Two weeks ago, when a friend sent author and media commentator Sabrina Lamb a clip of Oxygen’s upcoming one-hour reality TV special All My Babies’ Mamas, she was shocked by what she saw. The show promised to highlight the life of rapper Shawty Lo, his 11 kids and their 10 mothers, and to chronicle what happens when “the man of the house has to split his affection multiple ways while trying to create order.” Lamb, who works full-time with underserved youth in the New York City area, was furious and utterly disgusted. Tired of seeing the Black family portrayed negatively on reality TV, and what Lamb felt was the blatant use of child-exploitation to market TV programming, she did what others often don’t – she immediately took action.
Lamb wrote and called the network repeatedly looking for answers, and when she felt they had none, she subsequently launched a national petition on Change.org asking others to join her in insisting that the president of Oxygen Media not air the show. Lamb wasn’t the only one enraged by what she saw in that preview. Word about her petition spread, and to date she has over 13,400 (and counting) signatures. News outlets picked up the story of the backlash and the trailer was removed from the web. We caught up with Lamb to find out just how far she plans to go to make change.
ESSENCE.COM: There are many controversial reality programs on TV today starring Black families. Why boycott this show? Why now?
SABRINA LAMB: A friend of mine emailed the pilot to me, which has since been taken offline. Moment after moment I just saw child exploitation. I mentor a lot of children and I see the impact of these images, and I have to put them back on the right path. This is a marketing campaign specifically geared toward impacting impressionable young people. To me, “baby’s mama” is a slur. It’s denying the humanity of a child’s existence. Every child deserves to come into the world loved by two parents, safe and wanted. In the clip I saw, Lo couldn’t even remember the names of all of his 11 children. This is not funny to me. What’s funny about this? I can’t go after all of the shows. Although the 14,000 people that I represent now want me to.
ESSENCE.COM: If aired, what message do you feel this show will send our children?
LAMB: Number one, it’s okay to have unprotected sex. Number two, that you don’t own your own bodies. And three, that’s okay to have children and then see each other as the enemy. In the clip the women have nicknames like “the angry baby mama” or “the crazy baby mama.” Those children are witness to this. Children are waiting for an adult to speak up and say enough is enough.
ESSENCE.COM: Do you feel more people should be as outraged as you are?
LAMB: Black people do not feel like they have the power to say anything different. I’m just one person. I’m just someone who said, “Excuse me, the emperor has no clothes on.” What happens in the African American community is that we’ll go on Facebook, complain, and then that’s it.
ESSENCE.COM: Were you surprised that your petition made national news?
LAMB: A little. I thought it was just going to be a few of my friends and I who were upset about it and that’s it. Now, I’m getting emails from people all around the world saying to me, “It’s about time someone said something!”
ESSENCE.COM: What do you hope will come from the success of the petition?
LAMB: If this show goes on the air, you’re going to have to come and get me from in front of the Oxygen studio. I invited everyone to come be out there on the lawn with me. This is not just a Black issue. White people are sick of it too. I got an email from a 68-year-old White woman saying, “ I am sick and tired of Black stereotypes.”
ESSENCE.COM: What would you say to the women who are watching reality shows that portray Black women in a negative light?
LAMB: We have to start to draw a line in the sand. We have to decide who we really are, and while we’re deciding that, can we at least understand that our first duty is to protect and nurture our children? We don’t lobby. We’ll call a talk show, but we won’t go after advertisers. This has to stop.
Lamb is the author of A Kettle of Vultures…Left Beak Marks On My Forehead and 2013 publication Do I Look Like An ATM? A Parent’s Guide to Raising Financially Responsible Children.
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