As I was flipping through the television channels during the holidays, a rare occurrence to be sure, I barely spared a glance for ‘White Christmas’ or ‘Erotic Elves: HoHoHos (I kid you not), but when I happened across National Geographic’s ‘Wild Wives of Africa,‘ the world tilted slightly on it’s axis.
It is what Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry so succinctly and definitively calls “The Crooked Room.” When the world around you tilts under the weight of racism and gender discrimination, historical stereotypes and cultural insensitivity — with the shift only being perceptible to a select few who are affected by the same silent descent into the rabbit hole — you have entered “The Crooked Room.” And all you can do is try to catch your balance and navigate through it while the rest of the world spins as usual.
This is what happened to me when I saw the title “Wild Wives Of Africa.” I was unexpectedly stunned. So much so, in fact, I voiced my consternation on Facebook:
Let’s be clear: The show seems to be informative and entertaining, and one that I would thoroughly enjoy. It is an exploration into understanding female power in the African animal kingdom. The description of the first episode, which aired in 2011, is as follows:
A lot of girls have been told that males are the strongest, most seductive and protective, and most handsome in nature…in short, they rule. In reality, females have many surprises in store for us – and sometimes, they hold the real power. In the first episode of Wildwives, we will try to find out how females find food in the wild. Is there one female among us best-equipped to confront the ruthlessness of life on the savannah? Laura the lioness has to hunt to feed herself and her family. Will Lauren, with the help of her fellow females, survive and feed the clan? Victoria the female cheetah is better at hunting, but unfortunately, her catch is often stolen. Esther the female elephant, needs more than two hundred kilos of food per day, how does she get it? And what are the males doing while these ladies work all day and night?
Now I’m not one to excavate for racism where none is intended. When NBC aired a gymnastics-themed ad for the comedy “Animal Practice” featuring a monkey gymnast directly after Gabby Douglas won her Olympic gold medal, I gave them the benefit of the doubt, even though it made me pause. And when Google was accused of racism when they created an image of a Black sprinter running on a track that resembled a watermelon, I shrugged it off as nothing but coincidence, because, after all, isn’t that what some tracks actually resemble? But an entire series that is blatantly capitalizing off of the sensationalism, ignorance, hyper-sexuality, aggression and entrenched patriarchy — in that the women are only important in context of their men — of what has become a reality television landscape dominated by Black women is pretty difficult to just brush aside without getting the opinions of others on the matter.
And it goes without saying that the title ‘Wild Wives Of Africa’ is meant to conjure up images of wild, Black women behaving like animals over men and love. It is meant to be Real Housewives of Atlanta, Basketball Wives and Love & Hip-Hop — in the African jungle.
But is it racist?I would say yes, but I completely own the fact that I may be reaching. I also own the fact that they would never create a show titled “Wild Wives of Europe,” because, for them, that doesn’t call to mind the image of unrestrained hyenas screeching at each other in Louboutins.
European women are to be handled with respect, according to conventional norms and mores, and that means no subliminal comparisons to chimpanzees rolling over and giving up the goods to the first male that crosses her path — even if it’s supposed to be cute and creative.The title of this show plays directly into the historical stereotypes of Black women as hyper-sexed and sub-human — and I find it…disturbing, to say the least.Let me know what you think. Racist or a creative spin-off?