VH1's hit reality show Love and Hip Hop might want to consider a name change to Perverted Love and Hip-Hop, based on the dysfunctional relationships of the women on the show. The only thing worse than the negative portrayal of women of color on the reality show is their colossally messed-up "romantic" relationships with rappers.
I'm not sure what is more worrisome: the way these women brawl over men who don't appear to be that interested in them, or the fact that they have absurd notions of what love means, buoyed by other women who share this distorted image of love. Beyoncé and Jay-Z are definitely not the role models of love and hip-hop on this problematic show.
Each of the main characters introduced last season has seen her share of heartbreak. Chrissy Lampkin famously proposed to rapper Jim Jones on the show last year, only to return this season with no "movement" from him to "seal the deal," as she threatens to leave and emotionally browbeats him for most of the season.
Emily Bustamante spent eight years with rapper Fabolous (his spelling, not mine), with whom she has a son. She pined away over him last season because he would not publicly acknowledge their relationship and flaunted his infidelities with other women. She also spent most of this season pining away over him — even after moving out of their home so that he could see what life was like without her, yet continuing to "date" him anyway.
Rapper-turned-singer Olivia, who is struggling to redefine her career after two high-profile splits with high-profile music labels, was publicly humiliated last season by an NFL player who claimed that they were not an item, even though she believed that they were. This season, she casually mentions that she is dating, yet the viewer is never made aware of the man who is making her "happy"; perhaps that's why she seems extremely sad.
This season's newcomer, video model Kimberly "Kimbella" Vanderhee, has spent her time literally fighting over her man, rapper Juelz Santana, who likes her so much that in one episode he walked into their home and didn't even acknowledge her. She's working on baby number three with him, despite having no ring and no respect, and despite pending court cases that could land the rapper in jail for some time.
In a new-millennium version of the "tragic mulatto" stereotype, Kimbella and Emily weep their way through each episode, stating why being with their man is so hard, yet never finding the strength to leave and stay gone. Fabolous cheated on Emily with cast mate Kimbella while Emily was pregnant with their son. Kimbella publicly humiliated Emily by telling her about the infidelity on national television in front of Emily's best friends, and yet Emily, a mother of two — one of them a daughter — can't figure out what she wants to do about "Fab." Huh?
There doesn't appear to be much love on Love and Hip Hop — just lots of emotional roller coasters (psychologists call it emotional abuse), extreme sadness and guilt over leaving men who were never theirs. As Chrissy stated in an episode, the entire reason for being "ride or die" with these rappers is the idea that the loyalty will be returned. Chrissy is now engaged to Jim Jones, who eloquently told viewers why he loved her and had to do the right thing. She appears to be the only one getting what she wants out of her relationship.
Unfortunately, many women are raised to believe that they cannot have expectations of men or get the relationship they want from a man, so they may as well take what they can get (see Winter's terrible advice to Emily about her relationship with "Fab").
VH1 touts the show as a "docu-soap series that follows six dynamic women, each with a compelling connection to the world of hip-hop … all trying to make their way in a world of backstabbing and jealousy … broken promises and shattered dreams." The first problem is that these women are not dynamic, and their self-esteem is tied to being with a famous rapper at all costs. Further, as mothers who are also role models for their male and female children, they are making terrible choices that will have far-reaching consequences.
Kimbella talks constantly about growing up in a dysfunctional family and lacking a proper mother figure because her mother was so wedded to holding on to her father at any cost, but she continues to walk the same path as her mother. She talks about it so much that you have to wonder if she's trying to convince everyone around her, including herself.
Kimbella actually announced being pregnant with her third child by Santana after having sworn to herself and everyone, including her brother, that she was not going to re-create the dysfunctional relationship her parents had. And did we mention that Santana was arrested in September for allegedly striking Kimbella over her "relationship" with "Fab"?
Therein lies the rub. These young women think that breaking the cycle is about getting your man to put a ring on it after you've given literally all of yourself to him, instead of breaking the cycle of physical and emotional abuse, low self-esteem and poor role-modeling for future generations.
It has not escaped me that all of the women on the show have troubled relationships with their mothers. Kimbella's and Olivia's mothers mistreated them; Emily seems to seek out advice from everyone but her mother; series newcomer Yandy barely mentions her mother, instead reaching out to Jim Jones' mother, Nancy, whose mothering skills are questionable; and Chrissy's mother is deceased.
I raise this issue not to blame mothers (absent or abusive fathers also play a role), but to highlight the fact that while we have a community focused on the need for young boys to have strong father figures, there is clearly also a need for young girls to have strong mother figures.
When you have mothers who are mistreated, abused and involved in dysfunctional relationships, that relationship model can become the norm for children who witness it on a daily basis. After all, women perform the bulk of the child rearing in households, as also seen on the show, so it stands to reason that children learn a lot about what love looks like from them. Combine that with women who don't think they can be anything in this world without the status and money of a man in the music industry, and "Houston, we have a problem."
Love and Hip Hop is lacking in love on many levels — whether in romantic relationships, professional relationships or sisterly relationships — and constant physical and emotional pain is involved in those relationships. Rapper Somaya "Boss" Reese, whose screen time has been extremely limited on the second season, escaped an abusive relationship that left her with physical and emotional scars. She publicly acknowledges that she is constantly working through her issues so that she won't go through that horror again. Perhaps the ladies need to talk to her about their own relationships, instead of judging her age, size and lack of fashion sense.
Hopefully next season the ladies will learn that love doesn't have to hurt, even when it is wedded to hip-hop.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a media scholar, is digital editor in chief at Grady Newsource and a faculty member of the Cox Institute of Journalism, Innovation, Management & Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is founder and editor in chief of the award-winning news blog the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter here or here.