“Dear Ms. Lee, when I heard about a letter writing campaign to BET, I knew I had to participate because I am disgusted with images of Black women in the media, particularly those provided by television and music videos. I can no longer tolerate the way women are portrayed and the disgusting way that BETperpetuates this behavior.
“I will never understand how a company that is supposed to be the voice for Black people, makes them look worse than any other organization in the world. Some of the videos that are played at BET can be classified as pornographic. The lyrics to the songs, with these outrageous videos, are just as alarming. Black women are all depicted as nothing but sexual objects and their only value stemming from various parts of their bodies.”
That’s how the “strong letter” begins to Debra Lee, CEO of BET. Angela Boudreaux from Houston, Texas, a sophomore at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga. started her second year of writing letters to express her disdain of the images of Black women on TV.
“I started the first one last year at convocation; I was excited and passionate about doing something. I did it for two days, but only got eight letters,” she told The Final Call.
What a difference a year makes. This year, convocation came in the middle of the Don Imus controversy. Mr. Imus called the Rutgers Women’s basketball team, “Nappy headed hos’” on his radio show.
Those remarks led to his firing by CBS and MSNBC, and a nationwide conversation about those remarks, rap lyrics and the images of Black women in the media.
“I created an organization called WORTH–Women Offering Representation That Heal. My faculty advisor is Dr. Tasha Stanley. She’s been my personal mentor too. WORTH took over the letter writing campaign this year,” Ms. Boudreaux said.
“This year it was a week-long campaign and different organizations sponsored a day to get letters signed. We’ve gathered over 100 letters.”
WORTH is offering students a choice of three letters to sign–strong, moderate or passive.
Majidah Muhammad, a sophomore from Silver Springs, Md., signed the moderate letter, which included the following:
“With all of the influence and power that BET has as a global network for Black entertainment, it is capable of changing how the world views Black people through new, innovative, and revolutionary shows that offer a much wider range of personalities and lifestyles within the Black race.
“As Black Entertainment Television, it is your responsibility to create the most comprehensive representation of Black life and entertainment. Should you choose to ignore these suggestions, you are openly turning your back on the prospect of a better Black Entertainment Television network. I hope that you will choose to do the right thing.”
Ms. Muhammad told The Final Call, “I was excited when I heard about the letter writing campaign and wanted to be a part of it. I signed the letter that critiqued what they were doing, but also encouraged them to do something better.”
Writing letters to BET is not the only thing the letter writing campaign is doing. They are also circulating a petition thanking TV One for their positive depiction of Black women. So far, they have over 300 signatures.
“Thank you, TV One, for airing positive, multi-dimensional representations of Black people to ourselves and the world! Thank you for being a network that educates and entertains. Thank you for being a network that inspires, motivates, and uplifts Black America.
“Most importantly, thank you for not being like BET! As a sign of our thanks, please know that those listed below support your network because you are different! We do not support BET or networks like it, and recognize the need for more networks like you! We thank you again!”
The students at Spelman have distinguished themselves as opposing the negative images of Black women in the music and media.
For two days, they participated in a town hall meeting The Oprah Winfrey Show had, discussing the responsibility rap music has in the negative portrayal of Black women.
Dr. Benjamin Chavis, executive director of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, was a guest on the show for the second day of the meeting, and invited the Spelman students to participate in further discussions on this issue.
If other students or interested people would like to get involved with the letter writing campaign, they can contact Ms. Boudreaux at [email protected]