Maybe I am the only person surprised by the dismissal of Jennifer Williams and Royce Reed from Basketball Wives, but when I read the official announcement, I was saddened.
As much as I admire Shaunie O’Neal for flipping her Shaq money (she is the ex-wife of former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal) three ways, her behavior around the unraveling of the VH1 brand— which has received a lot of flack for showcasing Black women fighting, cussing and “drank tossing”— during its fourth season is disappointing.
On one hand the former Mrs. O’Neal is quick to tout her stance against perpetuating negative stereotypes while presenting authentic representations of the cast members' lives. Does she have the final say on what get aired? Of course not. Once she made a deal with the network she was forced to relinquish creative control— but she does have some influence. More important, she has a responsibility to stand by her declaration to support "positive" behaviors and story lines. That said, when you dismiss the only three women (Kesha Nichols was also fired) who did not drink the Kool-Aid, fans are forced to wonder how much this is about dollars and the pervasive belief that television viewers’ apathy gives executives a pass on accountability.
Firing these ladies makes a strong statement about several issues. First, that bullying, both physical and financial, is permissible. If you watched the reunion show you would have witnessed Tami Roman vehemently breaking down her warped logic about her “right” to be aggressive with women who don’t stand up for themselves. Really? Worst of all, several of her cohorts non-verbally co-signed the notion.
The second statement made by giving these ladies the axe is that you have to go along to get along. If you don’t subscribe to the group think mentality— which entails forgiving temper tantrums, verbal attacks, and the occasional physical assault— you will not just be a target, you will lose your livelihood. Standing up for yourself is not allowed… unless it is pre-approved by the board of directors (i.e. O’Neal, Evelyn Lozada and who ever remains in their favor).
Terminating Jennifer Williams and Royce Reed’s contract was the culmination of an increasingly atrocious pattern of systematic bullying on the show. Does it make good television? Yes. But it’s also blatantly immoral and extremely abusive.
As reality television continues to garner more space in pop culture, we must be increasingly critical of the messages it sends to the masses. And the verdict here is clear: Ignorance is powerful. Be very afraid.