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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

'Blondie' Meet 'Bourgie': Race on DC Housewives

Last Thursday,The Real Housewives of DC debuted to an audience of 1.6 million, far ahead of any other show in that time slot. The show's initial success should come as little surprise. The latest edition of the popular reality franchise arrived on the tails of Party-Gate, a national scandal that, ethics aside, was one hell of a PR move. For Housewives fans, the district is a welcome change of scenery and a fresh set of socialites to rival only New York in their authenticity. And then there's the more subtle tease; Bravo's peculiar casting.

When news first broke of a DC edition in the making, many assumed it would be the second mocha cast. They don't call DC "Chocolate City" for nothing. The nation's capital is also the capital of Black elitism. If Atlanta is where Black money goes to luxuriate, then DC is where Black money goes to discriminate.

But instead Bravo only casted one sista, which surely raised some eyebrows. Stacie Scott Turner is a high-end real estate agent, wife, mother, and a credentialed somebody. Stacie can float seamlessly between white and black elite circles, which is pretty much the prerequisite to being Black and bourgeois. She is a Delta, a Jack and Jiller, and just so happens to have graduated from Harvard Business school. And for those of us who identify with First Lady Michelle more so than former First Lady Lisa Raye, Staci Scott is a welcome addition; a departure from the conspicuously flashy Housewives of the south.

Bravo billed their new show as sort of a 'sex meets power' in DC; hyper-fabulous fame-seeking doyennes demonstrating their place among the power elite. But the first episode quickly alluded to other intentions. Rather than 'Sex meets power' , it was clearly 'Black meets White', or better stated, 'preppy meets bourgie' in Washington D.C., the seat of national government and heart of America's current preoccupation with race.

"Welcome to the District" was the perfect blend of vanilla and chocolate, certainly titillating enough to keep viewers wanting more. We meet Lynda Erkiletian and her big Black stud-like boyfriend Ebong. Then we watch witty exchanges between two of the White housewives and their very Dwighterrific Black gay confidantes. A smashing birthday celebration is temporarily interrupted by cast mate Mary Schmidt Amons who gives her tipsy speech about how Black and White hair salons ought to integrated. "Yes we can!" she throws in for good measure. And then there's the highlight of the episode; an evenly mixed fette for four where cast mate Cat Ommanney, a recent transplant from London, has the nerve to dis Tyra Banks and President Obama in Sista Staci's house.

"I damn near choked on my food," Staci says in the interview after wards.

*If this isn't a side-eye glance, I don't know what is.

And that's not including the racially tinged events that lead up to the series debut. When Michaele Salahi and her husband infamously crashed at White House party, it prompted Desiree Roger's resignation from her position as the first Black White House social secretary. Following the security breach, her admirers were quick to become her detractors, hitting the cable-network circuit denigrating her as a self-absorbed outsider, in over her head. As if that wasn't enough, when Salahi appeared on the View just days before the premiere she managed to besmirch yet another public figure of color. She accused Whoopi Goldberg of 'hitting' her during a heated interview about whether or not she was really invited to the White House. No doubt, Salahi was border-line verbally attacked on The View, but definitely not physically. Watch the video. Her accusations are straight erroneous, but just enough to rock the race waters.

It almost looks like Michaele Salahi is doing a Black fist pump here. Almost.

I have to say "Brava" to Bravo for perfect timing. Many Americans are being exposed to the Black professional class for the first time by political characters on the national stage. Barack, Michelle, Desiree, and attorney general Eric Holder are all vast departure from the fictional Blacks inHollywood. My--- a Black woman having tea with the queen... who would have thunk it? Hence it is timely for Bravo to integrate an all-white cast with one Black woman, who happens to be a lot like Michelle. The show, much like America, is progressively mixed on the surface, but upon closer inspection, split with hair line cracks of racial tension.

I liken the fifth edition of the Housewives to the fourth season of Dynasty. Enter Diahann Carroll in a fierce creme suit, fur stole, and loads of expensive luggage. "I do not sleep in nor do I sleep with my clothes. I require a separate room for my wardrobe," she demands in her light minx voice. A striking Carroll was the "New Lady in Town", and while she's widely known as prime time's first Black Bitch, she was really prime time's introduction to Black affluence Of course there was the Jefferson's, but that was a Black sitcom for a mostly Black audience. And let's face it, Wheezy was no Dominique Devereaux. Just four months before The Cosby Show and the subsequent proliferation of positive Black sitcoms, Diahann Carroll's character tested America's readiness to watch the Black elite mingle with the White elite. It was a bold casting call that paid off in ratings... and television legend.

I'd say Bravo is taking the same gamble. With the new set of divas, Bravo is capitalizing on the nation's anxious racial climate. With every tea party rally and party-debate, America's race pathology comes further to a head. DC Housewives will surely explore the boundaries of political correctness in a "post-racial" post-Obama America. There will be the same cat fights and snobbery that compels millions of women to tune into the lives of formerly-obscure rich women every week. But the cherry on top will be the insertion of race, awkward moments that break out as randomly as teenage acne. People will laugh and people will talk, and I think this is the light-hearted "reality" check America could use right now.

Flyness and Funk(y housewives),


Mimi said...

I didn't see the debut but I saw a clip of the "salon integration" gab fest. LOL... my, my, my -- now I want to see the show. Perhaps I can catch it on Hulu. You have a great writing style. I love it!

"Ike" said...

Thanks Mimi! Thursday @ 10 on Bravo, and I'm sure they'll be airing reruns all day. It's a talker.

Mimi said...

I had a chance to watch it on OMG! I may have an issue with the Brit girl -- maybe it was the wine talking but she seems... uh... what is the word I'm looking for? Anyway, you said it best. Thanks for introducing me to the DC franchise of "Real Housewives".