It’s no surprise that there would be backlash and outrage over the OWN network giving Jay Williams, the Atlanta man with 34 kids by 17 different women who was featured on Iyanla Vanzant’s Fix My Life series, his own reality show. Black Twitter exploded when it was announced this week that Williams would debut this September, continuing the story that originally ran last fall.
The scoffing spread across the blogosphere when people found out that the brother that no condom could hold would be on primetime, once again, with his and his kids’ moms’ dirty laundry out there to see.
“Well, apparently, being a deadbeat will pay off (some of that back child support)…” said TheRoot.com.
“…With his track record, full of irresponsibility, it’s doubtful that Jay would attempt to repair these relationships without the cameras around,” wrote MadameNoire.com.
So Williams is probably not a favorite out there to women who have had to deal with deadbeats, or to children who had to grow up without a father, or at least knowing their fathers could have been a dad, but didn’t. He’s also not a favorite to men who believe in taking responsibility for one’s own seed.
A few months ago, I wrote in this space about the original show. I went in ready to criticize Vanzant because I felt something like this wasn’t her domain, and that it would only result in male-bashing. But it turned out I was wrong. It, and follow-up shows on Williams, turned out to be a visual treatise on how brothers who are chronically phallically irresponsible could take a hard look at themselves in the mirror and see where they needed to check themselves.
Truth is, I know a lot of men who have children by multiple women. It’s become part and parcel in the ‘hood. You hear conversations about it on the street. It’s part of a catalogue of rap lyrics. There are places where a single, hetero adult male who does not have kids is an anomaly. The dysfunction caused by multi-fathering is seen as normal in too many of our communities. It’s just something that happens, like jail.
Jay Williams is an extreme case, but at the same time, his situation is familiar. You need only go to your local family court and sit in on the cases of women angrily dragging ex-husbands, ex-lovers, one-night stands, and “friends with benefits” in front of a judge, who sighs and wonders why the couple didn’t use protection, while both the mother and father wish they had never met.
It’s also likely that you’ve seen street arguments between men and women who fail to co-parent, loudly falling out in public over money management, time spent with the kids, babysitting, jealousy over new relationships, anger over the character of new lovers and how it might affect the child, the list goes on and on.
So maybe it’s time that there was something on television, that Black men would watch particularly, that reflects their situation and enables them to look inward at their mistakes, work with them as best they can…”do the work” as Iyanla would say. All the rhetoric about how “these Black men ain’t sh*t” because they got all these “baby mamas” (a term I hate), needs to end as far as I’m concerned, because it’s not helpful. Men need to find ways to man up, grab life by the balls, and make things right. If a reality show, superficial or not, gives them an example of that, then there is nothing wrong with it.
It’s probably also notable that while people criticized MTV’s 16 and Pregnant, as it turned out, the effect was actually positive. Since that show went on the air, teen birthrates actually lowered. Not that I’m arguing that correlation equals causation, but a study done by two professors at the University of Maryland showed that the show did not glamorize teen pregnancy as was feared. Instead, teen girls who watched the popular show went on their own to learn about birth control and the result was 20,000 fewer teen births a year.
No, I’m not comparing deadbeat dads to teenage girls, but I am suggesting that in the social media world we live in, such programming can have a definite social impact. So just as 16 and Pregnant influenced young girls to be serious about avoiding unwanted pregnancies, maybe this untitled Jay Williams project can give insight to men who father multiple children by multiple women.
Believe me, lots of brothers have been in the situation where a woman who is not his wife and who he did not intend to conceive a child with walks up to him and says those two words: “I’m pregnant.” (Full disclosure: I’ve been there and it’s not a good feeling.) And because there is no playbook, no set of instructions, no guidance other than what he’d hear from other misguided young men, all he can do is stand there looking stupid.
It’s time for that to end. Jay Williams is not a hero, even he admits that. He’s a man who has made mistakes over and over again in his life. The show will depict the result of those mistakes. It will attempt to show his failed attempts at co-parenting, and perhaps his successes in healing broken relationships.
Ultimately, neither he nor any other man can un-conceive their children.
As angry as it may make a lot of people, examples of Black men trying to fix things, correct their environments and make things right, rather than being hung out as punching bags for literary sport, has been a long time in coming.
So as far as preconceived notions about what this show might entail, not so fast. Let’s see where it goes.
Madison J. Gray is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based multimedia journalist specializing in urban issues and criminal justice. He writes for NewsOne on the subject of Black males in America. Follow him on Twitter:@madisonjgray