• Abbi Bayliss

Why is British reality TV getting away with Racism?

We been knew...

I have to admit, I watch a lot of rubbish telly. Reality TV shows, dating shows, celebrity competitions and game shows. I'm a sucker for their empty and meaningless contributions to my life, the perfect mind numbing drivel to keep me distracted from being productive with my time. Yesterday I started a new reality series, where a group of Z listed celebrities go on a Coach trip travelling Europe, gradually voting of their least favourite pair until the last couple standing. I won’t state names or the title of the series but it’s pretty easy to figure out.

Instantly i had a problem with the cast. Out of six pairs, five were as you expect: young and white. Diversity WHO?? On the other hand, we had a black sister duo who expressed their feelings of exclusion from the start. I couldn't help but get emotionally involved, hoping that whenever they were on the screen they were laughing or feeling included. It started off with them feeling awkward, that all interactions with others were forced small talk, indifferent to the laddy banter that flowed easily within the closed off clique. This constant tension grew, to the extent all the contestants branded them with carrying an “atmosphere” of unapproachability, despite barely making the effort to communicate with them. The girls felt this, sharing how during activities everything appeared pleasant, but lunchtimes and off camera they were ignored. Their attempt to call out these red flags in their behaviour made the contestants defensive, playing victim, which ironically festered into bullying the sisters. From there forward, everything the sisters did was branded negatively with “brutally”, “harsh”, “aggressive” and “argumentative” recurring, especially when they were calmly and rationally explaining their feelings. Every little thing they did was criticised, as it was made clear the other contestants had a free pass to involve themselves in their personal business, but the girls weren't allowed to protect themselves as it was seen as “threatening”. A moment that really aggravated me was when one ignorant, rude social media influencer openly voiced her insults but when the sister responded with reason, all contestants ganged up against her claiming she has an attitude problem. The hypocrisy is REAL.

Once this blatant racism and prejudice was out in the open, the contestants stated their opinion as fact that “the girls don't fit in because they're not like us”, and their actions followed. The insensitive failed love island contestant kept on getting their names wrong, calling them both one name, often referring to the forgotten sister as “the other one” then proceeding to laugh at the disrespect she intreats upon them. Alongside making their voice and emotions small and invalid, the final acts of exclusion was on the night before the duo were the first voted out. Whilst walking back to their accommodation, they all exchanged goodnights, and the girls prepared for bed along with their contestants. However, without informing the girls, everyone met back up together after to go out partying and drinking. I absolutely hate this elitist clique behaviour, as i know too many times how heartbreaking it feels to be deliberately ostracized and the worst part is how the girls found out: overhearing conversations to send last nights photos to the group chat they weren’t added in. When being the first pair voted off the show they remained eloquent but strong, fiercely challenging the racism as they were more than prepared to be kicked off.

Needless to stay I stopped watching after the sisters left despite my desire to see their pretentious clique inevitably deteriorate. Even though the show enraged me to the point I sat through all 1 hour episodes consecutively, it reminded me how common this is in British television. Think of X Factor, how in order to be a POC with a chance of winning you have to be exceptionally talented and gorgeous, ten times better than the competition, yet still you aren't likely to succeed because of what the British audience traditionally votes for. You might be thinking: Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke, Little Mix, Raksu, even Dalton Harris, the Jamaican born singer from last year, they all won. But if you really consider it, they were remarkable talents, it would be a crime if they didn't win. Alexandra Burke dueted with Beyonce for crying out loud, which must've had the racists shook back in ‘08. The point is, only a small margin of BAME singers even make it through to the live shows on X Factor, which usually leads to all of them being voted off first. History just continues to repeat itself.

I remember watching a dance show last year that fell off because i found all the performers styles too similar which eventually bored me. However, I remember perking up during the auditions when a diverse group of girls walked out to the stage. Performing a carnival/street dance inspired routine, they absolutely slayed it, giving high energy, fierce face and confidence. In this particular unusual dance competition, the audience decides who goes through by voting, requiring the contestants a 75% pass rate to qualify. As the camera panned across the audience during their performance it was like they were watching paint dry: totally unamused and disinterested. The audience did a good job reflecting the British audience at home as they were all white, ranging from their 30s to the elderly. When the girls were quickly brushed aside from the show I felt like giving up on it all together, this time though i had to stick until the end.

I've only highlighted three shows and I haven't even got down to the elitism and racism within reality tv series and dating competitions, there's one right in your mind now isn't there? Love Island. Now i won't go deep into the multifaceted layers of issues the show clearly has. We all know that Yewande our queen deserved better and was villanised on twitter even after the show finished and the ill treatment of Sheriff in comparison to the blackface Anton got away with prior to the show. Yes we form individual opinions on who’s right and who’s wrong but production and management need to do better. Samira Mighty barely got air time, whilst the organisers of the show sent in boys never with her in mind, resulting in her lack of options bar a man who we could all see was using her. Last years cast was as segregated as ever, dividing fiat 500 twitter from our reining winner Amber and King Ovie, causing anticipation on which side would be voted winner. Our people did not let us down, crowning Amber with 25k, a proud proud moment for us all.

As I started this expose on the underlying racism in British tv, i’ve uncovered how it’s not not “hidden” at all, it’s in fact shown clearly for all to see. From casting to treatment, to the bonds formed, being in the limelight as a person of colour is not going to be just. As Meghan Markle said “I never thought it would be easy, but I thought it would be fair.” This definitely won't be the last you hear about this from me, as the media continues to subject us to institutional racism, i'll continue to be disgusted to the extent of ranting. In the meantime, our black kings and queens in this industry, keep your heads high and ears blocked, as the best judgement of yourselves is yourself.