My own struggles with ratchet came to a head when my colleague alerted me to the “Bury the Ratchet” campaign being launched by Michaela Angela Davis. The campaign will begin with a symposium at Spelman College this March, when black leaders will examine how reality TV shows featuring ratchet black women are “harming Black culture.” The symposium will be followed by a public service announcement featuring black women discussing their feelings about such depictions. Along those lines, Davis argues, “It has become completely evident that there has been a brand of women from Atlanta that are adverse to what most of these women are like.” To be honest, I’m not struggling with ratchet as much as I’m grappling with false binaries like this—binaries that are being manifested in conversations about all things ratchet. However, the either-or dichotomies erase women like me, and others, from the conversation.
Davis started the campaign in order to “get the spotlight off the ratchetness and on the successful women in Atlanta.” Well, wait a minute. I wasn’t aware that “ratchet” and “successful” women were mutually exclusive. What if some network decided to develop a reality TV show about me, or sisters like me? I’m a well-educated, happily married mother of two. I’m a professor at an elite liberal arts college. My husband has been a successful entrepreneur for almost 4 years. I admit that representations of black women like me are scant across all genres of television. Think about some of the reasons so many black women faithfully watch MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry show and ABC’s Scandal. But, I’d be just the kind of candidate Davis would be looking for to combat these ratchet images of black women on reality TV, right? Well, probably not.
I have no qualms admitting that I can be a bit ratchet at times. Okay, a lot of times. You should have seen me and my husband on New Year’s Eve this year. Trinidad James anyone? You should have heard me talking to my sistercousin after a meeting one day a while back. “They don’t even want me to go there, okay?!” You should have read that blog where I wrote about Li’l Wayne and cunnilingus. Ooooweeee! You should have seen me and my homegirl on the deck overlooking my backyard this past summer. “If you ain’t gone finish that last li’l bit in that bottle, I will.” You should have seen me and my other homegirl in the bar that night a few years ago. Talk about snatching wigs! Okay, I think I’ve said too much already. But, see, therein lies the problem. Said too much for what? Too much for whom? My family? My friends? My colleagues? My readers? I guess I really do have some qualms after all.
This makes me ask: Which forms of ratchet are acceptable and which are not? The ratchet sure to flow from the women on All My Babies’ Mamas is probably not okay with Davis and her supporters, because, after all, these women are just babies’ mamas. They’re nothing more than some child’s mama. Not only that, they each procreated with some tattooed, gold-mouthed rapper who became famous for an ass-shaking anthem called “Laffy Taffy” (Down for Life, 2005). The ratchet that flows from The Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA) is also probably unacceptable, because, after all, those women are nothing but so-called fashionistas that pull each other’s hair over he-said-she-said gossip and who-said-what-on-Twitter beefs. And the ratchet flowing from BBW is probably unacceptable, because, after all, those women are nothing but gold diggers who sleep with basketball players for money.
However, those of us who actually watch these shows know that’s not completely true. We don’t know much about the women on All My Babies’ Mamas yet, but we do know something about the other ratchet black women on these shows. We already knew Kandi Burruss of RHOA is a successful singer/songwriter from her days with R&B group Xscape. But we know from watching the show that she has parlayed her celebrity into a successful web series (Kandi Koated Nights), boutique (TAGS), and pleasure products company (Bedroom Kandi). We know from watching Malaysia Pargo of BBW: LA that she launched her Three Beats jewelry line last year, and donates part of the proceeds to the Boys and Girls Club in Watts, CA where she grew up. Why don’t they get a pass from Davis for their ratchet behaviors? They actually are successful by their own standards. So am I. Would the privilege that my Ph.D. affords me grant me a pass from Davis? My privileged place of employment? My heterosexual privilege?"
— Heidi Renee Lewis, “Exhuming The Ratchet Before It’s Buried,” The Feminist Wire 1/7/13