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The Colorism Quandary on Reality TV

On the most recent episode of Real Housewives of Potomac (RHOP), which features both lighter and darker skinned black women, Dr. Wendy Osefo, a political commentator and a Johns Hopkins professor with four degrees, brought up an issue she had with some cast mates. She took offense in particular to fellow Real Housewife Ashley Darby’s repetitive usage of […]

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Jen Shah, The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City
Jen Shah in a Biden Harris dress

On the most recent episode of Real Housewives of Potomac (RHOP), which features both lighter and darker skinned black women, Dr. Wendy Osefo, a political commentator and a Johns Hopkins professor with four degrees, brought up an issue she had with some cast mates. She took offense in particular to fellow Real Housewife Ashley Darby’s repetitive usage of the word “aggressive” when addressing her darker skinned cast mates. Dr. Osefo explained that “aggressive” is a buzzword that brings negative stereotypes about black women to mind. 

She expanded on the fact that she had received vile correspondences via social media from RHOP viewers as a result. Osefo advocated for changing the lexicon and being mindful of doing so. A short discussion about colorism ensued, which shed light for some Caucasian viewers who were not as astute about specific internal conflicts among black women (and men). Colorism is an issue and it is not limited to RHOP or reality TV in general, although reality tv is the lens through which many Caucasians are becoming more aware of social justice issues.

Recently, social media users criticized The Bachelorette (from the eponymous ABC show) Tayshia Adams for not seeming as interested in her African American contestants as her other suitors. A deep dive by fans on Reddit and other platforms unveiled comments about Tayshia’s exes, both Caucasian men, and some commenters said definitively: “Tayshia is going to choose a white man.” Riley, a darker skinned black gentleman, is a fan favorite as is Ivan, who, like Tayshia, is mixed race and shares the same hue as the leading lady. These are all impressively handsome and accomplished men regardless of race, but the discussions are endless. This brings us to Real Housewives of Salt Lake City (RHOSLC). 

The latest installment to Bravo TV’s Real Housewives franchise, which spans many cities across the U.S., RHOSLC was a surprise to viewers who expected to see white Mormon women grace their screens and had already given up on the show before promos aired. That swiftly changed when viewers were introduced to Bravo’s most diverse cast of characters on any of the network’s shows. Unlike Southern Charm (with the exception of the currently airing season), Vanderpump RulesReal Housewives of Orange County, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (until last season) and Summer House, RHOSLC features diversity, including two women of color who did not identify as Mormon (Jen Shah, in the process of converting to Islam and Mary Cosby, a Pentacostal church leader). It also introduced viewers to a Jewish women (Meredith Marks), a woman born Jewish who converted to Mormonism (Lisa Barlow), an excommunicated Mormon (Whitney Rose) and a Mormon woman who is refreshingly openminded and defies convention (Heather Gay). 

A huge argument took place on screen between Jen Shah and Mary Cosby, the only two RHOSLC cast mates who are not Caucasian. Jen tells me that she expected to bond with Mary Cosby because they were bringing diversity to a franchise that people had erroneous preconceived notions about. She was shocked when Mary made some comments that seemed to indicate a discomfort with her own race, comments that Shah found to be shocking and tainted with elitism.

“I was really surprised when Mary made a comment about not wanting to ever go to a Seven-Eleven because the people hanging out there scared her,” Shah shared, explaining that this was well before Cosby made a comment that Jen Shah “Smelled like hospital” on a day when Shah had not even visited the hospital. However, Mary was well aware of her frequent visits there to see an ailing aunt who needed to have her legs amputated. The bizarre and offensive hospital comment, says Shah, was the straw that broke the camel’s back following ample previous comments from Mary (off camera) that reflected racism and snobbery. 

“I invited Mary to my house at one point and I wasn’t aware she had a driver waiting out front for her, The driver needed to use the bathroom and Mary said he could drive down to a convenience store so he could use the restroom there. I was in disbelief…because of course, he was welcome to use the bathroom in my house! I said so to Mary. I had not even realized he was out there sitting in the car waiting for her.”

Shah added that Cosby related she did not feel comfortable around black people at a point when Shah was explaining who would be attending an event. “‘Mary, you are a black woman,’” I thought. “I couldn’t understand it. I was disappointed because I really had thought we would be a great duo and allies for one another prior to filming.” 

Before the show began airing on Bravo, Shah cryptically took to her Twitter and alluded to a cast mate who, she felt, should not have “Black Lives Matter” in her Instagram bio. At the time, fans speculated about Caucasian cast mates, but alas, the mystery has been solved. Shah was alluding to Mary Cosby and that revelation is a surprising one for so many fans.

For her part, Mary Cosby has taken to social media to defend herself and call Jen Shah a liar. The posts appear somewhat nonsensical, which makes some discerning viewers skeptical, but there are others who are “Team Mary.” They consider Shah to be a highly reactive (and “extra” as the millennials like to say), sensitive woman who wears her heart on her sleeve. When it comes to judging reality TV personalities, Shah is not everyone’s cup of tea.

As often occurs with Bravo television shows, social media is going wild with speculation. At this point, all viewers can do is tune in to “watch what happens,” the network’s mantra. 

The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City airs Wednesdays at 10 PM EST on Bravo. 

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