Not many people can have a successful legal career, transition to journalism, be a cultural critic and think leader, talk politics, and make her life’s work as an African American studies and culture scholar. But Eboni K. Williams encompasses all of those things and more.
She’s proved she’s a Renaissance woman that’s here to stay…and slay. And she’s doing so on The Real Housewives of New York, joining the franchise in Season 13 as the first Black apple-holder and full-time cast member of color. It’s something she doesn’t take lightly.
“The ability, the privilege, to represent our people on any platform, but especially for it to be the first representation of Black womanhood on a legacy veteran franchise like Real Housewives of New York is a tall order,” she says with pride in a recent interview with Shadow and Act. “It’s an esteemed honor and to feel that my people – generally speaking – feel that I’m honoring that is very important to me personally.”
Williams admits that being the first has its challenges, especially when it comes to developing relationships with her co-stars, many of whom admittedly don’t interact on a daily basis with people of color in their intimate social circles. Williams understands the bubble many live in, explaining that Manhattan is a high society environment in terms of classism and wealth.
During one episode, many of her co-star’s boasted about not leaving the parameters of Manhattan to travel to other boroughs. Despite such, Williams doesn’t let them off the hook for ignorance, bias, or microaggressions of any kind. She says it was all part of her plan from the beginning.
“A lot of this for me is about the capacity in which someone takes up space, so as the first Black housewife on the show, I absolutely had a perception of how I ideally wanted to engage with this group of women who obviously are white and most of them had limitations around their understanding of Blackness,” she says.
Unfortunately, that came with spending a lot of time educating and checking her co-stars, including kindly remaining Luann de Lesseps that she’s the most formally educated on the cast amid a discussion about decorum around conversations of sex publicly and how it relates to education. De Lesseps countered by calling Williams angry. The two later chatted and made amends.
She’s built strong bonds with Leah McSweeney and Sonja Morgan. But the same hasn’t been true for another Black face on the show, Bershan Shaw. The two clashed over differences in opinion on how to approach a conversation regarding Black Lives Matter and the inclusion of all people. Shaw has stated that she feels the two simply have different personalities, which Williams agrees with. But, Williams says there’s a bigger issue at hand.
“I didn’t know where to put her energy which frankly felt like an undermining of my goals for the group,” she says of Shaw. “To her credit…she showed up in a space that was – how I interpreted – an all lives matter disposition, a let’s not focus on our distinctions and stay in a space of all the same – I felt not only personally undermined…it was what they wanted. It was the exact energy that some of my castmates were looking for to give them the safe haven to void the work..”
While Williams has had Black Twitter come to her defense weekly, she admits being in each scene and having to hold her composure under certain circumstances can be challenging. But, it’s not something that’s foreign to her.
“Some of this is my natural temperament – I am a classically trained litigator – so if I had a pop-off nature, I wouldn’t be successful as a lawyer,” she says. “If I had a pop-off nature, I wouldn’t be successful as a journalist, especially in cable news where the temperature was hot and often rooted in disagreement. So, that is the reason I don’t think it was an accident that I happen to be the first Black woman on this show. I know how to do two things at one time: that is stand in a very strong place of conviction around a personal value or opinion and not come from a purely emotional reaction.”
It’s also what’s helped her stand against what she calls an attack on a Black woman is going against the status quo. In recent weeks, Williams has been the subject of tabloid gossip about her past financial struggles, previous romantic relationships, and more. But she isn’t backing down.
“I think it’s pretty clear that it’s open season on Black elite women,” she says with a shrug. “When you are a Black woman and you’re operating in an elite space and you’re not going to be moved by tactics of intimidation and shame, there’s not a lot left to do but make up lies and attack your credibility…y’all gonna have to come better.”
Watch the full 30-minute interview with Williams where she speaks more on combating Black stereotypes, her love life, her hopes for building a better friendship with Shaw, how she overcame financial mistakes, whether she’d return next season and much more.