For attorney, host and TV personality Eboni K. Williams, she’s not afraid to put herself in situations some might deem uncomfortable in order to impact culture and society at large in a positive way. It was the reason that she appeared as a contributor on Fox News for years, as well as a co-host of the network’s shows Outnumbered, The Five and Fox News Specialists, the latter of which ended in 2017. The purpose was to disrupt, and in that case, disrupt false narratives.
I think “disruption” can sometimes have a harsh stigma,” she tells ESSENCE. “But I wholeheartedly believe that disruption is such a necessary part of our society in order to grow and to heal.”
It’s a mindset she maintains and took with her to Bravo. Williams joined the cast of Real Housewives of New York for the show’s 13th season, making her the first African-American cast member of the long-running franchise. She’s there to broaden “the understanding and the innovation of Blackness and Black women.” And while she’s looking to shake things up in a good way, she’s opening herself up to some disruption as well.
“I have not hung out with an exclusively white social circle of women since high school days,” she says. “So as much as I know I’m a culture shock to them, they’re a culture shock to me. It’s not a one-sided growth model here. We’re all growing through this process.”
“I think that’s why you see a lot of reality TV shows being racially segregated,” she adds. “Almost everybody’s social circle is racially and economically homogeneous. We all tend to self-segregate on those terms, and I’m not saying that’s a bad or good thing. I think it is societal nature. And I think it’s interesting what we see happening this season with me and the ladies when you make a conscious choice to push past those norms.”
One of the things that can happen is that it can lead to awkward moments where reflection is necessary. Williams is only three episodes into the season and has already had to school cast mate Ramona Singer on the problem with referring to the staff who work in her home as “the help.” But she’s done it in a kind, compassionate way that is less about getting people together, and rather, just informing them of their impact. She’s hopeful it will, in turn, have an effect on viewers.
“I guess I approach it not so much as ‘okay, let me let these women know things,’ versus ‘let me just share,’ and if they choose to become enlightened or move forward with this information, I think that’s great. If they don’t, that’s their choice,” she says. “They’re as much grown women as I am. But it’s also for the audience. I really think most of it is less for educating my castmates. That’s not my job or responsibility. It’s more for the people who watch the show every week. And so they are going to get some exposure to a different lens of Blackness in New York, a different lens of womanhood in New York, and that was my primary motivation.”
While all of that has been worth it to Williams, she’s still getting used to this a kind of attention. It’s the kind that comes with comments and strong opinions people have as she finds herself having to share more about her personal life and family. She found herself a trending topic online recently when she shared on The Wendy Williams Show that she ended her engagement following her ex-fiancé’s decision to spend quarantine not with her, but with both his young and adult children in New Jersey. As she explained, it was about more than that incident though.
“What happened was in my last relationship, I was looking for a companion, which is what my ex and I successfully had. We had a companionship relationship,” she says. “We really enjoyed and loved each other. Where we were challenged was transitioning from a companionship to an actual partnership where you’re consulting one another on adult decisions around everything; from finances to homeownership and location, to this divine order of family function.”
Her feelings concerning his choice wasn’t about making anyone choose between children and a romantic partner, but rather, about the way she prefers to go about the order of things when it comes to family.
“I’m somebody that believes in the divine order of things. For me, not for anybody else, that looks like God, your spouse, and your children,” she says. “Why that makes sense to me is because I think the best gift any of us can give children is an established, stable, sustainable model of foundation. I think that foundational model has to come from the loving bond between the parental unit. That can be biological parents, that can be step-parents, that can be adopted parents, whoever the adults are. There’s a reason that there are adults in this world and there are children, and children are in a position of still being taught and in development and I think it’s responsible for adults to set that model. And I think it is very difficult to set that model as adults in the family unit when those priorities are not in alignment.”
“So I require being first as your spouse and your wife, because I want to model that for our children. Yours, mine, the ones we bring into the world together, and it’s something I’m not compromising on,” she adds. “I realize in this era, [it’s] a pretty unpopular opinion as people seem to think the universe centers around children, and I simply don’t subscribe to that. I think children are wonderful, beautiful young creatures, but I think they need a lot. And I think a lot of guidance, and a lot of discipline, and structure is important. And I find it’s missing in a lot of family models I see today.”
Whether people get her stance or not, Williams isn’t letting the weight of this new life on reality TV, with its public consumption of personal matters, get to her. Just as she believes in divine order, she also believes in divine gifts. One of them for her is temperament. It’s allowed her to excel as an attorney, to calmly share her feelings with her co-stars, and to handle the negativity that may come from the outside world. She also enjoys self-care in the form of solo time, leaning on friends and family who’ve known her for many years, and surprisingly, watching reality shows other than her own.
“I watch so much reality TV, chile. I watch Married at First Sight. I also watch a decent amount of 90 Day Fiance. Ready for Love on OWN, love that,” she says. “Those are some of my favorites. Then in the Bravo universe, I watch almost all the Housewives, and Married to Medicine is probably my favorite Bravo show.”
It all keeps her in good spirits, and able to handle what comes with more time in a bigger spotlight. At the end of the day though, nothing brings Williams more joy than doing the work to make a positive change. Whether that’s through the platform reality TV provides, the work she’s done as an attorney, or her podcast Holding Court with Eboni K. Williams, she will continue to take the good with the bad in order to do some good.