In the book Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class, author Lawrence Otis Graham describes the Washington D.C. area’s African-American elite as “lockjawed” “petty” and “Black aristocracy.”
Although Graham’s bestseller predates Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Potomac by about 17 years, he could’ve easily been describing the upper-crust Maryland women who make up the cast on this freshman reality series.
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For instance, Karen Huger is quick to school her friends on the proper temperature of tea and birthday party seating arrangements while Gizelle Bryant touts her family name and the fact that her father worked alongside the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There’s also Katie Rost, a self-described ball and gala girl, who comes from an affluent and philanthropic biracial family.
But it is not the women’s strict etiquette policies, lineages and pricy weaves that have viewers’ tongues wagging. It’s how rude they are to one another. No seriously, these beauties make Nene Leakes seem like Glinda the Good Witch. In a reality TV world where women pull hair and punches, these grownup “mean girls” aren’t about that life. Instead, they are all about exclusion and with little provocation, will quickly ostracize any lady who forgets her manners and her place.
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Perhaps the 2.5 million people who have tuned in since the show debuted in mid January aren’t used to seeing Black bourgeoisie women. In fact, a Washington Post article flat out called the show a wildly inaccurate misrepresentation of Potomac.
Could it be that America isn’t ready for snobby bourgeoisie Black women? Sure, we all remember Whitley Gilbert and Hilary Banks, but their brand of country club snobbery was comedic. In contrast, there is nothing funny about Huger’s rigorous adherence to social norms on The Real Housewives of Potomac or the way fictional character Terri LaCroix (played by Emmy winning actress Regina King) looks down on the working class on ABC’s American Crime. These are women with influence and prestige and they won’t let anyone forget it.
Latisha Robb, author of What You Don't Know About Your Soul, argues that Black women are intimidating no matter their socioeconomic status – but money does intensify perceptions.
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“There is an unspoken regalness that we all possess,” Robb said. “We can take care of our families with little to nothing, so imagine what we can do with a little education and a few coins? They're afraid of our power.”
Part of that power is seeing African-American women in a whole new way, Regina King recently told ESSENCE.
“You don’t see elitist Black people like that on television. But we as Black people know other Black people like this. Everyone knows a Terri,” King said of her TV character. “Terri enjoys the power and enjoys being in a space where she has more control. She makes the calls – not a white man or woman.”
Interestingly enough, for all their pomposity the women on The Real Housewives of Potomac one has to wonder if the women would actually make the cut in some Washington D.C. Black upper class circles because their lineages and wealth don’t date back far enough.
Venessa M. Perry has lived and worked in and around Maryland and thinks the latest show in the Housewives franchise is an outrage.
“I don’t self identify as Black and bourgeoisie, but there are those that consider a highly educated, successful Black woman as such,” Perry said. “For the record, I absolutely do not watch reality TV [and] I’m appalled by The Real Housewives of Potomac and all reality TV shows that portray Black women in such a negative light. I know some of the women on that show and I’m embarrassed that they are carrying on in that manner. It’s a disgrace and many of us are ashamed. This is neither who we are nor how we conduct ourselves. These shows make a mockery of us.”
Stereotypes aside, there are some positive aspects to shows like Potomac. Erica Blanco is a music executive and general manager at CTE Music, a division of Def Jam. She said with the success of RHOP and American Crime, viewers are going to get exposed to a wide array of upper class Black women so the best thing to do is to accept it.
“Having more serious and powerful female figures is just a testament to women evolving in society,” Blanco said. “It is a Michelle Obama effect. Who doesn't want to model an independent, educated Black woman in the highest office in the land?”