Dr. Tiffany Moon is flabbergasted. After taking a tequila shot at a dinner during a trip to Austin and being directed to "turn it up, ladies" by her friend D'Andra, the mood takes a sharp shift when a solemn looking Brandi Redmond looks at Moon and asks, "Can I ask you a question? I just want to get it off my chest. Are you awkward around me?"
The answer is repeatedly no. Redmond then explains that she feels very guarded around Moon because of the video. The video in question is an Instagram Story from 2017 that resurfaced in 2020, in which Redmond mocks Asian people by affecting a stereotypical Asian accent and saying people always ask her if she's Asian because her eyes are "squinty." The backlash she received from the video led Redmond to consider ending her life, which led to her seeking treatment.
"Have I ever led you to believe that I think you are racist?" responds Moon, who in their very first meeting pulled Redmond aside to explain how the video was hurtful, shared some of her experiences with racism, and told her she knew the intention wasn't malicious even though it was in extremely poor taste. Still, the endless reassurances Moon has given Redmond weren't enough. At the table, Redmond says she feels he can't be "completely, authentically herself" in front of Moon, and is paranoid Moon is judging her.
"If she sees me and it reminds her of her video and all the negativity that she got from it, that's not my problem," Moon says in a confessional. "I cannot change that I am Asian. If that makes you uncomfortable, that's your problem."
Reliving that moment when it aired reopened the wound for Moon. "I felt totally blindsided at that dinner conversation in Austin," Moon told VICE. "And I think, as a viewer, you can probably see it on my face...To watch all of this unfold and it's like she never wanted to get to know me. She couldn't divorce me as a person from me as a reminder of her past transgressions, which I have nothing to do with and I, up until then, had been full of kindness and grace and forgiveness."
Moon's entry into the chaotic, privileged, often entertaining world of the Real Housewives wasn't what she was expecting when she joined the cast of the Dallas-based franchise. The Chinese-American anesthesiologist came to the U.S. at age six knowing only Mandarin, and became an MD at age 23. She's raising twin daughters with her husband Daniel, and has been a frontline worker throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Needless to say, she knows a challenge and has met each one head on. But she had no idea the beast she was walking to when she joined the cast of Real Housewives of Dallas, especially as someone with next to no television experience.
Being an uber-organized perfectionist who's "an anxious person at baseline," Moon watched season 4 of the series and took copious notes to prepare for life as a reality TV star. "I feel like I studied, but then the test had none of the questions I studied," she said. "Like I read the wrong book." She'd only watched episodes of various Real Housewives franchises here and there, but her friend and co-star D'Andra Simmons sold her on joining the cast by promising some good, lighthearted fun, something the self-proclaimed "tryhard" and "people pleaser" wanted to inject into her life. Moon said she feels cheated by the Housewives experience due to the circumstances of the last year.
"When I decided to join this adventure with my friend, D'Andra, what it was she had sold to me was, it's fabulous, it's a group of girlfriends, we go out and party and do these antics," said Moon. "Of course, she said all of that before COVID. I never thought that we would be tackling issues such as racism and inequality on a show such as this. I thought it was supposed to be fun and fluffy."
Instead of shopping trips and white wine-fueled lunches, Moon was tasked with not only explaining anti-Asian racism but also continuously comforting Redmond for her racist actions. At a time when Asian Americans are being targeted and harassed as a result of rhetoric spread by politicians and members of the far right media blaming China for the coronavirus, causing a 150 percent surge in hate crimes last year, it's been hard to watch Moon carry the burden of educating her castmates only to be continuously picked on, even if she's articulated her experiences thoughtfully and graciously.
"I'm so glad that I was able to provide a voice from a person of color, a person who is an immigrant, a person who has dealt with racism, because I think that helped bring the topic, which may have been a little abstract to some of the ladies, and make it more realistic."
Race has become a central discussion on the Real Housewives as COVID-19 and the events following the killing of George Floyd brought greater discussion of the racism that permeates all facets of American culture. Moon's casting came at a time when fans, critics and stars were calling for greater diversity on Bravo's flagship series. And she's not the only injection of diversity on the Real Housewives: Crystal Kung Minkoff, founder of Real Coco and the wife of director Rob Minkoff, was announced as a new cast member on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, which only added its first Black cast member in its 11-year run last season with the addition of actress Garcelle Beauvais. Kung Minkoff will be the first Asian person on the series. Jen Shah is the first Tongan woman to take on Housewife duties when she joined the inaugural season of Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. Race and racism was a major topic during her time on the show, during which she struggled to explain how words like "aggressive" and "scary" are disproportionately used against people of color. Real Housewives of New York also is finally getting a long-overdue dose of color (Luann de Lesseps brush with blackface notwithstanding) with the addition of attorney and TV host Eboni K. Williams
Throughout the season, Redmond's white guilt has led her to question every move she’s made, and put the onus on Moon for somehow sparking her discomfort solely for being Asian. ("I think she's so worried about offending Tiffany that she maybe creates things that aren't really there," says co-star Stephanie Hollman in an interview on the show.) But that was far from the only microaggression or casually racist remark that has been made this season. Moon had to deal with disrespectful disgust and anger after offering the women chicken feet, a standard dish in China, during a dim sum dinner, and even more of that when she snuck seasoned crickets into a pizza during a dinner party at her house. She has been called "bossy" and was compared to a Thai sex worker by costar Kameron Westcott. The fact that she was brought on the show right as Redmond's racist video came to light, and after a prior season riddled with controversy over racist comments directed at Kary Brittingham, who is Mexican, by former cast member LeeAnne Locken, seem to line up conveniently.
"I had to address it because it was the elephant in the room, and [Redmond] had brought it up," said Moon. "And also, I wanted to address it because, again, as a person who's dealt with racism, I felt responsible to let her and these other women know that this isn't just some abstract concept, because they've never dealt with it in their lives, or probably have close friends who've dealt with it. I thought maybe if they see me as a real person with real feelings and a real family who has dealt with this, they'll get it. I just wanted them to get it, and I'm not sure that they did."
Hollman and Simmons both noted their confusion with Redmond’s discomfort. Ostensibly, Brittingham, who had dealt with racism on screen, and very likely off-screen, could have been a support for Moon during those difficult moments but instead comforted Redmond. As a viewer, it's been tough seeing Moon deal with so many microaggressions from her castmates. For Victoria Lee, who runs the Bravo fan account Asians Who Watch Bravo, seeing what she felt was blatant ignorance and disrespect directed at Moon and her Chinese culture, particularly during the dim sum dinner and the Austin dinner with Redmond expressing her discomfort around Moon, has been infuriating.
"Like, are you trying to insinuate you can't make racially insensitive jokes or you're just not comfortable around someone who doesn't look like you?" said Lee, referring to Redmond. "I just have so much anger with Dallas. I don't know how Dr. Tiffany Moon does it every week. As a viewer and then as an actual victim of the show, every week is something new."
Moon's time on RHOD has been powerful in showing the many microaggressions Asian Americans face in their regular lives. It's easy to point out overt racism and what's clear cut discrimination and hate, but the nuanced ways in which racism rears its ugly head against the Asian community are far more subtle and common. Moon explained how she navigates through microaggressions more so than the "racist things that happened as a child on the playground." She mentioned patients asking her incredulously if her name is really Tiffany as an example, and alludes to what she's experienced with her castmates.
"As you can see [on the show], it still happens," she said. "It's those [moments] that you don't want to make a big fuss of….Those kind of things get old on you over time when you've been dealing with them for 30-some-odd-years."
"I think [what Moon has faced on the show] showcases a lot of the issues that Asian Americans go through," said Lee. "A lot of people try to forget or eliminate our struggles as Asians and say that we're not as racially discriminated against, we don't struggle as much, and it's just so false. I think people are starting to see some of the treatment that we get on a daily basis from white women and how sometimes it's up to us to make them comfortable, which is ridiculous because I don't have to make anyone comfortable about the way I look."
Lee believes the behavior of the RHOD cast towards Moon illustrates their comfort "with what they deem is culturally diverse enough," and a preference for a more white-passing people of color in their circle. She hopes Bravo will speak up against the racist and microaggressive rhetoric their Asian stars and viewers have dealt with from white talent.
While it's been disheartening to watch what Moon has dealt with on the show, seeing her join Real Housewives of Dallas was a monumental moment for Lee. "When I saw her in the previews, I got like this wave of excited jitters and a little bit of emotion because it's like, oh my god there's someone that kind of looks like me on the show," she said. "I never thought that would happen... People genuinely love Tiffany for who she is and not quote-unquote what she is, while still appreciating her Chinese culture."
For Moon, whether she will return for another season is still unknown. She said a shift in her relationship with the other women does come later in the season, but the whole experience has made her question her time in the reality TV spotlight.
"I just feel like I tried and tried and tried with the women," she said. "The amount of negativity and just being picked on and, you know, one person can do this but then if I say it, it's like, all claws out for Tiffany. And it just felt like, why would I find myself to participate in something that was so toxic to me?"
One of the bright lights of the experience has been the fan support, and the appreciation for the representation she's given to Asian viewers of the show and for speaking up about racism against Asians. "I hope I don't let all these people down," she said. As for the future, she's not sure "Tiffany 2.0" will make a comeback but she offered a "we'll see."
Alex Zaragoza is a senior staff writer at VICE.