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How Reality TV Tackles the Issue of Black Incarceration


Our families may be reluctant to talk about the rebellious cousin or mysterious uncle who’s been “away” for years, but the fact is that while the United States possesses only 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it incarcerates nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. It’s no surprise then that a disproportionate number of men and women behind bars are also people of color. Today, many Blacks in America are faced with dealing with having a loved one who is doing time in prison. Bringing this into our living rooms are reality shows like VH1’s Love and Hip Hop New York (LHHNY) and Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA), whose fans watch creative, yet authentic ways in which African American families mediate the realities of mass incarceration on the shows.

Reality television often feels like scripted drama with poorly trained actors and tired storylines. Yet, with record-breaking ratings for cable television and a viewership that is consistently active, LHHNY and RHOA are powerful platforms giving voice to pervasive concerns that many might prefer remain hidden away as “dirty laundry.”

LHHNY features rappers Remy Ma and Papoose who are no strangers to managing family and love while a partner is away. Remy was a rising rap star when her career came to an abrupt halt following a 2008 assault conviction. After serving nearly seven years in prison, she returned home to her husband Papoose and their children ready to reignite her career as one of the newest members of the LHHNY cast.

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