I really hate when I get angry. I’m not talking the kind of angry when I see a video of a kid being bullied or a police officer shooting an unarmed black person. I’m not even talking about the kind of irrational anger when there’s an unidentified object in my bagging area and I have to wait that incredibly, infinitely long 47 seconds for one of the assistants to type in their little code only for it to happen again 3 items later. I’m not even talking the kind of angry when the lady threading my eyebrows decide to go renegade and experiment with my facial expression for the next 2 weeks (it’s always some sort of variation of permanent surprise). No. All these angers are, frankly, justified. Righteous indignation – be that at the ruination of my eyebrow or a much more serious injustice, I can live with. I would even argue that well placed anger is a healthy and necessary emotion.
But I hate being angry when it comes to my interactions with strangers and especially the people who I love. I hate being the kind of angry where I feel completely out of control, where I say things that I don’t mean, the angry where I can see the words flying out my mouth and whacking the other person in the place where it really hurts, but I can’t seem to reach out fast enough to grab them and stuff them back into hiding.
Which brings me to Love and Hip Hop. If you haven’t seen it, it chronicles the lives of Hip Hop and R+B musicians and their partners, many of them black women, I don’t watch Love and Hip Hop routinely, but I’ve definitely come across it while flicking through channels. (I’m not perfect when it comes to my TV habits and I have my trash TV guilty pleasures that I’m trying to break, but Love and Hip Hop just ain’t one of them.)
Black women, apparently, alternate between anger and emotional breakdown. In the popular imagination we’re rarely in neutral gear we’re always accelerating somewhere, whether that be some grand display of strength in the midst of adversity or a fit of rage involving wine glasses, hot grits, baseball bats, setting our ex-man’s car alight with petrol or dragging out weave. We’re also really good at ‘telling people about themselves’. Love and Hip Hop and other shows of their ilk are expert in displaying all these streotypes in the form of ‘reality’ television.
The natural response to this is to reply that this is simply a ugly stereotype, that black women aren’t any more angry than anyone else and to a large extent I agree with this.
However, I have observed in recent years an increasing tendency especially for young black women in certain socio-economic brackets, to model their behaviour in ways that seem strangely similar to the tired tropes that we seem to be seeing on our screens. There appears to be a trend for applauding rudeness, which is framed as plain talking, aggressiveness which is classed as keeping it real, and a lack of ability to maintain friendships – cancelling the haters.
Wait, what are you saying? Are you suggesting that something a simple as watching Love and Hip Hop or Real Housewives, can cause young black women to become angry?
Well, sort of, yes.
I’m not suggesting that after watching Nightmare on Elm Street age thirteen, I had to fight against the constant desire to become a serial killer but there’s fairly good evidence that television has an effect on the behaviour of children. Research has linked increases in anti-social behaviour with children who have increased television viewing time, and violent behaviour with violence seen on television. There’s even research that suggests that watching violent behaviour can impact adults as well. The good news is that there’s also evidence that children model good behaviour that they see on television.
In humans we know that the frontal lobe which is involved with conscious behaviour such as sexual behaviour, judgement and emotional expression isn’t fully developed until our late 20’s. This means that up until our late 20’s we’re particularly susceptible to influences in these areas. The hundreds of thousands of teenagers who watch shows like Love and Hip Hop and Real Housewives of Atlanta are inevitably affected by the behaviour they see. Arguably, the closer the on screen representation, the more likely a person is to model the behaviour seen. Is it surprising then if young black women who have an extremely narrow range of representation in mass media, are more vulnerable to modelling their behaviour on archetypes of angry black women?
In some black cultures (African American and Caribbean) black children disproportionately grow up in single parent households. I would like to think that most of us are sensible enough to not see many of the couples in these shows as #relationship goals (there may well be couples who are positive examples, but from what I deduce most aren’t) but unfortunately our subconscious mind is slicker than freshly laid edges, and what we see will influence what we do.
Hoping that teenagers and young black women will be able to sift through the negative ways of relating to others portrayed on these shows is wishful thinking and certainly not rooted in any knowledge of psychology.
It’s pretty simple really. Who are you? What do you want from life and what do you want your relationships with those around you to be? Make sure what you habitually watch reflects that. Your mind is stronger than you give it credit for.