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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

France is giving the United States another Statue of Liberty.

Another symbol of liberty to a country that’s still oppressing its people.

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NYC has another Statue of Liberty on the way. France is sending us a smaller version to be placed on Ellis Island just across the water from Liberty Island where the original stands as a beacon to freedom…or something.

This new bronze statue, nicknamed the “little sister,” is one-sixteenth the size of the world-famous one that stands on Liberty Island.

“The statue symbolizes freedom and the light around all the world,” said Olivier Faron, general administrator of the CNAM [National Museum of Arts and Crafts]. “We want to send a very simple message: Our friendship with the United States is very important, particularly at this moment. We have to conserve and defend our friendship.”

(cont. CNN)

If you want to put a symbol of “freedom and light” anywhere, it shouldn’t be in the United States.

If you want to give the Statue of Liberty to the United States all over again anyway, give it in the spirit with which it was originally intended in the first place — as a gift to celebrate Black Americans.

I grew up with the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of hope and freedom for immigrants. “Give us your tired, your poor…” and all that, but Lady Liberty had been there for twenty years before those lines by Emma Lazarus were inscribed onto a plaque and installed at the pedestal. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of immigration (the voluntary kind, not the shackled and chained way most Black people got here) for two reasons. One, immigrants latched onto the massive sculpture, which is understandable because she was the first image of New York for most European immigrants arriving by boat on the way to be processed at nearby Ellis Island. Two, the creator, Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, pitched the idea to raise funding from Americans in the most general terms of “liberty” without specifically referencing Black Americans. His plan worked since the United States did indeed agree to pay for the pedestal if France paid for the actual statue, but it was a pivot away from the original idea.

Édouard de Laboulaye was a French abolitionist and it was he, along with his social circle of abolitionists, who conceived of a massive gift to present to the United States after the Civil War — once slavery was outlawed. The proposal of Lady Liberty initially held broken and shackles to signify the broken chains of slavery instead of the tablet she holds today. The chains eventually made their way into the final version down around her feet, the original significance lost to most people and barely noticed.

The years immediately following the Civil War were filled with promise for Black Americans and de Laboulaye wanted to recognize that. We made great strides in education, civic engagement, and politics, but the South regained its footing and struck a compromise in the 1876 Presidential Election that saw federal troops removed from the Old Confederacy. Black people were back in chains, invisible shackles placed on our communities through coalitions built between lawmakers and law enforcement, private businesses and private citizens. When Bartholdi finished Lady Liberty, there was no way to “sell” the idea to the United States as a celebration of slavery’s end. Black America hated the idea, because we were being oppressed, terrorized, and murdered, and White America would’ve scoffed, because they were doing the terrorizing. She was pitched as a symbol of liberty, immigrants saw her as the first welcoming image of the United States, and then the government solidified that feeling by using words from Emma Lazarus.

Today, it’s more important than ever to remember why the Statue of Liberty was conceived in the first place, not a symbol of general liberty and freedom, but as a symbol of Black liberty and freedom. We are still fighting to have our history accurately taught in schools. We are still fighting to be the country de Laboulaye thought we were becoming when slavery ended. And we are still fighting to live up to the promise Lady Liberty has symbolized to millions of immigrants. This little sister will probably be all over the news as we get closer to July 4th, so whenever you see her, make sure you remind somebody that the Statue of Liberty was supposed to be a gift to celebrate the end of slavery, but the US put Black people back in chains too quickly for her to actually symbolize liberty and freedom for us.

 

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Race

The Root: In the Heights and the Erasure of Dark-Skinned Afro-Latinx Folks

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In The Heights, the highly anticipated TV adaptation of the hit Broadway musical from Lin Manuel Miranda, directed by Jon M. Chu, dropped its trailer over a year ago and folks had questions.

In sum: Where are all of the leading dark-skinned Afro-Latinx folks?

Granted, the trailer (and film) showcased Black dancers and there were certainly Black women in the hair salon, but where are the dark-skinned Black Latinx folks with a storyline? After all, this film is placed in Washington Heights, N.Y., right?!

(cont.)

How hard is it to just say: “We didn’t intentionally cast light-skinned Latinos, but subconsciously we had an incorrect/misinformed image of what Latino looks like and didn’t realize our idea of who best embodied a character excluded Afro-Latinos.”

I can’t believe Melissa Berrera said with her whole chest that there were a lot of dark-skinned people in the audition process but she and the rest of these beige Latinos were the people who embodied the roles the best.

Sis, you embodied the roles the best because the casting team had an image of what Latino looks like. Because that’s what Latino always looks like in popular culture. Everybody at *my* Dominican barber shop would fail the paper bag test so I know what Upper Manhattan looks like and who embodies these characters. Most of them do not look like JLo.

 

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Race

Chicago Tribune: Two Black students won school honors. Then came the demands for a recount.

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At first, it seemed a joyous occasion. There was an audible gasp in the room, then boisterous cheering and applause when the announcement was made: Ikeria Washington and Layla Temple had been named 2021 valedictorian and salutatorian for West Point High School.

The president of the local NAACP in West Point, Mississippi, Anner Cunningham, smiled as the two young women, both standout students, were photographed. “It was a beautiful and proud moment to witness two young, Black ladies standing side by side given such honors,” Cunningham said.

But almost immediately, parents of other students near the top of the rankings raised questions about who should have been honored. Within days, and breaking with long-standing tradition, West Point High School decided to name two valedictorians and two salutatorians — with two white students, Emma Berry and Dominic Borgioli, joining the Black students who had already been named.

(cont.)

Two white kids got slightly higher grades in easier classes than the Black kids who excelled in AP classes, so they complained to their parents.

Because white mediocrity will find a way to weasel its way alongside Black excellence every single time.

If you run a mile in six minutes and I run a mile in six minutes and 15 seconds carrying a 50 lb sack on my back, yes you finished first, but my time was much more impressive, and the rules of the race say I get bonus points for the extra weight so I win the trophy.

You *chose* to run that race without the weight, forgoing the bonus points, because you thought you could finish so much faster than me that you would win even with my bonus.

But you didn’t. Because I’m better than you. You don’t then get to cry until you get a trophy too.

 

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