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Race

Women of color and emotional trauma in white Real Housewives casts

The Bravo community wanted to see more diversity and Bravo answered, but at what cost?

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I’ve watched every episode of every franchise of The Real Housewives in the US and more than a couple of international versions. My favorite cities have changed and changed back over the years and the quality of some installments make me wonder why I keep up with them, but I watch anyway. They’re my Soaps. I grew up on NBC soap operas with my mom (Another World, Days of Our Lives, Passions) and CBS soap operas with my babysitter (Y&R, B&B, Guiding Light, As the World Turns), and every storyline wasn’t always great year to year, but you kept up with it because you were invested in the characters and eventually the plot would shake itself up again.

I wanted to say that off the top because I’m not a casual Housewives viewer, and this next statement is bold coming from a Black person who watches a lot of Bravo: I never wanted any women of color on Beverly Hills. Or Dallas. Or New York. Now that we have them, I hope we never get one added to Orange County or New Jersey (other than Dolores who I swear is passing) because she will have the same struggles infiltrating a privileged, shallow, fragile group of white women that we’re seeing in Beverly Hills, New York, and Dallas.

White Tears

During the Ferguson protests years ago, everyone online had their own view of rioting. (Here’s mine in case you need a reminder but summary is — “rioting” is just fine, the country was built on it, property doesn’t matter more than people, and populations don’t feel the urge to act out until they have exhausted every other option to be heard).  I was discussing Ferguson online with some of my Black friends when a white friend of a white friend showed up in the comments to chastise the Black community for property damage. None of us were friends with that person — he was just friends with a white guy we were friends with. He took it upon himself to tell a group of Black people how we should feel about oppression and how we should react to police brutality in America. It got heated and it went on for hours, and never once did the white friend that we know step in to make his friend back off. He just checked out of the conversation and then tearfully apologized the next day. We, the Black people who were being harassed, were expected to comfort this white man who allowed his friend to harass us.

Ask almost any person of color if they have felt they were being expected to comfort the white person who created the conflict and they will tell you absolutely.

On the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Sutton Stracke is a Southern white woman who is trying to cry her way out of accountability, the preferred method of defense for white women who have stepped in it and trying to rub it into the carpet before anyone notices. Last season, BH got their first non-white castmember, Garcelle Beauvais, but her addition was overshadowed by a season-long obsession with whether Denise Richards slept with a former castmember and lied about it, and whether her husband lives on the same planet as the rest of us. We didn’t get into race until the reunion when Garcelle was accused of not following through on a charity donation, and that accusation by Kyle Richards kicked off the conflict between Sutton and new castmember Crystal Kung Minkoff, a Chinese-American woman who (inspiringly!) has no energy to coddle anyone’s feelings. Kyle was explaining to Crystal and Sutton that her accusation against Garcelle had racial undertones that Kyle hadn’t been aware of (because she doesn’t know any Black people), and Crystal added her point of view, as another nonwhite woman in this circle, that people of different backgrounds do have different experiences.

Sutton did not want to discuss race. Sutton declared that she doesn’t see color and Crystal No Coddle said: “Oh you don’t see color? Please tell me you’re that girl.”

Sutton lost her shit and still hasn’t found it. Sutton feels like Crystal was calling her racist and what Sutton feels is more important than what Crystal actually said. Crystal was crystal clear when she explained what she meant: not seeing color doesn’t make you a racist, it makes you the kind of person who avoids talking about race by pretending it doesn’t exist. Sutton can’t hear that. So every interaction with Crystal has Sutton on the defensive. Crystal tapping Sutton’s leg with her foot in the back of an SUV to include Sutton in on a practical joke they were playing on someone else has been “you kicked me in the car!” for two episodes now. Sutton needs to force Crystal to see what a good girlfriend she is, so she takes Crystal’s coat from the living room to return it to her bedroom and walks in on a naked Crystal uninvited — no apology, no admission that she invaded someone’s space. Sutton is a white woman on a mission to prove she’s a good person and Crystal is forced to take it.

And Crystal is forced to sit through her white woman tears. Crystal sat emotionless, bored, and dismissive, of a tearful Sutton trying to explain her awkwardness as a manifestation of being shy, and the white woman viewers are on messageboards attacking Crystal for calling Sutton crazy and manic and further stigmatizing mental health issues. Nevermind the fact that Sutton herself said “I feel like I’m in an insane asylum,” Crystal is the bad guy because Crystal is not allowing this white woman’s tears to affect her in any way. Sutton created the problem and Sutton is trying to cry her way out of it because this is a tried and true formula employed by uncomfortable white people in the face of their racial missteps: don’t take accountability and cry about how they made you feel.

Surprise Racism

Freshman year I went to a university that was 7% Black (I transferred after two semesters). I was in the honors dorm and my entire study group was white. I’m not uncomfortable around white people. My (culty offshoot of Seventh Day Adventism) church was mostly white. I went to boarding school. I watched Gilmore Girls. I have no problem being the only Black person in a group of white people, so my study group quickly became my circle of friends.

I was playing video games with some of those friends one night, razzing each other as friends do, and after a particularly boastful round of goading on my part after an impressive kill, one of those white friends said, “we got ropes where I come from for niggerfaggots like you.”

I never studied with that group again.

There have been many times over the years where I’ve been in all white groups of people thanks to an invitation by a white person that I trust, someone who had made it through my vetting process. I trusted their politics, their views on race, and their ability to listen to me in a conversation about racism as opposed to telling me how I should feel about something that just happened where only one of us is affected. White people do not vet their white friends the way that I vet my white friends. My teens and early twenties have taught me that I cannot always trust the white people someone else brings around me. If you hang around with an all white group of people for long enough, at least one of them will pull a Surprise Racism that either forces you on the defensive or puts you in a position to teach Race 101 for free to an unwilling audience.

There has never been a castmember on the Real Housewives of New York that I would trust in a conversation about race, but now they have a Black woman who is being forced to have conversations about race because, by simply existing, she has prompted these Republican women to say how they really feel. Eboni Williams is an accomplished lawyer who breaks down racial nuance better than any person on reality television. If you are going to force a Black woman to battle racist old white women for ratings, at least it’s someone who is adept at taking complex themes and chopping them into bite-sized pieces for small brains.

The women were fighting about decorum. Ramona and Luann both have a history of faux outrage over base discussions of sex and sexual organs. They both pretend to be abhorred by conversations of sex, while they themselves frequently discuss and engage in sex just off camera. Eboni, a peacemaker, wanted to settle the issue between Leah (a younger faux-liberal white woman of the “both sides are equally bad” camp of national politics) and Ramona/Luann. If they don’t like certain words, Eboni won’t use those words around them — let’s move on. Luann decides to take the conversation to a discussion of class, as though using crass language is a marker of breeding and education. Eboni rightfully points out that she — the lawyer of the group — has more education than anyone at the table and has no problem with crass language, to counter Luann’s assertion that educated people don’t speak that way.

Luann could not handle a Black woman saying she has more education.

Two minutes earlier, Leah had called Luann a whore to her face, and she had no response or reaction to a white woman making a judgement of her character, but a Black woman stating a fact about her education was enough for Luann to escalate the situation to the point where she threw Eboni out of her home.

Surprise, Eboni! Your new white friend is racist.

Now Eboni is being attacked online and being called a “race-baiter” by former cast member and recent guest Heather Thomson. Heather is a white woman who has decided she knows everything about race because she worked with Diddy and Beyonce, so not only will she overtalk the only Black woman in the room (and call her “articulate” of all things!), but she will chastise that Black woman online for not giving her the space to teach everyone. The internet is a favored weapon by white people who have had their feelings hurt, and nowhere is that more evident than Dallas.

Harassment in Numbers

This will be a short anecdote: I used to write about politics and race a lot (before Trump’s America made it mentally exhausting to do so), and every few months, I would be locked out of my online accounts because a wave of racist white people would report me for a conversation I had with one person. If you hurt one white person’s feelings and they have access to a network of like-minded racists, they will band together to attack you.

Dr. Tiffany Moon is a brilliant woman, an entertaining social media personality, a doting mom, and a talented anesthesiologist. She’s also the first woman of color added to the notoriously Republican all-white cast of the Real Housewives of Dallas. Unlike Crystal, Garcelle, and Eboni, Tiffany isn’t self-assured around groups of women. She’s never had groups of girlfriends, and social situations make her nervous. She tries too hard to fit in, which puts her in positions where she can make others uncomfortable because she just wants to be liked. She’s not as sure of her words and she doesn’t have the same gift of breaking down racial nuance. So the woman of color least equipped to deal with a group of racist white women was shoehorned into the group of racist white women. Before she was even added to the cast, video surfaced of Brandi Redmond mocking Asian accents while discussing her “squinty” eyes. For the entire season, we got to see Brandi’s White Tears on display as she expected Tiffany to make her feel comfortable about something she did.

Kameron Wescott is a white woman who does not like to be corrected, cannot take criticism, and has no ability to listen to others explain how they feel because as you’re talking to her, she’s building her next monologue about what you did wrong. Dr. Moon invited the ladies out for dim sum, and Kameron was not interested in trying the chicken feet. Tiffany was pushy, because she was anxious to be liked, and Kameron felt she was being forced to do something she didn’t want to do. This was the baseline interaction that colored the rest of their time together on the show. Kameron said she would rather eat her line of dog food than the chicken feet, and Tiffany took that as an attack against her culture. Kameron, an expert on race and culture, explained to us laypeople that conflating chicken feet with Chinese culture is racist and as an Asian-American woman, Tiffany should know better than to do that. The tit for tat has culminated in Kameron’s husband invoking Nazi Germany:

and Kameron’s brother-in-law defaming her character as a medical professional:

Tiffany has filed a lawsuit. But she shouldn’t be put in a position to seek legal recourse to protect her professional reputation from the wrath of white fragility.

The world is a diverse place — social groups are not. I was never expecting to see a Black woman on the Real Housewives of New York, not because there are no wealthy Black women, but because there are no wealthy Black women who hang out with Ramona Singer and Luann de Lesseps. Beverly Hills is full of wealthy Persians. They’re not friends with Erika Girardi. The Republican white women on the Real Housewives of Dallas are awful human beings and no woman of color should be forced to interact with them. The Bravo community wanted to see more diversity and Bravo answered, but at what cost?

Bravo hired women to show their fabulous lives and have minor conflicts with other wealthy women, but the women of color are serving as Professors of Race and Tolerance to students who didn’t sign up for that class. Is it worth putting a Black woman through a series of microaggressions just to tick a diversity box? Should Asian women be forced to coddle white women’s tears just so a cast of a reality show can have a little color? I’m all for dramatic entertainment, but I’d be lying if I said I was comfortable watching these women go through emotional traumas every week that people of color try to avoid in our daily lives. I wouldn’t want to relive any of my past altercations with white people, especially not for Team: We Need Diversity! to have something to watch on TV.

 

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Race

Leave slavery out of your abortion conversations.

Why do seemingly well-meaning white people like to compare various struggles to slavery

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Another day, another White Liberal unnecessarily using slavery to make a point.

(Twitter)

Joyce Alene is a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law. She has appeared as a legal analyst on various cable news channels and she was an attorney for the Obama administration. And she thought it was a good idea to compare abortion rights to slavery.

Not sure why this repeatedly has to be explained over and over, but it is very much possible to discuss persecution without bringing Black people into it. There is never a need to compare any struggle in this country to the worst atrocity in the history of the United States, and doing so makes you look unserious. What we are dealing with right now in regard to reproductive rights can be discussed on its own merit. We should be horrified by what’s happening, period. No hyperbole is necessary. No conflation with genocide is needed.

Why do seemingly well-meaning white people like to compare various struggles to slavery, when absolutely nothing the Modern White American faces has any similarity? Nothing the Colonial White American faced had any similarity. Leave slavery out of the conversation.

It’s a double insult. On the first side, Good Whites can’t come to grips with the foundation of America’s success in the world firmly resting atop slavery, so comparisons to modern struggles are subconsciously made to lessen the severity of what happened. Even the most liberal of White Americans has a difficult time accepting the fact that everything you see owes it existence to slavery. There would be no United States without the economic engine that was chattel slavery. From Yale to Bank of America to whiskey — the legacy of slavery is everywhere.

On the other side, too many Good Whites feel such a strong need to identify with the oppressed that they will manufacture similarities that don’t exist.

Or possibly a third side:

If you acknowledge that it’s a bad take and you don’t mean any offense, then you only said it to be shocking and to grab attention. You have trivialized slavery as a gotcha for clicks, and that’s even worse.

Women are being oppressed. Yes, restrictive legislation on reproductive rights disproportionately affects poor women and women of color, but all women are at the mercy of an evangelical government that believes it has the divine right to subjugate Eve’s daughters. That is enough to work with. Comparing it to anything other than that is a distraction and a disservice. Women deserve rights on their own merit.

 

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Race

We gotta invite Tigger to the Cookout now.

Maybe it sounds so much like n—-r some people just lose their minds.

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Some cartoon characters are Black because they’re created that way.

Some cartoon characters Black because we decided they are.

And some cartoon characters are just cartoon characters. I don’t recognize any Winnie the Pooh characters from my daily life, so they’re just animals to me, but we might have to welcome Tigger into the family. There’s no other explanation for why this white lady is so mad that he’s on a flag.

Tigger must’ve played rap music in her driveway or looked at her purse on the elevator or something, because this lady is acting like that flag says Black Lives Matter And Yours Does Not. I am very certain there are no rules (by this non-existent housing association) prohibiting a cartoon character flag and this woman feels like “rule” is the same as “I don’t like it,” which is unsurprising given the age and hue of the protagonist in this short film. My first retail job was at Bath & Body Works in a Southern shopping mall, and if there’s one thing I know for certain about that particular demographic it’s that they definitely believe personal opinions are facts, feelings are rules, and there is a manager of something somewhere who will side with them so they can get their way.

Bless the restraint of this homeowner. I probably woulda cussed that woman from here to Tara and then I would be gone with the police after she called 911 on me.

 

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History

Take this Jim Crow era literacy test for Black people.

I have a master’s degree, and I failed on the first question.

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I know what a literacy test is, but sadly, I’d never looked one up to see what the questions were like. During Jim Crow, they were used to keep Black people from voting. Some poor and illiterate whites got caught in the net as well, and that makes sense for a country who, when founded, only gave voting rights to landowning whites, but the purpose was to keep Black people from being heard. Former congressional candidate Gary Chambers Jr. posted a literacy test today, and you can’t pass it. I can’t pass it. No one can pass it.

This particular test from Louisiana in 1964 was to be administered to anyone who could not prove they had finished 5th grade or higher, which would overwhelmingly apply to more Black people. We had less access to education and were more likely to quit school in order to work the land and help our parents keep a meager roof over the family’s head back when so many Black people were sharecroppers.

And there’s no uniform key for this test. The white registrar reads the answers and decides whether you answered correctly or not. I’m sure this test, on the rare occasion it was given to white people at all, was graded more leniently when the hand turning it in wasn’t colored.

So. Take it and see if you would be able to vote in Louisiana in 1964, less than 60 years ago.

Ten minutes to complete 30 questions is about twenty seconds per question, and you have to get every single one correct. If this was an actual literacy test, I would pass with flying colors, because I can read well enough to know that some of these questions are unanswerable, but it’s not about literacy. It’s about creating a standard that no one can meet and then applying it unfairly to Black people. It’s giving Black people additional burdens to be perfect that white people don’t have. It’s disparaging Michelle Obama for showing her arms in her White House portrait even though Melania has nude photoshoots online. It’s arresting Black people for marijuana at 3 times the rate of white people, even though the same percentage of Black people smoke weed as white people. (x) It’s Black college students being just as likely to find employment as white people who didn’t even finish high school. (x) It’s cops shooting unarmed Black people and taking a white mass shooter to Burger King. (x)

A lot of Black kids heard this refrain from our parents growing up: You have to be twice as good as the white folks to get half as far. However. When the judge and jury of your achievement is White America, you can still fail the test they never even have to take.

 

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