In a CNN article that appears designed to promote her upcoming appearance as an “empowerment speaker” at the Essence Music Festival, Shaunie O’neal, executive producer of the hit show, “Basketball Wives,” was given the solemn task of analyzing the complex issue of black female portrayals in American media. Choosing Shaunie to represent the disappointing images of black women in media is like having a Malcolm X lecture delivered by Flava Flav.
Rather than thoroughly analyzing the problems with black female portrayals in media, Shaunie appears to go out of her way to defend the buffoonery of her show by portraying the women on basketball wives as misunderstood souls who’ve been dealt the misfortune of being placed with other individuals whose minds aren’t quite right after the end of their relationships.
“As you see on the show, I’m not a big supporter of the bickering, drink throwing and fighting, but when you put a group of strong, independent and vocal women who are going through or just came out of a bad relationship together, there’s bound to be a little drama.”
Shaunie fails to mention that she and other producers carefully orchestrate the circus that the audience sees on TV every week, and that these women would likely be taken off the show if they weren’t catty, ghetto-fabulous and vicious toward one another.
In her article, Shaunie also mentions the “rags to riches” story of Tami Roman, former wife of retired NBA player, Kenny Anderson. She notes that Tami was homeless after Kenny blew all of his money and divorced her too. So, perhaps Shaunie should refer to Tami’s story as a “rags to riches to rags” story, which happens to far too many women who go chasing after financially-irresponsible athletes. In too many cases, the dreams of glamour and glitz being promoted on shows like this one only leave the women with a divorce, an empty bank account and a couple of nasty venereal diseases. At least that’s what I explain to girls I mentor as they (gasp) watch this show themselves.
As I listened to Shaunie miss the mark in her effort to complain about the very same stereotypes she’s perpetuating, a few questions came to mind. First, given that most of the women on the show either aren’t married or never were married to the men on whom they’ve built their stardom, should the show really be called “Basketball Wives?” Perhaps a more appropriate title might be “Basketball Baby’s Mamas.”
Secondly, how did Essence get to the point where they somehow considered women like Shaunie O’neal and the hyper-dramatic ex-stripper Nene Leakes to be empowerment speakers? Were Angela Davis and Michelle Obama busy that weekend? I would love for someone to email me and explain exactly how Nene Leakes is empowering….in fact, I dare you.
Third, why would Shaunie agree to let CNN misplace her as a spokesperson for black women who feel that their images have been shamed by shows like Basketball Wives? A strong feminist scholar or respected public figure might be more appropriate, and I am insulted for my daughter, mother and grandmother when I see Shaunie misrepresent their demographic. Perhaps we are now learning what happens when black minds are controlled by black media that really isn’t being run by black people – CNN should never have done this.