Kevin Of ‘The Real World’ Still Deserves An Apology — But, White Privilege
MTV first reality show’s interaction between Powell and Rebecca Blasband didn’t change much after 30 years
When the original cast of The Real World appeared on MTV, I was nine years old. And to be honest, back then, I’d usually just change the channel whenever it was on. I was just a kid then, more interested in watching the latest Michael Jackson or Nirvana video instead of “seven strangers picked to live in a house.” The youngest cast member, Julie Gentry, was 19 at the time. That seemed eons away from my life as a fourth-grader. 10/10 could not relate.
Thirty years and a pandemic later, I found myself watching the entire season on Paramount Plus. I relived the O.G. cast living at 565 Broadway, years before I even thought about applying to NYU and walked down the same streets. Now, I could relate to their conversations that went over my head as a kid: Dating, identity, and of course, race.
I can’t say how I would have reacted to seeing that scene play out in 1992. I didn’t have concrete experiences with race yet. All I remember at that age was being scared about my uncle going outside after the Rodney King beating.
Kevin Powell, one of the franchise’s first Black castmates, defended the Black experience in a conversation about politics with Rebecca Blasband. As he tried to explain that the deck was stacked higher against him as a Black man, Becky continued to dismiss him. As the debate got more heated, he called her a racist. And a moment in which he became labeled “the angry Black man” was born.
I can’t say how I would have reacted to seeing that scene play out in 1992. I didn’t have concrete experiences with race yet. All I remember at that age was being scared about my uncle going outside after the Rodney King beating. But now, after having conversations about race time and time again, seeing the eye rolls when I’ve struck a nerve, when someone accuses me of pulling “the race card,” I completely get what Kevin meant. As young Black people repeatedly see in our lives, the defense of Kevin’s lived experience became a supporting role, and the scene shifted to a white person upset about being called racist.
After watching season one, I scrolled over and clicked on Real World: Homecoming. Now, the original Real World kids are in their late forties and early fifties. All are back at 560 Broadway, except for Eric Nies. He was quarantined at a nearby hotel due to contracting Covid-19 before filming. The cast seemed prepared to not only relive their ’90s glory days but also confront some of their season’s tough conversations 30 years later. With the benefit of three decades of lived experiences, I expected that Kevin and Becky would surely clear the air.
That’s not what happened at all.
As soon as the discussion of their infamous argument sprung up, Becky profusely defended herself — she was not racist. In fact, she felt like she lost her skin color while taking part in a Brazilian dance class.
That totally happened in our Lord’s 2021.
While Kevin — and even the entire cast at this point— urged her to listen and told her that she was exhibiting classic white privilege behavior, she left the house. She accused the show of exploiting her, that she was being policed, and that Kevin was using her for some sort of political vindication.
Visibly shaken, he attempted a FaceTime call with Becky, but the microaggressions flew. He ended the call in tears.
I felt Kevin’s experience so deeply, as many Black Americans have for the last 30 years and way beyond my own. It reminded me that those microaggressions I tried to ignore, were in fact, microaggressive missiles used to put me “in my place.” It reminded me of all the times I consoled a person who had disrespected me and assured them that no, I didn’t think they were racist. It reminded me of the pain I still feel by the inaction or robotic social media posts from people I love, who can and will never understand the toll of 2020 on me because they simply won’t.
Most of all, it reminded me that it is not my job to teach anyone how to be anti-racist. The very notion infuriates me, as I never needed anyone to teach me how to treat people with kindness, dignity, and respect.
Kevin will likely never receive that apology from Becky. I won’t receive the apologies I deserve in my lifetime either. But it’s not on us to fix.
All that’s on us, is to live.