Just in case you needed a new reality TV show to loathe, there’s this: Oxygen Network’s “All My Babies’ Mamas.” The show is set to debut later this spring and stars the rapper Shawty Lo (of ‘Laffy Taffy’ fame) and his encounters with the various mothers of ten children. Folks are pissed — and now there’s an online petition aimed to stopping the show before it starts.
An online petition started by Change.org has gathered close to 4,000 signatures. According to Sabrina Lamb, the petition’s author, the effort’s focus is clear: “By pushing these degrading images, your company seeks to profit from the humiliation of girls and women and the blatant stereotyping of African-Americans,” Lamb writes in the petition.
“We think Oxygen and the show’s creators and producers have gone too far and if this show is aired, we will, without hesitation, boycott any and all companies that advertise during this minstrel show.”
Controversy over the show has been swirling in recent weeks. Some of the most damning criticism came just after the New Year from Nick Chiles over at My Brown Baby:
It must be so easy, sitting in a cushy office somewhere in Los Angeles or Manhattan, to glibly nod yes on the decision to profit off the exploitation of the ignorance that poverty and oppression produced. Of course it’s even easier when it’s some unfortunate black wretches, whose lives are so far from the good-white-folks gentility of these producers, Liz Gateley and Tony DiSanto, and the executive Cori Abraham. So far away, so grotesque, so different, so damn entertaining—and if it happens to once again proffer to the world the handy image of black pathology as entertainment? Oh well.
The network, of course, begs to differ. In a recent press release, Oxygen Media Senior Vice President of Development Cori Abraham said the following:
“Oxygen will give fans an intimate look at unconventional families with larger than life personalities and real emotional stakes,” says Abraham. “‘All My Babies’ Mamas’ will be filled with outrageous and authentic over-the-top moments that our young, diverse female audience can tweet and gossip about.”
Representations like these aren’t new, and that’s precisely why they’re so upsetting. This very neatly fits the caricature of hypersexual and irresponsible black parents even though the network describes this as a look at an “unconventional” family structure. It would be great to actually have a meaningful discussion about what alternative families really look like in black communities — how mothers and grandparents, aunts, uncle and cousins actually do work hard in every city in this country to raise healthy families that don’t fall in line with the white American mainstream. But to turn that discussion into entertainment is to miss the point entirely.
We need to have more meaningful conversations about family, yes. But we also need to talk about who owns our media, and why there are so few alternatives.
Chiles helpfully points out that Oxygen network was started in 1998 with the noble intention of empowering women. Since then, like so many networks, Oxygen has been purchased by NBC Universal. That trend isn’t unique: 30 years ago, 50 corporations owned the vast majority of mainstream media outlets. Today, six corporations own 90 percent of the media that we consume.
The disparities don’t stop there. According to Free Press, while women make up 51 percent of the country’s population, they make up just six percent of those who own TV and radio station licenses. Those numbers are also colored by race. People of color make up nearly 40 percent of the population but own just seven percent of radio licenses and a measly three percent of TV licenses.
At the end of the day, the problem isn’t just what’s on our TV, but who has the power to put it there in the first place.