If you sit around a group of black women long enough, you’ll quickly see that honesty is the hallmark of relationship in African American culture. A black woman won’t just tell her friend whether or not a new pair of jeans is flattering—she’ll give unsolicited commentary on the shoes, top, and earrings too. And while she’s at it, she’ll tell you exactly why she thinks you should drop that new guy you’re seeing and which ingredient was missing from your chili at the church potluck. It’s just the way things are. Black women are the originators of “keepin’ it real.”
Which is why I’m so confused and disappointed by the depiction of black women on the new scripted drama Single Ladies on VH1. Since when did black women become so … well, fake?
I first caught Single Ladies a couple of weekends back with my fiancé during a replay of the show’s two-hour premiere. At the time we weren’t hip to the fact that the show was originally produced by Queen Latifah as a film, but promptly snatched up by VH1 as a 10-episode series. So we sat there every 30 minutes of those two hours waiting for the credits to roll, rejoicing that one of our favorite actresses, Stacey Dash, was getting work again, yet wondering why she was playing a character nearly half her age and definitely half her intelligence on TV.
If you haven’t seen Single Ladies, the title no doubt a nod to Beyoncé, the show is like an old school CW-network hybrid of The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Sex and the City—except it’s on VH1, the network that brought us Flavor of Love starring Flavor Flav. The Washington Post called the series “embarrassing” and meant “for people who found Sex and the City too quick-witted and The Wendy Williams Show too intellectually stimulating” while The Root criticized the show for its lack of drama, calling it “knock-you-over-the-head obvious.” And while I agree with their critiques, my uneasiness with the show stems mainly from the Grand Canyon-sized hole in its moral center.
Like the pervasive urban pseudo-reality shows on TV today, and as with the show’s older mainstream sister Sex and the City, this new drama has the same inexcusable moral confusion that allows poor decision-making to be applauded as female independence. And while the show should be commended for giving work to black actresses like Stacey Dash and LisaRaye McCoy, who are often lost in the tiny creative crevice between our staple powerhouses like Angela Bassett and bombshell newcomers like Meagan Good, this urban soap does no favors for black culture by ignoring the very basic nature of what black female friendship involves—namely honesty and accountability. And beyond the cultural misrepresentation, the plotlines propagate an unhealthy example of what it means to be a loyal friend.
From the first episode of Single Ladies we see April (Charity Shea) cheat on her husband with the mayor, while Val (Dash) sleeps with two men within a short window leading to an almost-pregnancy, and Keisha (McCoy) dances in a rap video while stealing jewelry from the set. In each circumstance, the ladies cheer one another on in their bad behavior, covering, supporting, and empathizing with the consequences of their friends’ actions, but not holding them accountable to the role they played in bringing about their negative circumstances.
Maybe it’s a stereotype, but where is the tell-it-like-it-is and oh-no-she-didn’t we have come to expect as a basic tenet of how black women interact? For a group of supposedly best friends, how is it that no one is speaking the truth?
To the Galatians, Paul taught that tender rebuke is an appropriate response to sinful behavior in those we love. He wrote, “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. … Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” So it would seem that both culturally and spiritually, authentic friendship is filled with a healthy level of moral accountability.
VH1’s Single Ladies shows women co-signing on the bad behavior of those they love for the sake of being “ride or die” friends, but it doesn’t ring true. In a time when people are obsessed with reality TV, these fake friendships likely won’t make the ratings to stay on the air.