The Representation of African Americans in the Media and Popular Culture

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In popular culture, specifically American television, representations of African Americans often rely upon an array of stereotypes. Representation is the production of meaning through language or signifying systems. In media, the dominant stereotypes of African Americans include the sapphire, the coon, the jezebel, and the buck. These stereotypes originated during the minstrelsy period of the 1830s from white actors in blackface. While classic Black stereotypes originated during this period, they have carried on past the stage onto the small screen today.
Television is a complex site of power where African Americans themselves have enacted these aforementioned stereotypes, particularly in the situation comedy genre. African Americans have enacted these stereotypes over the years because they have traditionally had little control over programming decisions in the television industry and these were the only roles created for them. With the rise of reality television programming in the late 1990s and early 2000s, these reality shows have also incorporated old, stereotypical representations of African Americans. A recent example is the reality show Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta. Because of its staged version of real life and its importation of stereotypical representations --such as fighting and over-sexed black characters--, viewers have questioned the show's credibility for its reality. In this paper, I review the literature on stereotypical Black representations and examine Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta to answer the following question: To what degree do audience members perceive cast members as authentic and/or stereotypical?
About Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta
Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta is a spinoff from Love and Hip Hop: New Yo...

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...o view these types of programs can be helpful when trying to explain the impact and social effects it has on them.
Dubrofsky and Hardy (2008) discuss how reality television is raced through the use of surveillance and authenticity. This studies suggest that scholarship needs to express “the complexity of surveillance and notions of authenticity as they intersect in the display of raced identities” (Dubrofsky and Hardy, 2008 p. 373). This can be useful when studying Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta because it will challenge the notions of enacting personas versus true identity. This research will not only discuss how identity is constructed but express the ways how viewers interpret them. This is important for communication scholarship because it will provide a platform for audience members to be the critics of identity where scholars and other academics usually dominate.
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