[Editor's Note 1/16/2013: The Grio reports that Oxygen has cancelled "All My Babies' Mamas". --Grace]
When the Oxygen Network announced All My Babies' Mamas -- a one-hour special on C-list, Atlanta-based hip-hop artist Carlos "Shawty Lo" Walker and his relationships with 10 former girlfriends, 11 children, and his current 19-year-old girlfriend -- black bloggers and online commentators raised the usual concerns. How will this show make the rest of us (black folks) look? Will it provide a horrible example for our children? Will it exploit a pervasive and problematic issue, the high rate of single-parent homes in black communities?
June 3, 2007 - Shawty Lo pictured arriving on the red carpet for the 2008 BET Awards in Hollywood California at the Shrine Auditourium on 6-26-08 © Sophia Jones.K58922SJO.(Credit Image: © Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com)
Calling for people to "Sign today to tell Oxygen that their viewers will not tolerate a show that exploits and stereotypes Black children and families, and we will boycott any advertiser who chooses to support the show," Sabrina Lamb started a petition to get the show cancelled. As of January 8, the petition has over 28,000 signatures attached.
Reality TV producers have been benefiting from human dysfunction for almost two decades. Not only do viewers demand to see the ugliest aspects of human interaction and narcissism, there is an unending supply of eager participants. Who knows if their dysfunctionality is authentic, or if they play up their ratchetness in the hopes of launching themselves into a legitimate acting career? What can you do?
While we do not know how this unconventional family is actually faring, All My Babies’ Mamas raises some important issues within black communities. I did not see the full trailer before Oxygen removed it, but you can see snippets on She Knows Entertainment. In her writeup on Beyond Black and White, Christelyn Karazin says that the 10 baby mamas seem to depict black women as "desperate and mulish, running after men and begging for scraps.”
In fact, one of the main complaints I've read -- beyond Shawty Lo’s actions -- is how these women represent black communities in the public sphere. By choosing to have children out of wedlock and living under the same roof as the other mothers, they are chastised by other black women for not maintaining their respectability. Instead, they reinforce prevalent racial and sexual stereotypes, which leads to the old adage: Should black women eschew their individuality in order to present a conservative image to the discerning public? In the fall of 2012, Writer Tami Winfrey Harris wrote an excellent article for Bitch Magazine on respectability politics. She argues that these beliefs hinder women from being expressing their individuality outside of what is considered "appropriate" for black women to behave in both their public and private lives.
"...work(ing) to counter negative views of blackness by aggressively adopting the manners and morality that the dominant culture deems 'respectable'. The approach emerged in reaction to white racism that labeled blackness as “other”—degenerate and substandard—with roots in an assimilationist narrative that prevailed in the late-19th-century United States. Black activists and allies believed that acceptance and respect for African-Americans would come by showing the majority culture “we are just like you."
I’m sure these women recognize that living under the same roof with the other “baby mamas” is unconventional and looked down upon by society -- though in some ways, their living arrangement is actually quite smart. This way, all the children can grow up knowing their siblings and have easier access to financial support than if they were scattered across 10 homes. If Shawty Lo lives in the house, he is probably spending more time with his children than if he would if they were all living separately. Maybe the women are participating in this hot mess for practical reasons. After all, their arrangement gives them access to financial resources, an extended family, and from the looks of it, a pretty nice home. In theory, they are doing what they need to do and if Oxygen Network is paying them for appearing in the special, financial gain is certainly a motivator.
Appearances aside, the contentions surrounding the show reveal some real problems in society. Black communities are often considered as a monolithic entity by mainstream culture. And as Karazin points out, the number of black children being born out of wedlock -- and the residual emotional and financial effects of those experiences -- are problematic.
The show might actually succeed in shedding light on the self-esteem of women who enter into these relationships. Why are they not using birth control? Did they feel pressured not to use protection or to bear children in order to be with Shawty? There is an obvious problem in terms of how the women -- even those just watching and judging at home-- see their own self-worth, as Mother of Color writes:
"Instead of gawking at the circus atmosphere these people live in and pointing cameras at the carnage their poor choices and low self-esteem have wrought, why not examine the issues and predicaments that produced this lopsided pimping of young women?"
For some, reason, we don’t want to do that. If we did, shows like The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Basketball Wives would not be on the air. It seems there will always be women willing to perpetuate 'hood behavior for cash. The propensity to turn on another woman for the decisions a man makes is also a problem -- it's as though these women find it easier to bash each other than face the ire of a disrespectful man... who is clearly disrespecting them.
In a statement, the Oxygen network claimed that its goal was to find "unique families," and by implied that, because their creative executives are presumably culturally diverse, racial stereotyping was not a motive in the development of the program. An Oxygen spokesperson told the Inquisitr:
“Oxygen's one-hour special in development is not meant to be a stereotypical representation of everyday life for any one demographic or cross section of society. It is a look at one unique family and their complicated, intertwined life. Oxygen Media’s diverse team of creative executives will continue developing the show with this point of view.”
For the rest of us, the viewing public and online commentators, remember this: It's easier to post a comment and judge a stranger than it is to take the time to educate our little girls -- or to acknowledge that we, as adults, also carry some of the same insecurities as the women that we mock. This also means taking responsibility.
We women need to take ownership over our own reproductive systems. As easy as it is to revile Shawty Lo, the truth is this: If it weren’t for dysfunctionally willing women, there wouldn’t be any baby mamas. We also have to realize that until people -- and not just African-Americans -- but people from other cultural communities choose not to pimp out race, class or cultural stereotypes for profit, there is no use feigning outrage over issues that we do nothing about in real life.
Contributing Editor - Race, Ethnicity & Culture
Blog: Writing is Fighting: www.lainad.typepad.com
My book, What Are you Doing Here? A Black Woman's Life and Liberation is out now!
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