November 2nd, 2007 11:46 EST
Where My Girls At?
The talented young star of the movie ‘Akeelah and the Bee,' Keke Palmer, is going through what a lot of young African American entertainers are going through. It is the struggle to stick to your true identity in an industry that wants to paint you with the same stereotypical brush it does so many young black female performers. Just imagine being a young artist seeing your white female counterparts selling millions of records and selling out concerts. They get to sing songs of female empowerment, while the same industry people want young, black divas to sing songs that are sexually suggestive.
Early in October, Keke and her mother wrote an open letter protesting her record company's wanting her to sing songs which she and her mother consider inappropriate for Keke's age group and inconsistent with her wholesome image. Consequently, they refused the record company's request, and rightfully so.
Like many other young stars who want to branch out in all segments of the industry, Keke Palmer wants to establish a music career. Yet, the music industry believes the buying public will not buy music of a teenage African American girl unless she is considered sexually desirable.
In the nineties, we had Brandy, Monica, Aaliyah and a host of other young African American female performers who relied more on talent than raw sex appeal. They were the black versions of the all-American girl next door. To succeed in the tough business of today, however, many are following the sure-fire route to success-- becoming a sex kitten. Hey, it worked for Beyonce.
Shouldn't there be an age limit? How young is too young for a star to build her career on sex appeal?
Today, the image of the black Lolita is popular. Even Rihanna, who is barely out of her teens, is frequently seen wearing only lingerie and stilettos in her music videos and magazine photo spreads. Young African American girls are getting the message sex sells in the entertainment industry. In thise ‘glamorization of the stripper’ culture, the industry is telling young black women that their bodies are for sale, on some level. "You should tip her. You should tip her", says the singer in The Dream, a popular hip-hop song, "Shawty is a 10.
"There are very few teenaged black female role models in the industry. Raven Symone and Keke Palmer are among the very few squeaky clean images. Unlike their caucasian counterparts who can easily turn to Nickelodeon, Disney or even MTV (i.e., Lauren of The Hills) to find good girl role models, young black girls are being fed images of sexy, barely-legal-age video girls.
A recent study by the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory Center of AIDS Research, School of Medicine at Emory University and the University of Alabama concludes that watching hip hop music videos on a regular basis can lead to promiscuity and alcohol abuse in teen African American girls. The study says girls who frequently watch these videos are more likely to have multiple sex partners, drink regularly and have a negative body image.
This is not surprising. Anyone who has seen these videos knows they glamorize alcohol and casual sex. If parents would just listen to the lyrics and watch the images of scantily-clad women of color, they would quickly change the channel. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out if you're watching a music video or a documentary about what happens in a strip club.
It is time for the African American public to speak up and demand a more diverse images of black women. We should spread the word about good-quality entertainment featuring our young people. One such show is Lincoln Heights.
Lincoln Heights is a great show. It is not cookie cutter, stereotypical, urban drama. Its characters are complex and intriguing. The two young female characters are examples of positive images for young black girls. Lincoln Heights airs Tuesday on ABC Family Channel at 8 PM Eastern time. Watch it with your kids. You will be pleasantly surprised.