One of Lifetime’s newest reality television shows, “Bring It,” is set to air its first season finale this Wednesday. The show chronicles the ups and downs of a dance troupe that specializes in hip-hop majorette competitions called the Dancing Dolls. It has received harsh backlash from some viewers since its debut in March, with detractors calling it a multitude of things—most notably, the words “ratchet” and “ghetto” come up repeatedly.
The Dancing Dolls, founded in 2001 and coached by Dianna Williams, have won over 15 Grand Champion titles and more than 100 trophies since their inception. According to their official website, the studio the team is based out of “promotes high self-esteem, determination, persistence, high academic achievement, community involvement, the importance of health, etc. in young women through the art of dance.”
Episodes of the show have highlighted the engagement of black mothers and fathers in their children’s lives and chronicled two of the dancers’ auditions for an elite performing arts academy. None of this sounds like the type of thing to be branded as “ratchet”—a term that conjures up the image of no-good hoodrats at a nightclub—so one has to wonder where this negative response to “Bring It” is really coming from.
Did I mention the show is set in Jackson, Mississippi and features a team of all black dancers?
The language we use is important, and whether the people using these terms realize it or not, the words “ratchet” and “ghetto” have become comfortable, commonplace replacements for “unapologetically black”—a brilliant form of racism that conveniently toes around actually pulling the race card out.
“Dance Moms” has aired on the Lifetime channel for years now. It features coach Abby Lee Miller screaming at her dancers while pitting them against each other every week, and earlier this year dance mom Kelly Hyland was charged with assault in relation to an incident that was caught on camera. The only reason this show has escaped the same criticism as “Bring It” is that the activity in question is coming from blonde hair and thin lips.
Those who are depreciating the show question how “booty shaking” could possibly enrich the lives of the young girls who make up the Dancing Dolls team. These critics are engaging in respectability politics—the problematic notion that if black people would just step into line and act white enough, they’ll get the respect they deserve. The dancers on “Bring It” may not be performing ballet or jazz, but their routines are filled with obvious technique—and yes, lots of booty shaking. This doesn’t make the Dancing Dolls less deserving of respect or admiration.