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A Dance of Race and Social Grace on 'The Real Housewives of D.C.'

The Bravo reality TV show is full of awkward moments where Stacie, the sole black character on a show that takes place in a city that is 55 percent African American, smiles uncomfortably.


"Girlfriend! I saw you."

I had already started to regret my decision to tune in to Bravo's Real Housewives of D.C. Bouncy and blonde Mary's neck-swiveling, sassy finger-shaking imitation of her close friend Stacie only wanted to make me change the channel.

Stacie Scott Turner, the sole black character on a show that takes place in a city that is 55 percent African American, smiles uncomfortably as her friend continues her drunken prattle with a lecture on inequality in hair care. "I know we have different hair and different needs, but we need salons to integrate," she declares, leaning forward slightly with an unfocused stare. Stacie avoids looking at Ted, the friend Mary was just dying to introduce her to, since she "just knew they would hit it off." Ted, of course, is one of the few other black faces at Mary's birthday bash, with the third belonging to Lynda's casual flame Ebong. (Ted just happens to be Ted Gibson, superstar hairstylist.)

It is this kind of mind-set that leads to pieces like Katrina Richardson's essay, "And We're the Only Two Black Girls at the Party," an exploration of the tensions that revolve around race and expectations in predominantly white social settings. Both Ted and Stacie were taken aback by Mary's impassioned plea for salon unity, plastering frozen smiles on their faces and nodding politely until the moment safely passes and they can move on to something else. Stacie, clearly used to these kind of things, is ready to play it off. She explains into the camera: "Mary's a little tipsy; it's her birthday; let's keep drinking champagne."

This complicated dance of race and social grace plays out again and again in RHODC, with white characters generally leading with statements that could be considered racially provocative, and the black characters attempting to play verbal hot potato. This also reflects the complicated place of race in Washington, D.C.

Washington is a place, separate from D.C., where black people are not the majority. Only in Washington will someone say to your face, "I've never met someone from here," while on a crowded metro car surrounded by native sons and daughters. It is in this space, Washington, where Stacie finds herself surrounded by affluent white women who may be in her same social circle, but still facing a centuries-long rift that needs to be crossed before a true friendship can blossom.

On a more serious note, Stacie is also perplexed about the actions of Cat, the aloof British transplant known for speaking her mind. Stacie was already looking at Cat with some skepticism after a discussion about Barack Obama, Tyra Banks and George W. Bush went sour. Still, Stacie decides to invite Cat to her aunt's home for some down-home cooking, only to find herself on the receiving end of more of Cat's frosty attitude. So she calls a quick meeting of all available black folk at the party to determine whether Cat's behavior was racially motivated and if it merited further action. Their consensus: Cat's behavior was rude but not racist. But the question of racism on the show still spilled over into Bravo's cast blogs, with Stacie, Cat, and Mary all providing their two cents.

Stacie immediately attempted to clarify, noting:

Fans of the show are asking me do I think Cat's a racist. Hold on a second. To me, there is a big difference between racism (ignorance based on perceived racial superiority) and situational discomfort (ignorance based on lack of exposure, but not necessarily superiority). Words of the Week for Cat should include: expansion, acceptance, silence, appreciation and respect. I find myself in situations every day where I am either the only female or the only African-American person. This is just my reality -- and no big deal.

However, race-based controversy sells (even if intelligent conversation about race does not), so both Cat and Mary ended up weighing in on the controversy. Cat was uncharacteristically tight-lipped, lightly alluding to other issues, but saying: