I’m having a hard time deciding what to make of Kathy Hilton mistaking Lizzo for Precious, a character played by Gabourey Sidibe in the 2009 film of the same name during Wednesday’s episode of Watch What Happens Live.
As an avid Real Housewives watcher, it’s no secret that Kathy Hilton is truly a clueless woman, through and through. 90% of the time, she hasn’t got any idea what’s going on. We’ve watched her mistake Garcelle Beauvais, a Black woman, for her own white sister, Kyle Richards. We’ve watched her ask, “Who is Hunky dory?” in all seriousness, when a tearful Sutton Stracke used the figure of speech during an intense conversation. And during the same taping on WWHL, we watched her totally unable to identify Justin Timberlake and Ryan Reynolds. And who could forget the time she said Leonardo Dicapriato, referring to the Titanic star, also on WWHL?
But the gig is up.
Twitter erupted after clips of the interaction started surfacing on social media. Some people found it hilarious while others are pointing out the racism and ignorance her comment displayed. Those coming to her defence are mostly white, and suggesting that she’s just a clueless 63-year-old. My mom is white. My mom is also 63. And she knows damn right who Grammy-winning, chart-topping Lizzo is.
I agree that she’s clueless. I also don’t think it was her intention to be racist, this time at least. But as we know, intent doesn’t negate impact, so it’s no wonder why so many people, especially Black people, are having visceral reactions to the clip.
Here’s the thing, as media personality Kalen Allen pointed out in this tweet. I remember being in high school during the release of Precious. If you wanted to embarrass, shame or bully a Black woman, you’d call them Precious. The name took on a very derogatory meaning in the weeks, months and dare I say years after the film was released.
No, this is not information I expect every white woman to be privy to. Kathy Hilton certainly wasn’t running up and down the halls of my high school with her ear to the floor about what new insult the kids had cooked up. But as a person who is in the spotlight, who makes quite a few media appearances and often interacts with other celebrities, like Rihanna, who she has a good relationship with, it’s time she gets some public relations training.
I may be alone in thinking this, but Bravo uses Kathy Hilton very strategically. Her clips from her time on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, along with her clips on WWHL have garnered millions of views, collectively. People find her funny, I often find her funny, I get it. But I don’t find her funny when Black women are the butt of her jokes, whether it’s intentional or not.
I go back to another tweet by Kalen Allen, who agrees that it was unintentional, but points to the fact that yet again, Lizzo is being clowned on national television, along with social media, and suggests someone should have said something.
That’s an interesting thought, because whatever attempts were made to smooth things over failed miserably. RHOBH castmate Crystal Kung-Minkoff who also appeared in the episode, tried to say Lizzo was “precious”, like, personality-wise. Awkward. Andy Cohen sat there, half laughing as he hid behind his cue cards. And the two Black bartenders just winced.
I feel like the Black bartenders in this situation. I love reality TV. I love Andy Cohen. I love Bravo. I am literally flying to New York in October for Bravocon. But there have been many times I feel like my identity and my interests struggle to co-exist.
I remember watching Teresa Giudice flip a table, both her and her then-husband being sent to jail, hair being ripped out at a party, all on Real Housewives of New Jersey. But in an episode where a few Black women get into a verbal argument, a main ingredient in this type of franchise, who gets called ghetto? Classless? Trashy? We do.
I don’t feel like Bravo has done nearly enough to protect the Black women and men on their shows. And only post-2020 did we see the emergence of more Black castmates on shows like Southern Charm and Below Deck.
So many people are pointing their finger at Kathy Hilton over her mistaking Lizzo for Precious. But let’s not forget the people and the network behind the scenes who facilitate interactions just like these, making money off of every single view.
Considering Black women are very much the backbone of reality TV, as discussed in this 2021 Washington Post article, and many others, I can’t help but feel like for all the money Bravo is making off of women of colour, we, including Lizzo, deserve much better.