At this time last year, Charmaine Walker of Black Ink Crew: Chicago fame was going through a lot. She was experiencing joy in its purest form after welcoming her daughter Nola with husband Neek Bey, but she was also simultaneously dealing with the grief of losing her mother months before. Add to that the spreading of the coronavirus and the ups and downs of postpartum feelings, and Walker would find herself indoors for a year, grappling with a lot of emotions and thoughts. It was to her benefit, though. She told us that not only did she learn to make an effort to prioritize her wellbeing, but she also started to think about the ways in which she was allowing herself to be depicted on Black Ink Crew and what needed to change.
“Being able to sit inside for a year and really be able to reflect — you know when those cameras turn off, it takes a month or two to get out of that camera mode,” she tells MadameNoire. “Imagine a year later. Your priorities definitely shift and how you want to be represented shifts.”
The influence of her daughter, the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter Movement and more left Walker expecting more from her employers, and also from herself. It was time for everyone to go deeper.
“Don’t get me wrong, viewers loved Black Ink in the past, but with the environment and if you just read the room right now, I feel that it’s really important for us to come through with some better stories with more layers involved versus going to fighting drama,” she says.
So expect to see a different side of Walker when filming for Black Ink Crew: Chicago begins again soon. In the meantime though, for those missing out on all Black Ink shows and theatrics, VH1 has two specials coming for fans. Black Ink Crew: Secrets Unlocked, which premieres on March 15 and Black Ink Crew: Confessions on March 29. Unlocked is a two-part series that puts together fan favorites from all three franchises to look over moments from the past 10 years, including some of the most controversial. As Walker put it, they will “spill all the tea on each other, relationships, everything” with host Eva Marcille. As for Confessions, the three franchises will also come face to face, but in a reunion setting hosted by Marc Lamont Hill to fill fans in on what’s happened since they stopped filming. The latter is a three-part series.
We talked with Walker about how motherhood changed the woman she wants to be in everyday life and on TV, dealing with simultaneous grief and joy during the pandemic, the snapback culture vultures on social media, and the good and bad of reality TV.
MadameNoire: Your daughter Nola was born about a year ago. Congratulations! What has it been like raising a child born during this pandemic?
Charmaine Walker: I always wonder what it’s like to raise a child outside of a pandemic because I’ve never experienced that. But I imagine that raising one in a pandemic is a lot more stressful…you never know what the next day brings. We have this virus we’re still learning so much about every day just floating around outside. It’s a very scary situation. It’s been crazy in the sense that I’m probably a little bit more anal. I’m probably nagging a little bit more, telling my husband to make sure he washes his hands, keep things clean — “Oh no, don’t give that to her it touched the floor!” But overall it’s been a blessing.
Before the pandemic, you suffered the loss of your mom. How did you cope with grief during this time, even when you were with people, where you could still feel lonely and isolated?
It was definitely a struggle in the sense of I didn’t have my mom. I gave birth to Nola and it was like I had to reprocess my mom’s death all of over again. I had to understand it even more after I had the baby because even though my mom died while I was pregnant, it was almost like, you’re pregnant so you can’t be stressed out too much because you don’t want to harm the baby. But after I had the baby, all these emotions came. So being stuck in the house and being scared to go outside, it definitely took a toll and there were times where I would have to call Neek. We also have a business called Bey Moss, it’s a sea moss business, and it was completely going viral at the time. He was really busy in our business. So there were times where I would call him and ask him if he could come home and just watch the baby so I can get a couple minutes to myself. That was really, really important for me to have. I had to start being selfish about what I needed because I’m giving my all to my husband and to my child and he’s giving his all to me and the baby, but I needed to give some time to myself. It all worked out.
How would you say that motherhood has changed you as a person?
It’s changed me completely. I really won’t fully know how it’s changed me until the world opens back up and there’s all these opportunities out there to go to different places. But I mean, I just want to spend all my time with my child. She’s my first priority. I love her so much and when I’m not with her I’m looking at old pictures of us. I just love her so much. I feel like the way it’s changed me is it’s just changed my priorities. I have to get a nanny soon and I just don’t know how I’m going to cope.
I saw you recently spoke out on Twitter about what you wouldn’t deal with moving forward as a cast member on Black Ink Crew. You discussed defending yourself from verbal and physical attacks as someone who didn’t engage in violence before joining the series and the ways in which it impacted you. Why was it important to be honest about that publicly? And are you hopeful with a change in the people behind the show, knowing Big Fish isn’t involved anymore, there will be some changes in how the show is done?
I felt like it was important to speak out because that was on my heart and on my mind. Just thinking back over my history on TV, I can say that those are the things I’m not the most proud of. Have I been physically attacked? Absolutely. Have I attacked other people? Yes. I’m not trying to play victim here. Most likely I was attacked first and I’m defending myself. But what I’m saying is there was a time where you just felt like, if it goes down today it goes down today! All of a sudden you’re hard. I’m like, you didn’t grow up that way! I didn’t grow up being hard. Now I’m hard and I have to go to work and be hard.
But also me having a young daughter, and I’m going to have more kids in the future. I don’t feel like I need to explain myself, but I just don’t want to think that you have to be the loud, ghetto, ratchet person in the room to get attention. You don’t have to be a fighter if you’re not a fighter and it’s ok. But if you watch TV and you’re not a fighter and them people come to your page saying you can’t fight, it’s almost like it was normalized in a weird way. I would never want to pass those things down to my children. But I feel like with the new relationship with VH1, things are absolutely going to change. Big Fish is no longer in the picture. It’s ok to have drama and it’s ok to even verbally argue and that can be toxic, too, but let’s just start with the physical. Somebody can be in my face all day talking smack, I’ll talk smack all day. But when it comes down to throwing stuff and hitting each other, I would just rather not. I feel like TV would even be better if you felt you were safe, but it’s also about feeling that you’re safe when you’re having these conversations. Because most likely, you wouldn’t be having these conversations with these people if it wasn’t for the TV show. So it’s just about feeling that you’re safe in general. And we’re Black women. It’s time to change the narrative. I’m not trying to make it cookie-cutter, but I’m saying you can have educated conversations and you can have ratchet conversations, but let’s not normalize putting our hands on each other anymore. And if it does go there then it was super warranted between those two people. But I don’t think that’s something that should be happening in every scene, in every episode, and all of that. But Yandy [Smith] made a good point on her page recently when she said, y’all blame us for the narrative of Black women, but when we put something positive on TV, you’re not watching it, you’re not supporting it. So then the network asks, “What can we do to spice things up?” Where do you think that goes? So it’s also about the people watching. If you really want more positive narratives from Black women and Black people in general, then you have to support it.
Despite all of that, do you have a favorite memory from your time on the show or what’s come of the show that you’re grateful for?
The show in general. The opportunity as a whole is a huge blessing. The fact that we’re in our seventh season is amazing. The fact that people still care about Black Ink and still watch it and can’t wait for it to come back. These people have grown up with me literally and I’m super, super grateful and I would hope to continue doing this for a long time. It’s helped me also with my career and everything so I’m super grateful. I literally would not be in this position if it wasn’t for the opportunity. But now it’s just about if you’re going to be a part of something, trying to change the narrative a little bit.
Lastly, I saw you had been doing your postpartum exercises. How has it been trying to get back to feeling like your old self, especially as someone in the public eye dealing with people who have their comments?
For me, luckily I have a husband who loves all of my extraness that I’m bringing after this baby. He loves every extra pound. It hasn’t been the easiest though. People are so just harsh online. They can’t wait to tell you, “Wow you got big” or “That’s unhealthy.” I have no health issues, I work out and I come from big-boned people. I’m a Black girl that comes from big people. On my daddy’s side of the family I’m probably the smallest person. These are my genes and this is what I have to work with. My mom always told me, “Girl, I didn’t blow up ’til I had you.” This is genetic and I’m eating healthy and I’m trying to lose the weight. I am definitely trying to lose weight and if I wanted to go get lipo, I would go get lipo, too. At the same time, I just wish people would just stop putting in their two cents on my weight and what they think I’m supposed to look like to them because they don’t know me. I’ve always been a pretty thick girl and a lot of times when people reference my skinny days, that’s when I was like 24 and already on the smaller side. Now we’re talking, I’m 31, just had a baby and going through a pandemic and going through postpartum! The holidays were hard. You have Christmas, then new year’s, then my mom’s birthday, then my birthday, then Nola’s birthday, my dad’s birthday. It’s all back to back. Even Valentine’s Day, all of these days reminded me of my mom. So I’ll be on track and doing good and then subconsciously I would fall off and realize I’m a little depressed because it’s Valentine’s Day. And even though my husband did the most for me, my mother always used to send me Valentine’s gifts. So you just find yourself going through your own journey and then you have people on social media also trying to put in their two cents about you. That’s so frustrating. But I don’t let it get to me. If anything I just use it to be like, ok, I’m not going to eat this slice of pizza. I’m going to order this salad. Maybe it’s motivation, but I also don’t stress myself out about it. It is what it is.
Part one of Black Ink Crew: Secrets Unlocked special airs tonight, Monday, March 15 at 9PM ET/PT on VH1. Black Ink Crew: Confessions premieres Monday, March 29 at 9PM ET/PT.