We’ve seen an abundance of race-based conversations on Bravo over the years, and most of the time they leave me feeling a bit uncomfortable. Not because of the subject matter, but because they are brought up awkwardly and are not received by the respective casts in an empathetic way. That’s why the conversation on Summer House about race, led by Ciara Miller and Mya Allen was not only important but, in my opinion, set the standard as to how these types of conversations should be had. Let’s talk about why the conversation was crucial, why it was done so well, and how everyone, including the network, could benefit from using this conversation as a blueprint moving forward.
At the end of episode 5, Ciara and Mya, along with cast mates Alex Wach and Danielle Olivera, shared their experiences spending their summers in the predominantly white Hamptons with their white housemates. They experienced moments that made them incredibly uncomfortable, from fellow houseguest Andrea Denver calling Mya by the wrong name to a guest at one of the pool parties calling Alex Bruce Lee. The housemates needed to know these things happened to understand the experiences that their BIPOC housemates endure, and to take a moment to reflect on their actions as well. Something that can seem like an innocent mistake, such as confusing Ciara and Mya, can be offensive, especially when that type of confusion does not seem to occur with the other white housemates. These are microaggressions that are not only exclusive to the Summer House cast but BIPOC across the nation constantly. Comments like “you talk so white” or confusing the names of Black people around you are offensive and can be incredibly awkward to address, especially to those who exhibit white fragility.
While the subject material was heavy, one of the reasons why the conversation was successful is because the cast took time to show support to their fellow housemates and listen to their grievances. The phrase “listening and learning” is regularly said on the internet as a response to BIPOC speaking up about their experiences with racism, but is oftentimes said in a performative manner. However, the Summer House cast truly did listen. From Paige tearfully showing support to Ciara and Mya to Kyle quickly shutting down Luke’s comparison to his experiences as a white boy from the midwest coming into the group to Ciara and Mya’s lived experiences with racism, the cast actually did a good job of listening and, hopefully, learning.
Conversations about race and lived experiences on Bravo are nothing new, but when you are in the position of leading such conversations, it can be intimidating, especially when your audience is apathetic. We saw this especially on The Real Housewives of New York City this year when Eboni K. Williams would bring up race. The cast would look either uncomfortable, quickly agree with the points made to avoid conflict, or show their entire ass as Ramona Singer did at the Shabbat dinner. The reason the conversation on Summer House was so well received and successful was because there was a proper space given for the conversation and the cast was open to receiving the conversation. Too often lately, it’s felt like producers and/or the network are pushing BIPOC cast members to have conversations about race in a very rushed and disingenuous manner. Giving those who have experienced racism the space to have well-thought-out conversations about their experiences, on the other hand, gives them the respect that they deserve and also makes the conversation feel more genuine to viewers. In Eboni’s case, I don’t believe she was given the proper space and attention in order to facilitate such conversations.
Beyond just the Bravo spectrum, I believe that the way this conversation was handled is the way most conversations surrounding race should be had. Abruptly asking someone about their experiences or forcing someone to share their trauma as it pertains to race isn’t being an ally. It makes us, as people a part of marginalized groups, relive those moments and it puts us on defense mode. No one wants to share their experiences and have a “devil’s advocate” who wants to refute or debate every point that they bring up. It’s important that when we have these conversations that there are three things present. Space, respect, and accountability, and that in my opinion is what the Summer House cast exhibited perfectly.
Who doesn’t love The Real Housewives? Many focal points of pop culture have come from this incredible franchise, and the gift keeps on giving with every season and every new city. However, as a faithful viewer of this iconic reality TV phenomenon, I’ve noticed that there is a huge double standard in the handling of each franchise from the network. As a viewer of the shows for years, it’s become more apparent that the Black women on the network are being held to a higher standard than their white counterparts, and that has to change.
Listen, let’s be real: We love a good confrontation. That’s why we indulge in reality TV, and The Real Housewives is no exception. The issue, however, is how fights on different franchises are framed and handled by the network. Let’s use The Real Housewives of New Jersey vs. The Real Housewives of Atlanta, for example. Teresa Guidice has built a brand for herself, mainly because she “flipped a table” (it was a push, by the way) at her fellow cast member Danielle Staub. This outburst is considered iconic and is remembered by many as a defining moment in pop culture. Teresa also pushed down reunion host and executive producer of The Real Housewives franchise, Andy Cohen, during the season two reunion, once again during an argument with Staub.
But when you look at The Real Housewives of Atlanta and the physical altercations that have occurred, none of them are defined by media outlets as “iconic”. From Porsha pulling Kenya’s hair to Kenya and NeNe arguing, any time the women on RHOA show any passionate emotion, they get labeled as contributing to a stereotype. In this clip, uploaded by Bravo, Andy Cohen proudly asks the women, “Who is the most ratchet?”. The word ratchet, in this case, is to describe “ghetto” behavior. It’s culturally offensive, and it’s mind-boggling to me that the network would choose such rhetoric to describe the women who played a key role in putting The Real Housewives franchise on the map. RHONJ, meanwhile, has had several physical altercations between cast members, including hair-pulling and drink-throwing, and yet they are not labeled in such an egregious manner. The Black women on the network have to uphold this rule about not being violent, but the white women on the network do not, and instead are praised for the same behavior.
Casting: Always Having To Bring It
It’s no secret that in order to be a Real Housewife, you have to be on your A-game. That means keeping up with the group by sometimes stirring the pot and having an impressive personal storyline. But, as any viewer knows, not every single Housewife has consistently brought it. I’ve wondered over the years why RHOA “friend” and fan-favorite Marlo Hampton has not been promoted to a main cast member (given a peach). Marlo brings the drama; she’s also hilarious and has an incredible personal story. Marlo was raised in foster care and is the legal guardian to her two nephews, who lovingly call her “Munty.” It’s been speculated that she does not have a peach because of past legal issues. I find this odd, because there have been plenty of women cast on Bravo shows with a less-than-spotless record. A few months before Kelly Dodd’s inaugural season as a Housewife, she was caught making racist remarks towards Black men outside of a restaurant. Tinsley Mortimer boasted about her arrest and mugshot that happened just months before she joined the RHONY cast, and I personally believe her arrest is what got her cast in the first place. RHONY newbie Leah McSweeney spoke openly about her arrest, and Luann de Lesseps’ assault on a police officer was a focal point of season 10. I do think that whether you like Marlo or not, it is clear as day that the network picks and chooses what is “acceptable behavior” to become a Real Housewife.
It’s not just legal issues—there are also double standards in what the Housewives are expected to divulge about their personal lives. Porsha Williams, another RHOA star, was demoted in her seventh season, because according to Andy Cohen, she was not very open about her personal life. I find that ironic because, in the ninth season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, fans complained that some of the women were not open about the impending lawsuits against them. At the season 6 reunion for RHONY, Ramona Singer was adamant that she wouldn’t comment on her divorce, even though the split was already public information. Yet, none of those ladies were demoted for not sharing enough. It seems to me that the Black women on the network are held to a higher standard in terms of how much they share about themselves and how they’ve conducted themselves in the past.
The Perception Of Black Wealth
At the season 5 Real Housewives of Potomac reunion, Andy Cohen brought up the fact that the ladies had become more financially independent due to the show. I somewhat understood the segment’s intent until a very uncomfortable exchange between Cohen and former cast member Monique Samuels occurred. Cohen had insinuated that Monique’s husband, Chris Samuels, was not well-off after playing for the NFL so many years ago. I found myself scratching my head because Monique was very open on the show about the financial successes that she and her husband had acquired after his NFL career through investments. Viewers are also aware that Monique was very wealthy and was one of the only women on the show to live in Potomac, a very prestigious and expensive community. So why is it that Andy Cohen felt the need to try to contest that? There is a stereotype toward African Americans that we cannot manage our money and rarely make smart financial decisions. This stereotype ignores the economic disparities that Black people have faced as a result of our being.
Andy’s conversation with the women of Potomac exemplifies a vast double standard, especially when the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills are involved in lawsuit, after lawsuit, after lawsuit, and are still seen as a franchise that promotes opulence and wealth. Whether Andy Cohen knew it or not, by questioning Monique on how she obtained her wealth, he was feeding into a stereotype. In my opinion, we should uplift and celebrate Black people that have acquired their own wealth, especially in an economy that white people dominate due to systemic racism.
I am not here looking to cancel anyone. I believe in accountability and progression. With social justice movements becoming amplified more than ever in the past year, I hope that Bravo changes its treatment of the Black women on its network. These women have given Bravo so much in terms of content and notoriety that it is only right for the network to go out of its way to ensure that this type of rhetoric and treatment stops.
Images: Sophy Holland/Bravo
Being Black in a predominantly white space can oftentimes be incredibly uncomfortable, in part because of microaggressions. A microaggression is a constant interaction or behavior that comes across as hostile and prejudiced toward a marginalized group, whether or not the intention was to offend. Read that last part again: whether or not the intention was to offend.
Many Black people have constantly dealt with microaggressions throughout their lives. From the beginnings of our adolescence in the classroom, to our adulthoods in which we must navigate the social climates of our workplaces, these passive-aggressive actions do way more harm than good. They often leave stains on how we view ourselves, which become detrimental to our mental, emotional, and physical health. Below are examples of microaggressions that you might have in your everyday vocabulary, and explanations of why they’re inappropriate and offensive.
1. “Is that your real hair? Can I touch it?”
Black hair has always been a controversial topic. From people mimicking our styles to laws making it illegal to discriminate against our hair, we have always had some type of struggle as it relates to our hair. A lot of us—especially Black women—have also had to deal with passive-aggressive comments about it. Whether it is at school, at the grocery store, or at work, asking a Black person “Is that your real hair?” basically implies that Black people are incapable of having our own hair. It is common for white people and non-Black POC to ask us this because of their negative perceptions of Black hair and the stereotype that Black women only wear wigs and weaves. When a Black person tells you that it is, in fact, their real hair, please do not take it upon yourself to touch it. This is a downright-disrespectful invasion of privacy. Whether it be braids, a weave, or our natural hair, it is not your right to continuously ask about it, or to make us uncomfortable by touching it. This should also give you insight as to why appropriating Black hair is offensive. If we cannot wear it in peace, why should someone else get to wear it with praise?
2. “You speak “ ‘white’ ”
There is a common misconception that Black people are incapable of encompassing vernacular beyond AAVE (African American Vernacular English). Due to stereotypes perpetuated by white media, many people have this idea that, if a Black person is speaking without AAVE, they are trying to be “white”. First of all, there is no such thing as speaking “white”, so let’s debunk that myth. Second, someone who has an advanced vocabulary is not inherently smarter than someone that uses AAVE. An advanced vocabulary should not relate to intelligence, but because we have been told that it does, many people relate intelligence to whiteness. This then feeds into the myth that Black people are uneducated and are trying to “act white” when they use bigger words. The bottom line is: don’t assume someone’s intelligence based on their vocabulary alone, and don’t believe the negative stereotype that Black people have to speak a certain way in order to “be educated”.
3. “Are you sure you didn’t cheat?”
Being Black in academia is tough. From the lack of representation in teachers to racism in the classroom, being a Black student from kindergarten through college can be a rather traumatizing experience. One common microaggression we face is teachers—and sometimes fellow students—assuming we’ve cheated when receiving a grade that is beyond their expectations. When you, a student, ask someone “Did you cheat?” or “How did you get that grade, when I didn’t even do that well?” you’re once again feeding into the stereotype that Black people are uneducated, and that you believe we are inferior to you. In my experience, many educators also refuse to separate their one or two ‘bad’ experience(s) with Black people from their Black students. This makes the conversations between themselves and Black students contentious; their negative preconceived assumptions about Black people taint their instruction toward Black students.
4. “You’re super hot for a Black person”
Whether it is on Tinder or on an actual date, many of us have, at a certain point, heard someone tell us that we are “attractive for a Black person”. Due to Eurocentric beauty standards, people often correlate beauty with whiteness or fair skin. In my experiences with various dating apps, it’s pretty common for me to get a message at least once a week from someone who is white or a non-Black POC saying something along the lines of “I usually don’t date Black, but you are the exception.” This is not a compliment, nor will it ever be. Telling someone that you are not attracted to their race but that they are the exception to the rule shows your casual racism and makes them feel interior. If you’re against dating someone based off of their ethnicity, you need to take a hard look at yourself. These types of comments should never be stated in the first place. They’re not cute and they will never make anyone feel good about themselves.
These microaggressions are not just things we experience once in a blue moon—sadly, they are things many Black people experience on an almost daily basis. In order for this to stop, we must have these conversations. Whether you’re in the workplace, dating someone who is Black, have Black students, or have Black friends, try to have the conversation with those around you. And if you feel as though you have fed into any of these microaggressions yourself, take this time to stop. In the era of learning, there should also be unlearning.
Image: WOCinTechChat / Unsplash