This whole post came about because my friend Jackie and I were lazing around and flipped onto some Reality Show countdown on VH1. It was showing the fight on the Surreal Lifebetween Omarosa & Janice Dickinson. I said to my friend “Y’know I kinda like Omarosa”. Her response? “Me too.”
So we started to toss ideas back and forth, not only for why we really like Omarosa but also why other people seem to have this unspoken but powerful need to hate her. It really comes down to our society’s view of women and the view of black women in particular.
Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth burst onto our TV screens on the Donald Trump reality show Apprenticeand though she didn’t end up with the big prize we all heard about her. Omarosa was the villainess, the bitch, the evil player that everyone loved to hate, but my question always was why? I enjoy some reality shows (though they are usually more frivolous that Apprentice) so I tuned in for a couple episodes way back when to watch this black woman that had all my friends talking.
And honestly I didn’t understand the hate.
I saw a smart business woman. I saw a woman who had been immersed in the shark-filled waters of the business world and had discovered how to swim. Let’s be completely honest, the backroom dealing, the harsh attitude, the need to have everything her way and not compromise on what she thought was right, all of those things wouldn’t have gotten a blink, let alone intense media coverage had she been a white man. I mean how often are White Male Reality Villains heard about and known beyond the bounds of fans of that show? Almost never and when they do they fade quickly from public consciousness, anyone not a fan of Survivorstill remember Johnny Fairplay? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Yet Omarosa became a household name and achieved heights few others have aspired to…being known by only one name.
Look at the “character flaws” generally attached to her, the reasons for hating her given are usually something along the lines of: “bitch” “bossy” “aggressive” “angry” “defensive” “not able to get along with others” “liar” these are very similar (exactly the same in some cases) to the accusations constantly thrown at African-American women within our society, the constant stereotype of the overbearing, controlling black woman.
Let me get back to what inspired this post, the altercation on television, specifically the other combatant: Janice DIckinson. Janice is frequently described with the same kind of epithets as Omarosa, yet she is very rarely has the vitriol pointed at her that is constantly pointed at Omarosa. In fact she profits off the perception of her as a “bitch”, gaining not one but two shows of her own after parting ways with America’s Next Top Model: The Janice Dickinson Modelling Agency and Abbey & Janice: Beauty & The Beast. So why? Why does Dickinson get show deals and lauded as a fashion/queer icon where anytime Omarosa is talked about it’s in terms of negativity, she’s called chickenhead, people “pull an Omarosa”, she’s used as a measuring line for the villainy of reality show contestants.
This “bitchyness” that’s such an iconic personality trait for a white woman and yet for a black woman it makes her hated world-wide? A lot of it has to do with perception of black women in America and Omarosa’s history of success. When a Woman of any Color is not submissive and stands up for herself (especially against a white man and especially on a reality show) she’s a villain or unreasonable or stupid or a bitch but they don’t all get as famous as Omarosa has. Part of that could simply be the wide response/audience of the first Apprentice but I think much of it has to do with her history. She worked in the Clinton/Gore administration and has a history in business, hell the very fact the Trump picked her for his show gives her a lot of business cred. Mainstream America cannot write her off like they do many of the other Women of Color they see on their television, they know that her approach does work to some degree, that she has known success.
Let’s look at the perception of businesswomen. What is the constant image America gets of the successful business woman through our media? That she is someone who uses/used sex to get ahead or at the very least someone who is highly sexualized (if she’s traditionally beautiful). I could list multiple movies and TV shows where this is the case such as Sex & The City, Ally McBeal, Women’s Murder Club…etc.
When we combine that view with the already highly sexualized view of African-American Women in our current society, it’s fireworks or ignorance all over the place. We as a society are conditioned to expect Omarosa to use her sexuality, to not be successful but she breaks these “rules”. She does not use her sexuality at all in fact. She comes to the show (and every appearance we see her in) hard and she comes with a highly developed sense of self and her own worth.
The automatic response to this woman breaking through our expected perceptions of her seems to be anger and hate. That anger becomes focused on things she does that when looked at objectively are actually no worse than anything contestants in the same episode or on other reality shows have done hundreds of times. Yes there might have been some lying, some backstabbing, some ambition on her part but isn’t that the point of reality shows? That’s at the base of all reality shows, trying to show that you (or your team) is the best and sorely deserves the top prize.
There will of course always be some who’ll claim that the hatred targeted at Omarosa has nothing to do with gender or race but in that case I’m still waiting for them to explain to me the hatred that Omarosa’s name invokes. And why that same hate is directed at ‘ole whats-his-name, you know the one I mean, the one from Big Brother…
I feel that I actually could have gone on for a couple more posts about Omarosa by expanding everything in this post but I have training at work today and no time in which to do it. Plus I promised y’all a post on Omarosa this week but I might come back to this essay later, consider it an early draft.