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, 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.”


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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  • victoria

    Regarding Sweden and single motherhood…

    I have spent long periods in Sweden and Denmark; therefore, I feel I can give a little insight into single motherhood in Scandanavia. Yes, having children out of wedlock is on the rise, but this is because married couples are taxed throughout the a$$. Most unmarried couples live in committed relationships under the same roof and the fathers are very hands on. Moreso than American fathers in my opinion. These families, although not married, hold on the very traditional values and gender/parental roles. Including many mothers not working while the child is young and dads provide all of the financial needs. It is not common for women to have children in their teens or early 20s and dad doesnt play ghost. People dont have multiple kids by multiple partners and shift responsibility on the govt on other family members. I never met, saw, heard of a Scandanavian baby mama/ daddy.

    This article states, ”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.” I think the key word is COHABITATION. When it comes to baby mamas/daddies cohabitation is non existant. Clearly, the big difference between Sweden and baby mama/daddy mess is dad’s presence, family traditions, and choosing responsible partners.

  • Keepitreal

    We’re headed into 2013 and “they do it too” is still being used, really, Tami? GTFO

  • Okay, the article mentioned Mick Jagger and why white folks are not upset.

    For one, OOW kids are not as common in white communities. Yes, there are some demos where the couple just wanted to be common law or the woman’s clock was ticking but because she’s a high-powered exec or other “career” person, finding a mate is a challenge. Only in recent, has this been celebrated in movies and TV shows geared to a white audience.

    The writer also mentioned Mick Jagger and his kids/overlapping mates. Not in the past 100 yrs. have you ever heard about Jerry Hall (ex-wife) and Marsha Hunt (his Black BM) living under a roof. Also, Mick Jagger comes from what is defined as old money, I think the actual wealth (as opposed to “rich”) goes back 3-4 generations. Mick also went to B-school before even starting the Stones. Have you ever heard about any of those guys going broke in the past century?

    Which brings me to today’s rappers. Only a handful are really good. About half of that handful make the money they deserve. Now, it seems like every month, there is a story about someone filing for Chapter 11, getting garnished or evicted from a home they knew they couldn’t afford.

    Can this be turned around? Hell, yes! My point is that if many of these rappers understood business first, then spitting decent rhymes, then getting involved, there would be no need for these shows. If they wrote or owned any part of their music, that would what e-marketers call ‘lazy income’

    Though there are many Blacks involved with different aspects of business and are successful, this is not a stereotype. It’s like Chris Rock once said “The White man’s gonna be alright”.

  • I think this show was meant for non-black people to gawk at black people. Seriously, its like what non-black people think black people are like.

  • OMG

    Who cares what other races think of us! Like seriously, are you living your life for others? That’s crazy to me. And if someone stereotypes a person based on what they see on TV, then they’re the one with the problem. We are individuals. The women and men on those reality shows don’t represent the whole race. They only represent themselves.

    • AM

      @ OMG,

      I get the gist of your comment, but you should care. As an African, I cannot tell you how ANNOYING and FRUSTRATING it is to dispel the myths and lies sold to Westerners about my mamaland. We are supposedly all diseased, at war, poverty-stricken. Even up to this day, I still meet folks who are SURPRISED that we have cars, malls, are educated in classrooms, not under trees. How you are represented is VERY IMPORTANT! It’s not for their benefit, it is for YOUR benefit!

    • OMG

      @ AM

      Exactly! How I’M represented is important. Me! Nene doesn’t represent for me, Evelyn doesn’t represent me, Oprah dosen’t represent me, as well as Michelle Obama. I am my own woman. I can only represent myself.

    • thinkpink

      They aren’t the ones with the problem you are. Because those same races have the ability to hire, fire, promote and or demote you. They can determine where you live, make a stranger think you’re a gun toting thug when you’re carrying a pack of skittles and determine by your “ethnic” sounding name on a resume that you don’t deserve a place in their office. Those races can determine you’re a menace to society and shoot you when you’re simply playing your music loudly (jordan davis). Those races can hire police forces to discriminate against you in traffic stops etc. Please think and research your history before you make such a blanket statement. The horrific treatment of blacks in this country under slavery was accepted in part by claims of inferiority by people of other races. It is just more subtle now but ever prevalent.

    • OMG

      @ thinkpink

      So you’re saying that white folks with power who do all of these horrible things that you’ve mentioned in your earlier posts don’t have problems but I do? Are you serious?

    • thinkpink

      @ OMG that’s exactly what I’m saying. It sucks doesn’t it? Blacks are not the majority in this country and whites own or control almost every institution of power. If the media shows all black women as ghetto, angry, uneducated, neck rolling baby mama’s you may be subject to being viewed this way by default. An employer may see a black name on a resume and think ” I don’t want a ghetto black woman in my office before even meeting you. People may approach you in a defensive manner before even getting to know you under the assumption that “you’re a black woman so you must be mean”. Treyvon Martin was killed because george zimmerman saw a thug walking home that night not a candy toting teenager. The stereotype ended up being Treyvon’s problem. He lost his life because of it. YOU and I both know a white kid walking with skittles would still be alive today. The all black men are “thugs” image came from the media, hip hop and television. Obama received an ivy league school and his credentials have been questioned at every turn. The society of black engineers event at my school drew less recruiters than any other career fair. These images effect you whether you want them to or not. Again they’re subtle…so subtle you may not even know they are occurring which is the way modern day racism works.