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Speaker discusses black women in reality TV

Professor Jervette R. Ward  from the University of Alaska Anchorage spoke about her research on black women’s portrayal in reality television on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

Ward covered chapters in her book, “Real Sister: Stereotypes, Respectability and Black Women in Reality TV,” in front of a group of students and faculty in Miller Hall. Her visit to Western was sponsored by the Department of History, the Department of English, the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program and the Diversity Fund.

Jervette R. Ward came to Western to speak about her book about the portrayal of black women in reality television on  Tuesday, Oct. 20. // Photo by Christina Becker
Jervette R. Ward came to Western to speak about her book about the portrayal of black women in reality television on Tuesday, Oct. 20. // Photo by Christina Becker

Senior Carrie-Ann Deguzman came to listen to Ward speak after taking a “U.S. History of Women after 1865” class and analyzing black women’s role in history.

“Reality television has become so important within our society that I want to know more about it and how that’s reflecting on us now,” Deguzman said.

The book is the first of its kind, Ward said. There are many books that cover reality television, but none were specifically about black women in television and how they are portrayed.

When watching the television show, “Say Yes to the Dress,” there were very seldom black women making an appearance, Ward said.

Her book is a collection of essays from black female scholars critically analyzing depictions of black women in television and the repercussions it has on the representations of black women in literature and popular culture.

Senior Moisé Payne was one of the student audience members who came to listen to Ward speak.

“We need to be more aware of what’s going on when we’re watching TV,” Payne said. “It could be dangerous to historically marginalized individuals, and on the other side of that too, the people who are part of the majority and how they perceive the minoritized.”

During her visit, Ward discussed how she came into writing about reality television from being an English teacher, saying literature and pop culture are very closely connected.

Ward holds a doctorate in English,  Literary and Cultural Studies from the University of Memphis and researched and taught on American Literature, focusing on African American Women’s Literature.  She has taught and published about the addition of African American characters to the Dick and Jane book series, and also about black women in reality television.

Ward’s intentions are not to “bash” on reality television, but to critically discuss why these shows featuring certain portrayals of black women are so popular in viewership.

“I do hope that as consumers and as viewers we become better informed and more knowledgeable about what we’re seeing,” Ward said. “The landscape will then change because we will demand better representations.”

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