Race Relations Real and Imagined on “Housewives of D.C.”


The Real Housewives of D.C.” (RHODC) is the most political entry in the Housewives series to date, and not just because it’s set in the nation’s capital and features the ladies attending political fundraisers, constituent-legislator meetings with D.C. council members, and pow wows with ambassadors from Nigeria and Burkina-Faso.

RHODC is the fifth entry in the Housewives series. The Season 1 finale aired last Thursday, and the two-part reunion airs October 14 and 21. Throughout the season the cast members debated health care reform and gay marriage, and of course the season culminated in housewife Michaele Salahi and her husband Tareq crashing President Barack Obama’s state dinner in November 2009. But the political topic that seemed to arise most frequently on the show was race.


Stacie Turner is the cast’s sole black member. In a search for her birth mother (she was adopted as a baby), she learns that her mother was Caucasian (and her father Nigerian), an admission that sends the all-black circle of friends to whom she tells the news into a tizzy. Lynda Erkiletian, a divorced mother of four, has a tall, younger African boyfriend named Ebong. Tareq Salahi is of Palestinian descent. Another friend of the housewives and cast member who appears in most episodes, Paul Wharton, is black.

I knew almost from the start that British housewife Catherine Omanney (Cat) was my favorite and Stacie my least. In the first episode, Stacie invited the other housewives to her house for dinner. In the kitchen, Stacie and her friend Erica got into a tiff with Cat that had racial elements to it. The topic of TV host Tyra Banks came up, and Cat declared rather emphatically that she was not a fan. In reality TV style, the camera froze on Stacie and Erica, who gave Cat the evil eye, as though she had committed some grievous, racist faux-pas.

A few minutes later Cat, whose husband Charles has been a White House photographer under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, commented that Bush had received a bad rap by the press and was actually a rather charming gentleman, whereas Obama lacked a bit of class. Cat elaborated that she and Charles had sent Bush an invitation to their wedding, and Bush’s office had sent a nice note declining, whereas Obama’s office hadn’t bothered to respond. You can imagine the look that fell over Stacie and Erica’s faces at this point. In several episodes afterward, Stacie and Erica confided in each other, their husbands, and their black friends the ridiculous conclusion that Cat was racist.

In one malicious scene in the second episode, Stacie conspired with her husband to invite Cat to a dinner party Stacie explicitly thought would make Cat feel uncomfortable—a large, reunion-style, “down home” gathering with multiple generations of Stacie’s boisterous, Southern, African American family members. Cat arrived at the gathering alone and was perfectly gracious to the guests, and seemed to be enjoying herself as she conversed and giggled with Stacie’s elderly grannies and aunts.

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