Black Girls Rock! and the Politics of Empowerment

Open Access
Wheeler, Sika Adzo
Graduate Program:
Media Studies
Master of Arts
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
May 19, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Matthew Paul Mcallister, Thesis Advisor
  • Michelle Lyn Rodino, Committee Member
  • Denise Sevick Bortree, Committee Member
  • black girls
  • empowerment
  • youth
  • girlhood
  • black feminism
  • black entertainment television
  • television
  • race
  • gender
  • celebrity
  • misogynoir
  • black girls rock
In the contemporary moment in popular culture, there seems to be an increase in media messages targeted toward Black women and girls under the notion of “empowerment.” This is a shift from a history of racist, misogynist representations of Black femininity in visual culture but not without complications. This thesis explores these notions of empowerment as portrayed through a case study of the BET awards program Black Girls Rock!. Using textual analysis of the program as well as of online feminist responses to the program, this study presents a way of understanding the challenges to engaging in authentic Black girl empowerment through popular media. While such programs extend the efforts of Black feminist scholars and activists by doing the important work of resisting the abundance of negative representation in visual media with positive affirmation for Black women and girls, these efforts still render Black girls as helpless and perpetually at-risk. Even in online responses, the overwhelming focus on proving why Black women should be empowered as a response to social media backlash is a distraction from focusing on enacting a process of empowerment for Black girls. In conversation with Black feminism, media studies, girl studies, and emerging scholarship on Black girlhood, this study considers how best to understand the changing landscape of media culture in terms of race, gender, and youth empowerment.