Defending Bravo TV, Andy Cohen, and the Real Housewives of the Potomac

Post the Amandla Stenberg fiasco, defending @Bravotv and Andy Cohen () is an action I NEVER thought I would take, and right now I am seriously hoping there is a reality show detox program I can put on speed dial (one that will help me win back my sanity).   That said, the launch of the Real Housewives of the Potomac leaves me feeling compelled to applaud the efforts of bringing the #RHOP to canvas, as well was the results.  Despite its relative success, the real housewives franchise has struggled in offering diverse views of women of color.  My hackles are still raised when I think of the ill treatment of the first Latina housewife to join #RHOBH, . Despite being constantly attacked and maligned, handling the pressure with more grace than I think most of us could muster, Joyce was dismissed after one season – while Brandi Glanville and her defender-in-chief, Yolanda Foster, were permitted to stay on.  In a just world, the person who made the decision to keep Glanville and Foster over Giraud is now spending their days clipping coupons while hoping to turn 5 dollars into $800 worth of processed foods and assorted junk on a TLC special.

I was astonished, and frankly a bit gutted, that despite filming in Miami, the network seemed unable to find engaging Latina women to open viewers up to a new world – one that didn’t treat Latinos/Hispanics as “the other” but showed the beauty and complexity of the various cultured communities.  We have yet to see the successful integration of Asian and Asian-American women who, like Latina women on the other series, are often treated as bit players in the lives of the housewives. Even #RHONY fan-favorite scene stealer, Sakoto Yamazki (@Satokonyc) is only referred to as “Sonja’s facialist” by nearly every site that mentions her.  The one series that is given credit for bringing diversity to Bravo’s HW franchise, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, is the franchise I often find the most troubling.  #RHOA fans may disagree, but I view the show to be one that is long on racial diversity but short on dispelling the negative stereotypes that have, for far too long, dogged African-American women.  So far, the #RHOA has worked to seemingly confirm the big four (as I view them):

1 – The stereotyped angry black woman.  This myth looms large in the entertainment world, but no where is it as heavily and predictably cast as in reality television.  If asked which reality show maven best exemplifies this ugly stereotype, I would have to say that  Nene Leakes tops the  list.  From the ear piercing tantrums not welcomed in a preschool classroom -much less a room full of professionals, to altercations that border on verge of being considered a criminal assaults, Nene’s behavior has been so outrageous that she became the punchline on UnREAL, a show that takes a swipe at the seedy side of reality t.v..  On the show, an African-American producer encourages two remaining African-American contestants on a dating show to “go big”. He tells them to become a Nene Leakes or Omarosa, or get ready to go home.  One of the contestants calls him an “Uncle Tom” for asking them to lower themselves into that gutter.  The other takes his advice, accuses an innocent contestant of making a race-based insult, and attacks her.  I will leave it to you to determine the full implication of false accusations for profit… yeah, thanks.  Add that to the fact that Leakes’ antics have landed her on THR’s top ten disliked celebrities list and the clips below that highlight (or lowlight?) “not ready for prime time” behavior will make perfect sense:

There are times when Leakes has been genuinely funny, and presented a portrait of a strong, not necessarily angry, woman.  Those instances of strength, which feel too few and far between, are overshadowed by the all too frequent moments of poor behavior similar to the clips above, in my opinion.

2 – 3 The Thought-free Princess of Thotlandia –   In three short seasons, fans have had the curious experience of watching Porsha (Stewart) Williams transition from a wife who was grateful to her husband for “letting” her spend time with her cast mates (groan) to a self-proclaimed “twerk-a-holic”.  I am glad to see the stepford wife go.  I am not so happy to see the twerking twin that showed up in her place!  Is there no in between?  While every woman has the right to own her sexuality, it would be nice if more women who are given such a huge public platform would define their sexuality in a way that wasn’t so consistent with the “fetishized”, highly-sexualized and demeaning, images of women of color that are already in place.

This housewife gives us a “two-fer” – This particular stereotype links the “Thot” image with the “thoughtless” meme (as in void of thought).  It is a stereotype which portrays women of color, in particular, as “poorly educated”.  Sadly, Porsha also transitioned from hosting fundraisers for her grandfather’s illustrious civil rights foundation to looking for the underground railroad train tracks beneath church floorboards .

I can’t help but believe that Unground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman wouldn’t mind coming back to punch Porsha’s ticket for that one.  Haven’t most of us been learning about the underground railroad since kindergarten?

4 – Propensity toward criminal behavior.  Apollo Nida.  Enough said?  Fans still debate the veracity of Phaedra Parks claims that she knew nothing of her husband’s illicit activity – despite supporting his claims of spending thousands a dollars a night in strip clubs.  She told us that she was ok with is as long as the money wasn’t hers.  It was apparently a hobby funded by money that he  earned in his difficult-to-define “asset recovery” business (a business that led to another major stint in prison for the fallen reality star).  Add to that Phaedra’s own alleged past misdeeds and we are talking full on cluster pluck.

#RHOA is a show that is supposed to highlight the lives of people who are living well, far exceeding in what we aspire to as part of the American dream.  Is there any wonder why so many fans see light at the end The Real Housewives of the Potomac tunnel?  While they are not perfect, they add new and refreshing images of women of color. Women like Katie Rost and Gizelle Bryant are full-time linked into the Potomac power structures.  Rost’s family is, reportedly, obscenely loaded.  Both women are from prominent families and have a history of rubbing elbows with political movers and shakers.  Charrisse Jordan-Jackson and Karen Huger don’t seem, to me, to have the same sort of connections, but are women who (so far) seem to have access real wealth and their own highly regarded social circle.  Charrisse’s estate is huge, and we have since learned that the Bravo photo shoot for this season took place in Chateau Charrisse (see what I did there?)  Robyn Dixon appears to have had access to wealth, at one time during her marriage, but is now a working mom who takes pride in the accomplishments of her distinguished extended family as well as the choices she’s made for herself and her children.  So far, there doesn’t appear to be a angry woman in the group, no twerk monsters, not a thot, not the thoughtless, no reported criminal records, and most appear to be well educated and hard workers.  My only regret is that Kenya Moore wasn’t cast on this show, instead!  These are her housewife soulmates!

For every #RHOA twerk session, there is a #RHOP etiquette lesson.  For every #RHOA explosion of child-like anger, there is a #RHOP stomp off.  I think my heart is FULL, people!  There is finally a little more balance and a hell of a lot more nuance in the portrayal of the African-American community – for as much as a true portrayal can happen on a reality show.

To be clear, I don’t think there is an argument to be made about whether the #RHOA or #RHOP should be the standard bearer for African American women and their families. If an argument is to be made, the answer for me is that neither can represent us all.  There is yet more complexity in the African-American community to show, but I like where this is headed, so far. I think the two housewife shows are nice complements of one another. There is something for everyone, just as #RHOC, #RHOBH, #RHONJ, and #RHONY offer different views of women who are not minorities.

You may want to turn away at this point, but to @Bravotv and  I say, Job Well Done!  I hope #RHOA and #RHOP both stand the test of time, though admittedly, I hope the presence of #RHOP helps the women of the #RHOA up their game and pushes them away from the stereotyped images which become more extreme every year.  I want more of who the Real Housewives of Atlanta use to be – before the fame turned them into what they are now.  A new housewife or two, to add more balance to the current group wouldn’t hurt.  As for the #RHOP?  So far, so good.

Read my review of the first episode  of the series at All About The Tea and check the site for future reviews of the show.

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