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September 2, 2014

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Whatever Happened to Class?

Comments (88)


Watching the Season Two finale of VH1's latest hit series 'Basketball Wives' and the reunion show that airs Sunday and Monday (part I and part II, respectively), I was struck by how
superficially gorgeous the participants are. Evelyn, Shaunie, Royce, Tami and Jennifer were all exquisitely coiffed and made up, wearing glittering jewelry, kick-ass shoes and sexy, figure-affirming dresses.

At first glance, it would seem that these lovely ladies were representing black women and women of color in an admirable way.

But there is one thing that was missing, something that could not be covered up underneath all that glittered: class.Class was once considered the essential attribute of womanhood, particularly in African-American communities where your racial background already marked you at a lower social standing and status in society.

With the knowledge that to be black was to already be at a disadvantage, our parents and grandparents put a premium on how we dressed and acted, especially as women. We were admonished not to wear our clothes too tight and to be careful about our makeup, hair colors and styles so not to be perceived as common folk or worse.

More importantly, we were taught how to conduct ourselves with dignity no matter what situation a disdainful majority put us in.

Obviously, things have become more relaxed over time and many folks would scoff at any return to the kind of strictly monitored modes of dress and behavior that once were the norm.

But after watching 'Basketball Wives,' the combined antics of women on other VH1 shows, too numerous to name here, as well as Bravo's 'The Real Housewives of Atlanta,' Oxygen's 'The Bad Girls Club,' Kimora Lee Simmons' 'Life in the Fab Lane,' 'BET's 'Frankie and Neffe' and 'Tiny and Toya,' plus NBC's 'Celebrity Apprentice,' the more I have to ask: Is class as outdated as manual typewriters and Princess phones?

Seeing grown women fist-fighting, calling each other "bitches," tearing each other down and openly poaching the other's men was as sad as it was pathetic.

If the 'Basketball Wives' aren't scripted, then it's truly a shame that women can act this way. If they are (and industry insiders say it's more scripted than not), it's even sadder as it means that several of the group actually volunteered to have their real-life reputations destroyed for TV time and dubious fame.

Like most other "reality" shows, 'Basketball Wives' only confirmed the prevailing notion that women can't get along, are competitive and jealous, and will do any and everything as long as it results in a man paying the bills.

To say someone has "class" is to say that they consciously act in a way that invites respect.
There's graciousness to words and deeds that we're just not seeing anymore.

It used to be the highest compliment to say that you carried yourself well. In some circles, maybe it still is. Think Lena Horne or Coretta Scott King. Sure, they were older women, but even younger ones could benefit from their stellar example.

Phylicia Rashad as Claire Huxtable on 'The Cosby Show' exemplifies the kind of class once revered in the black community.

The women of 'Basketball Wives' certainly don't represent every black woman; they don't even represent all women married to, dating or having babies with NBA players. And the "wives" don't exist in a vacuum - everyone from Charlie Sheen to Foxy Brown could use a few pointers on how to handle themselves in public with more decorum.

Sadly, none of the ex-wives, soon to be ex-wives, ex-girlfriends, baby mamas and athlete wranglers featured on 'Basketball Wives' seem to have any career ambition at all beyond the show - unless you count Shaunie O'Neal, whose role as den mother (and executive producer) to this sorority from hell has her smirking all the way to the bank.

Class may be an outdated notion - but maybe, like bell-bottoms, platforms and New Edition, it's time to make a very welcomed comeback.

Tonya Pendleton is a veteran Philadelphia-based Entertainment writer and cultural critic.

Comments: (88)

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