NZ Herald Focus logo
Siena Yates is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Opinion: The real problem with the racial stoush on Real Housewives of Auckland

Usually, I watch the Real Housewives of Auckland with amusement.

I sit here and take screen grabs and write (hopefully) funny things about the frivolous comings and goings of Auckland's insanely rich and attention-hungry.

Not this time.

READ MORE:
Zoe Bell is one lucky girl
Anna Paquin's SOS

By now, we've all read the stories and seen the episode and we all know about Julia calling Michelle a "boat n*****".

I shouldn't have to explain why this is problematic, so I won't.

But I will say that it doesn't matter what preceded the word, whether it be "house" or "boat" or "my" or "catch a" followed by "by the toe".

A racist slur is a racist slur no matter what.

In this episode and the news coverage surrounding it, everyone's pointing to "context": Julia wants us to remember it's "an old boating term", her husband wants us note that Julia had been drinking, even Gilda wants us to note that Julia "is an idiot, we already knew that".

Julia Sloane and her husband Michael Lorimer. Photo / Norrie Montgomery
Julia Sloane and her husband Michael Lorimer. Photo / Norrie Montgomery

But racism in context is still racism.

After seeing Julia's reaction after everything blew up, I have no doubt she didn't mean to be hurtful - like she said, it's a throwaway comment. But that's the problem.

It's so casual and clearly something she's never thought about, that it slipped out by accident.

But what's most upsetting isn't that it happened, but rather how it was dealt with after the fact.

Video

Understandably, Michelle lost it

There was shock, hurt and most of all, anger.

The usually cool, calm and collected Michelle cracked. She cried and screamed and threw champagne in Julia's face.

Later, she tried to hit back by saying everyone was right to call Julia a gold digger after all. She called her an "ignorant b****" and swore and yelled some more, and cried on Gilda's shoulder.

Gilda and Michelle were separated from the rest of the group, but at least they had each other. Photo / Norrie Montgomery.
Gilda and Michelle were separated from the rest of the group, but at least they had each other. Photo / Norrie Montgomery.

And Gilda was in tears just from being in Michelle's presence, saying she was "so sad" seeing this "beautiful, proud woman being absolutely shattered inside".

And then we went below deck to check on Julia.

Why do we care more about Julia than Michelle?

Here's the main issue with this episode: it felt like we spent the whole time more focused on how Julia was doing than Michelle.

Yes, we watched Michelle's immediate reaction, but then we saw Julia in tears.

We saw the other three women comforting Julia. We saw Julia cry about what she'd done, and then how Michelle wouldn't listen to her, wouldn't forgive her, and how ultimately Michelle's reaction was "out of control".

Anne seemed to be the only one seeing sense when we cut to her saying exactly what I was thinking: "What about Michelle?"

Even later when the group split - incidentally separating the only two women of colour from the rest of the group - we followed Julia to the spiritual resort and watched as, in the middle of everything, they all flapped about like idiots doing laughing yoga.

Julia Sloane got a quick lesson in race relations this episode.
Julia Sloane got a quick lesson in race relations this episode.

Then we watched as Julia had some weird aura-moving, energy-changing experience and broke down (again) about the Michelle situation, and we focused on her healing and her state of mind.

To be fair, we did also see a moment in which Michelle and Gilda walked down the beach but more of that was about how Michelle was going to handle seeing Julia again, and how Gilda was such a good friend to her.

Then suddenly Julia's at dinner with the others and they're all telling her how they'll be there to support her during this tough time.

And Julia, after all her tears and upset, dismisses the entire thing with an eye roll and calls herself a "stupid blonde" as she necks back champagne.

Of all the things you could've said

Louise Wallace's heart was in the right place, but even she was a little off the mark. Photo / Supplied
Louise Wallace's heart was in the right place, but even she was a little off the mark. Photo / Supplied

Somewhere in the aftermath, we cut to Louise explaining why saying "n*****" is wrong.

But then she adds that black people can say it about each other to each other - "rappers, Kanye West - they all do it".

Because all black people can be defined by rap and hip hop culture.

And Gilda, as many of us are guilty of doing, was dismissive of Julia in an effort to comfort her friend, repeatedly saying of Julia: "she's stupid".

Dismissing it as "stupid" suggests that we should forget about it and move on. It's the "boys will be boys" of racism. It's like saying, "yes, Donald Trump's super inappropriate and potentially dangerous, but he's insane so what can you do?".

But that's nothing, because once the Housewives got back to Auckland, Julia and Michelle had a catch up to clear the air, and Julia did nothing to help herself.

Her responses?

"I would've said it to anybody", "the other girls wouldn't have reacted how you did" and a personal best: "I'm the least racist person ever ... I grew up with Maoris and Polynesians".

Pretty sure the "least racist person ever" doesn't bandy about the n-word and dismiss it as them being a "stupid blonde".

But hey, if you lived in proximity to people of colour, who am I to argue?

So what now?

They were all so full of hope for that boat trip before it all "turned to custard". Photo / Bravo
They were all so full of hope for that boat trip before it all "turned to custard". Photo / Bravo

At the very least, Julia's comment seemed to come more out of ignorance than malice.

Because she is white and rich, and is from an environment in which those around her are also white and rich, she may've heard the term "boat n*****" used by those people and picked it up, and didn't think before she used it herself.

But ignorance isn't an excuse, particularly when months after shooting, she's still trying to dismiss it as an "off the cuff" mistake.

I also don't think Julia had any right to be upset by how Michelle reacted, or when Michelle didn't forgive her. Because until you've been in that position, you can't possibly relate.

In the end, all they could do was acknowledge that it happened and decide to just agree to disagree and move on for the sake of the show - and that's exactly what they did.

The Real Housewives of Auckland: Julia Sloane , Gilda Kirkpatrick, Michelle Blanchard, Anne Batley Burton, Angela Stone and Louise Wallace. Photo / Supplied
The Real Housewives of Auckland: Julia Sloane , Gilda Kirkpatrick, Michelle Blanchard, Anne Batley Burton, Angela Stone and Louise Wallace. Photo / Supplied

Next week's episode shifts back to the usual Real Housewives antics, with the group going clay shooting. But I doubt this will be the last we've heard on the issue.

Funnily enough though, the one bit of light-hearted relief we got from the episode came from Angela Stone trying to make her skin darker.

Her fake tan rubbed off on her white togs and Michelle wasn't wrong when she said "it looked like she'd s*** herself".

At least we got something good out of this episode.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 18 Jan 2017 19:36:49 Processing Time: 853ms