Heeey girl! How’s it going? You don’t know me from a billy goat, but my name is Erin Harper and I am a school psychology graduate student who likes to dibble and dabble in African American Women’s studies. Before I climb atop my social soapbox, let me say that this letter is written out of love, NOT hate. I love to see women of color prosper. Furthermore, I empathize with you because I am guessing you probably feel like a large percentage of Black America is holding you accountable for something that is MUCH larger than you and your show. It must bite to be the current poster child for a problem that has deep sociohistorical roots. However, I think your critics are so vocal (a) because we had higher expectations for a woman who, from afar, appears polished and levelheaded, and (b) we hoped your show would not perpetuate stereotypes of African American women as aggressive and hypersexual.
I began writing this letter before I read the statement your publicist you wrote to CNN. While I am elated that you attempted to address the issue, I think I speak on behalf of your constructive critics when I say that your statement was not enough. As citizens concerned about images of women in the media and their effects on viewers from all racial and ethnic backgrounds, we have the right to continue to question how much you are truly doing to take your show in a positive direction.
Shaunie, the fact that I am addressing you should actually flatter you. Why? Because you are in the 1% of the 2,896,000.2 reality TV stars that ACTUALLY APPEARS TO HAVE SOME SENSE! Sure, I could have written the woman who, in her head, is the Archbishop of the “wealthy elite of Atlanta”, Ms. NeNe Leakes; however, because NeNe and I share a city, I am a tinge frightened by what that Angry Atlantan Amazon might do to me if she sees me at the wealthy people’s mall. In fact, I actually have recurring nightmares about NeNe chasing me down the mall in a Giorgio Armani Lace Front wig with her Gucci(!) pocket knife. BURR BURR…I get chills just thinking about it! But the nightmare doesn’t end there. When NeNe realizes she cannot catch me, she throws one of her special-order size 47 “Red Bottoms” at my head, knocks me out, and commences to beat me with her VVS-diamond encrusted Louis Vuitton Billy club. I digress…
Let us return to the matter at hand. Shaunie, I am very confused about the making of Bullying Wives, I mean, Basketball Wives. It does not make much sense that a person who was once presented as a graceful mother would replace that image with the image of a smut-promoting queen pin. That image swap is like trading your Chanel blouse for a “SHE by Sheree” tank—it just doesn’t add up. In your CNN commentary, you reported that your original vision for Basketball Wives was altered once taping began. Even if that is a true statement, if you continue to air recklessly high levels of physical and relational aggression (i.e., nonphysical aggression in which one manipulates or harms another’s social standing or reputation), then we must hold you accountable for the direct and indirect effects of this content on America’s children and families. I will not come down on you too hard because I believe you, like many entertainers, lack information about the results of research which shows that frequent exposure to violence, sex, and other behaviors on television are linked to various negative mental and physical health outcomes. Plus, you had no way of knowing that we had no interest in seeing Evelyn and Chad enjoying such an awkward intimate moment on screen. Speaking of Evelyn, shouldn’t we be transferring her to football wives anyway?
Allow me to be real Shaunie. I have seen my fair share of reality TV. However, once I became educated about the issues related to the effects of negative images on viewers, I began to question my actions, and lessen my viewing in an attempt to reduce demand for this content. I recommend a similar strategy for you from the supply side. You stated that you are personally working with station executives to make sure “Basketball Wives” sends positive messages “despite the drama”. However, now that you have a bit more knowledge about the negative effects of what you may perceive as harmless drama, why even air the fighting scenes? I am sure, or at least I hope, there are plenty of other things going on in “the wives” lives to have sufficient footage for your show. If you continue to air negative images for financial gain, then I honestly do not know how you will sleep at night. I guess 9,000 thread count Egyptian sheets will make it pretty easy though!
Shaunie, do better my friend. Anti-bullying campaigns are more prevalent than ever before due to strong evidence that physical and relational aggression are linked to serious health problems in bullies AND victims; and, in the worst cases, a loss of lives. We cannot afford to send hypocritical messages to children by telling them not to bully while we glamourize the same behavior on television. We must take an ACTIVE stand against these negative portrayals in the media. Making a public statement every now and then does not count as an active stand. I do not think people want you to produce a fairytale show free from disagreements. Nevertheless, I believe (or at least I hope) that you are industrious and creative enough to show alternative methods of problems solving on screen. I think continued dialogue with you and others in the entertainment industry can contribute to a decrease in negative images, which could result in more socially and emotionally healthy Americans.
Please join us in this movement to promote positive social skills and combat negative images. I even welcome the Football Wives, the Mafia Wives, The Peanut Butter Sandwich Makers’ Wives, and The Jackknifed Tractor Trailer Drivers’ Wives to join us. I would love to meet with you to further discuss these issues. If I were one of the ladies on your show, I’d jump over a table, throw a glass of Coconut Ciroc across the room, and tell you to meet me outside. However, socially responsible adults just meet on CNN.
P.S. It is terribly troublesome for me to refer to you as “one of the wives”. I respect you and your personal achievements enough not to address you solely based on your affiliation with a man. I also have one final request. I ask that you consider renaming the show and shifting the content to your life experiences, what you’ve learned, and how you can use those lessons to promote positive social change. Just give me a buzz over here at www.yourblackworld.com, I can totally take you in the direction that you need to go.
P.(S.S.) Diddy, I’d like to hear from you too. This is the second time I’ve shamelessly mentioned your brand. I can see us doing BIG things (straight face). Your Smooth + My Studies + Our Combined Good Looks + Social Action = Saving an ENTIRE generation! Get at me. Shaunie has my number.
Erin Harper is a graduate of Spelman College and a Doctoral Student at Georgia State University in School Psychology. She is a researcher at the Georgia State University Center for School Safety, Climate, and Delinquency Prevention, an interdisciplinary research center that promotes basic and applied research and facilitates educational and outreach efforts.