LuAnn's RHONY Blackface Costume Should Have Set Off More Alarm Bells

Photo: Courtesy of Charles Sykes/Bravo.
The Real Housewives Of New York officially turned a decade old with Wednesday night’s RHONY season 10 premiere, “Gouls Just Wanna Have Fun.” The 2018 opener felt like more of the same on a majority of fronts: Bethenny Frankel and Ramona Singer argued using identical complaints from years past, Sonja Morgan was scolded for gossiping to the press, and Tinsley Mortimer gushed about Eloise, the fictional character. It was a less-than-headline-making return for the ladies of the Big Apple… until LuAnn de Lesseps entered the episode’s big set piece, Dorinda Medley’s 2017 Halloween party.
The Countess, singer of “Money Can’t Buy You Class,” showed up to the bash in actual blackface as Diana Ross. That jaw-dropper of an offense appears to now be a harbinger of much worse things to come for LuAnn, who would soon be mired in legal problems. But, at the time, all of RHONY was uncomfortably nonplussed by the display.
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At the start of the “Gouls” party, everything is classic New York. Most of the “girls” — please remember all of these cast members are between 42 and 61 years old — are annoyed Sonja hasn't greeted Dorinda & Co. It’s all very Mean Girls, with a high school cafeteria swapped out for a swanky New York City lounge. Then, LuAnn comes striding in wearing a white jumpsuit, countless diamonds, and a 2-foot-tall Afro. Oh, and bronzer. So much bronzer. The amount of bronzer a white-presenting person needs to appear Black.
As many an Instagram commenter has pointed out, LuAnn says her father is at minimum partially Native American, allegedly hailing from Canada’s Micmac tribe. But, simply being multiracial doesn’t give one the license to paint their body to purposefully mimic the darker tones of someone else or throw on a comical-on-the-edge-of-mocking wig, especially when that person is Black. That’s blackface, plain and simple, and it comes with a dark and hateful history. There is no good reason to add to the legacy, no matter how much you love a performer. If you truly respected that artist, you would respect their culture.
Despite that fact, LuAnn, fresh off of a very public and painful divorce from local cad Tom D’Agostino, uses that reasoning to defend her choices. “I’m Diana Ross,” she says in a confessional interview. “Because she’s fabulous.” At the party, and in an Instagram caption, she explains her inspiration for the costume is Diana Ross’ hit “I’m Coming Out.” It’s worth pointing out all of the artwork associated with that iconic song features Ross in either a white t-shirt and jeans or another similarly casual outfit; her hair is slicked down, extremely short and straight, or voluminous, yet, still straight. And when the singer did sport an Afro, it was always perfectly rounded. LuAnn's entire look couldn't be further from those vibes. So isn’t merely offensive, it’s also a caricature of Diana Ross.
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Still, LuAnn insisted during her Watch What Happens Live “apology” appearance following “Gouls,” the costume was “really kind of a tribute to [Ross]. It was Halloween!” Knowing what we do about Ross’ fashion sense, she deserves a better tribute. The New York star added, “I had bronzer on that I wear normally ... I didn’t add anything, or would ever dream of doing a blackface. I’m very sorry to everyone out there if I offended anyone.”
While LuAnn’s choice is obviously disturbing, “apology” or not, it is equally unsettling to see how few of her RHONY cast members recognize the problem at hand. Sonja squeals, gleefully praising LuAnn’s “headdress.” Bethenny tells LuAnn she “loves” the costume, but rolls her eyes in confessional. Dorinda has had too many cocktails to even figure out who LuAnn is.
Carole Radziwill is the only one who actually explains what’s so wrong with the costume, but saves the real talk for a talking head interview, saying, “LuAnn’s costume is so disrespectful. I think she’s tone deaf when it comes to cultural stereotypes.” While Carole is correct, she should have told LuAnn as much at the party. RHONY is a show that thrives on difficult, sometimes screamy, conversations, and people aren’t going to stop doing blackface until someone tells them right to their face it’s deeply inappropriate. That’s literally the only way to nip this unending, racist costume party problem in the bud for good.
The RHONY women’s non-action is even more problematic when you realize the Blackface incident was only an omen of LuAnn’s troubles to come. A person who is willing to douse themselves in bronzer as a “tribute” to a Black icon likely isn’t as socially aware as she once was. This would be the time for a good friend to check in on that person and really see how they’re doing following a divorce, public humiliation, and, now, oblivious racist display. No one did that, since we can all see in “Gouls” everyone would rather talk about who didn’t call whom and the proper timeline of greeting the host of a party.
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As we can see in the super trailer for New York season 10, LuAnn is heading towards her Christmas Eve arrest. The Bravolebrity’s trouble with the law began when she was allegedly trespassing in the wrong hotel room, refused to leave, and kicked a police officer when she was forced to exit. LuAnn was charged with a litany of alleged offenses, including disorderly intoxication and battery on an officer. The Countess then checked into rehab, which she credits with “saving her life.”
The lesson in all of this is, if you see your friend in blackface, everyone should be worried. Because that very offensive episode is likely just the tip of the iceberg of problems to come. And, it’s also simply disrespectful.
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