The Real Housewives of New York first premiered in 2008 as the highly anticipated east coast follow-up to the hot new Bravo reality series based in Orange County. From its debut to its thirteenth season on air, RHONY followed the lives of some of New York City’s most interesting personalities, introducing us to a group of well-off women who love rosé almost as much as they love bonding (and arguing) on girls trips. But over the years, the cast hasn’t been even slightly representative of the rich cultural diversity that the Big Apple is known for; rather than reflecting the demographics of the country’s third most diverse city, RHONY‘s revolving door of Housewives has been exclusively white — until now.
In the new season of the fan favorite Real Housewives series, the ladies will be finally welcoming the very first person of color to the cast, one Eboni K. Williams. Williams will no doubt be a long overdue pivot for the franchise, offering a unique vantage point shaped by her background and rich professional experience. She spent the earliest days of her career working as an attorney, both as a public defender and as a lawyer for a private firm, and is now fully entrenched in the media world, providing razor sharp political and cultural commentary on shows like Black News and State of the Culture on Revolt as well as on her own recently launched podcast with co-host Dustin Ross, Holding Court with Eboni K. Williams.
Williams will be making her splashy reality TV debut during tonight’s season premiere of RHONY, a historic new hire that’s no doubt demonstrative of Bravo’s commitment to making its programming more representative and inclusive. For Williams, being scouted to be the first non-white star on the show isn’t a matter of knee-jerk company policies; the network hired her because they knew that sparking change has always been a key part of her personal mantra. And as someone who was very familiar with the culture of the Housewives franchise, Williams was also fully aware of what she would be coming into with the NYC-based production.
“I’ve watched pretty much every Housewives series, and I think it’s fair to say that RHONY was the most homogeneously white series in the franchise,” Williams shared with Refinery29 during a phone call in April. “But I carry an unapologetically Black lens wherever I go. And I enjoy the challenge of that disruption because it challenges me to be intentional about how I show up in these spaces in ways that are productive for myself and for the people I’m interacting with.”
Thankfully, years of being the odd person out in a room full of people who didn’t look like her gave the Housewives newbie more than enough experience and energy to step into the space fully prepared. Williams has a long resume of advocating for herself and for people who look like her, and as such has no hesitation about doing so among a group of well-meaning, but very privileged new friends. Born and raised in the South, Williams was one of the few Black kids in her advanced classes, and later, her long journey to becoming a practicing attorney would also marked by being one of few Black women in her law program and at her law firms. When she began a career in media, Williams encountered similar mostly white environments; while working as a contributor then full-time cast member on FOX News show The Fox News Specialists, she spent much of her time countering problematic opinions with her own unique views. In short, she’s true to this, not new to this.
After everything that she’s encountered in her life, Williams was more than prepared to bond with the rich white Manhattanites of RHONY and even call them out if need be; in the super-teaser for season 13, we get a sneak peek of Williams checking co-star Ramona Singer for making an offhanded classist remark about “mixing up the help.” Her presence among what might be one of Bravo’s most privileged casts is a major step for the network, especially considering the moment of reckoning that Bravo recently faced.
In summer 2020, the network was blasted by many fans after a series of problematic stars from various shows were exposed for bigoted behavior, lending to a greater conversation about Bravo’s place in a progressive culture. As a response to the feedback from its viewers, the network began rolling out a series of big changes to its lineup; in addition to airing various specials about social justice and equity, Bravo also made it a point to diversify some of its whitest ranks. Williams was scouted as a new Bravolebrity, as were Crystal Kung Minkoff (only the second woman of color to be a Housewife on Beverly Hills after Garcelle Beauvais), Dr. Tiffany Moon (the first Asian woman to be on Dallas), and Leva Bonaparte (the only non-white star in Southern Charm‘s seven seasons).
Williams recognizes exactly how important it is for her to be on RHONY right now, especially as discourse about racism’s many different manifestations continue as a result of the endless stream of anti-Blackness that the Black community faces daily. And while it isn’t her job to educate the masses or save the world — “I’m not Toni Morrison in this bitch; I can’t be teaching y’all everything!” she exclaims in the trailer (relatable) — Williams is always going to speak her mind anytime, anywhere. That’s just who she is.
“I didn’t come on this show to cancel anybody or to read people for filth,” said Williams. “I’ve got many jobs, and one I don’t get a check for is teaching white people about the Black experience in America. But because of the way I innately show up in spaces, I also see it as an opportunity for education — of femininity, of independence, of social justice. “
“Bravo could have cast any woman,” Williams continued. “And they chose to pick a Black woman like me, who’s very confident and vocal about her Blackness. So I’m going to navigate this space while sharing knowledge as I always do: authentically and unapologetically.”
Season 13 of The Real Housewives of New York premieres May 4 on Bravo.
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