One of the main criticisms about critics is that you only hear from them when they have something to criticize. I never have been, nor do I ever hope to be considered a critic, but only a champion for positive depictions of people in the media. The last time I wrote about African-Americans and reality television, it was exactly that, a critique- albeit an arguably well-warranted one. So in an effort to be balanced and fair (not to be confused with the converse, trademarked slogan of a right-leaning TV network), I felt it my civic duty to take a moment and applaud a reality show depiction that left me feeling very proud.
Monday was the season premiere of VH1's "T.I. & Tiny: A Family Hustle," a show which I watched faithfully last season and happily happened upon last night. Over the course of one hour and two episodes, I watched, laughed, and Facebooked (is that an officially recognized verb yet?) as a black American family went about its day-to-day life before what I presume was millions upon millions of viewers nationwide.
What I loved about the show was that it portrayed black family life in a manner that was both authentic and aspirational. The producers of the show brilliantly and successfully managed to tell a story that was entertaining but not embarrassing, while allowing us all to think back on our childhoods and perhaps think differently about how we will raise, nurture, and develop our own children.
While the Harris' are certainly not the Cosby's- Tiny is no Claire and T.I. would never be mistaken for Cliff, I believe the beauty of their show lies in the transparency of their imperfections. "The Cosby Show" was groundbreaking during a time when America desperately needed to see black families on television to help us all better integrate and assimilate into mainstream American life. Today, T.I. and Tiny's show speaks to a generation of men and women that unapologetically chases fame and fortune, and at times makes grave mistakes, but works hard to pass those hard-learned life lessons down to the next generation, thereby alleviating the need for their children to attend the same school of hard knocks.
There were many moments throughout the show where T.I.'s dominance as the father figure in his home reminded me of my father's presence in our home. Being forced to go on family excursions to "create family memories" is an experience that is indelibly imprinted into my mind. Tiny's soft and nurturing manner evokes memories of the many moms that I've met throughout my life, who above all things put the happiness and wholeness of their families first. I appreciated every eye-roll of both the tween and teenage daughters who only wished to talk and text on the phone in peace. I've known the rambunctious little boys who stood poised and ready to step into their "manhood" as they bravely went in search of the perils lurking in the night.
I recognized the family that I saw last night, because in many ways their interactions mirrored those of my own and countless other families that I've encountered throughout my life. A cursory glance at census reports and national statistics tells us that today's family structure is far more diverse than what we knew in the glory days of Cosby. The modern family comes in an array of shapes and sizes. Their constructs are often complicated, and their makeups are malleable. What T.I. and Tiny showed the world was that even in the variances of the new- age family, the core principle of family values remains the same. Togetherness, love, honor and respect are alive and well in the black family. Whether your family is rich and dwells in mansions like the Harris', is working three jobs to make the rent, or falls into any scenario in between, the black American landscape is rich with a myriad of stories and frameworks of black family life.
Through T.I. and Tiny we saw one such depiction. Throughout the course of this week we will also see another. On Tuesday evening, First Lady Michelle Obama gave the nation an impassioned account about why the man she married deserves a second term as the head of America's house. In the days that follow, President Obama will tell the world why the American family remains in great hands under his leadership.
This week in television will produce strong and meaningful images of the black family in the media. Along those same lines, I believe that this occurrence presents a great opportunity to celebrate all that is rich and beautiful about our own individual families. Whether we are reminiscing on our days as children, or basking in the joy of the memories that we're creating with our own, I implore each and every one of us to celebrate black families this month. Upload a photo of your family to Facebook. Tweet a funny story that only you and your family will understand. Or just take a moment to call or text your family members and let them know how much you love them.
I'm not a politician but I've always admired their ability to ceremonially proclaim days, weeks, and months in recognition of that which they deemed important. So in a reality world where wives aren't always married and the wealthy aren't necessarily rich, I am bestowing my own reality powers upon myself, and thereby anointing myself with the power to proclaim.
That said, by the power vested in me, I hereby pronounce September 2012 as Black Family Month!
You may now kiss your family!