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.

Image via.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation