This season Bravo’s hit show Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA) is giving us more than salacious must-see TV. It’s actually addressing issues that justify being designated as reality television. Over the last few episodes, the story lines of ‘frenemies’ Sheree Whitfield and Kenya Moore have been upgraded from laughable to teachable moments due to a hot button issue, domestic violence.
Recently, we’ve seen Kenya’s on and off again boyfriend Matt Jordan exhibit menacing destructive behaviors (like vandalizing her home) that gave a clear cause for concern. His actions also lead to commentary between the cast mates that shed light on former allegations of abuse between Sheree and her ex-husband, Bob Whitfield, who has been campaigning for a reconciliation. Sadly, during a group discussion about past incidents of violence Bob made several callous remarks to his ex, not only minimizing his actions but also antagonizing her with disrespectful comments about “not choking” her hard enough.
In a very real moment, Bob’s remarks cause Sheree to cry, which while for her it may have felt like an unwelcome moment of weakness is honestly the best, and realest, thing she could have ever done. Here’s why:
It’s time to stop hiding pain. Most reality show stars want to be role models in some way, right? Sheree’s action was a great example of exactly how-to behave when someone you love says something despicable, hurtful and embarrassing. Being witty and indifferent is great when exchanging barbs with a frenemy, but it’s no way to behave when you’re vetting—or re-vetting— a life partner. We must work to create more spaces where Black women have permission to be vulnerable. It’s great to celebrate and champion the resilience that Black women demonstrate in the face of adversity but there is a downside to the consistent praise of tenacity. People begin to think those other emotional states, like anxiety, fear and even despair should not exist. All of these feelings and emotional states are normal, and living in either one exclusively is equally detrimental to one’s ability to be loved, supported and truly cope with a trauma.
According to Sheree, the man who vowed to love, protect and be her life partner also subjected her to mental, verbal and physical abuse. That hurts. It’s ugly. It’s scary. Facing the pain and giving yourself time to truly be sad are as much a natural part of the healing process as is making a new plan and moving into action. You must to both to truly move on. You cannot out run pain. It catches up.
It’s time to stop fantasizing about happily ever after. Who doesn’t want to reconcile with the person who played the leading role in your version on happily ever after? It’s easy to pretend that individual who abused, neglected or simply mistreated you has had a change of heart and plug him or her back into that fantasy—especially when he or she is doing all the nice thing he or she used to do.
Unfortunately, those great deeds—whether it’s kind words, endless attention, cash and gifts or selfless sex—are rarely about the person being doted on. Instead, they are a means to an end for the offending partner to get what he or she wants, again. You see, this person has been privy to your dreams and goals, and understands—once you’ve given even them the smallest chance—how much you are willing to give up to get back what you think you’ve lost. The truth is, you haven’t lost anything. Your partner showed you that he/she didn’t love or respect you enough to deal with his or her issues around aggression and abuse.
It’s time to stop limiting accountability. Here’s something folks trying to be “strong” don’t consider: You give the offending party a pass when you pretend he or she hasn’t hurt you. It’s easy for someone to minimize an abusive episode or retell the details of a traumatizing event as if it’s funny if the person who was hurt holds a stiff upper lip or shrugs off an incident. But what happens when he or she cries? It many cases, like the Whitfields, it forces both parties to be honest about what’s going on.
In Sheree’s case it was an eye-opener to how Bob would react when he’s feeling out of control, disappointed or embarrassed. Unfortunately, he showed his first instinct is still to hurt her and not protect her. His actions forced her to think about how much accountability he is truly taking for his former actions and his true commitment to change. Sadly, too often victims are conditioned to be embarrassed of their vulnerability and to hide their hurt. Don’t allow someone who has inflicted emotional or physical pain get a pass. Speak your truth. No fear. No shame.
S. Tia Brown is the lifestyle director at EBONY magazine and a licensed therapist. She also happens to believe in love and the promise that it gives. Follow her @tiabrowntalks.