If you grew up watching The Real World like I have then you probably used to go through this similar line of thinking:
1. I hope the (ONE) Black person they have this season isn’t crazy.
2. Dammit, the Black person did something crazy.
3. I feel embarrassed when said Black person does something crazy.
4. I wonder why the Real World only casts the CRAZIEST Black people in every season.
Keep in the mind, the Real World glory years came during the 90s. And in the 90s Black people were still having real discourse about eating chicken in public and what it’s like to feel embarrassed by seeing a Black person doing something demeaning on the news. There were whole comedy bits by Black comedians built around Black people hoping someone committing a crime on the news isn’t “one of us.” So there were times we’d internalize seeing Black characters on the Real World (and its sister show Road Rules) act violently, get kicked off or act like a lunatic. So naturally the “why do they always pick the crazy Black people” conversation was constant every time we’d see a new season and there’d be a new Black character who was pushed to violence, confrontations and spectacle.
But it’s 2016 and I’m older and more woke — free from the archaic and silly idea of being “embarrassed” by Black people or feeling as though any one Black person’s actions have any bearing on myself or how I should be received by the rest of society. I can also now look back at the Black characters and understand where most of them were coming from. And just how they can feel like they’ve hit their boiling points on a show like Real World.
First of all, for most of the seasons, the show would only cast one or two Black people to live in a house full of White people they’d never met before. In 2016 we’re aware enough to know what kind of stress and trauma that sort of living situation can bring. More than a decade ago, a researcher for the University of Utah named William A. Smith coined the phrase “Racial Battle Fatigue,” which is essentially the idea that Black people undergo stress, worry and fatigue when in places that are White-dominated. His study was backed up by the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, whose research found that Black people do experience excessive stressors from being in White spaces, and have to deal with constant microagressions.
“The results of our study suggest that the notion of racial battle fatigue could be a very real phenomenon that might explain how individuals can go from the experience of racism to the experience of a serious mental health disorder,” Jose Soto Ph.D. told PsychCentral.com, “While the term is certainly not trying to say that the conditions are exactly what soldiers face on a battlefield, it borrows from the idea that stress is created in chronically unsafe or hostile environments.”
So when cameras are focused on people who are amongst strangers 24/7, they’re already prone to start acting a bit crazy — as indicated by every reality star ever. But for Black people, they’re surrounded by microaggressions every season and are expected to hold it together. Relying on these Black people to flip out has been the money maker for so many seasons of Real World. The simple act of living with a house full of White people — especially as the only Black person — brings an innate trauma to the situation.
We all remember Stephen from Seattle — the Black man adopted by a White jewish family as a kid who was battling with his sexuality — who became a punchline after he slapped Irene. There was Coral who was the center for “drama” in her season. If you recall her housemate suggested that Black people were less intelligent than their White counterparts. On that same season, Nicole had to explain to Kevin (a White guy) what it was like to be Black.
Even back in the first season, Kevin Powell had to live with a White woman from Alabama who simply didn’t understand race or how it affects Black people. That’s enough to make anyone crack, but Powell maintained despite their arguments. But to ask all Black people to keep their sanity in these circumstances is unreasonable. And this is what Real World banks on. They thrive off of conflict and near-fights, and when it comes to their Black cast-members it seems that the conflicts they want to focus on revolve around housing them with White people who are either indifferent to Blackness or who are outright racist.
This past season, the show — which I honestly didn’t even know was still on the air — placed Ceejai’ in a house with Jenna, a Mormon from South Carolina who uses words like “colored” in regular conversation. Ceejai’s traumatic past should be mentioned here, too: her father killed her mother and was then killed by the police. So naturally she was the perfect candidate to be in a house with a massive racist and deal with more racial battles despite the fact her fatigue levels were as high as humanly possible.
In the season finale Jenna’s friend said that Ceejai’ should go “pick cotton.” Then Jenna proceeded to call Ceejai’ “ratchet.” All of this boiled over to Ceejai’ attacking Jenna and leaving her with a Black eye. Ceejai’ gets kicked off the show, the fight goes viral and the show gets more buzz than any other time in years. All on the back of Black trauma.
Real World has been around for almost 25 years and they’ve thrived on drama and conflict. Which is understandable because it’s a reality show. It’s just time for them to figure out some other way to manufacture that drama without using Black pain to get them there.
And let’s remember that we’ve yet to see what happens in a season when White people are in a house outnumbered by Black people, let alone when there’s only one White person in a house full of Black people. It’d be interesting to see who looks “crazy” then.