Are we still buying the idea that the mainstream media is some kind of harmless "bystander" in our society, that's just innocently providing us with information and entertainment? I hope not.

It’s just a TV show.

It’s just a song.

It’s just a joke.

It’s just an article.

It’s just a magazine.

It’s just social media/Twitter/Facebook.

"Relax, it’s just the media. No big deal."

The biggest lie of the past 80-100 years, I’d say.

We have to move into a new understanding that the media isn’t “just the media.” It’s something much bigger and more influential than any of us could ever imagine. The media that we see every day is not just fluffy stuff that doesn’t affect our lives -- the media can guide the sentiments of an entire culture or society.

Everyday people very much take their cues from the media on how to think, what to think, what to wear, what to buy and who to like. The truth is that people internalize messages that they get from the media and insert them into their real lives.

Here are a few examples:

Reality Television and Popular Series'
"It's just TV"
When Flavor of Love was first released on VH1 in 2006, everyone loved it. We thought it was just an entertaining anomaly, but it was only the first in a long parade of reality television shows that made black people (again, mainly women) look like complete fools.

When people finally started to get fed up and protest the theme of some of these shows (think All My Baby Mamas) the response was “it’s just a TV show, relax.” Obviously, it’s become a lot more because now we have a culture of “bad bitches” and “boss bitches” who think that fighting, talking about each other and wearing red bottoms is the highlight of life. They don't see it now, but these silly representations are working against the overall progress of black women (and women in general) in our society.

Here’s another example from mainstream America: Breaking Bad. It was a very entertaining television show, but in a way it opened Americans up to the wonderful world of “meth.” In a way it normalized drug use in mostly white communities, teaching kids how to make the drug, and that’s not just my theory – a prosecutor who lives in a community affected by meth agrees in his op-ed piece here. Is it such a far-fetched idea that popular television shows like Breaking Bad might have played a role in why drug use has increased over the past decade in many states across the U.S.?

Black Comedians "It's Just Jokes" 
Back when the top black comedians on the scene were Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, there was still an energy of “black power” and “black is beautiful” coursing through the black community. So they could crack a few jokes about black people and it was mostly seen as "all in fun."

Nowadays, not so much. Still, some of us support and encourage the antics of black comedians like Kevin Hart and D.L. Hughley who love nothing more than to pick at and stereotype black women. Those crass racially-charged jokes that some modern day black comedians have been cracking about black people (mostly black women) has unfortunately spawned a generation of young black wannabe comedians who now troll Twitter and social media sites. They use their words and memes to bully and intimidate -- it especially affects vulnerable young black girls who already suffer from low self-esteem issues.

And when they’re called out about it, what is their response? “It’s just jokes.”

Yea, right.

Rap Music "It's Just a Song"  
When rap music evolved from “revolutionary” to “ganstafied” (from "fight the power" to "fight your woman") I remember that there was a feisty black lady named C. Delores Tucker who tried to make gangsta rappers’ lives a living hell. She saw the writing on the wall, but the rest of us just said “it’s just a song, relax.” She was vilified right up until her death.
Well, "it’s just a song" has turned into a vocal sub-culture of the black community that has little to no respect for anything or anyone anymore. They call each other niggas, bitches, hos and thots as naturally as if they were reciting their ABCs. They treat each other with the same lack of respect.

White, Skinny, “Perfect”
“It’s Just a Magazine”  

If you’ve ever stood in line at the grocery store or pharmacy waiting, there’s no way you can miss the countless magazines plastered all over the register area. 90% of the time you’ll see a white, extremely skinny woman on the cover who is being promoted as the “ideal of beauty.”

Is it really a coincidence that more girls are suffering from self-esteem issues in our modern culture? It’s estimated that 51 percent of young girls ages 14 to 16 don’t like the way they look; 1/3 or girls ages 7 to 21. Studies even suggest that a girl’s low self-esteem could negatively affect her future career prospects if it’s not dealt with soon. 

And let’s not neglect to consider the effect these magazines have on little black girls in particular. They hardly ever see anyone that resembles them at the grocery store or when looking at the countless ads we’re exposed to daily. Even when you do have a black woman on the cover of a magazine, she is lightened and styled to mimic the look of a white woman.

The Facebook Experiment – “It’s Just Twitter/Facebook” 
 So Facebook apparently conducted an experiment on over 689,000 regular users to find out how the posts we read and are exposed to on the site effect our moods. When they exposed the users to more positive news and posts, the people posted more positivity, which suggests a better mood. When they reduced the positive stories and sent more negative posts, the people started posting negatively. I don’t have a Facebook other than for automatic blog posts, but I know how powerful this social media site is.

If Facebook has the power to change your mood with a click of a button, imagine what else they can do. Think about social media and how it’s having a very real effect on your life.

And to be clear, I think it’s safe to say the same is true for Twitter, Tumbler, Pinterest and the other major social media sites.

The Black Women Are All Single & Lonely News Stories
"It's Just an Article" 
I'm not in denial when it comes to facts. I am aware that the rate of black women who are single mothers or not married is significantly higher than that of other groups of women at the moment. But I believe that the increasing numbers and persistence of this trend is partly a result of the media influences that for years now have been telling black women there is no hope for them in the relationship department.

I believe that when some black women are continually exposed to these messages they start to internalize them and accept them as reality. So they start to expect less and less from their relationships with men. They don't believe that they deserve a respectful relationship. They lose confidence in their ability to attract good men. So they accept poor treatment and don’t expect a commitment or loyalty from the men in their lives.

Black Women's Empowerment
"It's Just a Blog"
This last example is actually a positive and encouraging one: the online black women's empowerment movement. This includes blogs and social media activism. BWE has been around for decades, but I’d say it really amped up around 2008, when America got its first black First Lady.

BWE blogs have grown extremely popular over the past decade or more, proving that it’s not “just a blog.” Words matter. Spreading positivity matters. 

Years later, black women are really doing great things (even though it isn’t publicized by our mainstream media). The facts are that black women are seeking higher education more than any other group of people, starting businesses six times more often than the national average and despite lingering issues with self-esteem have a high self-image compared to other groups. I strongly believe that the positive influences and encouragement from the online BWE movement played a role in this.

Unfortunately, the same social media and web-based influences that work for good can work by spreading loads of ignorance about black women. But I think that black women as a whole have made their presence known on many different levels in our current society, and I think it's a good thing.

There are countless more examples, but I think this is a good starting list. 

So the next time someone says “it’s just a TV show,” “it’s just Twitter” or “it’s just jokes” please take them to school (in love). We have to recognize that the media can definitely have a significant effect on which way our society and culture "blows." At the same time I think that it's our responsibility as thinking individuals to actively reject negative messaging before it has a chance to effect our real lives.

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Did you know... the numbers of black women in prison has been on a steady decline since the early 2000s?

I've blogged before about how positive stories about black women rarely make the headlines. Well brace yourself -- here's yet another MAJOR case of that.

A recent Washington Post article (that was really focused on reviewing the new Netflix series Orange Is the New Black) revealed that the number of black women in prison has been SHARPLY declining for the past 10+ years. To the tune of a 30% drop. At the moment the vast majority of women in prison are Caucasian.

That’s major news -- I wonder why we don’t hear more of these positive stories about black women? I guess because stereotyping us as all into the same “reality TV ratchet” box wouldn’t be as fun!

My Thoughts on Orange Is the New Black

I admit that overall I like the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. I don't particularly like the typical and annoying stereotypes of black women that continue to be portrayed on the show. For instance, there's a scene where a black girl is extremely excited about putting a few strings of the main character’s blonde hair in her head. Then there's a scene where a young black girl gets jealous when a black male PSYCHO guy fawns over the white main character and he throws her a scrap to tell her “you can get it to.” In the first season the black women seem to be very “asexualized” and made to look like crazy wild fools compared to the other mild-mannered, beauty conscious inmates (Latinas and whites).

But you have to consider the source -- the show's creator Jenji Kohan is notorious for writing shows where the irresistible white woman main character is elevated to super human status while everyone else is her minion (she also wrote Weeds, nuff said). But you know what, if I wrote a television show I would probably do the same thing for a black woman lead (stay tuned!).

I'm also cautious about how this show kind of romanticizes prison like it's some kind of sorority row. Let's be clear, prison is the worst place you can end up next to a pine box. The reality is that women in prison are treated like chattel property, like less than dirt and often are powerless to do anything about their situations. There are countless stories about women being raped by COs (not in loving voluntary relationships with them) and they don't really get to be in their kids' lives.

But that critique aside, what I like about the show is that it tells realistic stories of how these women ended up in prison. It's one big cautionary tale. Of course, 90 percent of the women ended up there by following behind a guy who got them in trouble and then dropped them cold.

I also find the black women on the show entertaining and endearing. I would like to see them represented in more "we found love in a hopeless place" tales as is the case with the white women and Latinas instead of just being portrayed as silly caricatures.

Possible Reason for the Decline of Black Women in Prison over the 00s

Learning that the rates of black women in prison has dropped so sharply over the past decade is very encouraging. I can watch this show for its entertainment value, knowing that sisters aren't crowding up the prisons as much as they were in the past. I believe the decline may have something to do with black women starting businesses in greater numbers, going to college more than any other group, working hard, being inspired, staying busy, being responsible, becoming empowered and learning to love themselves. According this article, investing in black women could give the economy a major boost.

Regardless of the reason behind it, this is very positive news for black women. I hope this trend continues and I also hope that whatever is causing the rates to rise so sharply for other groups of women reverses as well in the coming years.

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