After the first episode of Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta premiered, there was a swift response from viewers who were extremely frustrated that there was yet another program on air (specifically on VH1) that was far from quality or entertainment. My Facebook and Twitter timelines were full of comments from disappointed viewers who felt the show was scripted and an irresponsible celebration of themes such as infidelity and pimpery. It was clear from the first episode and the sneak peaks at the upcoming episodes that the city of Atlanta had just become the poster child for a gritty city of brown people and urban drama. It was another reality program with stereotypes and women of color being exploited–which could negatively influence our youth, with its reality.
So after the episode aired, several articles were written, which included: Will the Real Black People of Atlanta Please Stand Up by Kelly Smith Beaty and VH1 Petition: BOYCOTT ‘The Digital Slave Ship’ (Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta) by Erin Harper. Both writers are my Spelman sisters, so it was pretty cool to watch them inspire much needed dialogue on reality TV and its disastrous effects over the past few days.
Erin actually started the Boycott VH1 (Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta, Specifically): Stop Dealing Digital Crack and Tell True Stories petition, which has received 1,094 signatures as of press time.
Boriqua Chicks felt it was important to add more context to this popular conversation as we watched the random and empty articles and blog posts fly past, with a mention of the petition, but with little depth. We wanted to share Erin’s motivation, as it wasn’t just another random petition. Erin is connected to the community. This Atlanta blogger practiced school psychology for eight years in an urban school district before becoming a full-time student and doctoral candidate in school psychology at Georgia State University. She is also a project coordinator at the Center for Research on School Safety, School Climate, and Classroom Management, where she studies school-based interventions with adolescent girls.
Erin’s opinions have been published in The Huffington Post, The Washington Post’s The Root DC Live, and Your Black World and she has contributed her opinion to HLNtv.com as an expert on the influences of digital technology use on adolescent girls’ psychosocial development and mental health.
Are you starting to get the picture that this wasn’t a random petition? Check out our exclusive interview with Erin:
When countless people told me that I wouldn’t believe my eyes when I viewed Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta (LAHHATL), I tuned in for as much of the re-broadcast as I could. It was as disturbing as folks said for a number of reasons.
I wrote a piece about Basketball Wives (BBW) last year to express my concerns about content to add to the voices of those concerned about content. Petitions were also started. Change occurred after we made noise about BBW (in the form of sponsors pulling out and VH1’s stating that they would attempt to show more balanced content). I figured the same could happen with LAHHATL. If we raised awareness about why the content is problematic.
Were you familiar with the show before watching the first episode?
I had heard about it and saw the original one when it first aired.
What type of shows do you think are real representations of minorities?
People are so diverse. Any time you have multiple takes of a scene and scripts, it’s no longer ‘real’. “Reality” shows have the opportunity to tell “real” stories in socially responsible vs. exploitative ways.
The folks on Love & Hip Hop: ATL are real people with real stories and they could be represented in a real way. Balance is key. I know networks aren’t in the biz of education or social responsibility, but, in my opinion, they should consider it strongly. We all have a responsibility to help others and a duty not to exploit them. There’s this little thing called human rights that we should all be concerned with. But sometimes folks don’t know they are participating in or a victim of exploitation without being introduced to certain ideas, networks included. This is about raising awareness, not pointing the finger. Unfortunately, many folks have tried to reach out to VH1, and their efforts seem minimal in the grand scheme of things. Though they aren’t alone.
I don’t watch much television anymore, so my comments are limited. When I watch TV, I’m watching shows where people exchange ideas, where I can learn, I don’t want to point and laugh at people. If I’m watching for entertainment, I tend to watch stuff that requires actual talent, good writing, and creativity. Shonda Rhimes shows are a personal favorite of mine. However, those types of shows are consistent with my experiences. I understand that some people may relate more to love and hip hop.
There was a time when I watched and even participated in these types of shows because I was entertained. They related to my experiences—my experiences of defining my identity by my ties with a man of a certain social status more so than my own achievements. A time when I might break a bottle over a girl’s head versus talk it out. I apologize to those girls by the way…A time when I didn’t think I was as pretty without a weave or “fly” if I didn’t have a bag that costs more than my mortgage. Those things and behaviors largely defined me. Like Erykah Badu says, “this world done changed so much since I been conscious”…I’m not “above” these shows. I just want people to be introduced to other ways of thinking, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they are better. I’d love for others to be as authentically happy as I am now, which is largely a result of these realizations.
We deserve more. We don’t deserve content that reinforces problems—the problems that we already have. My experiences have helped me to understand how much of the way we act and the things we believe aren’t choices that we actually made for ourselves. When I began to learn about the dangers of viewing this content, and what it had done to my behavior, young people in general, and our collective conscious, I actually became upset and stopped watching.
Let’s use Momma Dee, the ex-pimp on this show as an example of VH1’s exploitative practices. Momma Dee (who may not feel exploited at all) is, indeed, a victim because the network treats her “pimping” story quite casually. In Atlanta, where sex trafficking is pervasive, the first episode could have provided her backstory in a way that didn’t make it seem so “cool”. Instead, they chose to hook folks on the digital crack of watching her shuck and jive while tipsy.
One of the main problems is that we live in a society where money outweighs a purposeful life. Folks feel like when they get that dollar they’ll be free and happy. What folks don’t realize is that when you stop chasing that dollar as your main path to freedom, is when you experience an authentic path to freedom and happiness.
What do you hope to accomplish by starting this petition?
Bring awareness to some of the underlying social issues that make this content problematic. For instance, folks with economic challenges (who just so happen to be disproportionately ethnic minority people) are more likely to become involved in sex trafficking. These folks aren’t becoming involved because they’re just bored, but because they feel it’s what they have to make ends meet. Not making excuses for “pimps” but when you already have so many odds stacked against you, which make it hard to gain or keep employment, unfortunately sexual exploitation may be perceived as one of the only options. Also, when “pimping” is treated casually, like it’s chewing a piece of gum, it perpetuates the problem. Selling people is not a casual matter. And a lot of these shows’ sponsors have no idea about the potential gravity of the content that they are funding.
Do you agree that it is time to raise the level of consciousness? If so, click here to sign the petition. Tweets us your thoughts to @BoriquaChicks #LHHATL.
To connect with Erin, check out allerinharper.com, a digital space where she merges her interests in advocacy, culture, entertainment, and advertising.
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