Black Men in “The Real World” or When Steven smacked Irene

My husband and I are big fans of the “Steven smacks Irene” Seattle Real World episode, so occasionally, for whatever reason, it comes up in our conversations and we laugh until until we’re in pain reenacting and rehashing our favorite moments.

This weekend, said episode came up in our talks and I found a Youtube video of the moment with disturbing quickness using key words Steven Real World Slap.


Okay, I’m back. For those of you who were not in High School in the 90s, MTV Real World gave us some of the best early petty reality  moments of the decade. The moment when Stevn smacked Irene because she  had gone crazy from lime disease and called Steven a homo will go down in history forever. First he threw her favorite stuffed animal in the bay next to the house they stayed in. Then, as she was being driven away, Steven ran up along the side of the car, opened her passenger side door and PAP!


ok…I busted out laughing just writing that! Let me get myself together.

After watching the video twice and nearly splitting in half laughing, my husband and I started talking about how Black men always had some of the realest moments on the Real World. Kevin Powell, writer and activist was the first to experience this in the initial experimental cast of MTV Real World. I loved that show so much, I own it on DVD. My husband shared with me that his friends used to tell him he should audition for the show but he was like hell no. He said that “The Real World” drove all the Black men on it crazy, that being surrounded by white people and another layer of white people behind camera was enough to make any Black man lose it. This is something that never occurred to me in quite that way before but that suddenly made total sense.

He also said, that unlike me, he only laughed when Steven threw Irene’s bear in the water. When he smacked her, my husband said he was afraid that Steven would be arrested or attacked or any number of disproportionate responses like murder, might result from the backlash of opposition to his behavior. I don’t remember thinking about that at the time but as a Black man, I can understand why my husband did. Steven was not one of my fave RW cast members but he kept it all the way real with Irene and she lost her flippin mind and then then attempted to Gay shame him on top of that and in case you had any doubts about it, outing someone is violent. I don’t condone violence against women but I also don’t condone it against men, particularly Black men who shoulder the burden of being targeted for violence, abuse, torture, harassment, humiliation and killing every single day of their lives and have done so since the time of slavery.

There are so many Black men who go to such lengths to appear non-threatening and well mannered and respectful and get killed. And then there are the Black men who don’t give a fuck, who don’t try to stifle the bass in their voice or the swagger in their walk, the puff of their chest for nobody and get killed.

Now, I realize that Kevin Powell had some real issues with violence towards women and I realize that smacking Irene in the face, and dragging Tami around on the ground, naked in a sheet may not have been the best choices. But the degree to which being surrounded by people who look nothing like you, who represent the oppression that Black men internalize, push back against or hold at bay in some form or another can cause them to break down is never addressed. Their Real World, the world that reminds them constantly that they’re a threat, while being threatened by racism in all the institutions we are conditioned to integrate into to succeed, is never addressed in these formats. The Real World was still just the White World after all.

Whenever I saw Steven smacking Irene in the face as she was driven away, I think I had always hoped that that shit woke her the fuck up. I really did. That’s how I saw it. I saw that smack in the face as a White Bitch Wake Up moment. I know that it shocked her because it shocked many of us who watched. It seems White people always  need to be shocked into realizing that they and their privilege are not the only things that matter on this planet.

We all need to get smacked with reality when nothing else stirs us. Those of us getting smacked need to get woke. Those of us watching the smacking get to ROTFL if we so choose.

Cause that shit is hilarious!

LOL Emoji

…don’t judge me.



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