosh, this "in-depth" news report can't even pause and talk about how she got to college, whether she was the first in her family to go to college or whether her people have been going to college since Reconstruction. NOPE!

And then the story shifts to explaining the low percentage of black males in college. Elementary schools are giving up on black boys. Hip hop reinforces bad boy images so many black males get the idea that it's okay to drop out.

Ahem. Wasn't this story supposed to be about black women?

I'm thinking, hold on, we only have like two or three minutes so why are we rehashing the same media voodoo about how no black men are educated? Do I really need to see another slow-mo rap video and a bunch of pants sagging teens hanging out on a street corner?

Oh, but let's go back to another stereotype: The black woman they profiled is a single mother! No explanation if she's widowed, divorced...just another single black mother. I guess they couldn't find any black women who are married.

The good thing is that this sista's started a business. And she's putting her daughter through Stanford. But suddenly the story launches into how many billions of dollars black women control in our economy.

Hmm. I wasn't thinking about the economy. I'm wondering if this woman feels like superwoman. How does she deal with the stress of doing it all? (Or is she doing it all?) Is she proud that she's putting her daughter through college and that her daughter is going to Stanford just like she did?

But we'll never know all that because "ding" time is up. Didn't you just learn a whole lot about black women?

Thank goodness I don't need to watch NBC News to find out how black women are doing. I can read the blogs of the many black female bloggers and find out more about what's going on with black women than what NBC News told me tonight.

I can pick up the phone, call some folks up and ask them, "Hey girl, how are you doing?"

If you don't have any black women you are close enough to do that with, guess what? Find some. We don't bite. We're friendly, normal people. So, before 2007 ends, get some black female friends and really be friends with them. I'm not talking water cooler friends. I'm talking about you know her drama and her joy and she knows yours too.

Heck, I could go stand in the mirror and talk to my reflection and I'd know more truth about black women than NBC News shared.

So, trust me, don't leave your education about black women to NBC.


Jameil said…
ugh!!!!!!!!!!!!! i just wanted this to be done right. this sucks. i didn't see it but you did not paint it well at all. :(
Anonymous said…
You know, I've paid more attention to Brian Williams' labrador eyebrows. Definitely not staying up til 11.30 which is when NBC nightly news airs over here.
I have received all those emails as well. The segments are short, I don't know how "in depth" they could be.

I agree with you about the "hope" in the e-mails I received. None of the subjects featured is news to me. I wish I could have been in the producers meeting when they decided to do this series.

You are right re: the achievement gap being wide between black women and black men BUT it is growing fast bet. white women and white men. There are more women in college period, regardless of race. Maureen Dowd talkes (some would say rants) about this all the time. This is "news" to NBC? Do they not read the New York Times?

I watch ABC News (go Robin Roberts and Diane Sawyer) and rarely am I home early enough to watch the 6:30 national news. When I am, I watch Charles Gibson. ABC has a more diverse group of reporters which means more to me than one week out of the year (or decade) for a special series on black women.
Mes Deux Cents said…
Hi Liz,

First, it's amazing that Raheema Ellis is the ONLY Black woman reporter for NBC news. (Maybe the series should have focused on that?)

Second, to me this is just another chance to bash Black America and tell us how 'different' we are and therefore inferior.

Third, All these stats and studies are just a re-hash of talk that's been going on forever.

I just don't expect anything from "mainstream" media any more. As you said blogs offer much better info. I can find out more about Black America and African American women in one hour of blog surfing than in a year of watching NBC Nightly news.

West said…
*posts obligatory rant about the sorry state of American journalism*

The gaps that you illuminate in that story are great examples of the difference between a good story and a great story.

It doesn't even sound like this story qualified as the former.
Anonymous said…
Seems the media is setting out to reinforce the negative stereotypes that the always put out there. Wow what a surprise!
thailandchani said…
I saw the report also.. and was struck by how little it focussed on how black women were doing in any real sense. It reported on how well black women are assimilating into dominant culture.

When they interview Angela Davis about how black women are doing, I'll listen. :)
Lola Gets said…
Im obviously not on that email list, cause I didnt know anything about this series. I dont know if Im going to break my back to try and catch it either, if this is all theyve managed to "reveal."
Ian Lidster said…
I think this is powerful and true, and it is just a marvellous piece of journalism by you.
Yes, the energies devoted to missing black women, and the disparities between the exposure and the exposure uptown white chicks get are profound and disgusting.
We had a similar thing here with the case of the creep who is currently on trial charged with murdering over 50 hookers. In this case the missing girls were predominantly native Indian. It wasn't until a number of white girls went missing that the cops made a concerted effort to uncover what was going on.
Actually, regarding the point you make, an episode of Without a Trace dealt with that specifically, and I thought it was sensitively and honestly handled.
Liz Dwyer said…
I really wanted it to be done right too. It's irresponsible to just perpetuate the same stereotypical images and stories. Ugh!

LOL at "labrador eyebrows"!

I read today that you can watch the entire thing plus additional footage on the NBC News website so no need to stay up if you don't want to.

I wish you could have been in the producers meeting as well. Maybe they just assume their viewership doesn't know that there are more women than men in college, period. I watch BBC World so I can get a more global perspective. And seriously, why aren't their regular features including the perspectives of black women on a regular basis?

Is she really? I did not know that. I felt sort of bad being so critical of the way the story was reported because I'm sure she (or someone) must have worked hard on it. I really lowered my expectations but I was still just so disappointed.

I just don't get how the folks at NBC sat around and really thought that what they showed was any kind of holistic, truthful perspective. Or maybe that wasn't the goal in the first place.

It does seem that way, doesn't it? I was watching MSNBC this morning and had to turn it off when one of the talking heads said that Obama is "articulate" but that's just not enough.

After watching that I kept asking myself, "What the heck was that!" There are four more days of reporting. I wonder if they asked women like Angela Davis or bell hooks to be a part of the report? I'm not sure if I'll watch the rest of it this week.

It's not an official email list! :) I got sent info about it from a few friends and then I passed it along to a few friends of my own. It's clear from night one that no earth-shattering moments of truth are going to be included in this report.

We had a similar serial killer here in LA murdering prostitutes in South-Central. He killed dozens for years and nothing happened. I've never watched "Without a Trace" before. I'm glad the writers there were able to do right by the subject matter.

And thank you for calling my writing journalism and saying it's marvelous. ;)
Bye! said…
Hi Liz,
thanks for dropping by my blog. I might be able to make a good list of goals, but you're the queen of thought provoking blogging! :) Plus I will have to check out those eyebrows...
Jen said…
Yeah, like you can get to know any group of people in three-minute segments.
Liz Dwyer said…
Thanks for paying me a visit as well. I really like your blog.

I personally think the "tan" is more intriguing than the eyebrows. I wonder how frequently he has to get it touched up.

I guess they figured 3 minutes per night equals 15 minutes time over the course of the week, and clearly, that's enough time, right? ;0
Well written, you should mail a copy of your post to NBC so that when they finally decide to do it right, they may have a place to start.
I'm trying to imagine what a news segment about Black women would be like, and I'm having a hard time trying to figure it out. We're too diverse. I wouldn't even know where to start.
Tafari said…
This post needs to be highlighted on News & Notes!!! While I read through your satire as drunk as I am now, I see truth.

Yesterday on N&N that had 2 of the reporters on talking about the segments & I was like oh shit. I wish I was able to watch it to offer an analysis but I gotta keep my job so my income can keep my Black woman happy.

"...millions of people will go to work thinking they know a little bit more about the one black woman in their office." LOL!!!

Those 12 points are classic especially #3. Wait... But isn't 3 true? After all Black woman have been known to be sexual beasts since 1439 1st reported by the Portuguese. And ain't nothing like a woman who can cook the hell out of some bacon & serve them with an off the hook plat of grits.
Tafari said…
"When they interview Angela Davis about how black women are doing, I'll listen. :)" That is what I am talking about!!!

Dark & Stormy said…
"When they interview Angela Davis about how black women are doing, I'll listen." Amen bygbaby!

Liz- That was a great post. I couldn't agree more with what you said, especially the list. You wouldn't believe how many times coworkers ask me if I have children though I've never mentioned one, have no pictures at my desk, am not married, ain't never even mentioned a boyfriend... You get the point.

NBC Needs Better Commentary.
Liz Dwyer said…
Thank you for saying so. Not a bad idea to mail them a copy. Last night's segment was about how they had to change the way black women get diagnosed for breast cancer because the diagnosis studies were all done on white women. I had zero expectations so I took it for what it was.

I'll have to see if I can listen online to see if I can catch what they said on N&N. Crazily enough, I got linked by some site celebrating Imus' return the airwaves. I don't know what that was about.

I guess I'm disqualified from the superwoman category because I can't cook bacon or grits. In fact, I hate grits. I think they're disgusting...although in the past I have wished I could pour some hot grits on a couple of clowns! ;0

And go, Angela Davis! Go!

Or how about the people who see me out with my sons now and assume I'm not married...or ask, "Now, do they have the same father?" Yeah, I'm totally sick of that mess.
nick said…
Hi Liz. Thanks for visiting my blog. Really interesting post on the myths about black women. It seems to take forever to lay some of these myths to rest (mainly because it's in the interests of more powerful groups to keep them going). Your analysis of the absurdly superficial NBC programme was good too. As Jen said, how much you can learn about anybody in a three-minute segment? I'm sure you're right, you can find out more from half an hour's blogging than from hours of TV programmes. And Angela Davis? Wow, that brings back great memories from the sixties!!
Liz Dwyer said…
Glad to have you here as well and thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I agree that it's in the interests of more powerful groups to keep the stereotypes going. The hard thing is that I know my own sons are learning all of these stereotypes in so many ways, so I really have to be so vigilant and do my best to combat them.

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