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.

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  • OMG

    And another thing. WHO CARES WHAT OTHER RACES THINK OF US! I mean really, are you going to live your life for other people? That’s crazy to me. I could care less what other people think of me because I know who I am. People can think all kinds of crazy stereotypes about me all they want. If other races judge me on how a few black women act on TV, then they’re the one with the problem. It’s stupid to judge a whole race based on a few actions you see on TV or in real life. I’m an INDIVIDUAL. I don’t represent the whole black race.

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    • Courtney**

      It matters when you’re facing a trial and a “jury of your peers” happens to be twelve very white people whom you would never interact with outside of the courtroom.

      It matters when you’re trying to apply for a job and your resume gets immediately discarded due to your “ethnic sounding” name.

      Simply put… “their” opinions of “us” matter because THEY ARE THE ONES WITH MOST OF THE POWER. In an ideal world, sure, they would judge us on our own merits and not compare us against some ridiculously exaggerated stereotype of a black person that gets hyped up in the media. In the real world, it has never worked that way and it will never work that way. So you have to operate your life with the understanding that while it shouldn’t be that way, and YOU personally know that you’re not like that, THEY do not and MANY (if not most) will assume that you ARE that way.

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    • OMG

      @ Courtney

      People are going to think what they want to think regardless of how you dress, act etc. All you can do is live your life. You can’t let other’s opinions stop you from what you want to do.

      If that was the case, we wouldn’t have a black President named Barack Obama. I’m pretty sure he had naysayers telling him he could never be President because he’s black and bc his name is Barack Obama. Had he listen to their negative opinions, he wouldn’t have reached his goal of becoming President.

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    • Courtney**

      You did not register my point and in fact, have even sort of proved it for me. I didn’t state anywhere that their opinions/power/judgements/etc. should “stop” us from doing what we want to do. But it SHOULD be a FACTOR in how we present ourselves in certain settings. No, it’s not fair. No, it’s not right. But the risks in not doing so are too great. The way you are talking, you wouldn’t have “the talk” with your black teenaged son about how to conduct himself around police because HE knows he’s not a gun-toting thug, and HE knows that he’s not a drug dealer, so gosh darnit there’s no need for him to mind all those extra p’s and q’s… and that sort of Pollyanna thinking could lead to him being accidentally shot while handcuffed in custody.

      And even your example, President Obama has had to be exceptionally mindful – moreso than any other President – about how he talks about so-called “black issues.” Remember the outrage when Obama said something as innocuous as “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin?” Obama has never been allowed a fraction of the breathing room any of the white presidents (looking at Bill Clinton in particular) have had to explicitly state their support for black people. Obama has gone around singing the praises of Latino people, our friends in Israel/Jewish people… he has specifically campaigned in front of every possible demographic in an affirming way except black people. I recall his speech toward black groups being some sort of patronizing “we need to do better” isht.

      I am not saying we need to internalize their opinions of us. I AM saying we need to understand that, fairly or unfairly, rightly or wrongly, their opinions CAN and DO affect our lives, whether we admit it or not.

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  • curious

    i actually read not too long ago that countries like Sweden are a rarity. people in sweden treat cohabitation more like a marriage, they aren’t as likely to separate once they begin living together. that doesn’t happen in american homes; most cohabitors eventually seperate, and that can cause more harm than good.

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  • Penny

    The concept of this show is disgusting, but honestly, this is nothing new. Where are all of the petitions against Maury Povich, a man who has been putting these types of images out there for years? If people were ever trying to get his “you ARE the father” shows taken off the air, I never heard of it.

    Unfortunately, the petition is like the best advertising for the show. SMH…

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  • Penny

    Instead of just not watching the show or trying to get it banned, why not do something a bit more radical….Like finding out who the advertisers are and organizing a boycott of them?

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    • PJ

      I think that’s what it calls for.

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  • Billy Paul

    Interesting article; however, allow me to add the following:
    – what is the definition of a “proper” family?;
    – is it beneficial today that Colored adhere to a Christian family model?
    – Africa offers a host of different family structures that are quite different than the Christian norm;
    – what exactly is a “marriage” and who defines it?; and
    – society can be structured to support a host of different family structures.

    Be not mislead, Billy is not endorsing the show. On the contrary, he is merely attempting to articulate the boundaries of conversation.

    Further still, one may argue that where a Colored person strictly adheres to an alien way of life (i.e. Christianity and/or Islam) despite its incompatibility with reality, that person may be said to be suffering from negro assimilationist fantasies.

    Happy New Year!

    Carry on, Family.

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    • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

      IDK, correct me if i’m wrong, but in polygamous families doesn’t the man have to provide support?

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    • AM

      Yes!

      -Financial, emotional, mental-all around support.

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    • __A

      Exactly. A lot of these men ignore that part because most can’t support multiple women and all their children. This is kind of like Sister Wives. Traditionally, I think a man would pay all the rent, pay for all the groceries in the refrigerator, pay for all the women’s clothes and other needs, and financially support all of the women’s children. Many of the men who like to bring up polygamy cannot comfortably support multiple women like Shawty Lo. With feminism, I think many of these men see polygamy as multiple modern working women contributing to rent and the bills, cooking, cleaning, and having sex with them. The biggest thing that they’re interested in is sexual variety. They’re the same men that say women shouldn’t take cheating seriously. I think this is what they would really prefer being able to get married to one woman who excuses the cheating but raises the children and provides emotional support. And cooking and cleaning. How are any of these a good deal for women?

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    • AM

      Could you kindly clarify/elaborate the following:

      “where a Colored person strictly adheres to an alien way of life (i.e. Christianity and/or Islam) despite its incompatibility with reality”

      -My understanding of that statement, I could be wrong is that a two parent household is an alien way of life, and incompatible with reality……

      -Please if you are going to be rude, best if you ignore. Thanks,

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    • Billy Paul

      @ AM

      On the contrary, the statement reflects the following:
      – current demographic realities may frustrate the Colored community’s adherence to a one man one woman family structure since the availability of women (for various reasons) is greater than that of their male counterparts;
      – one may argue that “alien way of life” is incompatible with current realities in the Colored community since it potentially leaves a large portion of women childless/unmarried; and
      – since society now deems it normal/acceptable for a person to have children with multiple partners, then it may be time to upgrade the definitions of “family” and “marriage” and begin to modify society to better support this reality.

      Lastly, you wrote, “-Please if you are going to be rude, best if you ignore.”

      Ignore what? Your questionable writing skills or your hypersensitivity? Please advise.

      Carry on, Family.

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    • MissDee

      Which Africa are you talking about? What do you know about Africa exactly? In Ghana, West Africa where I come from men don’t go about having kids for the fun of it because polygamy is accepted. My father married just my mum and so did his father> My great grand-dad who married two women was considered rich enough to be able to do so. So many years of Christianity and the quest for folks to have a smaller family to be able to properly take care of their household has rendered polygamy unpopular. Growing up it was and still a taboo to be pregnant in your teenage years without being properly married. You’ll be sent to the village for your grand-mum to teach you ‘house sense’ and your education abruptly ended to teach you a lesson. Loads of African women are now marrying late because like women everywhere, they’re more career focused and want to have something to contribute to their nuclear household before they settle down. ‘Baby mama’ comes with a big stigma where I come from. 11 kids with 10 different women? Outrageous!

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    • the original lol

      thank you for having the patience to type out what i didn’t.

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    • Mwendwa

      Thanks a lot Miss Dee for your clarity. I agree exactly with you as it is the same case in Tanzania, East Africa where I am from.

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    • Billy Paul

      Actually, I know enough to disclose the above. In addition, being an African does not necessarily make one an expert on Africa compared to an African American. On the contrary, to believe such may arguably be deemed a logical fallacy (see the plethora of Africans on the continent that have no sense of African history and worship that which is European). Be not mislead, I’ve been to Africa and have seen our backwardness first hand. I’ve read various anthropological studies on Africans and have come to appreciate the various ways that we as a group have solved problems such as these. Hence, we should look within to solve this problem, because the solutions are already there.

      On the other hand, I fear that your comment is somewhat irrelevant to the points that I made above because you failed to address any of them. Although I understand what your saying, your statement is irrelevant when trying to define the debate and the terminology used therein?

      Lastly, if you review my initial comment closely, you can see that I actually disagreed with the show and never really took a supportive stand on polygamy.

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