The Real Housewives of Potomac is beginning to feel more like equal parts serious business and guilty pleasure. It is quickly becoming a Rorschach test on race and racism in America, while sneakily exploring the complexities of perceived race in the African-American community. The more Real Housewives of Potomac (#RHOP) airs, the more I love the show and its contrast with the Real Housewives of Atlanta. I am still a proponent who believes there is more than enough room for both. At this time, I am simply more fascinated with the Potomac crew. Fans have commented on the ” color struck” nature of the Potomac wives. The point is well taken with the introduction of Ashley Darby (@) and Katie Rost’s (@) immediate questioning of the race of Darby’s husband and whether Darby, herself, was biracial.
I have been to my fair share of social events, with friends and with strangers. I have never heard a single soul ask about the race of another person’s spouse or significant other at an event. I couldn’t tell if the two women knew one another, if only by reputation, and this was Rost’s clumsy way of introducing the fans to another housewife with a White spouse/boyfriend. Maybe the outburst was simply indicative of Rost’s standard way of introducing herself to others. Color struck? Maybe, but my question to you is: “How do the issues regarding race in the Potomac differ from the issues of race being raised by the #RHOA?” The difference I see is that race is partially weaponized by the #RHOA while the #RHOP use race for the purposes of identification and asking the “big” and “small” questions. Evidence?
The short list for #RHOA
- Phaedra Parks refers to Apollo’s preference for canned vegetables as a product of growing up with a White mother. She has made a couple of references to his childhood that are rather racially charged and inappropriate – at least her comments are ones that I think most individuals (not just viewers) would find inappropriate.
- Phaedra also claims that Kenya Moore is so full of “—-” that it made her skin brown. (Uh, that is one damned low blow in any context). Whatever you think of Kenya Moore (@) please give her credit for her role in African-American history. Kenya Moore’s participation in the Miss USA pageant was more more step forward in America’s realization that brown skin is beautiful. Brown skin is NOT the color of “—-“.
- Phaedra comparing the Glen Rice Jr. incident to tragic loss of innocent young lives (Michael Brown (age 18), Eric Garner (age 43), Treyvon Martin (age 17), Tamir Rice (age 12), and so many others). To my shock and sadness, Kim Fields co-signed. Parks even invoked the name of #BlackLivesMatter (@), adding insult to injury by stating that Kenya Moore behaved like some “old white lady in the suburbs” who, because of racism, was needlessly afraid of black men. I watched the after-altercation video posted by Kandi Burruss Tucker as a counter to Parks claims. They were all hiding in a bedroom, the night of the incident. No one ran to embrace Rice or his “Aunt Tammy” when they returned to the house that evening. Suburban hysteria? Nah.
- Nene Leakes referred to Claudia Jordan as a “half breed” last season. I don’t think anyone needs help understanding why this one was 100% rude and cruel.
- Nene Leakes accused Kim Zolciak of treating Sweetie like a “slave” and not respecting black women. For my money, Kim treats everyone who works for her like a slave. I don’t see a problem with race, in that regard. I think the attack was used to stoke the flames more than register a serious complaint about the treatment of women of color. Did Nene somehow miss Kim’s treatment of Sweetie when they were great pals? It didn’t seem to bother her, then. It only became a weapon when she seemed to grow tired of Kim’s friendship (or became jealous of Kim’s unlikely/undeserved chart topping success).
- Phaedra’s focus on race as a social issue (onscreen) happened only recently, to my memory, after Apollo Nida’s conviction. Referring to brown skin as the color of human waste is, in my book, inconsistent with a genuine concern for equality.
I am not always happy with the approach taken by the #RHOP when talking about race but I appreciate the fact that the discussion is deeper than assuming it is acceptable to treat race as an insult. I have already challenged my own ideas about race (and religion) watching this show. Unlike Gizelle Bryant (@) and Robyn Dixon (@), I don’t have a problem with Katie Rost’s identification as a Jewish woman. Her choice to practice Judaism is not, and should not be, about how many other people of color choose Judaism. Her choice is about her relationship with God and it is personal. I don’t mind the fact that Katie’s knowledge of African Americans who have practiced Judaism is so limited. Here is some light reading regarding African-American Jews/Judaism:
I don’t find the fact that Rost doesn’t speak Hebrew to be particularly disconcerting nor the fact that she attends Temple only on the high holy days. CEO Christians (Christmas and Easter Only) get that. I have Jewish friends who are not people of color and are no different from Rost. My problem with Katie is that her biracial and Jewish identities seem to come from a place of rejecting the notion that she has African/African-American heritage, as well, instead of a fully inclusive embrace of her diverse identity. I suspect that Dixon and Bryant have the same concerns. Rost has seemingly found every way possible to reject African-American identity and anything associated with it: she loves the White boys and the Jewish boys, she is biracial – without references to her African-American heritage. I don’t want Rost to be any less of the things she loves and values. I just want to see evidence that she values all of the pieces that make her who she is, not that she owes that to me. I even question myself in regard to why it matters to me that she embrace her African-American heritage. Do I, or does anyone else, have the right to tell her that being African-American helped shape her character? Do we have the right to tell her that her children should be asked to embrace their African-American heritage as well? I am landing on the side of the fence that says that she should want that, but I don’t believe it is my decision, as a viewer, to make. My only hope is that if she chooses to ignore her African-American heritage, it is not another “#RHOA brown skin moment”. African-American heritage is not inferior or ugly. It is complementary.
Admittedly, Rost is not the only person I question. I view Charrisse Jackson-Jordan and Karen Huger’s pretense that they understand and fit in to “high society”, instead of being hoi polloi , as an unconscious defense against stereotypes linked to African-American identity. If they feel like the genuine article, to you, I apologize, but nothing rings true about them, for me. The pretense, as I see it, reads like a barrier against the racist charges of being “nothing more than a poor girl raised on a farm” or a “section 8 recipient”, stereotypes which confuse issues of race with issues of socioeconomic status. Neither of those descriptors deserve to be treated as badges of shame. Ashley Darby understands that and it makes me admire how much she embraces her past – a past which shaped her and motivated her into becoming the person she has become. She is definitely hoi polloi (as I proudly am) and she is worth a dozen of the self-proclaimed high society mavens. Far from inoculating them, the pretense of Jackson-Jordan and Huger makes me wonder all the more about their pasts and what they appear to be running from. Poverty is not race. It is not shameful. It is not to be mocked and maligned. It saddens me when those who are directly or indirectly impacted by those stereotypes use them to attack others and to establish self-serving hierarchies.
Oddly enough, while I disagree with the exception they Dixon and Bryant take to Rost’s self-identification as a Jewish woman, they are the only two wives, so far, whose voices about African-American people, and especially African-American women, feel and sound authentic. It will be heartbreaking, enlightening, and enriching when the epic fight about racial identification with Rost takes place. Rather than shut their voices down as belonging to silly women, stuck on color and fighting dumb fights on a reality show, I hope the scenes end up challenging us to talk about race in a meaningful way. I hope the show challenges us to think about culture, cultural appropriation, self-identification, and the true beauty and diversity of the African-American community. We are Lauren London, Craig David, Lisa Bonet, Amar’e Stoudemire, Sammy Davis Jr., Nell Carter, Jackie Wilson, and Drake (African American and Jewish). We are Ne Yo, Tyson Beckford, Denyce Lawton, Kelis, LeShonte Heckard and William Demps (African-American and Asian). We are Laz Alonso, Judy Reyes, Tatiana Ali, Gina Torres, Kid Cudi, Maxwell, Zoe Saldana, and Victor Cruz (African-American and Latino).
I appreciate the fact that #RHOP is pushing the envelope of understanding with regard to race and identity. I plan to keep watching, keep thinking about my own views, and continue questioning. I will see you around if you plan to do the same.
Catch my review of the second episode of The Real Housewives of Potomac at All About the Tea.