Fatherhood on TV: Real or Well-Crafted?

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In honor of Father’s Day, let’s think critically about the messages we’re receiving regarding Black fatherhood in reality television. Several popular primetime shows depict Black fatherhood such as T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle, Black Ink Crew and Love & Hip Hop: The Wedding, but are these depictions accurate? Or are we being sold a well-crafted story?

T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle follows the story of a famous rapper, Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr. (T.I.), who spent time in prison and is now back raising his six children and supporting his wife. Black Ink Crew illustrates a few of the male tattoos artists’ legal issues over child support and general paternity issues. And lastly, Love & Hip Hop: The Wedding shows Yandy and Mendeecee finally getting married after two children (Mendeecee also has another child from a previous relationship), Mendeecee’s release from prison and Yandy’s struggle as a single mother during his incarceration.

These storylines vary in a lot of areas, but they all share an underlying theme of what Black fatherhood looks like, and the prevalent role drugs, weapons and the legal system (read: prison, child support, probation/parole officers, etc.) play or have played in the development of the characters in each show. While it is true incarceration, drugs and weapons are the reality for some Black males, when television shows feature this as a prominent storyline it perpetrates stereotypes and suggests it is a rite of passage for Black males.

Let’s delve a little deeper into these often seen before, yet apparently “entertainment-worthy,” tropes we are constantly witnessing. What values are shown and promoted? What ideas are being shaped and attributed to these Black male characters’ interactions with the world and their families? How did we come to a place where Black fathers as one-dimensional characters, with assumedly narrow and unconventional approaches to parenting, are viewed as the norm?

Instead of passively viewing these (and similar) shows, we need to carefully consider the images of Black fatherhood that are being left out of the story society shapes around Black families/Black parenting. Without a doubt, there are too many fatherless sons and daughters. There are too many males fathering children by multiple females, without being married. And there are also too many males who are not incarcerated, yet choose not to show up for their children. In contrast, there are many fathers who are a consistent, loving and nurturing presence in their children’s lives. There are fathers who have never spent time in prison. And there are fathers who are dedicated to raising confident and productive sons and daughters. Why don’t the storylines of reality shows reflect all of these facets of Black fatherhood?

When we watch reality shows like T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle, Black Ink Crew and Love & Hip Hop: The Wedding, we are signaling to the producers, writers and everyone else involved that these are the stories we want to see. We are consenting to consuming this dysfunction and the perpetuation these tropes convey.

While watching television throughout the month, ask yourself whether you value Black fatherhood, and if the media you are consuming honors that value. Ask yourself if what you believe about Black fatherhood is in line with what you are practicing (i.e. what you are investing in with your viewership and time). If the answer is no, it’s time to turn the channel.

LaTierra S. Piphus is a media literacy activist and social justice advocate serving non-profits and communities of color nationwide. Follow her on Twitter: @rEVOLushunaryAx

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