RHOA / RHOP The struggles over race are real!

AshleyandHusbandThe 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 (@_AshleyDarby) and Katie Rost’s (@KatieRost) 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 (@KenyaMoore) 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 (@Blklivesmatter), 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.

#RHOP’s approach

RHOP_Photo ShootI 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 (@GizelleBryantand Robyn Dixon (@robynbdixon), 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:

10 Celebrities you didn’t know were Jewish

15 Celebs who are Black and Jewish

BlackJews.Org

African-American Converts Finally Recognized as Jews in Israel

Black Synagogue Takes a Big Step Forward

Chicago rabbi set to become chief of black Jews group

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.

Charisse KarenAdmittedly, 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).

We. Are.

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.

 

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.

The Walking Dead Recap: “Alone”

Sasha Maggie Battle Walkers

G’Day, readers!  My “Walking Dead” recap for last night’s episode: “Alone” Is up at All About the Tea  Don’t forget to check out the site for some of the best scoop on the net!  What’s covered in the recap?

  • Bob’s Backstory
  • Daryl and Beth (ruh roh)
  • Daryl makes new friends
  • Sasha becomes Sasha Fierce! Sorry, Beyoncé
  • Glenn is still alive?