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.


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:

REALLY?????!!!!!!! Lets get this straight. … I take the mickey out of my own country too! You can never take life too seriously. … If you ever lose your sense of humor you may as well throw the towel in.

I LOVE AMERICA!!! I despise racism. I bring my girls up this way, with the beliefs I hope [are] for the future for us all — equality on every level.

Yet it is Mary who rushed to make a full-throated defense of Cat against the horrible (and currently imagined) charge of racism — without every truly considering how Cat’s actions could have been perceived or why Stacie might have considered the possibility in the first place. She writes:

I feel a strong need to make my belief very clear that my dear Cat has not exhibited one racist bone in her petite little body in all the times I have ever been with her. Quite the contrary! Cat is one of the most lovely, kind, generous, encouraging and honest people I know and I believe she sees character, not color. I am extremely upset and rather disturbed that this perceived sense of racial tension on the show has taken on a life of its own. Personally speaking, I can easily say that I experienced nothing remotely close in any scene or conversation that was racially driven that would cause any tension of any sorts […]