Real Housewives of Atlanta – Where Race and Class Collide

by Latoya Peterson

Dear readers, you are going to have to bear with me on this one, because I am still sorting my thoughts out about this show. However, I did want to put out some preliminary thoughts and get your feedback.

I only sporadically pay attention to the Real Housewives series, so I’ve only caught about six episodes of Orange County and New York combined. However, when I heard they were basing a RH series in Atlanta, my interest was piqued. Atlanta is considered by some to be the new Mecca for black wealth in the United States and home to some of hip-hop’s largest stars, in addition to athletes, filmmakers, and others. As opposed to the casts of RH:OC and RH:NY, which are predominantly white, RH:ATL is predominantly black.

The show revolves around five women: Lisa Wu Hartwell, Sheree Whitfield, NeNe Leakes, Kim Zolciak, and DeShawn Snow.

Watching the show, I’ve been a little less than impressed with the women involved. Part of this is my own personal bias – I like to watch shows where people need to achieve something. Watching people with the means to accomplish so much in this life waste it away kind of bores me, so I tend to tune out most of these kinds of shows. Even the title of the show – The Real Housewives – is off-putting to me. But I checked out the women’s bios and noticed that most of them seemed to be involved in both a charitable organization and an entrepreneurial venture, so I thought it might be something worth watching.

But if the first two episodes are any indication, I’m going to regret investing time in this show.

For one thing, I’m not seeing much information on what any of the women do besides spend money. Aside from Lisa Wu Hartwell, who seems to invest a lot of time into her real estate business and jewelry line, no one else seems to be business focused. (This may be why she has had the least air time on the show.) All the other businesses – like Kim’s country album and Sheree’s clothing line – seem more like a moneyed hobby, rather than something they will use to support themselves. I missed episode three, so I didn’t have a chance to watch DeShawn plan for her gala event, but most of the women seem to ground their days in spending.

My feminist antennae went up when it showed just how much these women were reliant on a financier to maintain their elaborate lifestyles. Most of these women are not self-reliant. For example, Sheree – who considers herself amongst “the wealthy elite,” is currently divorcing an NFL player, and looking for a seven figure settlement. “I don’t think I could survive without my entourage,” was her comment. However, the types of money being thrown around seems like she would blow through any finite amount of money in record time – and then what?

The most compelling part of the series is the frequent discussion of class. There is a lot that could be parsed here, especially as the women seem to equate financial means with increased status, and seem to work up to the worst of the “new money” stereotypes. Much focus is placed on money purchasing access and power, which is to be immediately displayed. My first thoughts when watching the series was that there would be little to write about – the show seems more like an exploration of class in Atlanta.

However, RH:ATL also brings up interesting ideas surrounding the nature of class. One of my favorite authors is Benilde Little, and her books often deal with shifting classes within the African American community, focusing a lot on some of the struggles between middle class blacks who have married into – or just work around – old black money. It is also interesting to think, on a larger scale, how we create distinctions between terms like “rich” and “wealthy” or “old money” and “new money” and rank them accordingly.

Now, the show does give me some pause – while I perceive this show as mostly dealing with class, the actions of these Real Housewives do bump up against ingrained stereotypes of blacks. I do admit I kind of cringe when the women start showing out, because they purport themselves as “society women” – and the images they display are beamed into millions of homes across America. The reviews of this series also seem to underscore my discomfort. Pegging the women as materialistic, self-absorbed, and just plain stupid, they do not seem to inspire much empathy with their audience.

Has anyone on the blog watched the show? What are your thoughts?

For the DCers, the fact that they threw around the word “classy” so much on the first episode of the show reminded me of a go-go song that’s now stuck in my head:

CCB – Classy Girl

(Clearer audio here.)

For those of y’all who aren’t DC locals, yes we know it sounds like people banging on pots and pans.