As a network developed to provide a new platform for music’s developing stars, MTV changed the lives of countless young artists looking for a break into the industry. During the 90s, MTV featured shows that primarily emphasized music: Yo! MTV also designed programming that focused on broader topics, like MTV News, in an effort to round out its offerings.
For twenty-five years, young people from different geographic locations and with varying backgrounds came together in cities throughout the country for our viewing pleasure, making The Real World the first successful reality television show broadcasted in America. The Real World was modeled after Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place, as an alternative to major network soap operas targeting middle-aged women. What later becomes typical behavior amongst The Real World castmates was exciting and fresh during its 1992 debut (and for a few seasons thereafter). Future roommates, almost always from various upbringings and of different ethic backgrounds, would confront similar issues: race, gender discrimination, differences concerning sexual orientation, political beliefs, body image issues, and religion.
The Real World may be credited as the pioneering reality television program, and its influence remains evident in various popular “reality” TV shows on various networks.
Bunim and Murray’s reality TV formula allowed for an organic plot-development (although film was edited to help establish a traceable storyline), and the issues the casts encountered mimicked situations relatable to the audience.
Nonetheless, our favorite reality starlets are also feeling a little shade from their fanbases, too. Because of a history of oppression, subservience, dispossession of the body, abuse, malicious sexual intrigue, and marginalization by American at-large, we may question if Black reality TV supports or disrupts the perpetual race- and gender-based pursuit of acknowledgement, acceptance, and encouragement of Black women (and other women of color) in society.
Every decade has its musical era or movement with which it is equated, and the 90s was no different. With the increased popularity of hip hop culture in the 1980s, it was only right that women took their rightful places at this musical table.
Although many of the first female emcees hailed from the northeast of the United States, in 1994 a young woman who would come to be known as Da Brat released her debut album that sold over a million copies making her the first female hip hop artist to go platinum (March). Forty-three years after the heinous lynching of the young African American teenager, Emmett Till, America witnessed again how racism is still extremely present in the American south and how it is the driving force of such brutality that claimed the life of James Byrd, Jr.
As a result of James Byrd’s death and the death of Matthew Shepard, another hate-crime that took place in 1998, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. On April 13, 1997, 21-year-old Tiger Woods became the first person of African and Asian decent to win the golf Masters at Augusta National in Georgia. Not only did Tiger Woods win the Masters, but he also broke a record by scoring the lowest in the tournaments history.
On July 29, 1997, an interview between Tiger Woods and Oprah Winfrey aired that caused many African Americans to see their golf champion in a different light. By 1999 Star Trek had been revived into three overlapping series that increasingly diversified. The mid 1990s transformed Will Smith from fun loving teen flirt in the family comedy series Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996) into sci-fi action hero in the summer blockbuster Independence Day (1996) (making him one of highest grossing black celebrities in Hollywood).
Hyper masculinized black men were finally saving the world on sci-fi screens, instead of being killed-off or sidestepped. Strangely, the 2000s has brought rather conservative reboots of the original Star Trek series. In our discussion of 90s Black experiences and cultural expressions, the concept of Sankofa is important to consider for both reflection and analysis.
For African Americans, in-depth studies of both our historical and current experiences in this country reveal ongoing, consistent reenactments of this Sankofa concept.
From this position, I wanted to tackle the concept of Afrocentricity – which as a term became prominent in the 1980s and 90s.
These tropes are a testament to the simplified nature of discussions and expressions relating to what are considered Afrocentric theories and praxis. In looking at the long history of our people in this country, and in the African Diaspora, we have infinite examples of resistance to oppression, reapplication of cultural expressions and innovative methods of growth and renewal. MTV Raps, MTV Unplugged, Alternative Nation, Club MTV, and Total Request Live are several programs that linked the entertainers and fans together by giving the fans control over what content aired. The network’s longest running series, MTV’s The Real World, highlighted the day-to-day lives of young people from various backgrounds living together in a predetermined city. Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray, the show’s creators, opted for the “reality” format of The Real World, because their budget didn’t allow for writers, set design, actors, etc. The thirteen episodes of Season One show Becky, Kevin, Heather, Julie, Andre, Eric and Norman working through romance, sex, illness, familial relationships, and social issues. While there’s a show out there for a number of interests—meant quite literally, as every network, from HGTV to The History Channel, offers some reality-based series— few strike more intrigue than those offering insight into Black culture. As The Real World progressed, audiences criticized producers for what many perceived as scripted conflicts and contrived conversations. Ratings for many shows reflect a decline in viewership over the years, and in an effort to remain relevant, many storylines have expanded far too far away from “reality” (Do they have to fight every week?). SWV told us that the love of the right man can make you “Weak” in the knees, and that sometimes women are willing to do whatever it takes to find out if “[He’s] The One”.  Xscape helped us find someone “to run to when [we] need love”, and also gave us permission to keep a “Little Secret” but only if he’s worth it.
Valladares as saying, ‘“Nelson Mandela will actually be in Harlem… He reminds me of Martin Luther King… He fought for his people. Many female emcees, or rappers as they would come to be known, saw the 1990s as their opportunity at stardom.
They spoke out about how women should be treated, and the respect that they deserve as part of society and the rapidly growing hip hop genre. Eve: First Lady of Ruff Ryders, Missy Elliott, and Lauryn Hill diverged in different directions as they diversified the hip hop genre.
Many were oblivious to the possibility that hate crimes, such as chaining an innocent man to the back of a truck and dragging him for miles was still a threat in the 21st century, but James Byrd, Jr.’s death proved otherwise. The win was a pivotal moment in history for African Americans because the race finally received well-deserved recognition in the sport.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) still centered on a white hero, Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), but it gave significant airtime to Lieutenant Commander La Forge (LeVar Burton of Roots and Reading Rainbow acclaim) and also introduced Worf (Michael Dorn), the only Klingon in Starfleet (though, I admit, the racial implications of Klingons might be problematic).


Smith followed Independence Day with two other sci-fi hits, Men in Black (1997) and Enemy of the State (1998). Uhura, now played by Zoe Salada, is still a supporting character and plays a marginal role on the Enterprise. Sankofa is a Twi term from the Akan peoples of mainly Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa. There are many conflicting interpretations of this term, and its often conflated with Afrocentrism, African-centered thought, “Afro-“ vs.
For some it’s wearing traditional African clothing, for others it’s adopting African names – or also re-identifying with an African ethnic group or spiritual system.
Viewing them all as equally important to consider keeps us from developing an essentialist trait of prioritizing some experiences over others: resulting in an Afrocentric definition that may confine, stereotype and simplify.
These empires were located in the general area from the West African coast to as far north as Mali, and as far west as Chad. I remember being 6-7 years old and going to an independent school called Lotus Academy in Philadelphia. With this imagery in academia, Black students tied this tradition to the charge to represent one’s family, community and ancestry – to learn about their past to create new solutions for the modern era.
In 1998, President Bill and Hillary Clinton display their kente print during their Ghana visit. This larger theme is evident in a recent Ladybug magazine entry: an arts and crafts project of picture frame decoration.
MTV’s popularity anchored itself in the young viewership of teens and young adults between the ages of 18-25; the pride of the network centered around creating a space dedicated to youth popular culture and the decade’s hottest rappers, rockers, and pop stars.
When Norman and Eric sided with Julie, Kevin pointed to race as the underpinning for Norman and Eric’s alignment with Julie, but Julie sited what she determined as Kevin’s past record of aggressive behavior as the justification for her sentiments.
Roman, later star of VH1’s Basketball Wives) and David Edwards divide the house after what begins as a prank targeting Tami.
More specifically, many shows feature African-American women feigning friendships, chasing men, and digging into entrepreneurial endeavors. And more troubling, for some, is what’s frequently cited as a collective misrepresentation of Black woman and the threat of conveying a distasteful, inaccurate message to young Black girls about Black womanhood in America.
90s r&b music was so emotionally charged ranging from happy in love to brokenhearted to just getting down to the nitty gritty. The likes of Foxy Brown and Lil Kim opened the doorway for female hip hop artists to be as sexually and verbally explicit as their male counterparts.
The rough around the edges, Philadelphia native, and only female member of the Ruff Ryders crew immediately came in marking her musical territory. On June 7, 1998 in Jasper, Texas, 49-year-old James Byrd was walking home from his parent’s house when he accepted a ride from three white men, Shawn Berry, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and John King. The law criminalizes violent acts (and attempts to commit violent acts undertaken with a dangerous weapon) when those acts occur because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person. Romero’s original The Night of the Living Dead (1968), is shot by the police at the end of the film. Alfre Woodard played 21st century science and WWIII survivor, Lily Sloane, in Star Trek: First Contact (1996) and Gloria Foster played The Oracle in The Matrix. Yet, Dwight Ewell’s performance of “Hooper X”, a black queer comic book artist who pretends to be both masculine and militant, in Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy (1997) remains seminal. The word is a verb meaning “to go back and fetch:” to retrieve important items previously lost, forgotten or stolen.
In the United States, the respect-based process of learning about our families, communities and their solution-building strategies has helped us to overcome all obstacles to survive and go forward.
In our yearly closing graduation, students would wear kente sashes, kufis, bow ties and skirts for girls. Black sitcoms, performances and Kwanzaa specials frequently featured characters who were up on the latest trends, wearing dashikis, kufis, lappas (waistwraps) and headwraps.
Colors and shapes in Kente are used to prompt young readers to think about the unity in difference amongst their own family members (Kapp 2007). The show’s first season was set in New York City and filmed over a three-month period, with each cast member receiving $2,600 for appearing on the show. Race plays a factor is several episodes, with Kevin Powell leading many conversations that highlight divisions within the house.
The parties later reached some type of amicable resolution, but this episode created a precedent later followed by other seasons, where not only race, but religion, gender, and sexual orientation often divided the castmates. The incident escalated to a physical confrontation between the cast members, ultimately resulting in the decision to remove David from the house. And no Black reality TV show is complete until an episode features a shade-throwing-, tea-spilling-, let-me-get-you-together-type confrontation. She always gave me my props.”’ But they were self-destructive together and toxic for one another as both struggled with substance abuse. Missy Elliott hailing from Portsmouth, VA arrived on the scene with her futuristic concepts and vivid musical metaphors. Although Byrd and Berry were associates who knew each other from around the small town, Byrd was not acquainted with King or Brewer. In the context of one’s culture, the idea of Sankofa requires one to both re-learn and adapt crucial skills, collective understandings and overall lessons from his or her ancestors. This happens to the point where the idea of someone being “Afrocentric” entails a host of stereotypical tropes, caricaturing and misunderstandings.
Conversely, many researchers of African and African Diasporic value systems, knowledge bases and cultures have sought to identify common threads amongst these intricate systems, in an attempt to create blueprints for strategic unification, productive cultural alliances, and community building for liberation and ultimate sovereignty. This empowers us to progress with the informed appreciation and application of our African retentions, forms of knowledge and practices.
Cole, author of Icons: Ideals and Power in African Art (Smithsonian Institution publication), the term Kente may be a corruption of the Fanti word for “basket” – alluding to the hand-weaving process.


We would march in the auditorium to Freedom Songs, chants of encouragements originally sung during the Civil Rights Movement.
Kente Colors, written by Debbi Chocolate and illustrated by John Ward, introduces small children to their basic colors – matched with poetry and elaborate illustrations of West African life scenes and kente-weaving (Chocolate 1997). And in New York, things got really real (well, at least according to mainstream TV content in the 90s). His (in)famous confrontation with roommate Julie Gentry demonstrates the organic manner in which controversy arose, making the episodes worth watching. The show’s best moments are those credited for opening up tough conversations among young people.
Though it made for good music, both were on a downward spiral until the hit rock bottom, but the love they shared will always be unmatched. Lauryn Hill whose sultry voice bridged hip hop and r and b, female emcees of the 1990s were a force to be reckoned with.
From the hood beat of Kim’s chart toppers to the island vibe of Foxy’s club bangers, these female emcees publicly gave women permission to live life adulterated and unapologetically uncut as they spit lyrics only previously heard by men and dressed in a manner which left little to the imagination. James Byrd was unaware that both men were affiliated with white supremacists groups formed in prison.
Fox played single mother, exotic dancer, and Will Smith’s love interest in Independence Day. From this process, it is understood that the person who does the “fetching” receives the power from those “items” of knowledge. This is particularly evident in popular media of this time, as well as public reaction in many Black communities. All of the actions mentioned in this paragraph are interlinked, and are products of individuals making either informed or uninformed choices to change their lives in a way that reconnects them to a cultural source.
Our grandmothers and grandfathers may have experienced hell (in various class statuses and locations, obvious and hidden torments included), but at the same time, honoring our African ancestors teaches us that the experiences of our most recent African American relatives are valid and worthy or respect, honor and consideration.
Mandela was one to be admired and revered for his efforts in the anti-apartheid movement, and his presence in my hometown as I made my way into the world always keeps me tied to this historical moment. They enlightened the world about important issues such as the respect of women, female equality, sexism, and social injustices in the “hood”, while simultaneously displaying sensuality and sex appeal. Lauryn Hill only female member of the group The Fugees (Refugees) that spoke to social consciousness.
Despite the lack of remorse from Brewer, Byrd’s family members wanted to spare the lives of Brewer, King and Berry surprisingly. The prevalence of these tropes in other mainstream sci-fi series and films suggests that, in the words of Womack, “in the artistic renderings of the future by pop culture standards, people of color weren’t factors at all” (7). Angela Basset won Best Actress at the Saturn Awards in 1995 for her role of Lornette “Mace” Mason in the film Strange Days (1995); Basset also played opposite Eddie Murphy in Vampire in Brooklyn (1995). The ultimate goal of this retrieval is for one to then project themselves and their descendants into the future, working from informed positions of self-reflection, self-knowledge and self-determination. At the same time, we need to continuously reevaluate our ideas, and challenge ourselves to avoid recreating limiting, dogmatic or one-dimensional systems of cultural expression – where one organization deems themselves “more African” or “more Afrocentric” than the next, based on attire, ideology, spiritual practices, how many visits to Africa they made or how many books they’ve read on Black history. We should see them as active participants, not passive bystanders, in our history and cultural development.
Each design has a distinct name, with proverbs associated with particular patterns – wearing particular colors and shapes sends specific messages you want viewers to understand. Wearing kente symbolized that we were continuations of these ideas, the charge that we could reinvent and achieve greatness as our ancestors did. Her warm, embracing voice and old school hip hop vibe allowed her to bridge the gap between genres and generations. James Byrd’s son, Ross Byrd initially supported the death penalty for his father’s killers, until he had a change of heart, opposing all capital punishment. This is true especially considering the marginalization and oppression they faced, how they either thrived or psychologically crumbled as a result, and the sacrifices they all made for us to both be here AND have the privilege to operate in learning spaces to obtain further knowledge that was often hidden from them. Among the Asante and Ewe, kente was often associated with and reserved for chieftains and royal figures – fabric trades with Europeans provided materials for locals to rework into traditional designs. Her debut solo album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” earned her five Grammy awards at the 1999 awards show. In particular, black men were given more representation and occupied more positions of power in futuristic settings.
Unlike the 1980s and 90s, kente wasn’t originally sewn into garments for everyday wear (Cole 1990).
Female emcees definitely made their mark on hip hop history and paved the way for artists on the future. Many reports have claimed that Byrd was conscious throughout the entire ordeal, until he was decapitated. The amount family members of victims killed by hate-crimes driven by racism who oppose capital punishment has grown in recent years. This historical perspective gives greater context to the recent boom in kente cloth wear, and the newer ideas associated with these designs. The three men drove for another mile or so before leaving Byrd’s torso in front of an African American church. After Byrd’s torso was discovered by church members the following morning, and the investigation began, it was reported that police found Byrd’s remains in 81 different places along that road.
The answer lies in supporting those who grieve for their lost loved ones, not creating more grieving families.



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