Hey, Bravo: Stop Casting WOC to Solve Your Racism Problem

It’s no fun for anyone when the burden of explaining racism falls on “the one and only.”


When a group of preternaturally beautiful women sit around an elegant lunch table, Bravo fans know to expect chaos. Perhaps we’ll see a blowup fight about “smelling like hospital”? A table flip? Some light tiki-torch throwing? At bare minimum, a 40-something woman will get wasted, fall over, and act like a 20-year-old.

But the luncheon at the heart of the premiere episode of The Real Housewives of Dallas was different. The ladies, including newbie housewife Tiffany Moon, were there to listen to Brandi Redmond apologize for racism—specifically for a 2018 video that showed her mocking traditionally Asian accents and facial features and had recently been resurfaced. And because Tiffany is Asian, all eyes—and cameras—were on her.

The women all cheers to Brandi’s self-centered apology (“I was like, ‘No one wants to be friends with me anymore and that’s the last thing I wanted’”) and thank her for being so vulnerable. There was no table flipping, no hilarity. Just...white fragility.

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Anyone who has been paying attention to the national discourse surrounding racism in America is probably familiar with the dynamic that played out in that scene: A white woman’s actions produce racial trauma and harm, and a woman of color, ostensibly a victim of this racist behavior, is left to forgive the white woman and wipe away her tears.

But on Bravo, the scene represents something more specific: a turning point for the network, which has been grappling with how to infuse its morality-free (or at least morality-loose) reality TV offerings with some racial equity. It’s doing so with mixed results. Tiffany is one of a handful of women of color who have been brought in since 2019 to diversify traditionally whitewashed show. And because these cast members of color are often the one and only non-white person, they end up doing a lot of unpaid emotional labor, educating audiences and cast members instead of, you know, making out with pirates and falling into bushes.

Take that RHOD episode, for example: Tiffany was forced to play both the benevolent teacher and bestower of forgiveness. It was on her to explain to Brandi why anti-Asian racism and stereotyping can have a deep, negative impact on real people. It was also on her to receive Brandi’s tears and shame and to assure Brandi that she isn’t a racist, that she is, fundamentally, good.

At their core, Bravo shows—and especially the Real Housewives franchise—are comedies, almost slapstick in nature. The format works because the stakes are contained, the epitome of #RichPeopleProblems, fueled by one too many bottles of pinot grigio. Racism is an entirely different beast, far more horror than comedy. It heightens those previously low stakes to levels that make it hard for the old formulas to work. And the burden of toeing the line between funny and cringe falls on the women of color brought on to usher the network toward progress.

For years, Bravo largely sidestepped the issue of race by leaning into racial segregation among its series. Black women dominated Real Housewives of Atlanta and Potomac, while white women were centered in the casts of Beverly Hills, New York, Dallas, and Orange County. Even its non-Housewives shows tended to be segregated: Shahs of Sunset? Persian. Family Karma? South Asian. Southern Charm? Arguably the whitest show on all of television. (One notable exception is Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, which premiered in 2020 with a mixed-race cast.)

And then in 2019, Garcelle Beauvais, who is Black, joined RHOBH. (This season, Crystal Kung Minkoff will also join the cast.) Leva Bonaparte, a Charleston restaurateur who is Persian, was brought on to Southern Charm, just in time for Kathryn Dennis to unleash a racist tirade against a BLM activist during filming. Last season, original RHONY cast member Ramona Singer was partying it up with a big Trump donor in the Hamptons. This season, RHONY has its first (!!!) Black cast member, Eboni K. Williams, who told Vulture that her time on Fox News had served as “a great primer for my experience on the show.”

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Bravo’s attitude seems to be that the answer to fixing casually and overtly racist TV shows is to stick one, maybe two, women of color on camera to clean up the mess.

But is that responsibility really a fair one? It is hard to overstate the emotional labor being demanded of these new, non-white Bravo-lebrities. Instead of running around topless, ripping centerpieces from tables and throwing fancy martini glasses in a drunken rage (yes, RHONY newbie Leah McSweeney, who is white, did that) and ultimately becoming beloved for her antics, the women of color have to be anti-racist educators, both for other cast members and for the audience. It’s exhausting to watch and must be even more exhausting to live through.

In a deeply reported piece by Anna Peele for Vulture, both Leva and Tiffany detailed the impact of being placed in this role of magnanimous educator.

While on Southern Charm, Leva found herself explaining to Kathryn, a proud descendent of pro-slavery former Vice President John C. Calhoun, why wielding monkey emojis as a rhetorical weapon against a Black woman on Instagram was racist and why it mattered so much that a statue of Calhoun was being removed in Charleston. (Bonaparte is married to a Black man and has a Black son.)

It is hard to overstate the emotional labor being demanded of these new, non-white Bravo-lebrities.

“I started to feel a little bit gaslit,” Bonaparte told Vulture. “Like, ‘Oh, this is the new person bullying Kathryn.’ A sentiment I got from so many people was ‘You came on to the show and ruined it for me!’”

Meanwhile in Dallas, Tiffany was tasked with dealing with Brandi’s unresolved shame over her racist actions. At one point in the season, Brandi confronted Tiffany and told her that being around her makes her uncomfortable and unable to be the “real” and “fun-loving” Brandi.

“When she sees my Asian face—which I have no control over—all it does is remind her of her shame and guilt,” Moon told Vulture. “And I bear the brunt of that.”

In any setting—including a reality TV show—there is a psychological toll that being the one and only person of color takes. There is a reason that Black researchers like Monnica Williams, director of the University of Louisville’s Center for Mental Health Disparities who studies race-based stress and trauma, pushed racism to be included as an official cause of PTSD. So how can we watch these shows knowing that the cast members of color are under so much strain?

According to Vulture, Bravo has made some changes in the hopes of addressing the race-based stress put on their casts of color. Cast members will all have to go through revamped sensitivity training, which will cover “unconscious bias, stereotyping, microaggressions, and overall cultural sensitivity and will be tailored to the specific content and elements of each show.”

Of course, it’s hard to say that will be enough to make a material difference for the women of color who have already been put through the wringer, both by their colleagues on camera and by more overtly racist segments of the Bravo audience when the shows air.

The key to the success of the Real Housewives franchise may be the epic screaming matches, glitzy vacations, and booze-induced tears, but its legacy will be determined by how it navigates the horror of the culture it’s rooted in.

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