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The Ratchet Reality of Reality Television

BY KATELYN MASSARELLI

The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Flavor of Love. Rachel Lindsay’s season of The Bachelorette. These are a few of the shows, that hooked Robin Boylorn to reality TV. More specifically, they gave her a curiosity of the media’s representation of black women in reality TV.

“I am originally from a small town in North Carolina and I went to college in North Carolina as well,” Boylorn said. “I was always lacking, whether I recognized it at the time or not, the representations of people like me, and when I say like me, I mean black girls or women.”

Boylorn is the author of Sweetwater Black Women (2013) and is a co-writer for the Crunk Feminist Collective. Her research focuses on representations of race, especially the underrepresented minority groups. On Monday, Feb. 19, Boylorn visited UT to discuss the media representation of black women in a reality TV setting through Ratchet Respectability.  

In correspondence the the Black Student Union (BSU), the National Panhellenic Council and the Diversity Fellowship, the communication department brought Boylorn to create a safe space for the discussion to reach a larger scale on campus rather than within a classroom.

“I was really excited to see so many people and a diverse amount of students come,” Alisha Menzies, assistant professor of communications, said. “Spaces like this allow students to theorize cultures like in reality TV and think in different ways.”

From discussing the infamous lines like “I’m very rich bitch” from Real Housewives star Nene Leakes to the scorned black women on Basketball Wives, Boylorn showed the consistent storyline of black women on reality TV: looking for love. Though problematic, Boylorn argued that no matter the negative or the positive representation of black women one fact remains true: there needs to be more of it, according to Boylorn.

“When you’ve been starving for days, you’re no longer as picky as you were if you had just eaten,” Boylorn said. “We starve for representation.”

Nia Burton, sophomore criminal justice major and public relations and marketing chair for BSU, helped promote the event with Menzies along with Isaiah Jordan, senior accounting major and former president of the National Panhellenic council, and Blaise Guerriero, a junior biology major and student coordinator of diversity and inclusion for the Diversity Fellowship.

Burton thought the almost filled Reeves Theater was a productive space for a big discussion like this into the interpretation of black women.

“I thought the event went good,” Burton said. “It was a great turn out and offered a lot of dialogue.”

Ratchet Respectability offered a place for students and faculty to break down stereotypes of African Americans in a way that was still relatable to campus life, according to Jordan.

“It was great to be able to hear from a professional and break down the stereotypes faced,” Jordan said.

Guerriero hopes to see more event like this happen around campus, not just in the communications department, but also in other departments like STEM fields, business fields and other departments. When more departments get involved major waves will be more noticeable around campus as it will reach a larger audience, according to Guerriero.

“One thing that I say to all of my fellows, and I hope that everyone who attended the event will abide by, is to stop agreeing to disagree, but rather agreeing to understand,” Guerriero said. “That latter is much harder to do, but much more rewarding.”

Katelyn Massarelli can be reached at katelyn.massarelli@theminaretonline.com

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