You know what is more rare than seeing a Black woman in a commercial who is allowed full humanity versus portraying a stereotype or being marginalized? Seeing a young Black girl in a commercial…at all.
Recently, I’ve seen many back-to-school commercials, as we are at that time of year. Of at least 20, only one had a Black girl casted and she was on the screen for a split second. The rest of the commercial was dedicated to the White female and male children and one or more Black male children. The latter is always in commercial with mixes of children. But just like commercials meant for adults, a Black man will be cast before and more often than a Black woman will be. Many commercials these days are packed tightly with White characters and then a single Black man is thrown in. Voilà! Diversity! A young Black girl though? A rare sight indeed.
A few months ago, I started keeping a list of commercials where Black women are included and not performing race through the veil of White supremacy. My list is short. (As I find video versions of the list online, I share them here. This has been hard to find on top of already working with a short list.)
But for Black girls…not adult women? The appearances are beyond slim. Even when a commercial is attempting to move beyond Black and White and includes Hispanics/Latinos and Asians, everyone is included yet often not a Black girl/woman. The very premeditated and purposeful marginalization and erasure of our presence in the public and media sphere permeates everything, even down to the 30-second spot.
And, I know it is tempting to think that Black women get adequate coverage simply because there are more Black women in the public eye due to the Olympic coverage right now. But…think about media prior…and after. It will be back to the same ol’ same ol’ in no time. I can’t even figure out which is more disgusting and damaging: stereotypical marginalization or erasure?
It’s not even like this increased Olympic media coverage is without its flaws. I noticed that more of the lighter-skinned Black women track stars (who I love too…but I am speaking about colourism) seem to get more media attention than darker complexioned ones, even when the latter are as talented and as fast. Then, combine all of the women together and Black women have more negative media framing than Black men at times primarily due to the double-edged sword of BOTH racism and sexism, and racialized sexism towards Black women, specifically. (This is not to say that the way Black male athletes are framed is “good.” Hell no. I don’t mean to infer such a binary…and I wrote about this more in a post titled 7 Predictable Ways That The Media Portrays Black Olympic Athletes.) Then combine all Black people and the media framing is more negative than how White people are portrayed. The effects of cultural hierarchy can clearly be seen in the media.
This is why digital media spaces (everything from what Black women tweet, to what they blog, to the articles, to the few that are on television) are so important to me. It daily rewrites many of the negative narratives of traditional media for me. It’s like…traditional media tears Black women down and then I go to so many spaces within social media that builds Black women back up. (This is not to say that there are not spaces in social media that mimic traditional media this way. But for sense and balance, I go online before I turn on the television or read a paper.) Only online have I found sensible commentary deconstructing the poor NBC Olympic coverage (that they are currently bragging about…as if people have many other choices to watch). People (especially ones of colour) are not watching because it is “good” coverage. For many, it is the “only” coverage.
Black women are consumers too. We buy things. We have opinions too. We share them. We want our lives portrayed on television too. We matter.