How CBS’s “The Briefcase” Disgustingly Exploits the Poor for Sport

by Veronica Agard

With the return of the summer comes new summer programming. We all know that some shows are better than others, but what happens when a premiere show misses the mark entirely? CBS recently launched a new show entitled The Briefcase, which by the title alone seems fairly harmless. After taking a closer look, you’ll find that the show is highly problematic, as it forces families to choose between helping another family in need or to keep a briefcase containing $101,000. By having to “prove” who is in greater need by examining another family’s hardship, the show perpetuates the idea that money can fix everything.

Not only is the show classist, but it plays into harmful and longstanding stereotypes of the Black community. The marketing will have you believe that they are trying to uplift and support the struggling middle class, which is important, but why does it have to be done in the form of a game show? Perhaps CBS could be a corporate sponsor of a fair or equal housing organization or put that money towards educational and literacy services. The premise of the show is scary enough, but the fact that the families have to examine each other’s histories as a means to determine who is worse off is nothing more than a live TV version of the oppression olympics.

In the land of reality TV, it’s much easier to sell a dream of helping those in need by throwing money at them without addressing the structural and institutional problems. By choosing to develop this show, CBS has also provided another opportunity for the American population to take a glance in the mirror. While there’s Black and Brown youth that are struggling to eat, including the starkly segregated Baltimore, where free lunches were only just implemented, shows like The Briefcase furthers the poverty porn that is spewed from the media.
But this is method of propaganda is not new. Since the housing market crash of 2008, some of the hardest hit families have been Black ones. One of the greatest propaganda pieces was Ronald Reagan’s grand design of the “Welfare Queen.” Through marketing and legislation, the Reagan Era put forth the newest version of “Black folks are lazy” by making the Black woman’s face the face of welfare manipulation. Even when the evidence points to the contrary, this rhetoric is still very much a part of American culture and has lasting effects on the Black community. Which begs the question, what will happen if a Black family is tricked into appearing on The Briefcase, or even worse, what if they are highlighted as the family that is in “great need?”

Will we ever get the chance to go beyond trying to promote American “values” like the show’s executive producer says and actually provide sustainable solutions? Or will shows like The Briefcase merely continue to fortify the class divide while simultaneously erasing the experiences of working class folks?

After you sign the petition to cancel the show, let me know what you think about this and more on Twitter.

Photo: YouTube

Veronica Agard is a regular contributor at For Harriet. Thriving in New York City, she is a Program Associate at Humanity in Action, a City College of New York graduate and a Transnational Black Feminist with the Sister Circle Collective. She tweets at @veraicon_.

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