Shawty Lo and His Baby Mamas: Why We Need the Arts and Humanities

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I have tried to avoid writing about Shawty Lo and his 50-11 baby mamas for the past week or so for a couple of reasons.

1) Hundreds of writers have written about it and I felt like I didn’t have anything to add.
2) To be completely honest, I didn’t give a damn about it. At least, not enough of a damn to dedicate a blog post to complaining about it. I had bigger issues to worry about and I can choose not to watch it. Not to mention all of the respectability politics at play but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

Obviously, I have changed my mind.

Shawty Lo and his baby mamas have caused a stir since this show was announced. People have been crying out about how it represents black people and black families. While I think that view is valid, I think the existence of this show can be used as an argument for the arts/humanities and the majors attached to them.

The arts/humanities get a bad rap. They’re referred to as useless and students that choose these majors often face an interrogation that STEM majors tend to avoid. Whenever I tell someone I am an African American studies major and sociology minor, the responses I typically get are:

“What are you going to do with that?!”
“What do y’all do? Learn black history?”
“Why do you need to study black folks? You ARE black!”

To get people off of my back I usually say I’m going to teach to get them to stop with the stupid questions. I used to talk about my writing in conjunction with that and I still do occasionally but some people look at me like I sprouted a second head when I mention the possibility of writing for a living.

Several of my friend that major in subjects like journalism, photography and English have told me they have experienced similar treatment. I’m sure there are people reading this now that have been on the receiving  that treatment.

That said, when shows like “All My Babies’ Mamas” and “Basketball Wives” are created, critics come out the wood work complaining about a lack of positive black images and yearn for the sitcoms that ruled the eighties or ninties. People make similar complaints when a study comes out that reinforces stereotypes about black folks without examining what causes some of the conditions in the black community. But what do we expect when a majority of screenwriters, producers, directors and anyone else contributing to the creation of mass media don’t look like us. Mona Scott Young and Shonda Rhimes are anomalies.

In addition, the majority of the people studying us don’t look like us either and don’t share our experiences. And they probably don’t have our best interests at heart. Where are our critics, creators and experts? They’re being groomed in your university’s college of arts and sciences. Those theater and film majors? The next generation of film creators and writers. Those brown African American studies, Women’s studies and sociology majors could be writing the studies that can be used to combat studies done from a eurocentric and patriarchal glance.

Think about that the next time the words “what are you going to do with THAT” start to exit your lips. We aren’t just choosing our degrees because we like them. A lot of us want to make a difference. Others want to create media and art that challenges society’s dominant narratives. Some of us (like myself) want to do a combination of that. I’m sure a lot of these questions come from  concern and I appreciate that concern but if you want to help, don’t push people into subjects because they supposedly make more money. Advise them to be well-rounded instead of leaning on their degrees. Encourage the little kid that might have a knack for drawing or an interest in history. Let’s keep arts in schools and stress the importance of critical thinking in our children. If we can do that, maybe we can keep shows like “All My Baby’s Mamas” off air.

If you aren’t willing to do that, keep your damn questions to myself and worry about your own degree.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

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