When I was in college, I rented a room from Armenian grandmother, this wonderful woman was honored to have a Black boy, a Mexican boy, and a Filipino boy and a white man under her roof. Her oldest daughter would proudly say “my international mother” She loved fresh fruit which was cheap and plentiful in the Central Valley and she would share it with us at her large dinner table.
She would share her experiences and about Armenia and why her family left the country. Being a person who is interested in the human experience, I found her and her stories fascinating, I never knew of Armenia and had never met an Armenian.
Every time we sat at the table, we were giving a history lesson about Armenia. Gradually there were three of us then one day it was just me. It was no longer fun at that dinner table,no longer interesting. One weekend, I went home to the bay and my family visited the Great America Amusement Park and I wanted to tell her about my weekend and some how my story was unimportant as I was transported back to 1952. I never sat at the dining room table again.
Hooray, I said! Finally, they have added a brown girl to a city filled with brown girls, New York. For years, it was beyond me. How do you have in TV series based in America’s largest city with a population of more people of color than whites and not have have a person of color in the cast?
Enter Eboni K Williams, an author, accomplished Attorney, and television personality. At 37 years old, she would compliment, 38 year old Leah Mc Sweeny who was the breakout star of the Real Housewives of New York. (RHONY) The majority of the cast are in their 50’s.
We are introduced to Eboni at Ramona’ Hampton home. Where we learn, while she has white friends, she has never hung out with a group of white women. Even with her girl, Leah there she seemed to have an edge. Initially, I though it was nerves, but then she seem to weaponize her blackness to attack women who where just as uncomfortable as she. When things became tense, she told one of the women they couldn’t hide behind their white fragility. When she was late for dinner, she used her color as an excuse ‘ black women’s hair take longer” (true, but that excuse wouldn’t work for her employer).
There were moments when it seemed that her cast mates had to pay for the sins of random white women. Yes some white women use tears and fragility as a weapon but some. Some women of color uses tone and volume to intimidate, some.
Like my former landlady, Eboni’s goal is to educate the upper east side ladies of all things black. At a dinner party in Harlem, instead of tossing back drinks and laughing. The ladies had to participate in a mandatory lesson on the black people who were apart of the Harlem Renaissance. At the party, we meet Ramona’s instant black friend (wink) Bershan Shaw(now a friend of the show) . Bershan says that she thinks that every one individuals, white, Black, Asian, and many others., are “all the same.” Eboni is like, “Um, no, sis, we’re not,” and says that she seems like her message is being undermined a bit.
Initially, with the exception of Sonja and Leah, I knew there be some tense moments as it is with all new cast members, especially if the cast member is a member of another race. Some whites are terrified of being labeled a racist. As a result, many questions go unanswered, and some tip toe around matters or race because of the fear of being misunderstood and that’s just what happened on the show after an intense conversation between Luann and Eboni. I believe Luann was sorry, but she was also aware of how she might be perceived.
Eboni’s intent of having her viewpoint front and center and educating her cast mates is wearing thin. When hello becomes a lesson,people will eventually avoid you, unless they are paid to interact with you. Ramona almost left her own home, because Eboni insisted on talking about politics and every time Ramona says, she doesn’t wish to discuss politics and simply “wants to escape for 24 hours,” Eboni returns to her blackness and being black 24/7.
Garcelle Beauvais became the first black cast member on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (RHOBH) a couple of years ago. Her journey is different than Eboni’s. Unlike Eboni, she doesn’t announce her skin color. While Garcelle flows from room to room, Eboni announces her presence “black woman here” Garcelle’s challenges on RHOBH has little to race and more to do with presence. Garcelle is no nonsense straight shooter, she doesn’t dance around the issues.
I’m not sure why Eboni makes me uncomfortable. Perhaps she reminds me of a time when I had moments of insecurity when meeting someone new or being the only person of color. As the newest cast member, its going to be rough. While we mere mortals have uncomfortable memories of life’s missteps. Reality stars get to watch them over and over and over.
I think most friendships happen organically. Sometimes it begins with a shared smile or laugh. (I see color) or a brief moment we had something in common. Sometimes that something expands to a chat then a full conversation. I see color. Overtime, we may ask each other questions specific to our hue, but rarely does it effect our relationship because friendships and relationships is formed over time. A foundation built on a series of shared smiles, laughter, support and love. The best relationships, hits a bump from time to time, most recover, some don’t . But I have never lost a friend due to my skin color of theirs.