While studying public relations in graduate school, one of the key themes we discussed in a core course was agenda-setting, which is the media’s ability, and some would say, responsibility to set the agenda, or tell the ignorant and uninformed what’s important. Out of all the many days I doodled my name in my spiral notebook, or practiced sleeping with my eyes open, it was during our few weeks spent on agenda-setting that I paid the most attention.
We were fresh off Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s “Nipple Gate” fiasco of 2004. We spent countless hours in debate over who was at fault for that slip-up. Most of my classmates agreed with what was being circulated in the media, which placed full-blame on Miss Jackson. For weeks, we used that as an example of agenda-setting, and it became more than real while we were still shouting over nudity and censorship, the media outlets had long gone on to something new to talk about. We then, turned our attention to the next “big thing.”
If you’re honest, you’ll admit that media have the power to control what we think about and what we talk about even daily. Within the past few weeks, we’ve been taken on a rollercoaster ride of issues and hot buttons, from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s extramarital affair with his maid to celebrities like CNN anchor, Don Lemon coming out to a very recent sexting scandal by New York state representative, Anthony Weiner. Possibly what caused the most uproar, atleast in the African-American community, was the article published by Psychology Today, “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”
As every commentary piece, blog post and news segment was posted, it became clear that media sets the agenda for society as a whole, but for micro-communities, as well. With the publication of one study, Black women were suddenly back to the inevitable discussion about our place and value.
The good thing is rather than turning a blind eye towards the article, reportedly more than 70,000 responses from black women and men expressing their outrage resulted in concrete change, more specifically the firing of Satoshi Kanazawa, the contributor and psychologist who wrote the “ugly study,” rather than just a forwarding fest for once.
But it hasn’t always been that way. Remember when stories were published by mainstream and African-American publications alike telling us there were no “good” black men left? They were either in jail, homosexual, had too many children and/or baby mamas or just plain trifling. We immediately gathered in our living rooms with our best girlfriends to talk about it. We cried about it while lying in bed alone. We used that as an excuse of why we weren’t choosing to date quality men. We fell for it.
What about last year when a study "Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth and America's Future" by Insight Center for Community Economic Development suggested that black women’s median wealth worth was only $5? Oddly enough no one talks about the increasingly high number of women who have advanced degrees or own small businesses compare to just 10 years ago.
We are told that our hair is too kinky or our skin isn’t light enough, which spilled over to create friction among our own, as evident in the recent release of the Dark Girls documentary. Funny, I don’t know of a media outlet that’s attributed women of other races’ collagen-filled lips and backsides to a subconscious desire for African-American women’s features. Media tells us that we are undesirable physically, emotionally and even financially, yet everyone wants to take parts of us.
How long will we continue to believe and internalize everything media shove down our throats?
While there are always small truths to everything, we should never take issues at face value only. There’s a deeper story hidden beneath the headlines and teleprompters. An old saying goes, “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.” It’s silly to take on the beliefs of systems that do not have our best interests at heart. Being aware of the stereotypes, crap studies and assumptions regarding black women to advocate and make change is a smart move, but internalizing them is not. Further, we should decide what’s important and real to us, and set our own agenda. Those who choose to take on those feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and worth will be left to wallow, rather than thrive and pick up the scattered pieces for our generations to come.
Alisha Tillery is a freelance writer living and working in Memphis, Tennessee. Her work has been published in UPTOWN Magazine, Honey Magazine, Clutch Magazine and Vibe Vixen Online. Though online publishing may be the new black, she still loves the rustle of printed magazine pages. She can be found ranting and writing at her personal blog, Because I Said So or at www.twitter.com/Alisha8151.
Friday, June 10, 2011
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