The 'Southern Charm' star opens up to ET about what she learned from her racism scandal and what’s next.
Kathryn Dennis messed up. There's no other way to put it, and she's not making excuses for her mistake. When the Southern Charm star got into a DM fight with a Black radio host and activist over a boat parade in support of Donald Trump's reelection in Charleston, South Carolina, last summer, she wasn't thinking. Her use of a monkey emoji in a fight with a Black person was simply wrong. Her comments about the activist using her "minority platform," even worse. She knows that now, and she hopes to show people.
"I think it would be really cool to see someone who did have to realize that they very much had white privilege and then turn that into the other side," the 29-year-old tells ET over the phone. "Once you realize that, what do you do with it? That's where I'm at, and I'm working on it."
"This is not me saying what I did was OK, or any of that," she notes. "It's just acknowledging I made a mistake and, yeah, I didn't really have to grow up thinking about these types of things or having difficult conversations like this. I know that speaks to my privilege, but that's why I say this was a wakeup call for me."
It's still TBD if Kathryn comes back for season 8 of Southern Charm (the show has yet to be officially picked up, though it's safe to assume viewers haven't seen the last of the Charmers), but she feels good, or at the least OK, with where things left off in season 7. On part two of the reunion, which aired Thursday night, Kathryn told host Andy Cohen, "Things are bigger than you and sometimes you just have to accept the humility that you have to learn."
Words are one thing, actions another, and Kathryn promises there are actions behind her words. Like many white people, Kathryn started reading a lot about race and privilege as the Black Lives Matter movement surged in 2020 following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and more Black Americans at the hands of police. She says her relationship with boyfriend Chleb Ravenell, who is Black, has been instrumental in her understanding of the world beyond her privileged bubble. The two started hanging out before her scandal, but became "official" after the fact.
"Being around Chleb and his friends and his family that are, honestly, mostly Black, I've learned the way they do things and move [in the world], and the conversations they have amongst each other, and the struggle," she shares. "There's really no class you can take about this matter, you know? Just experience."
The last year introduced a major learning curve for white people across the board, with Kathryn learning in the public eye amid a storm. She wouldn't take any of it back, though.
"It's been a long road, but I wouldn’t go back on anything," she says. "Not just in the last year, but in the last eight years. Everything led me to the place I'm at now, which is really good, and moving forward, I feel like I'm a better person, so I can't be anything but thankful."
"I'd like people to know that I'm truly sorry for what happened," she adds. "I'm obviously very ashamed of what happened and what went down. I know better. I know better, now I do."
Some of Kathryn's behavior in season 7 -- from the scandal, to being defensive about it and even spreading gossip about former co-stars -- led some fans to proclaim that the "old Kathryn" was back, that all the work and growth she'd shown in seasons 5 and 6 was just for show.
"There's no such thing as the 'old Kathryn' or the 'new Kathryn,'" Kathryn declares. "I'm learning just who Kathryn is and, unfortunately, friends and the people around you don't always stick around whenever you're growing, you know,? Instead, they want to jump on your mistakes and say that you're returning to old behaviors, but I'm never going to ever let that get me down."
Kathryn lost some friends through this ordeal (she is still close with Danni Baird and friendly with Leva Bonaparte, who took on the hardest conversations with Kathryn during the season), but that’s just a fact she's accepted. She says she's opted to focus on herself and what she can do to move forward instead of thinking about what she's lost. She also learned that her instinct to run and hide from conflict no longer works.
"It made me realize I needed to speak up for myself and I needed to face controversy, and it's not an option in life," she admits. "It's not always an option of whether or not you want to do something, I've realized. It's the right thing to do, for my life. Not just for my emotional stability."
Kathryn says she entered a six-to-eight month period of depression in the wake of the scandal, and attributes her drastic weight loss to the stress that came from that. She turned that into a positive, though, starting regular workouts with Chleb. The whole situation had her take a look at the bigger picture and realize she craved more structure in all parts of her life. She calls the scandal the "kick in the butt I needed," and says she'd like to use a potential season 8 to continue the conversation around white privilege.
"The show's just been a great platform to do a lot of growth on, and if I come back it would be to just show positivity and moving in the right direction," she says. "This whole thing really opened my eyes to how much growth I did have left to do. I really think it’s easy for people to say, or assume in their life, that they know everything they need to know and they’re fine and they got it, but this really opened my eyes to the reality of no, we don't all understand every single thing and that's OK, and life is all about continuing to learn."
Season 8 would also likely introduce Chleb to the Southern Charm audience, beyond what Kathryn posts on social media.
"Chleb is just real," she gushes. "He knows I'm not the person who sent that text. He plays everything really cool, which helped me get my confidence back to come back into the public eye and be able to apologize and face it head on, honestly. He's going through a lot, too … he gets a lot of mean messages, too, so we've had to really lean on each other throughout all of this, but luckily he’s been helping me and I've been helping him, with having it through the lens of reality TV on top of that."
"He was thrown out there, and it's unfortunate that it had to be watched by the world, but at the same time it was good for us," she adds, noting she no longer reads her social media comments due to the racist vitriol some choose to spew in her mentions.
Kathryn says she "definitely" see's a future with her new man, and says he's best friends with her kids, Kensie and Saint, whom she shares with ex Thomas Ravenel (no relation to Chleb, who spells his last name Ravenell).
"We fight like a normal couple, but with every fight there's a lot more understanding that comes from it, you know?" she says. "And I feel that I've become much more of an adult through this experience and so has he. I definitely feel like we're building a really great future together. Not just a future, we're building a great one."
There is still a little more of season 7 to see. Southern Charm: Secrets Revealed, a special episode featuring never-before-seen footage and commentary from the cast, airs Thursday, Feb. 11 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.