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2019-10-09 20:42:15

Because the cast members of VH1's Basketball Wives have been essentially commissioned to bicker, it’s hardly news when they’re feuding. To a general audience that doesn’t follow the show (the reunion airs tonight), the granular details of the fights it spawns are as about as relevant as advances in molecular biology to non-scientists. However, sometimes these things become bigger than the show. Sometimes they turn litigious.

On Monday, Evelyn Lozada filed a defamation suit against her castmate Ogom “OG” Chijindu in a Los Angeles court. According to The Blast, Evelyn’s complaint cites an Instagram story and tweet, both posted by OG on September 11. The tweet is still up and contains a screenshot of the referenced Instagram story:

OG, who called Evelyn a “racist bigot,” was responding to an Instagram story that Evelyn posted that read, “Nobody watches you harder than the people that can’t stand you,” and included a picture of an orangutan. Though it is, at this point, unclear whether Evelyn was referring to OG at all in her story, OG interpreted it as a racist insult comparing her to an ape (she said “monkey,” but orangutans are apes). What is certain is that OG and Evelyn argued a lot during the most recent season of Basketball Wives, the show’s eighth or thirteenth, depending on how you’re counting (the original Basketball Wives debuted in 2010, Basketball Wives LA branched off of it in 2011, and then that show branched back into plain old Basketball Wives when members of both casts were combined starting in 2015). OG’s tweet included references to comments Evelyn had made on the show. According to The Blast, Evelyn’s suit claims, “This entire defamatory statement is false as stated.”

You can see how we’re already in the weeds with the she said/she said (or as their co-star Jackie Christie might call it, “he say/hearsay”). But it’s probably worth taking a look at whether OG’s allegations have merit without unwrapping the entire beef because we don’t have all day. Mapping the interpersonal harmony and discord on this show would be an exercise in tedium. The beef almost always comes wrapped in more beef (past resentment, hurt feelings over not being invited to a party or cancer benefit or mock courtroom or music video premiere) wrapped in still more beef, like some Turducken-esque Frankensteined meat arrangement designed to delight, repel, and go viral in equal measure. For the sake of keeping things focused, a brief explainer on the essentials is below.

Does Evelyn Lozada have a case?

Well, I’m no lawyer, but I can tell you that OG was not lying about comments Evelyn made on the show. Last season, Evelyn referred to her castmate CeCe Gutierrez as what I heard as “Lee Lee,” though OG said “Ling Ling” in her tweet. Regardless, CeCe is Filipina, and the ostensibly racist slur was confirmed as such by castmate Maylasia Pargo, who said during the episode that Lee Lee is the name of a “nail shop girl.”

I could not believe that this was aired because it is unambiguous in its toxicity. Explicit racism crosses a line that normal “bad” behavior on reality shows does not. It takes people from being characters you love to hate into the realm of unwatchable. Earlier in the season, many of the women, including Evelyn, had joked that CeCe, a registered nurse and certified aesthetic practitioner, was giving “happy endings” at her spa, which I also took to be racially coded.

Soon after that “Lee Lee” episode aired last year, Evelyn copped to her bigotry, tweeting an apology that included the words, “I understand why many are upset by my derogatory, stereotypical reference of another woman of color—and for that I’m so sorry. To intentionally add to a pot of racial divisiveness is not reflective of my heart.”

She followed this up with a video apology “to anyone who was offended” that included the caveat, “That’s not even who I am and how I was raised.”

The instance of Evelyn calling Jackie Christie a “cockroach,” an epithet that has been used to slur a variety of races, was less blatant. It occurred during a mock court proceeding Jackie held in order to... I don’t even know what? Argue that she wasn’t a bad friend to Malaysia after Jackie repeated a rumor she had heard about Malaysia being an unfit mother. Needless to say, the only effect the court exercise had was reaffirming that Jackie is hammy and weird.

Is there any scenario in which Evelyn’s comments don’t constitute racism?

Well, Evelyn’s “La Cucaracha” comment was edited so that she appeared to be commenting on Jackie’s battiness, not her race. But maybe it was about her race; after the comment Evelyn made about CeCe, it’s completely reasonable to be suspicious and deny her the benefit of the doubt. Which is, of course, what OG did when she interpreted Evelyn’s Instagram story comment as racist. This could come down in court, should it go to trial (I can’t imagine that happening) to more she said/she said. But at this point, given the context of the original comment and Evelyn’s apology, there’s no way to interpret what she said about CeCe as anything but racist.

Wait, what’s Evelyn’s race anyway?

Well, that’s a bit unclear, too. On the season finale that aired last week (see the clip at the top of this post) as well as during a recent interview on E!’s Just the Sip, Evelyn referred to herself as “Afro-Latina.” She then clarified on her Instagram story, writing: “When a Hispanic person says they are ‘Afro-Latino’ they are not talking about ‘African American,’” she wrote. “They are talking about being of ‘AFRICAN [descent]’ as in if you run our bloodline, it will trace back to AFRICA.”

In 2010, Evelyn tweeted that she was “100% Puerto Rican.” The Blast reports that her complaint “points out she is of Hispanic descent and her 2 children are of African and Hispanic descent.”

Why is this relevant? Well, during last week’s season finale, OG accused Evelyn of saying the N-word, which Evelyn has done on the show previously, as in this clip from Season 3:

Evelyn tweeted, “I grew up in a very diverse and eclectic neighborhood where race and ethnicity was not much of a conversation,” which is probably telling in ways that do her no favors. In her youth, she lived in the Bronx and Queens, where people who aren’t black sometimes casually use the N-word unchecked.

“Evelyn has come to Costa Rica with cornrows in her hair, I have sat at dinner tables hearing her use the N-word left and right and it’s disgusting,” said OG in an interview on the episode.

“I identify with being Afro-Latina, and guess what bitch? I’m proud. So, you can suck my dick,” said Evelyn.

The granular questions about the inborn cultural entitlement of someone who (sometimes, seemingly) identifies as Afro-Latina notwithstanding, there is no doubt that Evelyn’s comment about CeCe was racist. To what degree Evelyn’s bigotry is virulent is a matter for the public, her castmates, and now it would seem the court to decide.

So Evelyn is the bad guy and OG is the good guy?

Ha, if only it were that simple. Evelyn and OG’s feud has centered on OG’s claim that she had been DMing with Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson. The offense there goes beyond the fact that Evelyn and Ochocinco were briefly married in 2012 and that OG said they had been communicating during his relationship with Evelyn; a little over a month into their relationship, Ochocinco was arrested for domestic battery after allegedly head-butting Evelyn. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to probation (he avoided incarceration on Evelyn’s request).

Which is to say that OG was flaunting an alleged flirtation with Evelyn’s alleged abuser and ex-husband. “Chad wants to be with a black woman! You’re not black!” OG told Evelyn on the season finale. Pretty gross!

Wait, hadn’t the show moved past this kind of extreme toxicity?

Uh, no. In 2012, after people were calling for the boycott of this show and Star Jones was speaking out regarding its depiction of women of color as violent and volatile, executive producer/cast member Shaunie O’Neal resolved to do better. “We are going to do our best moving forward to show you some better content, some more positive, intelligent women that, you know, we got our act together,” she said.

That was about seven years ago. Didn’t really pan out.


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