A Trip to South Africa Turns into a Heated Race Debate on 'The Real Housewives of Atlanta'
A Trip to South Africa Turns into a Heated Race Debate on 'The Real Housewives of Atlanta'
Gina Pusateri
Gina Pusateri
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
This past week, The Real Housewives of Atlanta sparked some serious conversations about race among its stars and Bravo's viewers.

It started on the ladies' trip to South Africa, which all of the women except the cast's only white member, Kim Zolciak, took part in. While the trip was as much about getting the women out of their comfort zones and facilitating fresh social drama between them, in many ways, Bravo and the RHOA castmembers also framed the trip as an ethnic pilgrimage of sorts, with many of the women referring to Africa as "the motherland."

By her own admission, Zolciak stayed home to nurse her two-month-old son while her boyfriend Kroy went off for a month at NFL training camp, but that excuse didn't really fly with some of the other ladies, who took Kim's absence from the trip more personally. Cynthia Bailey's husband Peter Thomas made racially pointed comments about Kim's decision to stay in Atlanta, saying that if they were going someplace in Europe, Kim would surely have gone. And on the trip, Cynthia added more fuel to the fire, saying she couldn't "see" Kim at the orphanage they had visited holding "little black babies." Kandi Burruss, one of Kim's allies on the show, agreed with Cynthia, saying it was difficult for her to "see Kim in Africa."

But the ladies who did visit Africa weren't exactly roughing it or getting close to the culture. They stayed on an inclusive resort, to which NeNe Leakes' friend Marlo brought 29 pairs of shoes in her innumerable designer suitcases, and where she insisted the staff hire her a personal makeup artist for the day. NeNe wore stilettos on a safari.

Judging by the footage, the group only spent one day with the locals at the orphanage, where they sang and danced with the children and donated supplies. And that was the part of the trip that Cynthia and Kandi insisted Kim wouldn't have taken part in. Not the part when Marlo "made it rain" at a local night club, or when the group went to brunch in the middle of the African bush.

After Cynthia and Kandi's comments aired -- and Kim's other ally Sheree, aired them out to Kim on the phone directly -- all any of the parties involved could do was damage control. Kandi says it's her personality (being a germaphobe and not getting along with NeNe Leakes) that she believes would have kept even an infantless Kim from going to Africa, not her skin color.

Cynthia says she doesn't think Kim is a racist, but she stands by her opinion, though she clearly believes her careful wording was essential: "I said I couldn't PICTURE Kim in Africa at the orphanage holding African kids. I also said, 'I'm not saying she WOULDN'T do it, I just can't see it.'"

For her part, Kim insists that she would have visited the orphanage, and writes, "I do not need to explain that I am not a racist, because the people who know me know my heart."

This is not even the first time Kim has gotten herself into trouble (or been dragged into trouble by her castmates) where race is involved. Last season, NeNe accused Kim of having a "slave," which was really Kim's personal assistant, Sweetie, who is, presumably, handsomely paid to work for Kim. If Sweetie were a young white woman instead of black, would NeNe would used the word "slave"? Not likely. NeNe is a smart woman, and she knew exactly what she was doing and which buttons she was pushing when she screamed that word on the women's fateful bus trip to Miami.

The fact is in both of these instances, Kim was a victim of accusations that solely existed because of her color. And in both cases, it seems like her accusers were really digging for something they could call her out on, without Kim having done or said anything to instigate such accusations.

Though Kim released that statement on her Bravo blog defending herself against the comments, but she didn't really need to. Her actions on the show are, or should be, enough. While she's engaged in many fights, some downright undignified, with her fellow castmates, as far as viewers have seen, Kim's racial difference from the other women has never been an issue in those fights. Until now.

But that doesn't mean that race has never been an issue on The Real Housewives of Atlanta. In one of its more genuine reflections of real life, assumptions and accusations about race sometimes rear their ugly heads on RHOA. And when they do, they often show the ignorance of those who speak the words, not those they're accusing. It's time for Kandi and Cynthia (and even Peter) to own up to their comments, instead of simply making excuses.

Gina Pusateri
Contributing Writer

(Image courtesy of Bravo)

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