See Me as a Woman First, a Black Woman Second
Dr. Misee Harris-BAW
Yes, the title of this blog post is somewhat inflammatory, but let me explain. I came to the public's attention in 2013 as a media personality vying to become television's first black Bachelorette. My ongoing media campaign is really about much more than becoming the first black Bachelorette. It's a call-to-action for producers, writers and Hollywood executives to turn away from the tired stereotypes of black women, and to have the courage and vision to begin portraying black women as, well, simply women. We are just as diverse a population as any other race or culture of women. We deserve to see that diversity reflected in the television programs we watch.
Last year, I applied to be on the ABC hit show, the Bachelor, and I was picked. What seemed like a great accomplishment at first, soon fell sour. It quickly occurred to me that I was cast in order to fill a quota: The token black girl who gets voted off in the first round, but who can surely fill the show with plenty of drama and fighting. That is not who I am, and it is not how I will represent black women. I realized it was time to shake things up, so instead of accepting the offer to appear on the Bachelor, I started a petition to be the first black Bachelorette. "Why shouldn't I be the one handing out those iconic roses to an array of suitors?"
Well, one year and multiple media appearances later, I've had quite a ride, but I haven't been given the opportunity by ABC to hand out those roses. And, here's the thing; it's no wonder that a black Bachelorette on ABC's prime time lineup has been out of the question. We, black women, are marginalized by these played-out stereotypes. Therefore, we are not being looked at as attractive, vital and educated women who would be desirable to a wide cross-section of men. For some reason, no matter what progress has been made, the media continues portraying black women in the same stereotypical way for entertainment's sake. But are producers, writers and executives solely to blame for this disturbing cultural chasm? After all, there are many black women who are ready and willing to fill those roles in, both, reality and scripted television for their shot at fame, no matter how much it destroys our progress.
With shows like Basketball Wives, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love & Hip Hop and the like, Hollywood has stigmatized black women. Our collective image has been caricaturized, fetishized, but rarely portrayed in a balanced or accurate way. If white women can be considered entertaining without falling into these cartoonish roles, why can't black women? At nearly 30-years-old, I can honestly say I do not relate to any of these black woman I see on television. I have never pulled anyone's hair out, I have never punched a girl in the face, nor do I verbally express myself by using gratuitous profanity. I am a professional, a doctor, and a woman of decorum who feels it is time for the mainstream media to allow black female characters, both on reality television, and in scripted television, to reflect black women in real life.
I don't feel very well represented. Where are the positive roles on television depicting educated, polished, sophisticated black women that so many of us would relate to? I am a driven career woman, who plans on going far in life. Where are the women I can look up to? To sum it up, I'm a bit embarrassed. I don't want people to assume that because I am a black woman, I am ready to throw down some girl's weave over a man.
Why must the color of my skin define me? I am a woman, I am a doctor, I am an entrepreneur. I am a woman first, and a black woman second.