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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Western Media’s Commodification and Consumption of African Women: A Review of Three News Channels


Historically, western media perpetuate ideas about race and ethnicity that marginalize women of color, particularly African women. Beginning with the ‘savage’ and promiscuous images during colonial era and moving to images of despair, deprivation and helplessness represented in contemporary news and print media, western views continue to reproduce distorted images of African women. These images provide a rather complicated and problematic relationship between the representations of African women in western media, and western notions of self. These complications and (mis)representations are not incidental. They mutate in the several contradictions and ambivalence through which Africa is generally perceived as “primitive”. In this configuration, African women are not just homogenized, they are ‘commodified’ and consumed by western audiences. This homogenization effectively ignores the agency and variations of African women whose identities and realities do not fit into western media representations and discourses on them. In examining images of African women on National Geographic Channel (NGC), Cable News Network (CNN), British Broadcast Corporation (BBC), and other news media, I argue that these images valorize western “masculine gaze, and dichotomously define African women, not just against western women, but through a nexus of deprivation, and “primitivism”. This paper attempts to problematize these homogenized and Eurocentric media images that shape western perceptions of African women. Drawing upon postcolonial feminists’ perspectives, the central purpose of this paper is to explicate the cultural implications of depicting African women as homogenous helpless victims of their cultures; and to discuss how/why cultural hegemony has become so pervasive in western media.

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