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Lisa Wu Hartwell: Is There a 'Real Housewives' Double Standard?

Lisa Wu Hartwell on the double standard of the "Housewives" franchise.

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Before you think about calling Lisa Wu Hartwell a ghetto drama queen, check Webster for the definition of ghetto. Despite behaving like the consummate professional througout  the debut season of Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” Hartwell was quickly labeled ghetto once she confronted cast mate Kim Zolciak’s slanderous remarks about her and her kids. Yet the “Housewives” franchise welcomes ratings-induced drama including an upcoming episode of the New Jersey edition which shows one of the the wives wilding out in a restaurant. ESSENCE.com asked Hartwell to weigh in on whether or not she thinks Black women are judged more harshly than their White counterparts and why.

ESSENCE.COM: So, Lisa, give us an update on your fashion line.
I’m happy to say that a lot of different buyers were pleased with the collection which we will be available in spring 2010. There have been a few orders for high-end boutiques. However, I would like to make it available with major retailers like Nordstrom or Bloomingdales.

ESSENCE.COM: We hear that you’ll soon be an author. When can we expect to read your book?
I’m working on nonfiction book which is about my experiences with abuse and helping women overcome it.

ESSENCE.COM: How is your family?
Ed is doing fine and training with a few teams. I thought he was done but he’s been playing football since he was 7 years old. And EJ is inheriting his love for the ball, carrying the ball all around the house yelling hut-hut and throwing the ball. Everyone is just doing great.

ESSENCE.COM: The ATL “Housewives” show will be returning for a second season and is the highest rated of the “Housewives” franchise. It seems that the other shows are following the Georgia Peach lead for great ratings.
Absolutely, they do. There’s always a double standard. Perhaps, we are held to a higher standard of excellence but real situations happen. It’s just unfair that people pass judgment and call our show ghetto but when they talk about the women Orange County or New York or New Jersey shows they call it entertainment. I believe that the way that we’ve been raised as Black people—always keeping secrets in our family and really witnessing Black women go through it—that we are judged harshly. For instance, there’s a teaser for the New Jersey show where one of the women flips over a table in the restaurant. Now had any of us done that we probably would have lost some viewers and been told that we lack class. Unfortunately, certain behaviors are more accepted from our counterparts than they are among us. So tell me is their show ghetto or simply entertainment? People need to understand that ghetto isn’t a color, it’s a state of mind and being.

ESSENCE.COM: So what would you say to ATL “Housewives” critics?
People have always said that we don’t represent the women of Atlanta. It is impossible for five women to represent all the women of Atlanta but some might be able to relate to someone on our show. I’ve had some people say to me after seeing the argument I had with Kim, “I thought you were different.” And I simply had to say that I’m human. Maybe some situations we handled were inappropriate behavior, but it’s always easy to criticize and say what you would do when you’re not in the situation. I’m sorry that they find our behavior offensive but oftentimes we don’t really have a chance to think about our actions, or what we say. Are there certain things that in hindsight I wish I could take back? Absolutely. At the end of the day we are all human, but cut us some slack as you do our counterparts. It’s all entertainment. Remember, you’re only seeing a fraction of our lives, not the whole pie.

Tune in to the “Real Housewive of Atlanta” in July.