by Charing Ball
Seriously, week after week, and over the span of three years, six seasons and two series (with plans of expanding the franchise by two more series), we have watched black men routinely embarrass and flat out dishonor themselves by engaging in some of the worse representation of black manhood to be witnessed on television.
And yet it is black men who have been the least likely to stand up and speak out against these unflattering caricatures of their collective image.
The proof speaks for itself
Think I’m exaggerating? Well, let’s take inventory of the “men” who have thus far graced the sleazy showcases of both the Love & Hip Hop New York City and Atlanta franchises. Here are their main stats:
- Peter Gunz: Living with the mother of his two children for over 13 year; has a history of infidelity; keeps his marriage a secret while continuing a live-in relationship with the mother of his kids.
- Lil Scrappy: A self-proclaimed mamma’s boy, with a long criminal rap sheet; did a stint in rehab for marijuana addiction in order to avoid jail time for failing to pass a drug test while out on probation; a womanizer, who regularly cheated on his fiance and mother of his son; had on-air violent fight with fellow Love & Hip Hop Atlanta cast member Stevie J.
- Stevie J: Nicknamed “Sleaze-O” for his inability to stop his womanizing and scheming on women; cheated on his long term girlfriend and mother of his daughter with an exotic dancer, whom he ended up getting pregnant and then goading into an abortion; once used money given to him by his fiance to buy the silence of his baby’s mother; proposed to both his fiance and mother of his children at the same time, which resulted in a huge fight.
- Consequence: Believes that “white is right,” yet even with his white woman has controlling issues to the point that he doesn’t allow his Christian white baby’s mom to attend family function out of respect to his own personal Islamic beliefs; is tight-fisted with money, but doesn’t want his partner to work; is notorious for having several on-air violent fights with fellow Love & Hip Hop NY cast member Joe Budden.
- Joe Budden: A womanizer; was accused of domestic abuse by two of his former cast members, including current girlfriend and co-star Tahiry; a drug addict; was involved in several physical altercations including with fellow cast member Consequence.
- Kirk Frost: A womanizer, who cheated on his pregnant wife; told his pregnant wife to get an abortion, and when she wouldn’t, denied responsibility for conceiving their child; went on to have a televised threesome.
- Mandeecees Harris: facing 20 years of imprisonment at the federal level, stemming from a Maryland drug conviction case; was accused and went to trial for alleged inappropriate relationship with a 15 year old but he was ultimately found not guilty; choked out his fiance’s cousin
Honestly I could go on but I think I’ve painted a pretty vivid picture of the men of Love & Hip Hop.
All the focus is on women: Why?
For the most part, none of these reality shows have been particularly complimentary to the black man’s image. They are shown as either deadbeats, or abusers, or a combination of both. And yet when discussions arise about the damaging black stereotypical images on reality television, it is the black man’s image that is less likely to be called into question and be subjected to critique by viewers.
As a matter of fact, the majority of petitions, protest, angry blog posts, news articles and boycotts have all focus on removing what many deem as negative images of black women on reality TV.
Such as this Change.org petition for Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, in which one concerned viewer took issue specifically over the behavior of cast member Momma Dee. And then there is another Change.org petition demanding that TV One, the network behind the wildly popular R&B Divas franchise, remove Kelly Price from the show for seemingly rude behavior not becoming of a diva.
A change in television‘s landscape, including demands for quality, non-exploitative, entertainment that rejects the violent and hyper-sexualized images of black women, are all reasonable demands.
However, to only speak to the image of black women, only addresses half the problem. The absence of a real critique of the often violent, abusive and sexual irresponsible black male reality stars seems to be the result of a dangerous mix of misogyny and respectability politics. This places the onus of earning respect on the backs of woman while deflecting, and in many instances dismissing, any real criticism of male behavior as the reality of boys just being boys.
Without the same level of public scrutiny, black male reality stars have been free to engage in some of the most destructive of behaviors without taking responsibility for their actions. In some respects, they are rewarded.
For example, when Evelyn Lozada jumped over a table in an attempt to attack her nemesis, we saw a series of efforts waged by viewers to get Basketball Wives pulled from the airwaves. Yet when Lil’ Scrappy and Stevie J of Love & Hip Hop Atlanta had it out physically in a parking lot, the biggest response we saw from viewers was the celebration of the cutesy catchphrase, “Put them paws on ‘em,”which was uttered by Lil’ Scrappy during the altercation.
Men get away with being naughty
It would seem that our tolerance for debased actions and debauchery has its gender exceptions. And yet there is danger in the lack of public scrutiny of the black male reality television star.
For one, it perpetuates the idea that how men behave has little impact on society and the welfare of women and children – even though displaying a sense of entitlement without taking responsibility for others is one of the major warning characteristics of an abuser of women and children.
Secondly, these male images socialize women to accept this overall jerkiness as a fact of life and love with men. In reality there are men in this world capable of loving women and their children without being abusive, violent womanizers.
Therefore, to take a stand against these misrepresentations of black masculinity is to take a stand against domestic abuse, rape and the overall mistreatment of women and children.
Holding black male reality stars accountable
It is high time that black male reality television stars be held accountable for their actions.
Like their female counterparts, they need to be dragged to the carpet and made to answer critically for how their personal dysfunctions contribute to the negative stereotypes of black boys and men. This is not fair to all the upstanding black men doing their best to be responsible in this world.
If that doesn’t work, their negative portrayals should be shamed and publicly denounced. But to continue to ignore the negative image of these black male reality television stars means to co-sign these behaviors as normal and acceptable. As a society and community we can no longer afford to perpetuate this flawed and potentially quite dangerous logic.