Things got ugly Sunday night on the Real Housewives of Potomac and no, I’m not just talking about the hideous clothing these women regularly put on their bodies. Last night was perhaps the first look at a true intraracial issue on the Real Housewives, and possibly on Bravo as a whole.
The conflict in question occurred between two biracial cast members and two light-skinned cast members who are not biracial. Strangely, the argument began after Ashley’s husband Michael was caught slapping Katie’s boyfriend’s butt. (It should be noted that whatever his motivation for this, Michael, AKA “Crocodile Dundee”—he’s from Australia—was obviously lit as hell.)
Robyn and Gizelle were witness to “Buttgate” and confronted Ashley about it. During the interaction, Robyn asked if butt slapping was a “white guy thing,” and then all idiocy broke loose.
Somehow that argument descended into a discussion about the race of the women. Katie argued that, like herself and Ashley, Robyn and Gizelle are both biracial because they’re light-skinned, so presumably when they talk about “white things,” they’re also talking about themselves.
Katie continued to overact and complain about Robyn and Gizelle being “racially obsessed,” which is a phrase so dumb that I could feel Harriet Tubman rolling her eyes at us.
Good god. So I guess we have to unpack this, eh? Because every single one of these women is wrong wrong ding dong put it in a song.
Some background is required before we go too deep. Pretty much every housewife on Potomac has shown herself to be hung up on race in some strange way.
Katie constantly talks about being biracial and often refers to herself as biracial and not black, which is totally her prerogative. She has also proclaimed her love of white men in a way that dips a bit into fetishization. And while she complains that the other women constantly bring up race, she herself brings up things like her “white girl moves.”
Ashley, who is also biracial, is married to a white man and frequently points out the cultural differences between black people and white Australians. She does, however, refer to herself as a black woman—because she is one.
Robyn has two black parents and is black. Also, it seems that she hasn’t spent much time around white people because she always seems confused by their behavior—and by “they” I mean Ashley’s husband and Katie’s boyfriend.
While Ashley and Robyn are rather tame, Gizelle is as preoccupied with race as Katie. Gizelle tends to bring up people’s races in rather strange contexts. She also gave an impassioned speech about being bullied and hated by other black people because she has light skin and light eyes. Colorism is a very real, hurtful thing in the black community, but it’s difficult to hear Gizelle describe her experience without wondering how much her victimhood is manufactured. It rings very much as: “I was light skinned and pretty and that’s why black women hate me.”
Now, let’s unpack all the stupid shit these women said. Robyn is not biracial. Further, being a light-skinned black person does not make you biracial. All one has to do is look at the spectrum of black people around the world and consider America’s specific history to understand this.
During slavery, black women were routinely raped by their white masters, which set a foundation for the mixed ancestry of most black Americans. Adding consensual interracial relationships throughout time and the fact that black people come in a range of shades, and it’s not difficult to understand why Robyn looks the way she does.
I assure you that most black people who look at Robyn would instantly understand that she’s black. My sister and I have the same two brown skinned parents and she’s about Robyn’s color. Who knows what would have happened if my parents had more children? Considering that so many black Americans cannot accurately trace our family histories, it’s kind of a roll of the dice to see how many of us are going to come out. I see it in my own family and most black Americans can confirm that.
If we’re talking about black Americans who are not recent immigrants, none of us are “straight out of Africa.” Regardless, that does not make you more or less black and dear God what a painfully stupid thing to say.
I don’t think Robyn and Gizelle were angry that Katie called them biracial, but the fact is that they aren’t. Further, the undertones of Katie’s assertion—mostly erroneous observations about their appearances—was wrong and strange.
To be fair, Robyn and Gizelle do ask these dumb, “Is that a white thing?” questions way too often. While it’s annoying, I think their questions are mostly innocuous and meant to push the other women’s buttons. And just to be very very very very very clear: asking if men grabbing other men’s butts is a “white thing” is not racism.
In trying to defend herself, Robyn’s language was clunky when she said that she has “no direct white ancestors.” Katie was either drunk or deliberately obtuse (probably both) when she argued that Robyn must have white ancestors because her skin is so light. I’m sure Robyn does have some white ancestors—just like most black Americans do—but that’s not the same as being biracial.
At the end of the day, it sort of doesn’t matter anyway because YOU CAN BE BOTH BIRACIAL AND BLACK.
Further, being biracial does not automatically mean you’ll have light skin, light eyes and straight hair. Have these women never heard of the One Drop Rule or literally the entire history of black people in America? Many people with one black parent and one white do consider themselves “only” black because that’s how the world treats them. Nobody calls Barack Obama the first biracial president.
Katie was essentially saying that Robyn and Gizelle were too light to be “just black.” The recent Nina Simone biopic has recently brought the issue of colorism in the black community to a wider audience. Entire books can be written about this issue and it’s difficult to summarize particularly in the context of this dumb argument.
Largely, colorism is a result of brainwashing and preferential treatment that has convinced many black people that our proximity to whiteness makes us better or more desirable.
Another piece of this is the misguided and factually incorrect notion that during slavery, being biracial meant that your life was significantly better—the house negro versus the field negro. This delusion likely springs from the shame some of us feel over having been slaves in the first place. The notion that having lighter skin alone protected you from the backbreaking field work is ridiculous.
While there is some truth to the idea that lighter-skinned slaves received preferential treatment—especially those who were the offspring of their masters—the fact remains that they were all still fucking slaves.
Perhaps what’s most frustrating is The Real Housewives of Potomac actually has an opportunity to examine colorism, privilege and racial identity in an accurate way: Katie’s insistence on calling herself biracial, Gizelle’s need to constantly bring up the race of her friends and the fact that there are many black people who are not mixed who look like Robyn.
They didn’t handle it well and with only one episode left in the season, I don’t have much hope for a smarter conversation. Still, while none of them said anything particularly insightful, perhaps that fact does say something important about how many black Americans understand, internalize and grapple with the issues at hand.
Screenshots via Bravo.