It’s easy to point the finger at those who are creating and promoting this toxic “entertainment” and say that they are the ones who are destroying our image. Most of the commentary on All My Babies’ Mamas puts the responsibility for the quality of the programming on the shoulders of the networks and the poor souls who choose to participate in their own denigration and exploitation. However, the onus is on the viewers to help shape the type of programming that we’re being sold and that we’re buying into.
As Advertising Hall of Fame legend Tom Burrell stated in his 2009 book Brainwashed, “New race consciousness moves us beyond labeling… It’s no longer about changing white folks’ minds — it’s about changing our collective mindset.”
We must hold ourselves responsible for the type of propaganda that we are tacitly and in some cases aggressively supporting every time we turn on our television.
Online petitioning to remove programming like All My Babies’ Mamas is nice. It’s a start. But real systemic change isn’t going to occur because of a petition. One-off boycotts aren’t going to do anything to shift our collective response to programming that rams inferiority messaging about black people down our throats on a daily basis. All My Babies’ Mamas may end up getting scrapped, but another toxic show will appear.
Negative reality programming is like the mythological nine-headed Hydra. Cut one head off and two more will spring up in its place.
The only way to kill a hydra is by holding the monster up to the light — the light of consciousness. This means awareness of how we play a part in its perpetuation.
The bottom line is that for black people, negative reality TV viewing makes up a significant portion of all cable TV ratings generated by black households.
Balance in programming where black women are no longer be exploited as scheming Jezebels and black men are no longer portrayed as sexually addicted walking sperm donation banks is not going to happen by having panel discussions. It’s not going to happen by having feel good award shows highlighting the achievements of black women on one network that deflect us from the negative messaging being promoted on its sister network.
It must happen in part by us not watching.
Additionally, as well-intentioned as a Change.org petition is, we as a community have missed a larger point. These reality shows are a microcosm of a macro issue. This isn’t a moral issue. It’s a power issue. And we as a people need to understand that we have more power than we believe; not just personally, but from an economic perspective.
According to the Nielsen’s 2012 report African Americans: Still Vital, Still Growing, black Americans currently have an annual aggregate income level of roughly $696 billion, with our collective buying power tracking towards $1.1 trillion by 2015. What does this have to do with reality television? Everything. We have the power to influence the programming we’re watching through our individual media consumption and consumer spending. Every time we turn on our Bad Girls Club “guilty pleasure,” we send a message to the networks and to their advertisers that we approve of their message.
Malcolm X said, “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth… Because they control the minds of the masses.” Isn’t it time that we stop buying into the media’s various iterations of “harmless,” exploitative entertainment and start creating real change by harnessing the power of our collective spending power by rejecting these messages?
Screaming about All My Babies’ Mamas while still watching Real Housewvies of Atlanta is akin to the difference between mainlining and snorting heroin. Both are equally bad for you… the difference is all in the mind of the addict. Heroin abuse is heroin abuse — regardless of the method of delivery. To quote radio host Morris Kelly from his response to All My Babies’ Mamas, “You can either be against stereotypes or for them. It’s one or the other, but not both.”
So let’s start a change where we can make a difference today — within ourselves. Let’s stop co-signing this coonery as harmless. Let’s stop saying that the unrepentantly capitalistic black producers who profit off historical African-American stereotypes are just “getting theirs.” Let’s stop shifting responsibility for the perpetuation of these stereotypes onto the shoulders of the poor fools who participate on the shows or the media conglomerates that promote them. It is true that partial responsibility does fall on their shoulders; however they won’t continue to sling “reality crack” if we stop creating a demand.
Watching these sorts of shows at all is more than a guilty pleasure. It’s participation in one of the most successful racist propaganda campaigns in history.
Sil Lai Abrams is a writer, inspirational speaker, anti-domestic violence activist, Ebony.com’s relationship expert, and author of ‘No More Drama.‘ She is also the founder ofTruthInReality.org, a grassroots organization committed to changing the way women and interpersonal violence are portrayed on reality television. Follow her on Twitter at @Sil_Lai.