All My Babies’ Mamas: How Low Can We Go?
Stereotypes, minstrelsy abound in Oxygen's upcoming parenting reality special
When a friend emailed Sabrina Lamb a clip of a proposed reality show called “All My Babies’ Mamas” she was horrified.
In development on the Oxygen Network, the show is billed as a one-hour special that follows the life of Atlanta-based rapper Shawty Lo (Carlos Walker) and the 11 children he fathered with 10 different woman. The show is currently scheduled to air in the spring.
“Tears came to my eyes,” said Lamb, author of Do I Look Like an ATM? A parent’s guide to Raising Financially Responsible Children. “I remember physically standing up and circling my chair because, as the pilot of this minstrel continued minute after minute, I saw nothing but the exploitation of children.”
The pilot so incensed Lamb that she created a petition on Change.org to stop the show from airing. The petition asks supporters “to tell Oxygen that their viewers will not tolerate a show that exploits and stereotypes Black children and families.”
“We will boycott any advertiser who chooses to support the show," the petition states.
As of Thursday afternoon, more than 34,500 people had signed the petition. But despite the buzz and criticism surrounding the show, people seem to be split on the potential for the show to worsen negative stereotypes of black men and women in the mainstream media.
Oxygen, in late December, responded to the criticism, noting that the show would “capture the highs and lows of this extreme ‘blended family’ that is anything but ordinary, while also showing the drama and the passion behind life’s most unexpected situations.”
Cori Abraham, senior vice president of development for Oxygen Media, said project “will be filled with outrageous and authentic over-the-top moments that our young, diverse female audience can tweet and gossip about."
A clip circulating the Internet show Shawty Lo with several of his childrens’ mothers and his current 19-year-old girlfriend. The women have given each other nicknames: “the first lady baby mama,” “the no-drama baby mama,” “the jealous baby mama,” and the “shady baby mama.” They call Walker the “Black Hugh Hefner.”
In an MTV interview posted online Tuesday, Walker responded to critics of the show, reasoning that his former life as a popular Atlanta drug dealer lead to so many out of wedlock children.
“When the money came, a lot of women came,” he said, adding that he didn’t mean to impregnate all of the women.
“It’s a lot of fathers that don’t take care of one,” Walker continued. “If I wasn’t taking care of my kids then y’all would really dog me out. But I’m taking care of my kids, providing for my family.”
While most children in the U.S. are born out-of-wedlock, 73 percent of black babies are born to single women, according to government data analyzed by Child Trends, a Washington, D.C. research group. Fifty-three percent of Hispanic babies and 29 percent of white babies are born to unwedded mothers.
Although Oxygen is known for the rarely-edifying shows Bad Girls Club and Snapped, Lamb believes the network has crossed the line with All My Babies’ Mamas, which she says trivializes black motherhood.
“The people who decided this were so disconnected from the African American community that it was okay for them to sell out our children, to sell our souls,” Lamb said. “It was okay for them to do that because they didn’t have any compassion, no connection. We weren’t in the room. And my question is, in 2013, why? And, as a community, why aren’t we holding these networks accountable?”
In a statement sent to Loop 21, Oxygen said it is not trying to peddle stereotypical images of African Americans.
“(All My Babies’ Mamas) is not meant to be a stereotypical representation of everyday life for any one demographic or cross section of society.,” the statement reads. “It is a look at one unique family and their complicated, intertwined life. Oxygen Media’s diverse team of creative executives will continue developing the show with this point of view.”
Oxygen’s statements to the press have not quelled public outrage. The Parents Television Council, a non-partisan organization advocating responsible entertainment, has called on the Oxygen Network to cease further development of the show.
“Every time we think that the television industry couldn’t stoop any lower, sadly one of the networks steps forward to prove us wrong,” said PTC president Tim Winter. “This new project … is grotesquely irresponsible and exploitive…”
Joining Lamb’s call to boycott show sponsors, Winter’s group pledged to hold “hold them accountable as well.”
There isn’t complete agreement on this in the parenting advocacy community. Kenneth Braswell, executive director of Fathers Incorporated, an organization that focuses on responsible fatherhood, believes the uproar behind All My Babies’ Mamas is only temporary and will blow over in a few weeks.
“There’s never any sustained thought on how media is presenting us and we don’t engage in the activities that would change and transform [reasons] why they would air these shows in the first place,” he said.
Braswell points to shows such as “Basketball Wives,” “Love & Hip Hop” and, most recently, “The Sisterhood,” which enjoy high viewership in African American households.
“Every time one of these shows hits the airwaves, there’s a flurry of conversation around how it diminishes the images of African American people. Yet, when the show is aired, everybody is tuned in,” Braswell added. “If we don’t want it, then we shouldn’t consume it. As long as we consume it, they’re going to continue to produce it.”