Panel discusses portrayal of black women in society

Published by adviser, Author: Megan Majercak - Asst. Campus Life Editor, Date: February 9, 2017
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Wednesday night in the Smith Student Center (SSC) theater, a panel titled ‘Whats On Display?’ discussed how women are portrayed in the media, specifically women of color.

The event was co-hosted by Black Action Society (BAS), the Gender Studies program, The Frederick Douglass Institute and Men of Distinction. A panel of women talked about their experiences with oppression being a black woman, and SRU graduate student Ayanna Byers shared the history of black women in the media, which has led to labeling many African American women as ‘The Angry Black Woman.’

Byers explained the origin of minstrel shows, where white actors would paint their faces black and do variety acts for entertainment. Minstrel shows were known to make fun of African Americans as well as undermine them. “Amos n Andy” became a very popular sitcom which started out as a radio minstrel show.

These forms of entertainment portrayed African Americans as irritable, angry and disrespectful. These stereotypes are still present in popular TV shows and the media overall today.

Many might believe that these stereotypes might not affect them. However, these stereotypes allow the invalidation of experiences and the justifications of police action and treatment, Byers explained. An example of this is the death of Sandra Bland.

The oppression of people of color is still heavily present today. Many women shared their personal experiences.

Byers explained that growing up she often spoke up in class but it was seen as disrespectful. Simply asking questions would be seen as disruptive, and it got the point where her mom would have to come sit in her classes.

Women of color may even be taught to suppress their feelings so they stay safe and out of trouble.

“Often times, we’d be told to stifle what we’re feeling to come home safe,” Corinne Gibson, director of the Office for Inclusive Excellence (OIE) said.

Byers shared her experience meeting an exchange student from Ethiopia, and the student said, “You really don’t act like how we see black people act on TV.” Our media creates assumptions from people everywhere.

Cindy LaCom, director of the gender studies program talked about how everyone can help to push society in the right direction.

“Racism and sexism are still alive and well. They are thriving. We hope this event helped you to discuss, understand and give you the ability to advocate. Say something. Speak up. If you can’t, give some thought as to what is silencing you,” LaCom said.

Another event called ‘What’s On Display: Part 2’ will take place next Wednesday, Feb. 15 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the SSC theater, which will specifically talk about how black men are portrayed in the media.

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