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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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Rockstar Rittenhouse

If you enjoy celebrating a murderer, that’s just who you are as a human being. And I don’t respect you.

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Kyle Rittenhouse gets a rock star reception at the Turning Point USA event in AZ.

The teen was found not guilty of criminal charges after admitting to shooting & killing two people in WI. He says it was self defense.

He’s now seen as a hero by some activists on the right.

(Twitter: Elex Michaelson)

I don’t really understand what’s happening. And I don’t mean that in the sense that I’m surprised or that I didn’t see it coming. We all said that Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal would become a cause célèbre for the Right. He had sponsorship offers before the trial and congressional internship offers during. He’s been celebrated by Conservatives from the moment he was arrested because he’s a symbol of White America’s fight against change, a visual representation of what can happen if you are brave enough to stand up to the forces conspiring to take Amerikkka from you.

I fully understand that, so this is not a surprise at all.

I guess what I don’t fully grasp is how am I supposed to respect these people in any way? Listen y’all, I was already at the end of my rope. Trump’s election in 2016 taught me that some people are irredeemable. Before that, I generally operated on the premise that most people, even people you do not agree with politically, are not inherently evil and that you can find common ground somewhere because we’re all people. 2016 taught me that, no, some people cannot be helped, saved, or taught.

You cannot force someone to have empathy for other people. I cannot teach someone they need to care about what happens to people outside of their perceived tribe. If you think poor people deserve to die because you feel like they didn’t work hard enough, I cannot fix that. If you think drug addicts deserve to die because you feel like they made a choice to become addicted, I cannot fix that. If you think undocumented immigrants deserve to die in their own countries (that the US made unstable) because we have our own problems at home (that you refuse to address), I cannot fix that.

Still, there was a little space left in my psyche for ignorance, misinformation, and the insular nature of social circles with a feedback loop of confirmation bias. I spent a lot of the summer in the rural Deep South while my dad and stepmom recovered from a car accident. I heard the conversations and watched the local news. Part of me feels like it’s not 100% your fault if you believe poor people are amoral and lazy. That’s what you’ve heard from your politicians, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your church, and the news. I’ll be honest: a lot of my belief system has been reinforced, if not outright formed, by the variety people around me. Ten years ago, I was making transphobic jokes. Five years ago, I was called out for fatphobia on Twitter. These are issues I didn’t know I harbored negative sentiments about, things that I quickly evolved my thinking around because the people around me called me out on it and forced me to reexamine how I felt and why I felt that way, intentionally or not. All that is to say, I get it. I understand being a product of your environment.

I don’t understand celebrating murderers. George Zimmerman signs bags of Skittles for his fans. Kyle Rittenhouse is introduced at events with a production worthy of a Wrestlemania top draw. Killing someone should be traumatic. If I had to kill someone in self defense, I would have to go to therapy for a long time to work through that trauma. I wouldn’t be able to be celebrated. I wouldn’t know how to book jovial interviews to laugh about what kinds of women I like. I wouldn’t know how to sit on stage and give life advice as a teenager who has never accomplished anything other than murder.

I don’t know how to respect people who celebrate death. And that’s not to say that I find life all that sacred, because I’ve gone on record many times saying I don’t. Not really. There are 7 billion of us. Seven billion of anything means a singular one of it isn’t that special, to me. But dead people have families and friends and loved ones who are hurting, and I don’t know how to respect people who revel in the pain of others. I understand not necessarily caring. I can understand dismissiveness. Outright celebration though is so beyond anything I can relate to. What kind of person are you that you would cheer for someone whose only claim to fame is looking for a fight and getting one? What am I supposed to say to these people? I’m so disgusted by their existence I can barely put my feelings into words.

There’s no part of me that could ever be in the same room with a Republican. This is who they are as a group of people. They are a political party whose guiding principle is “sticking it to the Libs” by any means necessary. If it makes the opposition upset, that makes them happy.

Wearing a mask is not hard. Getting a vaccine is not controversial. But Republican politicians, who are vaccinated and wear masks when no one is looking, just want to upset the opposition.

Singular They is not hard. We have been using they/them/theirs as a pronoun to describe the notion of an unspecific person forever. But Republican politicians have decided it’s the downfall of society to apply it to a specific person who asks for that pronoun.

Celebrating murder is wrong. Even murder in self-defense is seen as a tragedy. But Republicans want to use Kyle Rittenhouse to gloat. They’re turning a teenaged murderer into a rockstar to stick it to the Libs. That space I had left in my psyche to allow for ignorance and misinformation is gone. This isn’t about being ill-informed. They’re just bad people. And I can’t teach someone how not to be a bad person.

If you enjoy celebrating a murderer, that’s just who you are as a human being. And I don’t respect you.

 

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Politics

Some journalistic racism from Kentucky.

Something isn’t quite right about this mayoral coverage.

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This will be quick, but I just wanted to show y’all an example of racism I had not yet seen previously. I’m very familiar with racial bias in reporting, mostly the very blatant examples where a white man kills his entire family and all of the photos are Happy Vacation Pics and a Black man will be suspected of anything and have his mugshot published. This is a very sneaky example courtesy of WDRB Louisville in their reporting on the mayor’s race.

Here’s a nice headshot of Craig Greenberg with a caption stating that he’s running for mayor.

Here’s a nice headshot of David L. Nicholson with a caption stating that he’s running for mayor.

Here’s random photo of Shameka Parrish-Wright on her porch and a caption that says she’s the head of two racial organizations, no mention of candidacy for mayor.

Here’s a random photo of Rev. Tim Findley, Jr. speaking to a reporter and a caption that says what church he’s affiliated with, no mention of candidacy for mayor.

Is it an accident or is it intentional?

If you asked me 5 or 6 years ago, honestly I probably would’ve said it was an accident, without totally absolving the organization of guilt. When I say “accident” with regards to something like this, what I mean is, nobody sat down and said “I’m going to publish two headshots of the white guys and state they’re running for mayor, and I’m going to publish two file photos of the Black candidates with a blurb about who they are.” When I say it’s an accident, I mean it’s more likely that implicit bias has blinded them to the fact that they are handicapping the Black candidates. Implicit bias means they see the Black candidates as less qualified, so it does not register to them that the announcements in their publication are unequal. Implicit bias means had it been four white candidates, you would pick four comparable photos and make four comparable statements because you would notice the discrepancies between four candidates who hold equal place in your mind.

That was years ago though. Today? In 2021? I do feel like it’s intentional. I’m at a point in my adult life where I do not believe most “accidents” are accidents. Someone made the very clear decision to look for and publish the two headshots of the white candidates and simply use file photos for the two Black candidates.

Plus, the About Us section of the WDRB website says this station is owned by Block Communications. If you’ve never heard that name, it’s perfectly fine. Who pays much attention to who owns what newspapers and television stations? I’d only heard of it because of the White Pride March on the Capitol, after which Susan Allan Block, former board member and part of the founding family, made a post on Facebook.

She calls Vice President Kamala Harris a whore in the blurred out part.

So do I believe a media company with these kinds of people in their ranks — not just deplorable, but so boldly and proudly abhorrent that they post about it on social media — would hire a staff that would intentionally pick and choose headshots? Yes I do.

After Rev. Findley pointed it out on social media, WDRB swiftly (in 8 hours) made changes to their post.

But the problem is how racism is so pervasive that something as innocuous as a mayoral announcement is an opportunity to sway public opinion in favor of White is Right. So that’s your morning reminder: be skeptical of everything. There are Susan Allan Blocks everywhere behind companies shaping public opinion, and being as bigoted as they can get away with.

 

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Politics

Teach Critical Race Theory to kindergarteners.

Black children start learning at five, so why shouldn’t everybody else?

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For 25% of Virginia voters, Critical Race Theory was the single most important issue to consider when they ultimately elected Republican Glenn Youngkin. In all, 72% of voters said CRT was an important factor when deciding who to vote for. (x) Ask them to explain it however…

Since this well-informed voter can’t explain what it is, I’ll try. Critical Race Theory is an area of study in higher academia (typically law school) that examines how racism has affected the development of US policy.

CRT is an approach to studying U.S. policies and institutions that is most often taught in law schools. Its foundations date back to the 1970s, when law professors including Harvard Law School’s Derrick Bell began exploring how race and racism have shaped American law and society.

The theory rests on the premise that racial bias – intentional or not – is baked into U.S. laws and institutions.

(cont. Reuters)

In short, your 10th grader is not being taught CRT. Your kindergartener can’t even spell critical yet. Even in college, most of us never really come across CRT as part of a curriculum. However, Republicans got together in a room somewhere and decided this would be the next assault on the Left. They have once again successfully harnessed the power of the media, stupidity, and racism to make CRT into a boogeyman that’s going to make little Jimothy run home from elementary school ashamed to be white.

Those of us who have common sense have spent the past few months repeating this line: CRT isn’t being taught in schools! This is a non issue!

(PBS)

(NBC News)

None of this matters when the people being pandered to by the Right don’t know what Critical Race Theory is in the first place. If they cannot define it, but they still “hate” it, then it does not matter if you tell them it’s not taking place in schools. People they trust have told them it’s being taught. People who they do not trust cannot convince them otherwise.

So why are we trying? Republicans have now taken CRT from an obscure corner of academia and made it a generic term for anything about race that makes white people uncomfortable, so we should be forcing those people to stand ten toes down on their racist opinion. Instead of telling them to define CRT with that very Liberal air of “I know you’re stupid and I can’t wait for you to prove it to me so I can laugh with my friends,” tell them CRT is great and your kids should be learning about race in school. If you won’t properly educate your children, then somebody needs to.

Do you know who is actually being taught CRT? And I mean the Republican definition, not the actual academic definition.

Black children. We start learning about race in America as soon as we are made aware that race is being used to categorize us. Last year I wrote down some lessons I had learned as a Black man, and the first was in elementary school:

The first time I realized white people could do things I can’t, I was about 8 or 9 years old. I grew up in the rural South and it wasn’t uncommon for my mom to tell me to run into a store and grab something while the car idled at the entrance. I loved it; I was a big boy. She sent me into K-Mart to buy something (I don’t remember what it was anymore), and on my way out, the theft detection sensor went off. A white woman was leaving at the same time I was, but the greeter stopped me, called a security guard on me, told me to stay put while he waved the white woman on and told her to have a nice day. I wasn’t in the security office for very long before my mom, who sensed I’d been gone too long, rescued me and took me home.

I learned to wait until the doorway is clear before I leave a store, so someone else’s theft doesn’t land me in handcuffs one day.

This is a common age for children of color to start learning about race.

Those last two tweets are the reason why white parents don’t want race being taught in school — they are racist and they have been teaching their kids to be racist, whether intentionally or unknowingly. Their reaction to CRT comes from one of two places. Either they believe in white supremacy with their whole chest and have proudly said racist things around their children, or they are afraid to be confronted with their latent racism that they are unprepared to face or admit.

White people who have never addressed their unconscious (or conscious!) bias are the people who believe themselves to be good. Those are the suburban white moms who turned out to vote against Trump last time but flipped to support Youngkin for Governor. They believe themselves to be good people who couldn’t possibly be racist because they have a vague sense that everybody should be equal, but deep down they know they will be forced to confront viewpoints they didn’t know they had. The discomfort means they don’t want their kid in school learning about how the threads of race make cobwebs in every corner of American discourse because they didn’t learn it and they’re not prepared to. They have a nightmare scenario where they don’t recognize Hayleigh and Skylar anymore because one has so much white guilt and the other is so woke they challenge mommy and daddy’s racism at the dinner table.

Their children do not want to be racist.

And those parents cannot face the fact that their kids want to be better than they are.

There is no way to address race if most of the people in the conversation are unaware of how race affects policy. Children of color are the ones who are forced to learn about race in kindergarten. Waiting for white kids to come to some arbitrary age of majority to learn how to function in society wastes two decades of learning where we could have been having conversations together.  All of a sudden they go off to college and are confronted with an array of racial discussions they’ve been unaware of, and we are expected to teach white people for free because their parents were too afraid to let them learn how the world works before patterns and biases started to solidify.

So if a white parent asks me if CRT should be taught in school, I’m saying absolutely. If a white parent says they don’t want their children learning critical race theory, I’m not asking them to define it and I’m not explaining to them it’s not being taught. I’m telling them that I had to learn about race at five. If you are so concerned about your kids being left behind in school, you need to acknowledge the fact that by the time they’re in college, they’re about 15 years behind in racial dynamics. If you want to protect your kids, protect them from being called a racist for spouting misinformation that should’ve been corrected in 7th grade if you were a better parent.

 

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