For as long as there has been an entertainment industry in the United States, images of African Americans have been under assault. From the apologetic, subservient Sambo to the drug-dealing pimp, we have endured a decades-long propaganda campaign designed to reinforce black inferiority in America.
But time may have finally expired on media’s free reign of casting destructive reflections of black life.
Last month, the online civil rights group ColorofChange.org petitioned Oxygen Media to drop its highly touted new reality show “All My Babies’ Mamas.”
Many thought it was just another example of sound and fury that would go nowhere. But in a statement released Tuesday, the network announced the cancellation of the controversial program about a black father of 11 children by multiple “baby mamas.” It was a victory for all of us in the fight for civil rights and social justice.
The overwhelming response from more than 40,000 ColorOfChange.org members, combined with widespread outrage from the African American community, sent a clear message that exploitative television shows like “All My Babies’ Mamas” are unacceptable.
The national petition claimed that images like that of the show’s main character, Atlanta-based rapper Shawty Lo, present black men and women as hyper-sexual and unfit parents, and can result in real-world consequences for our families — less attention from doctors, harsher sentencing by judges, lower likelihood of being hired or admitted to school, lower odds of getting loans and a higher likelihood of getting shot by police.
The show, which was set to air this spring, was to star Lo, who has 11 children by 10 women and a girlfriend the same age as his oldest daughter. According to network executives, the show would have chronicled Lo’s attempts to “split affection multiple ways while trying to create order” as he navigates the “dysfunction” of his “drama-filled” “modern family.”
Indeed, it is these sorts of irresponsible images that have been a malignant tumor spreading across the airwaves and Internet over the past several years. The disease of institutionalized racism in the media has been a cancer that we have hoped would go into remission. Now, as a result, the whole planet has apparently bought into the myth of black inferiority.
What’s worse, we have become insensitive, or desensitized to the point we are unconscious of what we see and hear, and what is going into our minds. We have become a party to our own brainwashing. We have joined in and become our own victimizers. Our children routinely emulate the behaviors, attitudes and outlooks widely promulgated through the media.
Sadly, lower expectations mean fewer disappointments. We have seemingly become comfortable with negative behavior, with poor performance. If a black person is articulate and does not use slang, some of us will say that person is acting “white.”
The media are directly responsible for this. The perpetuation of stereotypes is always done through print, television, film, radio, music and, now, the Internet.
We sing, dance and make love to catchy beats that endorse, reinforce and promulgate our most self-destructive habits
More importantly, the face of the civil rights movement has undergone a dramatic transformation with the launch of organizations like ColorofChange.org. The association focuses on many of the same issues as traditional civil rights groups, but the approach is quicker, less costly and more direct.
Founded in 2005 following the anemic response to the mounting deaths caused by Hurricane Katrina and the realization that no African American organization or coalition had the capacity to respond on the necessary scale, ColorofChange.org now boasts a membership of more than 850,000.
By using the Internet and social media, ColorofChange.org engages its membership, encouraging a unified voice. The result is amplified political expression. The organization maintains a constant flow of information to its members about the most pressing issues for black people in America and provides them with avenues for action. Its strategy includes a concentrated lobby of elected representatives using e-mail, the telephone and face-to-face meetings.
ColorOfChange.org comprises black people from every economic class, as well as those of every color who seek to help our voices be heard. Its membership unites behind a simple, powerful pledge: We will do all we can to make sure all Americans are represented, served and protected — regardless of race or class. In this one case, the members have served their mission well.
Alfonzo Porter is a contributor to The RootDC and the author of “More Like Barack, Less Like Tupac: Eradicating the Academic Achievement Gap by Countering Decades of the Hip Hop Hoax.” He is a speaker, consultant, former teacher and school administrator.
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