content-header__row content-header__hed” data-testid=”ContentHeaderHed”>Eboni K. Williams Was Born to Disrupt The Real Housewives of New York CityAhead of season 13’s premiere, New York’s newest Housewife—and the show’s first Black cast member—opens up about her debut season, her Fox News past, and why she’s uniquely prepared to join Bravo’s beloved franchise.
May 4, 2021
By Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images.
Eboni K. Williams knew exactly what she was getting into when she signed on to become Real Housewives of New York City’s first Black cast member. “I’m not new to this. I was often the only Black girl in the pageant,” Williams told V.F. during a series of phone calls at the end of April. A self-described Bravo superfan, Williams said she’s seen every episode of RHONY, the Housewives franchise’s crown jewel—but despite her familiarity with the series, she also isn’t taking the behavior of her castmates, Ramona Singer, Luann de Lesseps, Sonja Morgan, and Leah McSweeney, at face value. “I didn’t for one second think that’s who these women are,” she told me. “I know enough to know that people are so much more than what you see in that one medium, on that one platform. It’s really a fraction of what’s going on.”
From her very first episode, which airs on Bravo on May 4, it’s clear that Williams’s media savvy prepared her well for the potentially uncomfortable position of being fresh meat on a beloved series. She embodies an archetype that’s becoming more common across the Housewives franchise, as Bravo seeks to diversify its long-running series by hiring women like Williams, Haitian American actor and model Garcelle Beauvais—who recently joined the cast of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills—and Asian American anesthesiologist Dr. Tiffany Moon, who’s now a Real Housewife of Dallas.
Williams is more than used to being the only woman of color to occupy a given space. Born in the small town of Amite, Louisiana, she attended UNC Chapel Hill and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law before beginning her career as the only Black woman at a Charlotte law firm. Though it allowed her to pay off law school debt, Williams quickly found corporate law to be “very generic”—so she quite literally walked across the street, where another law office stood, and applied for the less glamorous, less well-paid position of public defender. “I wanted to do something that felt unique and that it was making a difference in everyday people’s lives,” she said.
Williams, a former pageant queen, remembers initially being dismissed as too “girly” for the public defense job. “I show up to the interview looking like I look,” she said— “my curls, my suit, my heels. And they were like, I don’t know if you’re really cut out for this.” She took the note, dressed down for her second interview, and got hired. “Don’t let this pretty-girl shit fool you,” she said. “I’m with the shit.”
Since her public defender days, Williams’s career has taken a few surprising turns. She pivoted from law to broadcast journalism, appearing Fox News as a guest contributor during the 2013 George Zimmerman trial. Williams was eventually asked to coanchor the talk show The Fox News Specialists in 2017. She was never worried about the implications of appearing on the conservative news network as a Black woman; joining Fox was the sort of sacrifice she believes is necessary to make a difference. “I was just so focused on the work,” she said, knowing that Fox was in desperate need of a contributor like her: “an educated, unapologetic, skilled, Black legal and political expert. The fact that I was so hyper-focused on those elements of it, I didn’t even give it a second thought. There is this price of disruption. And I’ve just never been afraid to pay it.”
Williams ultimately did pay the price at Fox, choosing to leave the network after alienating its viewers with an edition of her segment, Eboni’s Docket, in which she criticized Donald Trump for his response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Since then Williams has found a home as a broadcast journalist at the Sean Combs–founded Revolt TV, hosting the program State of the Culture while appearing on RHONY. And while Williams has been vocal about her fraught experience at Fox, being a person of color in a potentially hostile environment also taught her a valuable lesson. When contentious topics arose on her first season of RHONY, for example, “I [didn’t] go into these conversations with an intention to change hearts and minds,” she said. “I abandoned that mission after Fox News.”
By Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images.
But even though Williams doesn’t feel obligated to enlighten the masses—and doesn’t seem to care what people think of her own hard-to-pin-down political views—she’s clear about where she stands on several hot-button issues. In her first scene on RHONY, Williams is wearing a Black Lives Matter mask and a sweatshirt dedicated to the Exonerated Five. The outfit was very intentional, said Williams. Her book, Pretty Powerful: Appearance, Substance, and Success, is “all about the intentionality of leveraging your aesthetic and how you show up appearance-wise in spaces to convey messaging. And so that’s exactly what you see in those scenes. Oh, we’re shooting in Central Park today with Leah McSweeney? I’m gonna put on a Central Park Five sweatshirt because that’s important.”
Her outspokenness about issues regarding “the liberation of my people,” Williams said, will reverberate throughout the season. Onscreen she’s funny and direct in her delivery, with a bit of a potty mouth—which she acknowledges may rub some of her castmates the wrong way. “On one of the episodes not too far into the season, [my cursing] leads to a pretty direct and nasty confrontation,” she said. “This notion of language and vulgarity ends up being a point of massive conflict and contention.”
Speaking of conflict: Williams also isn’t concerned with teaching critical race theory to a cast of mostly white-lady boomers. Even so, her cohort’s antics often force her to wear that hat; this season finds her educating the ladies on the history of Black Americans in Sag Harbor and side-eyeing Sonja Morgan after she goes out of her way to point out the black-and-white fish in her koi pond. “I wasn’t exhausted, but I could see how someone else in my position would be,” Williams said of her dual role as cast member and resident Black woman. “You have to remember, I have a degree in Black studies, right? So I’m not just, like, a Black woman who is showing up as her authentic self. Part of my authentic self is the kind of minutiae of the Black experience…My capacity to engage in the details and these conversations about Black life and experience is probably abnormally high.”