all my baby mama's

Sometime this spring, the Oxygen network will air a program called All My Babies’ Mamas, featuring someone called Shawty Lo. You probably already know this because a press release and video leak last week (video since removed) caused the heads of good black folk to explode all over the interwebs. You could hear the pop from space. The one-hour special documents Shawty, 31, whose mama named him Carlos Walker, and his relationships with his 11 children, their 10 mothers, and his newest, a 19-year-old girlfriend. Oh, and in the spirit of Flavor of Love, the women on the show will have their identities erased in favor of nicknames like “Fighter Baby Mama,” “First Lady,” and “Bougie Baby Mama.”

Lord, pass me my smelling salts.

The impending debut of All My Babies’ Mamas has been met with some predictable responses: A petition urging Oxygen to shelve the special and a whole lot of people vowing never, ever to let their eyeballs see this shitshow. But two reactions I find troubling: black shame and a heap of demeaning talk about single-parent and nontraditional families.

The “Ban All My Babies’ Mamas” petition, which, as I’m writing, has 73 signatures on Change.org, calls for the Oxygen show to be canceled for demeaning black women, girls, and children and stereotyping black men. I have no doubt the show will do all these things. And — make no mistake — the show’s creative team, Liz Gateley and Tony DiSanto, mean for this to be so. Nearly every reality show, from Here Comes Honey Boo Boo to Love & Hip-Hop, is built on the exploitation and promotion of bias and stereotype.

A few months ago, when I spoke to author and media analyst Jennifer Pozner about Honey Boo Boo, she said, “You can almost hear TLC saying, ‘Step right up to the Poverty Voyeurism Comedy Tour!’.” In this case, the message is undoubtedly, “Come see a dysfunctional, black family up close!” Or maybe, “Live, unmarried, over-sexed black women!” Or, “In this ring: triflin’, black sperm donors!” And we know — because racism works this way — that Oxygen’s stereotype-pimping will make black lives just that much harder, as we are judged by the actions of a man and women that have nothing at all to do with the rest of us.

But that doesn’t mean that we have to accept the stigmas that racism foist upon us. A commenter named Tay on Shadow and Act wrote:

This IS an unacceptable embarrassment to the black community, not to mention for women in general. We need to STOP acting like this – and we for damn sure need to STOP acting like this IN PUBLIC. We need to stop condoning this type of behavior with our financial support AND/OR with our silence. We complain about white people treating us like we are all lazy and ignorant and violent and on welfare and constantly out there making babies, etc… BUT THAT IS ALL THAT THEY SEE IN THE MEDIA. And we the black community continue to pour our money into supporting the very idiots (like this moron, and Chris Brown, OJ, pretty much the entire NBA….) who constantly throw us under the bus. The media-driven minstrel show needs. to. stop!!!!

There is a lot wrong with this comment, but let me focus on the idea that black Americans should be embarrassed by this show, that All My Babies’ Mamas is an illustration that African-Americans need to “do better.”

No.

Stop owning the idea of black dysfunction. Stop repeating that “we” act this or that way. Stop believing that every ill-advised or socially unacceptable act of an individual black person (or 20 black people or 1,000) is a blight on the whole of the black community or YOU personally. Stop pretending that all black behavior is endorsed by the black collective. That racist America thinks this way is no endorsement. But taking to comments sections to proclaim loudly your disgrace at how other black people are living is an endorsement of credit-to-your-race type thinking as well as the idea that the caricatures the media treat us to really are representative of our race.

Stop it with the black shame. Shawty Lo is not the black community. If the white guys over on Gawker aren’t hanging their heads over Mick Jagger, his many children, and their mothers, then you can still hold your head high in a world where Shawty Lo and “Fighter Baby Mama” exist.

I know what you’re about to say: “But … but … but … 72 percent of black children born out of wedlock!” Right. The face of family is evolving all over the world — not just in America and not just among black people. Marriage rates are at an all-time low in the United States and across Europe. Rates of cohabitation and children born to unmarried parents are up. And these combined statistics don’t always add up to economic and social decay. (Hello, Sweden!) We need to begin figuring out how to adapt to these changes. And if you want to, you can lament that the changes are occurring. But here’s what you can’t do: pretend that Shawty Lo and his family are representative of single-parent or nontraditional black families. Because you know damn well they are not.

A News One commenter wrote:

I am glad this is coming on. Like it or not that is a pretty accurate portrayal of black ghetto family life. How many articles have we seen black women say a man is not needed in the home and marriage is not important? This show is the end result of that logic and mindset.

As long as men and women remain silent and black women celebrate baby mama ideology this will continue. “I don’t [need] no man” …  the black community is lost.

Society has been branding black families dysfunctional since the days of Django Unchained on through Lincoln and — boosted by the much-maligned Moynihan Report — all the way up to today. And people like the commenter above, KIR12 on News One, are ever-eager to believe we are what they say we are — no matter how many times all those stories about “welfare queens” and the like get debunked. The media and conservative propagandists (of all races, because we have some black ones, too) constantly serve up aberrations like Shawty Lo’s situation as illustrations of dysfunction and then sit back and say, “I told you so.” That’s some sleight of hand, for sure.

But neither impersonal statistics nor reality TV shows have anything to do with the lives of actual black parents, single or married, co-parenting, or going it alone. It obscures the real discussions we need to have about marriage and poverty and policy and instead taints black mothers, fathers, and their offspring.

For the last year, I have been interviewing black women for a book on marriage and relationships. One participant, raised by a single mother following divorce, told me:

“I am a college grad and am currently working on my master’s. [When people] hear my story about being raised by a single mom, I get all these sympathizing looks and ‘Oh wow, you made it!” pats on the back. It is aggravating. Why would I not make it? … My childhood was excellent and not being raised by both parents did not ruin my existence.”

Another sistah, a never-married 40-something who raised three children as a single mother and has recently joyously welcomed her fourth, says, “Life is what you make it. I am just a regular ol’ sister with kids, making it in today’s world. And I have never been anybody’s ‘baby mama’.”

These are real black women, with authentic and specific family lives and experiences. To erase those real stories — and my story as a married black woman, a proud stepmother to two, and a product of generations of married couples — in favor of a racist reality-show caricature is a bigger sin and a shame than Shawty Lo will ever be. (I have to add that I doubt this show will fairly and accurately portray the actual people involved … but, hey, they signed up for it.)

I’m not going to watch All My Babies’ Mamas because it looks like a hot-buttered racist and sexist mess. (Have I used the word “shitshow” yet?) But my aversion won’t be driven by manipulated embarrassment or a belief in the inherent wrongness of black families of any type.

175 Comments

  1. Tallulah Belle

    Gosh, if that is a picture of all his baby mammas, then he clearly got lucky to land this reality show!! Lord knows he needs the money, the man has a million mouths to feed. I hope they pay him well and he got a good contract with the O network. Before everyone gets all up in arms, I think the terms of his contract and the casts’ compensation needs to be made public. If it’s a good deal, then, let it be. That’s 11 or 12 more black folks off the unemployment rolls. In this day and age, a job is a j-o-b. As they say: Don’t knock the hustle. I mean, folks, if you want dignified programming, read a book. There are still libraries out here. Get off your couch, check out a book, and read it. No one is forcing you to watch this program. As long as they treat him and his family farily, pay them well, and he understands the terms of his contract, whatever.

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    • Anthony

      At the risk of sounding like some redneck, I would rather have Shawty Lo making money on TV than going to jail for non-support or doing something illegal.

      I don’t think this one show will make any difference when it comes to “rachetness.”

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  2. Robbie

    Just because times have changed and that baby mama is something common today does not mean that it is right.

    There is a reason why kids need to have both parents in the household. Those that try to say otherwise are lying to themselves. Yes, you can succeed without a father in the household. I turned out fine. But I did miss growing up without mine.

    I don’t want to be a baby mama and put my future kids in that situation. That is why I refuse to date and be friendly with men that don’t share the same family values that I have on relationships, morality, sex, and children.

    I don’t let the media nor friends tell me how to live my life . Eventhough my parents were never married, I came to value the sanctity of marriage and having chidren next.

    No matter how you want to spin this Shawty lo and his right to have all of these baby mamas and children, it is wrong, wrong and wrong.

    The article mentions a woman who’s 40, has four kids wihouth being married, and she says that she is not a baby mama. What a joke!

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    • I agree! Fewer men are graduating from high school and more are going to prison, should everyone just accept and adapt to that? Just because things are changing doesn’t mean it’s good.

      As far as her Sweden reference, isn’t university free over there and don’t they have free daycare? Just Googled and yes there are free universities and daycare is free. They get a lot of child care there. It makes a big difference so it is way easier to be a single parent, get educated, and therefore get a higher paying job even if you are a single mom. These single moms in Sweden are probably nowhere near as poor as many of the ones in the U.S. I think I read somewhere that most poor families are headed by single moms, not two parent families.

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    • Ashur

      Health and childcare aren’t the end of it in Sweden. The article also does its readers a disservice by acting like the situations in Sweden and black America are very similar. Legal marriage, yes, is more and more unpopular in Sweden, but many if not most of these couples that choose to have children without a marriage license or a religious ceremony still live and act as husband and wife. This is true throughout Northern Europe and increasingly true in Western Europe. This is not the case in black America where the quoted percentage for out of wedlock births does mostly reflect the living situation for these kids.

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    • victoria

      Great comment

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    • I see nothing joyous about being impregnated 4 times by men who didn’t think you were good enough to marry.
      I think it’s sad.
      And the problem with showing black dysfunction in this manner is that to a lot of people this becomes what being “black in America” is all about.
      Like it or not, when the worst elements of black culture are highlighted, you can bet your bottom that it is what people think is typical for black people, and it affects you in large and small ways.
      It impacts how black children are treated in the classroom, it impacts how black people are treated in the workplace, it impacts how you are viewed when you walk through the door for a job interview and it affects how people view you when you walk down the street (sometimes with deadly consequences).
      Racism is not our fault, but also shouldn’t supply racists with so much ammo…it’s really NOT that hard not to put the most ignorant, lowest common denominator on display for the world to see.

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    • the original lol

      this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    • It can also impact what you think of yourself. I grew up in a 2-parent house and felt loved. I imagine a lot of young girls and boys grow up thinking “I must not be that special because my Daddy didn’t love my momma enough to marry her.” I can only imagine what Shawto Lo’s 50-11 kids think knowing they’re on some kind of heirarchy of importance / waiting list for his attention.

      I guess this also comes down to women making better choices in sex partners and doubling up on protection from unplanned pregnancies so that they don’t have to put more innocent children through this confusion.

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  3. OH MY GOOOOOSSHH!!!! I am so tired of people complaining about “we need to watch this or we shouldn’t be watching that.” I’m sick of it! It’s simple as pie. If you don’t like this show or Housewives or Basketball Wives or Love and Hip Hop, then simply TURN THE CHANNEL!! I mean, what’s so hard about that? Look, MANY people are going to watch this show whether you like it or not. There’s a market for stupid shows like this. Just don’t support it if that’s not your thing. I don’t like Mob Wives, Bad Girls Club and some of the other crappy shows out there. I just don’t watch them. Period! I only watch the ones that interest me like Braxton Family Values or Mary Mary’s show.

    When Basketball Wives was the talk of the town earlier this year, people were complaining about Evelyn and Tami’s ghetto behavior but all the while, they were tuning in to watch it every week. It’s like, if you don’t like this so called “ghetto behavior”, then why are you supporting the show?

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  4. my grandmother once told me “we may be poor but that doesn’t mean we have to be ignorant”.
    i have tried to live by that teaching all my life.

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    • binks

      Amen!

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    • thinkpink

      My grandmother taught me the same thing and it has served me well 1000 times over.

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  5. LOL. I love it when my comments conveniently disappear.

    But again…

    Last day of the year and this foolishness is the headlining post. Way to not feed into the hype. Happy New Year! :)

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