The Ratchet Knows No Color
In a time when any star can stay relevant by displaying their shamefully foolish lifestyle to the public, the Oxygen network plans on airing a new series called All My Babies’ Mamas, with Shawty Lo. To remind you, Shawty Lo is the drug dealer/rapper from Bankhead, Atlanta who released such hits as “Dey Know” and “Laffy Taffy”. It is the result of the emerging market of ratchet media. If you are unfamiliar with the term ratchet, Oxygen’s newest project will surely help you understand.
This is one of the most ratchet things I have ever seen. The fact that that was a Fox News clip makes it so much worse. Ratchet, in this context, refers to the irresponsible, excitable, immature and/or stereotypical behavior associated with members of lower socioeconomic statuses. The noun form of the term generally refers to an undesirable or crass woman, which partially applies to the matter at hand.
I feel my heart dropping into my loins when I watch this video. It’s awful. It’s worse than when I saw a little infant in a stroller sucking down a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto in the line at Family Dollar. Understandably, The NAACP, Change.org, the Parents Television Council and other activist organizations have started aggressive campaigns against the release of the show (might be why most videos of the trailer have been taken down). As expressed in the Change.org petition, “could you ever imagine a one hour spectacle where 11 children are forced to witness their 10 unwed mothers clamor for financial support, emotional attention and sexual reward from Shawty-Lo, the apathetic ‘father’?”. The answer to that hypothetical is “no”. I was naive enough to think that negative Black images on television would reduce as Post Racial America “matured”.
I really shouldn’t have been surprised. I’m one those TV snobs who thinks reality television is a toxic disease running rampant through Hollywood. I’ve warned my peers about the possible consequences of their enthusiastic support of every messy, catty, idiotic and ignorant figure of irrelevance with a reality show. I’ve been trying to make this point in vain since Flava of Love. It doesn’t matter though; people love to watch a train wreck. I’ve witnessed networks one-up each other on who could produce the most embarrassing representations of America as we become desensitized to rash and rude behavior. A glass of wine splashed into someone’s face is child’s play at this point. Once TV execs notice a formula for ratings, they will do anything to duplicate the results.
Our adoration for the ratchet stems from our connection to the hood. As one of the most oppressed demographics in American history, most of us have a connection to “the struggle”. Whether you grew up in the hood, or your great grandparents were slaves, or you’re a first-generation college grad, your connection to the struggle-life is real. As the livelihoods of Black people continue to improve over time, many of the hood characteristics that we identify with have become reminiscent in nature or parodic. We continue to achieve greatness while facing oppression and discrimination, and our appreciation for duality continues concordantly. Whether we’re blasting 2 Chainz while mentoring kids, drinking a 40 ounce in a Brooks Brothers bow tie, fully understanding Niggas in Paris or screaming the lyrics to All Gold Everything with a well diversified financial portfolio, we clearly show a deep appreciation for the duality of our condition in Post Racial America.
Social analysis aside, many of us simply like to do hood rat shit with our friends, and watching the tribulations of an idiot is as timeless as slapstick. We are fascinated by the the volatility and general lack of fucks given by the protagonists of these pseudo-reality stories. Between Love & Hip Hop, Bad Girls Club, the Keyshia Cole Saga and World Star Hip-Hop, ratchet has been spread around enough to enter white suburban homes. I’ve witnessed white women singing the Ratchet Girl Anthem. They know.
We’ve seen a lot of deplorable displays of ratchet behavior ever since TV execs sold their soul to the devil. Bravo used to air in-depth interviews with masters of cinema, MTV and VH1 used to play music videos and TLC (The Learning Channel) used to be “a place for learning minds”.
Networks have realized that there is no limit to the exploitative nature of their programming. Moms with eight kids, jezebels looking for love, and strangers living together or surviving on an island will no longer suffice. I mean, there’s a TV show documenting the downfall of Whitney Houston’s daughter as her predisposition to drug addiction manifests. Nothing is sacred. They’ve also realized that race is of no consequence when it comes to the successful showcase of immature and irresponsible behavior.
If you are like many Americans, you’ve probably watched quite a few obscure documentaries on Netflix in recent history. One of these incredible accounts of ratchet behavior is The Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, in which self-proclaimed hillbillies provide commentary on their lawless antics. There are plenty of stereotypes in this clip, like white girls doing white girl and publicly displaying their breasts.
Self-incrimination begins at 0:50.
When I witnessed the behavior of these ratchet caucasoids on my Netflix, I was astonished and thoroughly entertained. But at no point did I ever think to myself, “Ha, White people be crazy in general”. White people aren’t generally threatened by or attached to the depictions of their unfavorable members being disseminated to the public because there is no stereotype threat. The impact of most white stereotypes is minimal at best (unless you call them a racist). I was watching Roots on BET to prepare for Django and I watched Chicken George’s Dad-master lose his shit when some ostentatious gentlemen called him a cracker. Most white people would initially respond with confusion if I were to call any of them a cracker today. Cracker was a pejorative term for poor, rural slave owners in the South. The term pointed to their lawlessness and inflated sense of self-importance. But cracker, along with other caricatures of poor white people, was suppressed as minority stereotypes were proselytized. It’s how a stereotype about the most violently victimized members of this society somehow being the most violent members of this society can even exist. African-Americans have been dealing with inequality, discrimination and oppression of every form while battling scathing stereotypes since 1619 and these stereotypes continue to pervade American culture. I still hear and see racist jokes about Black fathers being shared by Caucasians with great fervor. The fact that more than 70% of Black kids are raised in single-parent households makes All My Babies’ Mamas a thousand times more offensive.
There was backlash from the Mormon community when Sister Wives aired and there was backlash from residents of Jersey Shore when Jersey Shore aired because those sub-populations were threatened by the promotion of stereotypes associated with their groups. As African-Americans, we are surrounded by stereotype threats all of the time. At work, in school, in our cars, at restaurants, everywhere. Ratchet knows no color, but discrimination and disparagement do. The last thing we need is a caustic vehicle of stereotype promotion backed by NBC Universal. One item of solace is the fact that there has been such an overwhelmingly negative response to the show. At least we’ve made some progress since the minstrel shows. Hopefully a clear line will be drawn indicating acceptable ranges of ratchetness. In the meantime, do what you can to unratch America.