WASHINGTON, DC—According to a study released Monday by the Center for Media and Social Research, the reality-TV genre is unfairly biased against black people. The study revealed that reality is unfair to blacks, as well.
"Programs like The Apprentice routinely stereotype black participants," read the 5,000-page report. "Black contestants are often portrayed as stormy and indolent fringe elements, while their white counterparts are portrayed as stable and industrious collaborators. Black reality-TV contestants face discrimination at levels approaching those of everyday life."
The study cited the case of Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, a black woman who criticized The Apprentice for stereotyping her and other black contestants.
"Producers edited footage to make Omarosa look like a self-involved diva," study director Simon Rosemead said. "Her allegations are not isolated. Reality shows often depict black female contestants as sassy and overly aggressive, and black male TV contestants often appear incompetent and lazy. They are minor characters who are often prematurely ousted from the TV workplace."
The study found that many black people who are not on television suffer in the real-life workplace, with an unemployment rate of 12 percent, the highest of any major American ethnic group.
"The average per-capita income among black people in America is $14,953, with 22.7 percent of blacks living below the poverty line," Rosemead said. "In much the same way, circumstances beyond their control keep black reality-show contestants from a fair shot at the jackpot."
Jennifer Hudson was one of several talented black singers voted off American Idol's third season, prompting singer Elton John to call the show racially biased.
The study detailed Hudson's story, as well as that of black Chicago resident Shonalda Brown, 11, who has lived in crime-ridden public housing her entire life, and was raped at the age of 5.
"Like reality TV, reality is a discriminatory institution that is unfair to the black community," Rosemead said. "Only 14 percent of the black population has a bachelor's degree, and there has never been a black bachelor on TV's The Bachelor."
Rosemead said the CMSR data found statistical parallels between reality television and reality.
"Blacks make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only 5 percent of the contestants on Survivor: Palau are black," Rosemead said. "Similarly, while black males comprise only 6 percent of the population, they are the victims of half of its homicides."
According to the CMSR, black people are four times more likely to be shown losing their tempers in TV boardrooms, five times more likely to be portrayed flailing in wet sand during physical challenges, and 55 times more likely than white people to be innocent passersby caught in the crossfire of inner-city shootings.
Jersey City, NJ resident Malik Greggson, 18, is a participant in reality.
"I've been in a wheelchair since I was 16, when I got shot by a drug dealer," said Greggson, who, like 66 percent of black children in America, lives in a single-parent household. "I guess there ain't no way I'm ever gonna be on The Amazing Race 6."
Rosemead said black people in America are two times more likely than white people to be eliminated in the first half of a reality-TV season. In adult life, black people have a 70 percent higher incidence of being eliminated before the age of 65, due to complications stemming from diabetes.
Harvard sociologist James Woolcott said black people who do find success on reality-TV shows often discover that reality is quick to intercede in the favor of white people.
"Look at Ruben Studdard, a black man who beat Clay Aiken, a white contestant, on American Idol," Woolcott said. "Aiken now has millions of loyal fans, he's released a number-one album, and he's even had his own Christmas special. Meanwhile, Studdard is the butt of late-night talk-show jokes about his weight."
"Oh, and also, LAPD cops beat Studdard to death three days ago after pulling him over for a broken headlight," Woolcott said.