Desperate Housewives and “Salon Unity”

How do you confront subtle racism in social situations?

By Naima Ramos-Chapman Aug 25, 2010

Over the The Root, Latoya Peterson sheds some much needed spotlight on our dealings with racism in intimate social settings. This time Peterson takes aim at The Real Housewives of DC, the Bravo reality series that’s no stranger to exploiting the rudimentary tensions between women for the sake of ratings. 

In the article Peterson recaps a cringe-worthy moment, when Stacie has to grin and bear a racially-insensitive moment dished out by one of her white "friends" on the show:

Stacie Scott Turner…smiles uncomfortably as her friend continues her drunken prattle with a lecture on inequality in hair care. "I know we have different hair and different needs, but we need salons to integrate," she declares, leaning forward slightly with an unfocused stare. Stacie avoids looking at Ted, the friend Mary was just dying to introduce her to, since she "just knew they would hit it off." Ted, of course, is one of the few other black faces at Mary’s birthday bash…


It is this kind of mind-set that leads to pieces like Katrina Richardson’s essay, "And We’re the Only Two Black Girls at the Party," an exploration of the tensions that revolve around race and expectations in predominantly white social settings. Both Ted and Stacie were taken aback by Mary’s impassioned plea for salon unity, plastering frozen smiles on their faces and nodding politely until the moment safely passes and they can move on to something else. Stacie, clearly used to these kind of things, is ready to play it off. She explains into the camera: "Mary’s a little tipsy; it’s her birthday; let’s keep drinking champagne."

Read more of Peterson’s take on The Root

Now while a plea for "salon unity" certainly isn’t the most pressing concern in the fight for racial justice, it does shed some light on those unassuming social encounters where people let loose their biases. I’ve often found myself face to face with disparaging racial comments from the most subtle to the bombastic. They’ve included comments about hair care, "positive" stereotypes about who’s born with rhythm, and even being assaulted with racial epithets. Once at a DC bar a drunk white girl gave me what she thought was a compliment: "If I was black I would want to look like you."

Like Stacie, when black folks find themselves confronted with racism in social situations instead of checking it, we wince, stick on a smile and ignore it, in hopes of "keeping the peace." But there’s something to be said for those who speak up. According to a study published in Psychological Science people openly and directly address subtle forms of prejudice do it with hopes that they can change people’s attitudes. But maybe that’s allowing people too much space.