“Conversations of Color” highlights TV stereotypes

Meghan McBrady

To better understand race, culture and identity, Grand Valley State University hosts a series called “Conversations of Color”. In honor of Black History Month, this month’s forum focused on those ideas being portrayed in the mainstream media.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs decided to combine its event with the Black History Month celebration so that students may learn more about the history and culture of African American people.

Previous Black History Month events included a discussion about Rosa Parks and a lecture by David Banner, as well as traditional soul food.

“Conversations of Color: Black Representation on TV” was held on Feb. 16 and had participants discussing content from past to present television shows – such as the “Cosby Show,” “Blackish” and “Love & Hip Hop” – and later talked about how the black experience is represented in the media. Primarily, they discussed how the representation on television has changed in both positive and negative ways and how that representation on television affects how people live in society.

Elayne Vaughn, a communications studies major and student ambassador for GVSU, facilitated the conversation. Vaughn made sure that the conversation talked about history and addressed stereotypes as well as talking about the current media portrayal.

Ranging from the 1950s “Amos ‘n’ Andy” to the 2012 hit “Scandal,” there has been an evolution of sorts, Vaughn said, in looking at how the black community is portrayed on screen.

While the times have changed from the gimmickry of earlier television, to the substantial plots penned by Shonda Rimes, Vaughn also emphasized that media and society have a long way to go.

She also said that in order to have an open discussion about race, culture, and identity, participants must realize that it is about respect and valuing other individual’s opinions in regards to past and current events.

“A newer topic is ‘Oscars so white,’” Vaughn said, referring to the social media movement that pointed out that no people of color had been nominated in any category this year. “Stars in different categories began saying why it is an issue and a problem.”

After the presentation, Vaughn asked participants how they felt about black representation within the media and how their portrayal affects societal understanding.

ReChard Peel, graduate assistant for the OMA, said it is important to understand the history behind events and understand that there are still black stereotypes in television shows.

“We can still see that there is still black stereotypes in TV shows today,” he said. “We can also see some newer stereotypes, like all black people want to be rappers or things like that, and I think that it is pretty important to understand that there is a historical component.”

For more information about the Office of Multicultural Affairs and its programs and events, visit www.gvsu.edu/oma.