Feeling Seen on Reality TV

For the past week I have been binging the Bravo hit franchise “Real Housewives of Potomac”. First let me say I approached the show with heavy skepticism because, quite honestly, I have to take Housewives in doses; used to the wild over-the-top antics on franchises like Atlanta or New York. However from the very first episode of Potomac, I was hooked. 

First there is Gizelle. Immediately, I thought “This is what happens when Whitley Gilbert grows up.” I assumed she was an AKA, and my assumption was correct. I also assumed she was a dean of pledges—that is yet to be confirmed. Still, there was an immediate familiarity and endearment for her. She is the mother of three girls, for whom she is hell-bent on being a good example. And she is adamant about not being defined by a man or anyone. She will not be forced. She will not be coerced. She will not be finessed. She will do the finessing if there is to be any. She is unapologetic. 

Her ally on the show most often (so far, I have not yet finished Season 3!) is Robyn. Robyn is the one teaching me the most about myself, right now. Initially I, like most viewers, judged her harshly for carrying on her relationship with her ex husband. However, the more I watch the more I find that Robyn is likely the most RELATABLE housewife. Her life isn’t perfect. She shares herself, her marriage her family and her finances and she persists despite the world wanting to push her in different directions. For better or worse, I will always respect a woman who follows HER OWN mind. Plus, I now have hope for her and Juan to fully reconcile. I think Robyn and Karen are likely the two easiest to be annoyed with but it’s because both of them are going through real people shit. Publicly!!  

The difference between Robyn and Karen, I think, is that Robyn has made peace with where she is and who she is right now. In my watching Karen’s husbands tax issues were just made public. Karen reached out to Robyn and then felt angry that Robyn shared their conversation. I understood why Karen was so upset. She came to Robyn in a moment of naked honesty and Robyn didn’t appreciate that Karen was not as comfortable being so vulnerable about her finances as she had grown to now be.  

My heart connects so deeply with Karen. As a survivor of rape, I know what it means to grieve the loss of yourself. I think that’s why the move from Potomac was and is so difficult for her to open up about and process. It is because once again she is being forced to surrender herself. I look at when she films with her daughter and those are my favorite moments with her. I love how open she is with her daughter and it reminds me of how open my mother has always been with me. How that helps you grow into your womanhood so freely and fully when you have a mother rooting for you to BLOOM and take up space in the world.  

I have already written myself into the show as Charisse’s energy worker. I’m missing Cha Cha this season, because I love how she was always a proponent of SELF CARE. Who cares if it was to the point of indulgence, this woman was doing what she knew how to do to find her happy. That shit ain’t easy. Sometimes it takes a 92K champagne room. Sometimes it’s therapy. Sometimes it’s a girls trip. And sometimes it’s all of the above. I love that Charisse brought the sage and Monique was open rather than judgmental.  

I try to refrain from saying other women are “goals” but seriously, Monique (so far) is my mommy goals. I love seeing her with her family. What she has with her husband is what I want with my husband. That same ease, that same partnership, that same spiritual connection. That same SEXUAL connection. I want him to choose me over everyone but God. I want to do the same in return. I just...listen, I’m coming in as Charisse’s energy worker but I’m going to be friends with The Samuels’ and the Darby’s.  

Ashley was immediately my favorite because she had the millennial voice that just rang clear. When she challenged divisive language like calling women whores, I knew she was my tribe. I also correctly guessed that she was bi- or had at least swam in the lady pond. What adventurous millennial woman hasn’t ? 🙃 I finally made the connection that Ashley and Robyn butt heads so much because Robyn reminds Ashley of her mother. I hope that by the end of the season Ashley can both recognize that and work to disassociate that connection.

I found myself so deeply wrapped up in the lives of these women I started to wonder, why? It wasn’t until this morning talking to a friend from college that I was able to articulate; this is what my Black experience looks like.  This was my tribe of women. These women were my cousins, my aunties, my mother and my mothers friends. These women were me.   

This is what Chrissy Teigen spoke about when she saw Crazy Rich Asians  and said  

you never know how much you miss being represented on screen until you actually see what it’s like to be represented on screen.  

The black experience is not monolithic and even though I know that, it still escaped me that this flavor of the black experience was seasoned just for those like me. Those who grew up with parents who were educated and had careers. Those who were both a little hood and a lot bougie. This was MY Black Womanhood. On screen. And I’ve never felt so seen. I thank whatever sneaky black ep let this franchise happen and I hope they continue to have success but maybe not too much. I don’t want them to change. I don’t want them to become...well, Atlanta.  

I ultimately reconcile that even though I wish my hometown franchise were an actual representation of my lived experience, I am happy that both Atlanta and Potomac exist. They are both true facets of the black experience in America. They both have women who have stories that matter. They both create avenues for black business and entrepreneurship. I’m not mad at any of it, because all of it is a representation of how varied we can be; how every hue of melanin can contain a rainbow of experiences we haven’t even begun to explore. I love us and I’m happy that the ways we are being portrayed in media is being stretched to accommodate more divergence. 

You can watch the series without thinking about it as deeply as I have and still enjoy the good ol’ classy tea spills. But as a black person, as a scholar of human behavior, as a therapist, as an energy worker, and as a woman? The layers with which I experience and appreciate this artistic offering is deep. Baby, I’ve never felt so seen.