(Mis)Representation of Black Women in the Media

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 16:45
Oral Presentation
Toju BOYO, University of Toronto - Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), Canada
The media is a powerful source of representations, with an unparalleled ability to shape ideas and beliefs about people and events. In the study of inequality, representations are often a distortion of reality and serve to legitimize the power and social positions of individuals and groups in society. The portrayal of black women in the media is an example of how representations can be mismatched with reality. Black women are diverse, complex and dynamic individuals with unique life experiences. However, the media insists on portraying them in a demeaning and often distasteful manner. Today, it is not uncommon to find images or stories of the angry black woman, the single black mother on welfare and most commonly, the hypersexual black woman disseminated throughout the media. The very existence of black women seems to have been reduced to their physical parts and their sexuality. Central to this paper is the idea that media representations of black women are often distortions, which serve to reduce their diverse realities to a single experience, based on their sexuality – ultimately reinforcing existing power relations. In order to better understand the current state of media portrayals of black women, it is important first to trace the historical origins and development of these representations. Secondly, this paper explores some contemporary representations of black women in various mediums. Such representations serve to legitimatize power, violence, oppression and injustices towards black women. Finally, this paper concludes by examining some of the ways in which black women are redefining themselves sometimes in direct opposition to these representations. These efforts to reflect more authentic representations of black women in the media require conscious and sustained efforts in order to dismantle oppressive power relations.