Abortion, Reality TV, and Women of Color

What new series has an unplanned pregnancy, abortion discussion, and centers women of Color? Are we ready to use the forms of popular culture that offer us opportunities to explore these topics with our communiites?

I’m still surprised I’ve grown up with cable (now I can’t afford it so I watch some shows online) and that Vh1 is one of the main sources where communities of Color, especially women of Color are represented. Vh1 has really changed their image; back in my youth, the channel represented the almost exclusively racially white “soft rock” genre and limited R&B songs by the people to whom I listened. Today, Vh1 represents me, which is a huge shift from what I remember. Not only do they represent me as a woman of Color, but as a LatiNegra. They have more LatiNegras on their shows than any other channel I can think of (i.e. La La’s Full Court Life,  Basketball Wives).

This post isn’t about how problematic or limiting these shows are today. That’s been written about by some of my favorite LatiNegra writers and media makers. Although I must share that I really appreciated when Tami and Evelyn went to get mammograms together at their doctor and wished I wrote about that and the importance of this scene at the time. Instead, I want to focus on a new theme I’m seeing emerge on the new show Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta. This series is the first time the show has been aired outside of New York. The last several seasons have focused on women of Color who are in the Hip Hop community in some form and residing in NYC.

This new series is in Atlanta. There’s been a lot going on and in just the second episode there is an unplanned pregnancy. One of the women, an up and coming performer named Joseline, who is Latina (not sure if she identifies as a LatiNegra), takes a pregnancy test and it is positive. At the end of episode two she shares that she is pregnant with the baby of her manager/producer/lover who also is in a relationship with another woman and has a child who Joseline knows about and still chose to be “the other woman.”

Their relationship is complicated and messy (to put it nicely). Joseline’s producer/manager/lover asks her why she’s bringing this to him, who the “father” is, and that she “needs to take care of it.” The next episode coming up shows a series of conversations and arguments Joseline is in with friends asking her what she’s going “to do about the baby.” 

I find this to be an interesting storyline and one that I think I’ll follow even though I’m not really that interested in this series. The last time a woman of Color experienced and openly discussed/considered an abortion on reality tv that I can remember was when Tami of Basketball Wives was on The Real World: Los Angeles (1993) and she was filmed during her process of choosing to have an abortion, discussing her decision with her housemates, their beliefs and values, her mother taking her to the clinic, and her recovery after the procedure. 

Below are the two parts of Tami’s abortion story. The first video is Tami sharing her decision to terminate the pregnancy and the commentary by three men and then a few other women she’s living with. It was a really revolutionary representation with folks of various perspectives sharing their opinions in a respectful and honest way, something we don’t always or often see or have today. One of her housemates who has strong religious convictions shares his disappointment with her decision, yet chooses to support her as a friend who is having a difficult experience and realizes “this is between her and God.”

Another element of this first clip is that at the time Tami was working at a reproductive health clinic working with folks who are HIV-positive or getting tested to know their HIV status. She talks about how she had access and was one of the main people who “should know” about contraceptives and condom availability. Her mother shares that she is upset because Tami is surrounded by condoms. This is something that I think is important for providers and educators to sit and reflect on because this is real! I know many of my past posts and even today the conversations I have with folks come back to us as educators and providers “knowing better” yet how does that knowledge affect our daily lives and decisions in real time? How do we forget that when we are doing our education and counseling of others? How may these reminders help center us and the work we are doing?

The second video shares some background of Tami’s life and her experience of homelessness and of her mother as a member of the working poor growing up. She talks about not wanting to fill out paperwork, just wanting the procedure to be over even with the support of her mother on the day of her procedure. Her mother asks if she can go to the procedure room with her and is told “no” to respect the confidentiality of other patients (and this is how doulas may be helpful for support). Her mother also shares her process of coming to support her daughter’s decision when she originally offered to help her with parenting responsibilities.  Tami also discusses her feelings about her decision and we see her mother be present for her during her healing. These videos are not what we see today on The Real World and I think there are many reasons for that which may be another post.

I share this because these are topics that are coming up currently in popular culture. Although Vh1 still targets an older viewership, I know many younger folks using social media are watching this show and using hashtags to follow others opinions. These are useful and important opportunities to discuss abortion, pregnancy options, testing, contraceptives, relationship expectations, use of language, and safety issues among youth and communities of Color. Regardless of what your position is on any of these topics, I think it’s important to know they are being discussed, especially among people of Color, and this is a good use of popular culture to deconstruct and discuss.