I take back what I said before about enjoying Eboni K. Williams on The Real Housewives of New York because this week might have been the worst episode of the series I’ve ever had to endure. Eboni invited the women to Harlem in order to educate them about the neighborhood — Ramona self-proclaimed “Harlem virgin” needed it the most — and also about black history. But I’m now starting to wonder if Eboni actually wants to be a real housewife, or if she wants to use this as a launching pad to replace Meghan McCain on The View.
I’m going with the latter.
We’ve had seasons of housewives shows that feature all-black casts. And there has always been a healthy mix of entertainment and social education value. Granted, adding a black woman to an all white cast was going to create some necessary conversations about race and privilege. But this, after all, reality television. It’s not an Ava DuVernay joint and the “teachable moments” needs to be dialed all the way down. And unfortunately, white audiences who might suspect that Eboni is boring them are ill-equipped to call it out, which works in her benefit. But I’m not white, so I’m gonna address the open letter she wrote to Vulture recapper Brian Moylan (who full disclosure is a friend; also his book The Housewives is excellent) after he gave the latest RHONY episode a 1 star review.
Eboni opens the letter with “I’m so sorry to hear that you were bored by such an acute address and amplification of Blackness.” Eboni’s dinner “party” and I use that term very loosely, involved assigning a historical black figure to white women around the table and then talking about that person’s history. She might as well have had a textbook open. The entire conceit of this dinner was wild and yes, it was incredibly boring to watch. The thing about Real Housewives is that we look forward to when the fourth wall breaks, but we don’t want it broken all of the time. And it’s very odd for a series to set up Eboni as a “new friend,” and then have scenes where she is presenting Black history facts to the audience as if we’re watching Eyes on the Prize. I’m imagining a world where I invite white friends over to my home and teach them about Black history and it sounds absolutely bonkers because why would I waste my time? And also, who wants to learn about any kind of history impromptu at a dinner party?
It’s easy enough to discuss race and politics in dinner conversation, I do it all the time. But if I arrived at a dinner party and someone was like “you’re learning history today,” I’d be out.
Second, Eboni points out that the women on the show are now sober, so you’re not going to get moments like LuAnn falling into a bush. Which is a copout. One, it’s the main reason why the show needs a bigger cast. If half the cast needs to be sober in scenes, you’re not providing what the show has already delivered. Second, I don’t see how we jumped from women not behaving drunkenly on TV to history lesson at dinner.
At some point in the letter, Eboni claims she’s having fun as she “proudly wear[s] an afro wig and recite[s] a spoken word to pay homage to the first Black woman permitted to participate in the Miss America Pageant.” Speaking honestly, I’m sure she is having fun doing that but the type of person who enjoys doing that is boring and shouldn’t be on reality TV. In speaking about how Eboni wants to present herself on RHONY, she often acts as if the show exists in a bubble where other Bravo shows don’t exist. There are plenty of moments like that on Atlanta or Potomac, but they’re in the mix of actual entertainment and the women are also on an even playing field. I’d be perfectly fine with Eboni pulling one of those stunts on Atlanta, because someone would immediately clown her for being a nerd and a school marm. But without any other women of color on RHONY, the other white women are left flummoxed and unable to express how they feel in any given situation. Which is fun when Ziwe is doing it, because she’s a comedian. Less so when Eboni is doing it, because nothing about her “teachable moments” are particularly funny.
Ramona Singer is a sinister woman. I said this when I appeared on Watch What Happens Live! and I stand by it. She’s often monstrous on the show and in real life is a conservative nightmare. She absolutely deserves to be confronted with her racism on this show, and we should honestly enjoy it as a viewer. Eboni showing up at Ramona’s home and getting her to talk about politics would be an expert Housewives move from someone who was self-producing and wanted to give the audience a fun scene and also Ramona comeuppance for years of bad behavior. Instead, Eboni wanted to TEACH. The intention of the scene was to teach, not to get a rise out of her opponent. And baby, Housewives is the modern day Roman Coliseum, it is not the Denzel Washington film The Great Debaters.
Ultimately, Eboni is doing what she set out to do on the show, which I don’t fault her for. I just fault her for doing it in the absolutely most uninteresting way possible. No part of this week’s episode was fun to watch. I watch reality television to be entertained before I watch it to learn something. The best kind of television manages to do both. Eboni’s approach is unfortunately rigid and boring and it also highlights the worst part of most responses to 2020. It reeks of “anti racism reading lists.” Instead of allowing more room at the table for non-white women, we’re now stuck with one Black woman who has decided to be Aunt Viv teaching Black history to Will and Carlton, and there’s not a single other woman on the cast who can call her out for it. It’s perfect for Eboni, honestly. But abysmal for us.