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.

 

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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.

RHOA: The Brawl of Shame, Part II

Where to start?

Kenya and Brandon –  These two have shown far more compassion toward the housewives than any of the housewives have shown to either of them in this matter.  I am willing to admit that I’m completely #TeamBrandon and a bit biased, I’ll put that out there.  I don’t think it’s biased to cheer on a man who was a victim but cared more about the children of his attacker than seeking revenge/justice.  I’m sorry to learn that neither Phaedra nor Apollo called to talk things out or apologize.  Not surprising, just sad.

It feels, to me, as if Kenya and Brandon have grown up lives that some of the other women and ATL husbands don’t have (and no, I’m not treating Brandon as a househusband — but he is Kenya’s friend and business partner).  I think Kenya and Brandon were just different enough to be considered a “threat” to the ATL housewife order.  This ridiculous brawl allowed some of the HWs to  unload their own issues onto Kenya and Brandon.  Faulting them almost exclusively for this brawl is all the evidence I need that this group is busted and needs a bit of recasting — with adult women who express adult emotions.

As for the rest of the group?

Nene – Has Nene ever referred to Ryan Murphy or Andy Cohen (the men she relies on for employment) as “Queens”?  Would she ever DARE do such a thing?  Why is it ok for her to say such things about Brandon DeShazer?  For Nene to also blame Kenya and to tell her she was lucky to not have her “ass beat”?  Jeez.  I hope every Abuse Survivor organization she’s ever been affiliated with or hopes to  ever be affiliated with is watching.  I am done with Nene.  I don’t care to see her on this show another season. I also  don’t care to see her on any other show, film, play, soundtrack, straight-to-dvd project… you get the point.  I’m done.  I hope others beyond this show are done with her as well.

I’m sorry, did Kevin Hart and Regina Hall film a segment with future Oscar award winning Nene Leakes?  No?  K.

Kandi – “Cynthia won’t bust a grape”… so funny, because I was thinking of another fruit analogy — the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.  I applauded both Carmen and Kandi for admitting that fact.  I do understand the frustration Kandi must have been feeling that the constant attacks on her relationship with Todd by people who seems to have shadier histories than anything we’ve heard about Todd.  I hope that from now on, Kandi ignores them and never lets them drag her down to that level.

I wish Kandi success, away from this show, because RHOA appears to be in a downward spiral and I would not want to see her taken down with it.

Cynthia – the mocking of Kandi, even after she apologized, was inappropriate from where I stand.  For someone who tolerates a great deal of the garbage she tolerates, otherwise, I find it amazing that she did not graciously accept the apology from Kandi and leave it alone.

Phaedra.  I am disgusted. I have nothing more to say.

To have these women fighting, in the middle of a spa, where others are paying a fair amount of money to relax is embarrassing to me as viewer.  Is the season nearly over yet?

Christopher Williams?  Take my advice — HERE.

RHOA: Angela Stanton Speaks out About Apollo’s Arrest

Sandra Rose has done it again!  SR is bringing the good stuff, posting Angela Stanton’s press release and it’s GOOD!  Stanton has criticized Parks for using her considerable wealth and access to try to silence her story.  She notes that another woman, vulnerable as she was, was recruited for the alleged new ring, and she feels vindicated though saddened by Nida’s arrest.  This court case should be interesting.

Read the entire statement by clicking HERE

More trouble ahead for the Parks-Nida Family?

RHOAParksNidaYou’ve probably read your fill regarding Apollo’s arrest and alleged activities, at least until more details are posted!  Reality Tea has a fair number of new details posted (Click here).    What viewers haven’t paid attention to is the long awaited defamation suit against Angela Stanton and then Stanton’s countersuit against Phaedra, now scheduled to take place Feb. 4th.  I wouldn’t count on that date, friends and readers.

Given Apollo’s recent arrest, I would imagine that Phaedra’s new legal team will want more time to digest Stanton’s claims.  Yes, NEW legal team, if  the earlier report from “Rhymes with Snitch” is accurate.  I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall to know why they dropped her as a client.   As if the lawsuit and countersuit weren’t enough, UrbanBelle Magazine  picked up in 2o13 where Hip Hop Daily left off in its  earlier conversations with Jessica Lacy Voker (the 2012 conversation linked above, the 2013 conversation linked below).  

Who is she Jessica Lacy Voker?  She is the woman who claims that Phaedra is the godmother of her child, and a long time family friend.  Last heard from, she was also planning to write a tell-all book. In prior interviews JLValleges that:

  • Phaedra was connected to a prostitution ring, one that she (JLV) claims to have run with her.
  • That Phaedra has her own criminal past beyond that  – and that she believes Apollo’s hands are cleaner than his wife’s
  • Phaedra’s partying got a little dirty at times
  • Phaedra slept with her husband and helped wreck her marriage.

Hip Hop Daily’s 2013 interview posts  text messages Jessica claims to have exchanged with Phaedra regarding a “party” she was planning for pro athletes and needed to, ahem, procure few women to get the party going.  You can hear Jessica, in her own words, discuss her relationship with Phaedra.  Like Stanton, if she’s making it all up, she’s either pretty damned convincing or I’m pretty easily fooled.  If she’s lying, it’s one of the few times I’ve been fooled by something like this.

P.S. … Phaedra is not the only RHOA targeted in Jessica’s account of the shady side of life in ATL.  I’ll let you discover that one on your own – but it most likely won’t surprise you!  I have no doubt that the feds are giving the accusations from both Stanton and Volker against Phaedra a second look, given Apollo’s current legal issues.  The claims made by alleged co-conspirator St. Julien, aka, the “Right Hand B–“, are so shockingly similar to those of Stanton that they are too troubling to not investigate.  Even though there are NO charges (None, nada, zip, dead air -nothing there) against Phaedra at this time, I have no doubt that even if his wife is innocent, she is now most likely under investigation because of his alleged actions.

Innocent until proven guilty?  Yes.  Feds with wiretaps?  There are no words. Ultimately, between Apollo’s case, the suit against Stanton, Stanton’s counter, and now Jessica Lacy Voker’s claims and possible upcoming book, the Parks-Nida is in a position of potentially losing it all.  Their reputation has been marred and the cost of fighting these claims will become, if it hasn’t already been, a serious financial burden.  This is a real American tragedy.  If it’s true, these are people who were on the verge of having it all, only to throw it away.  If it’s not true, and neither is actually guilty, this is a family that will most likely never be able to remove the stench of this case.

Is this the price of reality TV?  Is  there something about this format that causes people who might not otherwise have been able to withstand public scrutiny in some other setting to sign up for reality TV – which then becomes the televised forum for their ultimate downfall (Parks-Nida, Giudices, Lauritas, etc)?  What kind of people are being attracted to this form of media? Are we all in the dark?  Are there stars in other forms of media (television and film in particular) having the same kinds of problems, but with better PR and management teams to handle their risky business issues and other legal troubles?   Somehow I doubt it.  Reality TV seems to be it’s own worst enemy.

Do you agree with Wendy Williams that it’s time to let Phaedra go?  Bossip on WW and PP, April 2013

RHOA: Apollo Nida

RHOAcastI don’t know how much of a “world tour” has been planned for the househusbands of Atlanta, but it’s likely that the group will either lose one of its members or the tour will be cut short.  In breaking news: SandraRose has posted the scoop that Apollo Nida (husband of attorney Phaedra Parks)  has been charged with Identity Theft and Bank Fraud.

The full  indictments should be available to read on Monday.  It will make for interesting, and pretty sad, reading.  RHOA viewers know that Apollo and Phaedra recently had their second child, affectionately nicknamed Mr. President.  The inauguration of Mr. President will take place on the show, soon.  As a viewer, the hardest part of the various RHs scandals is having been introduced to the children of these families and realizing the implications  for the children – both short term and long term.

Bravo seems to do well in giving their “talent” the opportunity to express their innocence when these “sticky” situations develop across the various franchises.  It will be interesting to see if Andy Cohen invites Apollo and Phaedra to sit down and talk about their legal troubles, much like the sit down with Teresa and Joe Giudice, Real Housewives of New Jersey. I would be stunned if the issue is NOT raised at the upcoming reunion.  Apollo and Phaedra may want to get out ahead of the upcoming reunion and say everything that needs to be said before its used as fodder by one of the other wives.  Control that message.

If you’ve been following the ups and downs of this couple, you know that this isn’t the only legal issue they’re facing.  Phaedra is suing (former friend?) Angela Stanton for defamation. Stanton is the author of the book, “Lies of a Real Housewife“, and alleges that Phaedra was involved in the illegal business which resulted in her serving time along with Apollo, and his brother.  Stanton’s interview with VIBE magazine (Part I of III seen below) triggered the lawsuit.  Ms. Stanton has since filed her own defamation lawsuit against Attorney Parks.  Barring a settlement, the suit should go to court by the Spring of 2014.