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We’ve talked at length about the effects reality shows have on black women, and while many agree that the cattiness, fighting, and unlady-like behavior is not a good look for the women involved, there has been a good amount of debate about how their images reflect on black women as a whole.

Many feel that the negative behaviors of the “Real Housewives” of wherever promote negative stereotypes about black and brown women, but others, including writer and activist Akiba Solomon of Colorlines, sees things a bit differently.

In a recent essay Solomon explains why black and Latino women shouldn’t be embarrassed by the on-screen antics of some of these reality TV stars. Instead we should be sad for them.

Speaking in particular about VH1’s latest show “Love & Hip Hop Atlantashe writes:

I’m supposed to declare “Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta” a disgrace to my race, la raza, and women the world over. I’m supposed to worry about whether racists and sexists will absorb, then generalize the outlandish behavior of key cast members such as Joseline Hernandez, an inarticulate former stripper who tweets pictures of her vagina to prove that she is a woman and calls her manager Stevie J “daddy” during a business meeting; Stevie J, a three-time Grammy winner who manipulates rapper Joseline with threats of sending her back to the pole; Momma Dee, a mentally unstable former pimp and drug hustler who regrets not putting the woman who jilted her rapper son “on the track”; and Mimi Faust, the mother of Stevie J’s child, who punishes him for publicly cheating by demanding a 10-percent stake in Joseline’s music career.

As a self-respecting black woman who acknowledges the historical uses of stereotypical images, I should be signing the VH-1 boycott petitions whether they’re successful or not.

And if I want to maximize traffic to this post, I’m obligated to deliver a zinger like, “Executive producer Mona Scott-Young is on track to surpass Shaunie O’Neal as the country’s top purveyor of stiletto-coonin’.”

The things is, I’m not actually ashamed of the women on “Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta.” I am sad for them because I believe they’re reacting to the underlying economic exploitation so common in the decentralized entertainment industry.

While Solomon doesn’t excuse the negative behaviors of the show’s participants, she recognizes that their behaviors say less about black women and more about their lackluster careers and those who aim to profit off of their vulnerable economic conditions.

She explains:

It wouldn’t be fair for me to speculate about the value of a track by producer Stevie J, who in his late-90s heyday was a member of P. Diddy’s Hit Squad. What I can surmise is that he, his girlfriend of 15 years who runs a small cleaning business, and his mistress/artist Joseline are banking on the publicity and basic fees they can demand for doing “Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta.” I believe the same goes for one-time hit rapper ’Lil Scrappy and his daughter’s mother, Erica; K. Michelle, a former Jive recording artist who says that her former manager and lover beat her up and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from her recording budget; and Rasheeda, an Atlanta indie rapper who is married to her manager.

To be sure, I’m not excusing the ignorant, bullying, disrespectful, sexually irresponsible, and exploitative behavior that some cast members have displayed in just two episodes of “Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta.” But to see it only through the lens of black and brown female representation is to miss the real story of economic exploitation. I’m not going to focus my ire at these women who are making a living with their bodies and twisted backstories. I’m looking at the network of bottom-feeders who profit handsomely from their financial desperation, emotional instability — and their willingness to act up on national television for a steady gig.

Although it’s sad that people feel the need to do just about anything to get a check (and while some blame Tami and Evelyn, Nene and Sheree, or Joseline and Mimi for setting black and brown women back), like Solomon, my criticisms are for those behind the scenes pulling the strings and profiting handsomely off of the dysfunction.

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  • I definitely have to agree with Akiba Solomon. It’s clear that African Americans are seeing reality tv as a way to multiply their income. But everything comes down to choice. People would rather play a puppet for a paycheck, hoping to not defame their true character, but not realizing they’re exploiting themselves as well as their race. Money makes the world go round, which is why AA have reached a point of desperation to get quick money. Its the “new” hustle… a remix of blackface minstrel, if not the original.