The Real Housewives franchise offer opportunities for intersectional analysis often missed due to the overwhelming race, gender, class, ethnicity, nation, or sexuality issues one could discuss independently. Case in point, RHOA and their African adventure arc. Over four episodes, Phaedra Parks, Nene Leakes, Kandi Burruss, Sheree Whitfield, Cynthia Bailey, and hanger-on/unofficial cast member Marlo Hampton took a trip to a place generically called AFRICA. The episodes took the cast through a number of scenarios meant to juxtapose their relative riches to an Africanist presence that had very little to do with South Africa realities and everything to do with an African imaginary. The Africanist presence is refracted not only through a white supremacist lens, but also back onto and through American blackness.
Collectively, the RHOA carted European-tour-style wardrobes full of designer apparel, while others dressed “stylishly down" for their visits to a safari, an orphanage, a local museum of Xhosa history, and a “witch doctor.” Episode 14, “No Bones About It,” is exemplary of the “ontological uncertainty” of reality television: “It is real? Is it faked?” In the case of the RHOA’s, the show is edited to illustrate cutthroat competition and backstabbing amongst black women in the form of “label envy” and generalized “hateration.” Unclear is whether viewers are supposed to identify with Marlo’s inability to think of anything other than her inappropriate, designer safari footwear, Kandi and Phaedra’s patronizing othering (“It’s my duty to help them.”), Nene’s constant discomfort at being a displaced “Atlanta girl”, or outgoing cast member Sheree’s desire to remain relevant by instigating disagreement amongst a cast.
In this trailer, the ladies inability to get along in (of all places!) AFRICA is compared with those having less materially. They are, after all, descended from enslaved Africans and, thus, we are supposed to believe, innately capable of overcoming their differences, which are sub-textually a by-product of Western materialism. If nothing else, they should be bonded in their commonality as black women who are too independent---a point reinforced by a cringe-worthy encounter with a “medicine man” who consistently insults them through a reading of “bones” that reveals their failings vis-à-vis heteronormative relationships with men.
With too many sub-plots, all undergirded by black women’s lack as wives, matriarchs, and sistah-friends, a multicultural and international audience is left to choose their own generic African misadventure with the Real Housewives of Atlanta.