Real Housewife’s on-air racial slur

Eddie and Tamra

Eddie and Tamra

Ed. note: This post is by Feministing’s awesome new social media intern, Dahlia Grossman-Heinze. You can follow her on Instagram @grossmad and on tumblr.

Confession: I love the Real Housewives franchise. I will watch every season of every zip code. I have favorites (Atlanta), but I’m faithfully committed to all of them, and I’ve watched them since the beginning. I know that I’m not doing my brain any favors by watching them, but I can’t help it—I love them.

Last week on Real Housewives of Orange County—the first in the franchise—Tamra Barney called her boyfriend a beaner. They were at a Mexican restaurant and Tamra’s boyfriend Eddie was putting particular care into pronouncing Spanish words correctly. Then Tamra said, “Eddie feels very at home in Mexican restaurants. And it definitely brings out Eddie’s inner beaner.”

I was shocked. The word went by unbleeped by Bravo. Sometimes Bravo’s editing has an editorializing edge to it; Bravo often cuts clips together to expose lies or make a Bravolebirty sound unintelligent. But there was no hint of that here. It didn’t seem like Bravo was pointing out the ignorance and bigotry in Tamra’s word choice. It didn’t seem like Bravo was trying to make fun of Tamra. It seemed like Bravo was in on the joke with Tamra, laughing along at Latinos.

While the FCC doesn’t publish a list of what words are considered obscene, indecent, or profane, their guidelines define profanity as “including language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.” That fact that Bravo aired a derogatory slur on their primetime series, clearly in flagrant violation of FCC guidelines, proves that either Bravo doesn’t know the word “beaner” is a racial slur, or they don’t care. But as we all remember from the Janet Jackson Superbowl performance, the FCC has jumped quickly in the past—maybe the FCC doesn’t care, either. 

Since Tamra is pretty sheltered in her OC life and doesn’t know how the other half lives, I’ll let her in on some facts about being a Latina in California. One in four Californians is an immigrant, a higher percentage than in the United States overall. Of those, more than 5 million are women. Sixty percent of Latinas have low incomes—that’s twice the percentage of Californian women overall. Low-income and uninsured women (like non-citizens) are often unable to access healthcare, and this lack of services actively endangers these women. As we’ve reported recently, immigrants are twice as likely to be uninsured, and even under immigration reform they may have to wait up to 15 years before receiving access to affordable health care. That is a long time to wait, considering that breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among Latinas, primarily because Latinas are more often diagnosed at a point at which treatment is not effective.

Bigotry towards Latinos in the United States is more than just being unaware that words are hurtful—it has real, visible consequences for their health and livelihoods.

Tamra has a blog through Bravo where she gives her point of view on each episode. She hasn’t mentioned the racial slur, and I’ve fallen out of love with the Real Housewives.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted May 3, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Dahlia, you did incredible here. I love how you can critique something you had loved watching and call them out for what they did wrong. It’s hard for a lot of people to do that. Thanks for writing this piece.

  2. Posted May 3, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    I personally would chalk it up to “wait, what?” on Bravo’s part.

    Confession: I had no idea that was even a slur; I’ve never heard it before, and – like 80% of racial slurs I’ve come across outside the n-word – I don’t even get it. Until last year (and my god, I just turned 36), I thought being called a cracker meant someone thought I was white and bland like a saltine. -_- Seriously.

    If someone calls someone else a “beaner,” my first reaction (no matter what they look like) is to think, “oh, they’re from Boston?” Clueless white girl, aisle 3.

  3. Posted May 3, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    FCC regulations apply only to broadcast, not cable, so cable shows don’t have to bleep out swears or anything like that.

  4. Posted May 3, 2013 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    How do these sorry-ass women who refer to their boyfriends using racial slurs that mock their ethnic heritage manage to keep said boyfriends? I guess that’s a rhetorical question.

  5. Posted May 3, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Bravo must have heard you because I’m watching a rerun right now, and they bleeped the slur.

  6. Posted May 4, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I agree that this was shocking and completely appropriate to hear her use that word. I had a slightly different take, though–I think this was Bravo basically showing Tamra to be racist, in the same way they let cast members babble to make themselves look stupid.

    Although in a recent RHONJ season when Joe Giudice kept using the word f—-t, they bleeped him and his use of the word and the prejudice it revealed became a big part of the storyline. It doesn’t seem like this will be handled in the same way, which is definitely problematic.

  7. Posted May 6, 2013 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    When we watched it it was bleeped, we were still offended because of course you knew what she was saying, but at least in later broadcasts they did bleep it.

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