We Need ‘Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard’ In The Reality TV Universe, But What We Don’t Need Is Its Proximity To Whiteness

Black people are a diverse and vibrant community, a fact often overlooked in the portrayal of Black representation on reality TV. While these shows are not inherently bad, they usually fail to capture the full spectrum of Black expression and its cultural significance, instead opting for a narrow, often whitewashed view. Elements of Bravo’s Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard are a prime example of this.

Martha’s Vineyard has deep historical roots, specifically in the Oak Bluffs area. Charles Shearer opened Shearer Inn in 1912 as one of the limited options Black travelers had as safe spaces during vacation. Since then, generations of Black families and friends have descended on Inkwell Beach in Oak Bluffs as a place to authentically celebrate and thrive in Black joy through relaxation and rejuvenation, but we can’t forget the turn-up.

Against this backdrop, the Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard cast spends about two weeks in Oak Bluffs to freely express themselves among their peers and closest friends. While no nearly two-week-long vacation among people with varying degrees of connection is expected to be drama-free, what we find is the platforming of Whiteness in Black spaces that are supposed to be revered and protected.

But what is Whiteness, exactly? It is not just the racial identity of being a white person. Moreover, as defined by Learning for Justice, Whiteness is a social construct that seeks to uphold systemic prejudices rooted in “power and privilege to maintain an unjust social hierarchy.”

This is where Texas native Amir Lancaster enters the chat. Raised in Arlington, TX, Lancaster has been open about his bi-racial identity as a Black and Lebanese man. However, he has admitted to not having connections to the people and cultural expressions of Black America. His lack of connection has led to a life of what many hope to believe is an unconscious bias toward what Whiteness is and how it can show in Black Americans who remain out of touch.

amir lancaster
Amir Lancaster. Image: Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images.

“I would say l had a semi-identity crisis just because I was raised by my Lebanese family, and the only relationship that I had to my Black side was through sports and the few friends that I have that I’ve made over the years,” Lancaster explained in a 2023 WJBF News Channel 6 interview.

This tension with his identity and visible doubling down on his lack of intentionally connecting with his Black heritage was hard to sometimes stomach as a Black man. Whether it was his ignorance regarding Black historical facts or his infatuation with the cultural expressions from members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. during a party – Amir represents a cohort of Black people whose lived experience borders on the line of anti-Blackness. It’s like they can’t deny it because, duh, melanin. However, despite the wide range of what Black expression can be, the choices seem to miss the mark.

Then there’s his relationship with his girlfriend Natalie and there is something pervasive about some Black men who date white women. If the white partner has not done the work to deal with their Whiteness and privilege in the world, it can lend itself to examples like condescending tones and controlling behaviors.

Does she even like this man? Here is why we ask.

Without pause, she spoke on her earning potential, noting that she makes in a month what Amir earns in a year. This may be the financial reality that exists between the two. Still, it is never okay to speak in a demeaning way about your partner, especially regarding salaries. As an additional side, this has little to do with her earning more than Amir and everything to do with this moment being another example of her disrespectful and controlling behavior towards him, which could give insight into why he said he might not return to season three if Natalie is not full-time castmate.  I will speak for a substantial majority of the Black delegation – we don’t want that!

The clearest example was when Natalie made it her duty to be some “Good Samaritan” among Black women who never asked that of her. Again, in a space that was supposed to be safe, Amir’s willful ignorance didn’t allow him to see how her messy actions about Nick Arrington and his (now former) girlfriend were inappropriate. Further, her immediate retreat to victimization only upholds the stereotypes of Whiteness specifically expressed in White women when they are held accountable.

You know, the old trope that White women are fragile and deserve unlimited grace because they are seen as angelic and without reproach. If you just rolled your eyes, that’s because Amir leans into avoiding the truth of Natalie’s problematic behavior, even suggesting that people read her wrong. No, her actions were like a Dr. Seuss book – easy to read and the people didn’t take long to pick up on who she really was.

Before we move forward, can we parenthetically pause to discuss Nick briefly? The fashionable perfectionist had an interesting season. He was accused of being touchy and acting out in ways not conducive to someone in a committed relationship. He, however, dealt with his “touchy” allegations internally and with every individual who had something to say. It was concluded that it was less about actual aggression and more about the appropriateness of his actions while having a girlfriend. Why is any of this important?

Natalie’s assertions were more than a game of telephone, as described by Amir during the reunion episode. Instead, they were a gross attempt at projections based on her own insecurities, which could have led to Nick facing much more damaging allegations.

No one expected Amir to go against his partner, but bruh! Where was the conversation explaining the problematic nature of her actions and how it disrupted a space, making it inherently unsafe for those there? As a Black man, I wanted to see him stand up and protect those Black women in a better way than just saying his girlfriend was living by a “girl code.”

As disappointed as I am in Amir, he’s not alone. Bria also upheld this narrative.

Bria Fleming is one of the most intricate castmates (yes, that seems to fit her well). The New York-based entrepreneur is often at the center of high-stress moments, namely with her partners—her dog, Milo and her German boyfriend, Simon Marco.

Marco is the founder of Watchroom 24. According to a Forbes Colombia report, he started the company at 16 and amassed $1 million within the first two years. With such career success, it makes no sense why Simon appears to act outside his character when those Bravo cameras are rolling. Well, maybe Bria understands why.

During the season two reunion, after being confronted about castmates believing Simon was using Bria for clout, she attempted to explain that he doesn’t need to do that. In fact, she doubled down on the fact that he is a millionaire. She then asserted that he only acts this way (unrelenting, embarrassing, consciously blind to culture and void of emotional intelligence) because he sees the show as something “big” since there isn’t anything like that in Germany. Isn’t that low-key the Urban Dictionary entry for clout chasing?

Beyond Simon’s antics, it is gut-wrenching to watch Bria be in a toxic back-and-forth relationship with Simon and openly admit to tolerating racist perspectives and consistent microaggressions from her boyfriend’s family and friends. By her admission, Simon is not her soulmate, so her intentional choice to remain with him tells of her blind spots. This personifies the often-problematic storytelling White-owned organizations fall into when portraying Black experiences.

Bria nor Amir needed to lie about their experiences with their partners or life choices, but did this particular show have to be the space to dig into the embrace of Whiteness? The show could have held to their realities while also doubling down on the nuanced context of being Black in America void of White trauma.

Are these examples reason to give further validity to Zora Neal Hurston’s famous quote, “All skin folk ain’t kinfolk?” I am not totally sure. However, being Black does not absolve anyone from displaying anti-Black behavior and I am afraid to say there were glaring examples that, at the very least, pulled us right on up to the parking lot.

Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard is a great show, despite its challenges. Because we need examples like this in the reality TV world, these storylines have to go beyond what it means to be fully Black in America but still willfully ignorant of the experience of its reality. This perspective does not suggest that being Black must look a certain way. Black people are not monoliths. On the contrary, the show’s proximity to Whiteness through castmates like Amir and Bria – not necessarily White people (although there are strong parallels) – aided in this limited worldview and took away from the robust Black sacred space we all know exists among communities like those built among the castmates.

Quick notes for season three: Lean into Black Joy. Double down on it. Give space for people like Noelle, who brought great new energy to the group while being true to herself and her choices. Continue to uplift the whole reality of the Black experience, even if that means including White people by virtue of relational connection. However, the specificity of inclusion should remain highly contextual.

Keep it FUBU (“For Us By Us”) and we will come back for more.

Updated: May 29, 2024 — 12:05 pm