From The Real Housewives of Atlanta to Flavor of Love, reality shows with predominantly black casts have often been criticized for their negative representation of African American women as loud, angry, and violent. Yet even as these programs appear to be rehashing old stereotypes of black women, the critiques of them are arguably problematic in their own way, as the notion of “respectability” has historically been used to police black women’s behaviors.
The first book of scholarship devoted to the issue of how black women are depicted on reality television, Real Sister offers an even-handed consideration of the genre. The book’s ten contributors—black female scholars from a variety of disciplines—provide a wide range of perspectives, while considering everything from Basketball Wives to Say Yes to the Dress. As regular viewers of reality television, these scholars are able to note ways in which the genre presents positive images of black womanhood, even as they catalog a litany of stereotypes about race, class, and gender that it tends to reinforce.
Rather than simply dismissing reality television and its stars as “trash,” this collection takes the genre seriously, as an important touchstone in ongoing cultural debates about what constitutes “trashiness” and “respectability.” Written in an accessible style that will appeal to reality TV fans both inside and outside of academia, Real Sister thus seeks to inspire a more nuanced, thoughtful conversation about the genre’s representations and their effects on the black community.
Zora Neale Hurston: An Annotated Bibliography of Works and Criticism edited by Cynthia Davis and Verner D. Mitchell includes the Introduction, "Zora Neale Hurston: Coming Forth as Gold,” by Jervette R. Ward. In the Introduction, Ward discusses how as a member of the academic generation that has only known Zora Neale Hurston as a literary giant, it is sometimes difficult to realize that for this generation, she was never lost as she was for Alice Walker – she has always just simply been. Ward frames her argument by building upon noted critic, Ann duCille's idea of BZ or Before Zora, and argues that we are currently in IZ or In the Time of Zora. Ward's Introduction goes on to argue for further exploration and analysis of Hurston's life, works, and legacy.
Ward, Jervette R. “Zora Neale Hurston: Coming Forth as Gold.” Introduction. Zora Neale Hurston: An Annotated Bibliography of Works and Criticism. Eds. Cynthia Davis and Verner Mitchell. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2013. 1-5. Print.
Jervette R. Ward's chapter, "Seraph on the Suwanee: Hurston’s “White Novel,” in Critical Insights: Zora Neale Hurston edited by Sharon Jones explores Hurston's final novel. Seraph on the Suwanee has long been treated as the bastard child of Hurston's literary canon. The novel’s focus on white marriage and its mulatto form of merging white characters with black words or what scholars would call African American Vernacular English (AAVE) have greatly perplexed scholars. In the novel, Hurston tells the story of a man and a woman who happen to be white. Sadly, Hurston’s decision to frame her text in such a way has sparked the dismissal of one of her finest works. The main character, Arvay, is a self-consumed, not very bright, poor white woman of “cracker” lineage who is married to Jim. Seraph on the Suwanee is not brimming with folk tales or endeavors at anthropology like many of her other works; instead, the novel is Hurston’s attempt and success at writing about people and the problems that they face in love and marriage.
Ward, Jervette R. "Seraph on the Suwanee: Hurston’s “White Novel.” Critical Insights: Zora Neale Hurston. Ed. Sharon Jones. Ipswich: Salem Press, 2013. 250-269. Print.
"A frank meditation on the images of black women in television’s most dominant form, Real Sister exposes the ways in which the ambivalent pleasures derived from reality TV’s obligatory train wrecks implicate black women as both victim and entrepreneur."
-- Darnell Hunt, editor of Channeling Blackness
"Real Sister makes a significant contribution to existing scholarship by establishing links between depictions of black women in television and a longer-running history of representations of black women in literature and popular culture tropes."
-- Leigh H. Edwards,
Dissertation: She Dared to Challenge Tradition: Seraph on the Suwanee, Zora Neale Hurston’s “White Novel,” and Its Literary Foundation, Paul Laurence Dunbar’s The Uncalled. The University of Memphis. 2011.