Unless you have been hiding under a rock or are a transplant from another planet, you are most likely aware of the controversy surrounding the formerly, now recently cancelled proposed Oxygen network program “All My Baby Mamas.”
The so-called reality program (a genre that has frequently dabbled in the lowest common denominator) was to feature rapper Shawty Lo along with the 10 women and the 11 children he has fathered with them. And get this? Only two children have the same mother! Surrealism at its most cynical? Indeed! Yes! That’s right! Crazy?! Hell yes!
Not surprisingly, the outrage that emanated from various quarters was considerable. The Parents Television Council, referred to the proposed series as “grotesquely irresponsible and exploitive.” In addition, petitions, as well as other acts of protest were started by various groups and individuals who were greatly disturbed by the deeply perverse values the proposed show promoted.
Under increasing pressure and perhaps a latent moment of common sense and decency, the Oxygen Network came to its senses and pulled the Shawty Low series.
That being said, the larger question that arises from this issue is the continual pattern of wanton, arrogant and in some cases, downright hostile behavior that has been directed toward Black women. It is clear that the people who would have been exploited to the greatest degree by this circus were not the children or Shawty Lo, but rather, the so-called “baby mamas” all of whom are all Black females. For some reason, it seems that humiliating and degrading Black women is an ongoing activity and there never seems to be any cease fire on the horizon.
Another example of the continuing devaluation and marginalization of Black women was a post on a notorious blog that will go unnamed here that provided a forum for sexist, misogynistic men of all races to discuss ideas on how to most effectively expose their genitals to women with getting caught or prosecuted. I first became aware of this appalling website in 2011 when a number of fellow Black writers from News One, The Root, Your Black World and other related sites brought attention it. In mid 2011, the website encouraged its members and followers to make a special effort to target Black women and other women of color. Their reason for doing so was that they felt “there would potentially be less consequences” for doing so. Upon hearing this, my reaction was like “what is this?”
Why do these men think that it is acceptable to engage in such callous and disrespectful behavior toward Black women? I would argue that much of this attitude has to do with history. Historically speaking, men of all races have realized that they have been allowed a free sexual license to objectify, terrorize, sexually violate and demonize Black women, regardless of age, with impunity.
In fact, a number of historical documents and books discussing interracial sex and sexuality, as well as personal testimonials demonstrate that it was not uncommon for White men to sexually violate Black women. In fact it was common practice for a number of White men in all regions of the nation, particularly in the south (especially in the upper classes), to arrange for their sons to have a sexual encounter with a Black female when they entered their late teens. This was due to the assumption that Black women were supposedly “good teachers” who would train those (White men) well enough to be able to adequately sexually satisfy their future debutante White wives. The Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings, Strom Thurmond/Carrie Butler sagas were more commonplace than many people really acknowledge or want to admit.
Over the past several years, the media have seemed all too eager to exploit the antics of Naomi Campbell, Ne-Ne Leakes, Omarosa, The Housewives of Atlanta and other high-profile Black women who have admittedly engaged in less than admirable behavior. Who can forget shock jock Don Imus’ “nappy headed ho’s” comments in early 2007. The remarks generated such outrage (understandably so), that sponsors began pulling advertisements and Imus was temporarily forced off the air. To his credit, Imus delivered several mea culpas that did seem sincere. While Americans have had the opportunity to present a few other positive representations of Black womanhood, they are often limited or obscured in favor of more controversial and wanton images.
There are those who will argue that society treats women poorly regardless of race. This is true to some extent. However, for women of color and Black women in particular, the problem is far more acute. For every Lindsay Lohan, Courtney Love, Amy Winehouse (rest her soul) etc., there is a Natalie Portman, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Walters, etc., to counterbalance the negative images of White women. This is not the case for Black women. Oprah Winfreys, Diahann Carrolls, Condoleeza Rices, Susan Rices and Phylicia Rashads (Claire Huxtable) are too few and far between.
That being said, Black women who are in positions to showcase positive, upstanding images of themselves must make an effort to reject the “bad girl, oversexed, always combative and defensive, booty shaking” image and script they are encouraged to embrace by certain segments of society. And yes, certain avenues of the media must be taken to task for their complicity as well.
The effects of such demeaning and disrespectful behavior toward Black women in our society sends significant and disturbing messages to young Black girls and is detrimental to our society at large. Black women should be depicted as normal as any other group of human beings. They should not be portrayed abnormal, freakish human beings who are hopelessly dysfunctional. Men of all races must confront the sexist, racial and cultural stereotypes that have been indoctrinated in them from the time they were fresh out of diapers. Needless to say, the media must do its part in helping to dispel dangerously pernicious myths associated with Black women.
It is a responsibility that must be undertaken. Such a conscientious task may not be easy to accomplish. Old habits are hard to break. Nonetheless, it is a necessary and mandatory step to take. Denigrating and disrespecting Black women (or any entire group of women) are not acceptable.
Dr. Elwood Watson is a professor of history and African-American studies at East Tennessee State University.