Jennie Nguyen fled war-torn Vietnam on a boat. She was captured by Thai pirates, Nguyen says, and saved from a refugee camp three years later by Christians who sponsored her journey to America. Bravo just fired Nguyen, the network’s first Vietnamese Real Housewife, over anti-woke memes she posted in 2020.
Some of Nguyen’s posts have been described as “racist” in the media since a Reddit user dug them up earlier this month. After each of her cast members took her turn denouncing Nguyen, she apologized, describing the memes as “offensive” and “hurtful.” It wasn’t enough. By Tuesday, Nguyen had been axed from the “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.”
Here’s a representative sampling of the memes, which would have been hard for Bravo to miss when they vetted Nguyen as a member of the cast.
The posts are not gentle criticisms of the social justice movement, that much is clear. They’re biting, politically incorrect, and openly unsympathetic. They’re also pretty standard fare in the universe of political memes and the universe of parents’ Facebook feeds. That’s not because the country is teeming with racists, it’s because a movement considered mainstream by the political establishment is actually very polarizing.
Nguyen, for instance, posted the “Community” meme that said, “If you follow the officers [sic] orders, you won’t get shot,” on Aug. 27, 2020, in the aftermath of Black Lives Matter riots that torched Kenosha, Wis. over the shooting of Jacob Blake. It turned out Blake, who is now paralyzed, was armed with a knife, resisting arrest, trying to enter an SUV with his children in it, and hadn’t responded to stun-gun shocks. State and federal prosecutors ultimately declined to charge the officer who fired.
Again, Nguyen’s post is sharp and unsympathetic, but hardly racist or inaccurate in the context of that particular incident. The Blaze article she posted about George Floyd’s death is also accurate, and there’s nothing racial in Nguyen’s Sept. 23 post about crime, especially in the context of 2020 where Antifa rioters from all racial backgrounds were vandalizing cities around the country.
The graphic Nguyen posted on Sept. 2 makes a pretty popular argument in crude terms: the country’s problems have more to do with culture than cops. If you use the false, expansionist definition of racism that thinkers like Ibram X. Kendi successfully mainstreamed, then yes, Jennie Nguyen and many other Americans are virulently racist.
But this is not a problem with them, it’s a problem with the definition, which has been weaponized by ideologues and partisans to make our cities less safe for people of all races while elite leftists move to the suburbs. Remember when the ultra-left mayor of Minneapolis was booed out of a rally for saying he wasn’t fully on board with abolishing the entire police department? Under the Kendi definition, support for systems of oppression (like capitalism or policing) is not anti-racism, thus it is racism.
That word used to be commonly understood as a label for people who discriminate against others based on the idea their race is inferior. The far left intentionally changed this.
I have no idea whether Nguyen is racist, but deciding these memes mark an unacceptable level of racism sends a message that reasonable opinions are bigotry. It reinforces dangerous new norms of what constitutes racism and what constitutes a fixable offense.
Of course, it’s also a double standard on more levels than one. Nguyen’s castmate Mary Cosby told her she “love[s] slanted eyes” earlier this season. She also said something about “Mexican thugs” who make drugs. Cosby seems to have quit the show amid mounting allegations the Pentecostal church she runs is exploitive at best and a “cult” at worst.
Nguyen herself said on this week’s episode of the show that she broke her husband’s ribs during an argument once. That seems worse than holding conservative views about policing, but the outrage is disproportionate.
Bravo has been happy to follow the legal drama of RHOSLC’s Jen Shah, who’s pleading not guilty to charges of fraud in a telemarketing scheme. Teresa Giudice went to prison. It’s great television, and that’s okay.
The Business of Bravo’s Entertainment
Bravo does not cast “Real Housewives” as protagonists. They’re not supposed to function as role models and they’re not supposed to normalize bad behavior. When we laugh or gasp at their bad behavior, we reinforce the boundaries of what’s right and wrong. Firing Nguyen instead of forcing her to talk through the issue with her cast is silly because it’s falsely predicated on the notion her posts were racist, but also because it’s less constructive.
Above all, Bravo is a business. Like many businesses around the country, the network’s culturally progressive leaders see backlash from hyper-political leftists on social media and the entertainment press as a threat to their bottom line. It’s not, even for a niche subculture like the Bravo universe. Nguyen’s diversity mattered to them until she turned out to be ideologically diverse by the standards of their bubbles.
As woke culture built momentum in recent years, Bravo proactively started adding layers of leftist messaging to its shows, casting “finger-waggers” who intentionally steered the plots toward politics in order to lecture their castmates about good and evil. It’s sucking the life out of the network, saddling shows that used to chronicle the decadence of the nouveau riche with protagonists who don’t deserve that framing.
Indeed, amid the news of Nguyen’s firing, commentators and fans suddenly turned their attention to Ramona Singer. Whether you think she’s racist (I have no idea), Singer is one of the greatest housewives of all time, and she’s almost certainly one of the least likable. How? Because that’s what the franchise is about.
It’s entirely reasonable to take exception with the idea of shows being predicated on that kind of model. But if you’re a fan of the network, it makes absolutely no sense to suddenly demand ideological and moral purity from the women who aren’t fully left.
If Bravo got rid of Singer, they’d basically be conceding the entire franchise is built on an immoral foundation. Again, that’s a reasonable argument. But it’s one that would turn Bravo into a much less interesting network, even by the standards of people cheering for Singer’s departure.
These women are not meant to be protagonists. They are not meant to behave virtuously. They are antiheroes who sell access to their materialistic lives for brand visibility. They aren’t running for president, they’re running for a job that shows us what fame and money does to families.
Emily Jashinsky is culture editor at The Federalist. She previously covered politics as a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner. Prior to joining the Examiner, Emily was the spokeswoman for Young America’s Foundation. She’s interviewed leading politicians and entertainers and appeared regularly as a guest on major television news programs, including “Fox News Sunday,” “Media Buzz,” and “The McLaughlin Group.” Her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, Real Clear Politics, and more. Emily also serves as director of the National Journalism Center and a visiting fellow at Independent Women’s Forum. Originally from Wisconsin, she is a graduate of George Washington University.