The Oxygen network announced it’s latest reality TV offering “All My Babies’ Mamas” and before the first show has even aired there has been a whirlwind of controversy surrounding the series. AMBM is apparently about rapper Shawty Lo (I had never heard of a “Shawty Lo” before, but apparently it exists) and his babies…and his babies’ mamas. This man has 11 children by 10 different women and now Oxygen will air a reality TV show about…well, whatever happens to a dude who has happily impregnated 10 different women.
My first reaction was the same as my fellow blogger Nadra (AKA Cap Black) expressed when he first heard of the show: “Pardon me while I exhale a ragged sigh.” However, after thinking on it a bit I couldn’t help but wonder if this might be a good thing. Perhaps the show will be shot as more of a cautionary tale, an expose on the attitudes and practices that have ailed the Black community for far too long.
My question is this: Is this show painting a brutally honest picture of Black life? Is that what we need to wake up the general population to the absolute degradation that has befallen our community? The modern Hollywood version of Blacks is that we are sages, helpers, wise but poor, intelligent but put-upon. Or we’re cool and collected, smooth and sassy and filled with common sense – always available to help the white girl out of her self-induced chaos with a quick wit and some killer advice; all given with a “chicken-head” roll of the neck and snap of the fingers. It’s the Bagger Vance/Nene Leakes complex. Any way you cut it, Hollywood has made us out to be the common sense crusaders, but if you look at our communities we are anything but that. Our families are in disarray, nearly nonexistent these days. We live in poverty in our inner cities and a disproportionate percentage of our population is dependent on government for our sustenance. We have the highest unemployment rate of any ethnic group in America and the highest abortion rate. The highest dropout rate and the highest rate of incarcerated males.
In other words, we’re a mess! But Hollywood won’t show that mess. Black folks get upset when you try to talk honestly about our mess, ala Bill Cosby. Now, we don’t all have 11 kids but many of us have multiple kids by multiple partners. That is not at all unusual. What is unusual is a couple like my husband and I, who had no children before we married, actually got married, and then had children.
I once was talking to a young black woman about how my husband and I were trying for another baby and she was shocked. She said to me, “You see, I find that really hard to get my head around. I’ve never known anyone who did that. Get married first and then plan a family? It blows my mind.” That was an actual conversation I had. I am not taking it out of context or embellishing. This woman was 33 years old with two children from two fathers and had recently married for the first time. It is people like my husband and I who are the exception in the Black community, not the other way around (this is not bragging; I say this with a heavy heart).
With this recent, never-ending glut of reality television, perhaps it’s time we started showing the world what life is really like for too many of us; that would be the ideal scenario of this show. However, I’m not that naïve. Considering Oxygen has made it’s brand on the back of it’s infamous reality show “Bad Girls Club” I don’t hold out much hope for AMBM being an intelligent exploration of the plight of the black family in America. I suspect it will end up being another “Teen Mom” type show. MTV’s show about teenage mothers was originally hailed as that cautionary tale meant to show young women the ugly, difficult side to early sex and motherhood. Yesterday, I saw a magazine cover about “Farrah’s new $20K body make-over!”. Farrah is a “Teen Mom”. The show has actually made these young women rich and famous. So now they’re still idiots–just idiots with a lot of money and living under the stressful microscope of the public eye. MTV went from airing a cautionary tale to glamorizing what is really a tragic American epidemic. I feel confident that AMBM will turn out to be exactly this type of show.
I hope I’m not right. One of my biggest sorrows in life is to see the downfall of the Black community. We literally helped build a nation on our backs. There is a pretty good argument to make that Black culture is actually the purest form of “American” culture. Other American ethnicities can directly tie their culture to other countries. But think of all that Black Americans have offered – in the music world, for example. Jazz, rap, gospel – across the globe these are considered AMERICAN art forms. We did that! And now we have Shawty Lo and babies’ mamas. I’m with Cap Black. I’m sighing and shaking my head. I want us to be known for what we’ve built, not what we’ve destroyed. It doesn’t look like Oxygen is going to do anything in any way to help us meet that end. Not this season, at least.