The Way it Is: Race and Circumstance in Reality TV

kcGod, it feels good to type for fun.. I’m such a fucking dork.

So, Sandy and I were watching this BET Reality TV show called Keyshia Cole: The Way it is. She sang one love ballad that I thought was pretty cool; but I don’t remember the name of it… or how it sounded. Hm.

Well, I was surprised that something like this was airing… because it’s off the beaten path of most other reality shows that center around a rising (or falling) star. Now, mind you, I don’t watch much TV to begin with; but, if it’s not a competition, then it’s a quirky little fun sitcom-y type of thing with kitschy background music, animated graphics, and heavy editing. In this reality show, the editing is a bit similar (replace cheap ironic harmonies with harmless r&b rhythms) but the story has changed. While Keyshia is out there being a pop star, we also face her train wreck of a family, including her baby machine of a sister and reformed crackhead mother. When her mom was in the slammer, Keyshia stayed with a foster family that knew her junkie mother, Frankie, quite well. The tension between Keyshia’s God-loving, wholesome, classy foster parents and her ghetto-fabulous broken past is seeped down to the core of the entire story, and escalates into a family reunion gone horribly wrong.

Oh no you di’nt!

Sub plots keep the show rolling; Keyshia’s sister, Neffee, has baby mama drama while Frankie finds God through sobriety. But, the family therapy visits, which really dig into the meat of the matter as to why they are all fucked up, leaves Keyshia as both the saving grace and target for green-eyed monsters.


It caught my eye immediately, as the show openly brought out issues that were avoided altogether in most reality dramas. Throughout the episodes, Neffee deals with another baby, while trying desperately to take care of her two daughters. She brings up an issue of abortion that you hardly hear about anymore, acknowledging her situation as a black mother in the ghetto who does not want to struggle with another child. Frankie births seven children, some of which she is still trying to get to know; but feels as though Neffee is taking the easy way out by getting rid of her baby. It was pretty refreshing and unusual, given the fact that most reality shows are lame to begin with.

Anyway, my mom comes out and asks us what we’re watching. Sandy tells her what its all about, to which she replies: God, black people always have problems.

No joke. And she means it.

When I explain to people that my mom is racist, a thought often comes to mind that she dislikes white people. She doesn’t. On the contrary, she always has something negative to say about dark-skinned brothas and sistas. It’s funny because much of the problems on the shows were ones we experienced in our own family, and they really have nothing to do with race. But, because we believe that one’s socioeconomic status is equivocally tied to the color of the skin, many of us associate blacks with poverty, and thus a certain stereotype that comes with that territory.


This is where the media is to blame. And I really don’t blame the media that often, so you know its true. Keyshia Cole’s show is a perfect example. So, I don’t think there’s too many shows that focus on a person of color or the culture that they’ll inevitably represent. The shows I haven’t watched too much of are Run’s House, and College Hill. I’m sure there’s a few more that I haven’t seen; but, if it hasn’t reached that pop culture status, then I think that speaks volumes too. So there’s Keyshia Cole, New York from I Love New York, Flava Flav from Flava of Love, and then he did some god awful spin off with Brigitte Nilson. All of these shows are hip-hop based. Two of these shows were set in The Bachelor tradition-contestants fighting for the affections of the bachelor(ette). The other two were virtually just a camera crew following them around day and night. Now, Keyshia Cole sticks out like a sore thumb. While my mom wanted to “point out” the obvious, she didn’t see the footage of Keyshia dedicating her time to visiting girls in halfway homes and program centers, dealing with a life she may have lived if her career didn’t skyrocket. You see Frankie at a center that treats daughters and their mothers, hoping to come clean from drugs and alcohol. Sure, there’s plenty to provide for us in terms of baby mama drama and martini-fueled fights, but at least it balances it out with signs of charity and honesty that the other shows haven’t delivered.

Regardless, though, have you ever seen a show that parallels that of The Hills or The Kardashians or any of that bleach blond Californian bullshit that MTV loves to roll around in? Seriously! It seems as though money and fame and excess are an ongoing fuel for most of these shows, as they flaunt a lifestyle of glitz and glamor that I know nothing about. I guess trash breaks the color barrier (from New York to that tanned chick from that show on some music network) But, if anything, these shows only re-instate the stereotypes in order to provide us with entertainment. Our reality: white are boring and bland and blacks are loud and obnoxious and still don’t speak well.

Ugh! I guess it doesn’t take too much to keep us distracted.

  1. April 24th, 2009

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