When reality TV is someone’s reality

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

It’s been a while since I wrote my last blog. Work, life and just plain writing blues have numbed my fingers from wanting to type something new. However, I’m back and for this entry I’m not embarrassed to say that one of TV’s most popular reality shows inspired me. Yes, you’ve guessed it; let’s talk about Love Island.

For those of you living in a cave, Love Island is a show that’s all about finding love – just in case the name didn’t give it away. A group of men and women have to partner-up and then participate in a series of tasks whilst living together in the same house. Throughout the series couples are formed and then they’re free to explore finding love, or for the most part break-up and bring drama to our screens. Love Island is one of my summer joys.

In addition to observing the woes of Brexit, playing a small part to ensure BLM’s legacy is more than a slogan and staying ‘woke’ to help dismantle the UK’s current culture war; I revel in the love stories of the twentysomething contestants. Plus, Twitter is great fun as I join thousands of fans online.

For most of the time, Love Island is nothing more than bubble gum fun. However, this series has made me question (more than ever), whether the show reflects the real-life experiences of Black women dating in modern Britain.

What I mean by this is that the UK can (at times) be a hostile environment for Black women to find love. If we’re not combating the scepticism of the unknown from other races, who still find it ‘exotic’ to date outside their race, we may also find ourselves faking smiles as someone clicks their fingers in our faces and marvels at how ‘feisty’ we are. Okay girlfriend!

It can often seem that Black women are not perceived as normal or being like any other women from other races. We are also not afforded the chance for our individual personas to fill the blank spaces people normally furnish as they get to know each other. In truth, most Black women have no choice but to tread cautiously when placing both feet in the dating pool.

When watching non-Black men attempt to ‘romance’ Black women, it can be guaranteed that comments about their ‘sass’ will be mentioned. A misunderstanding that such observations are a compliment. For the record, they’re not. Such remarks only place the heavy weight of stereotypes on the shoulders of an entire race of women. Even the ones who wouldn’t say boo to a ghost. When was the last time you heard someone say that Black women are soft, mild, cute or fluffy? With a lack of representation on TV and across the media, how minority groups are presented can easily persuade the masses to believe what they’re being told.

It has also been noticeable that Love Island’s producers continue to fail to understand the importance of casting men who are attracted to Black women. It’s not enough to include a couple of Black contestants and pat yourself on the back for ticking the diversity box.

Let’s be honest, not all non-Black men are willing to date outside their race, but there are some who will, so why can’t the producers find them? For the UK, Love Island is on its seventh series and Black women are still being forced to ensure the embarrassment and pain of watching their fellow peers being last on everyone’s list.

When you live in a country where most men describe their types as Blonde or Brunette, casting must be done more thoughtfully, otherwise the show runs the risk of perpetuating a myth that Black women are undesirable. When Black female contestants are forced to ‘wait their turn’ as their White female counterparts enjoy being romanced from the very beginning, they can naturally undertake the side role of being ‘the best friend’. This allows White women to naturally assume the lead role. One could easily think they’re watching a romantic movie made in the 90s.

This exact storyline had started to be played out for Kaz Kamwi, a young bright and bubbly Black woman who first appeared in the Love Island villa in June. Wearing a bright yellow bikini, that was as colourful as her personality, Kaz was picked last and then ended up in a ‘situationship’ with a man who was really attracted to Blondes. It took another twenty-five days before Kaz was swept off her feet by Tyler Cruickshank.

Kaz and Tyler’s journey wasn’t without obstacles and one of those was Kaz’s treatment of fellow contestant Matthew MacNabb. In short, Kaz had a short-lived affair with Matthew and eventually chose Tyler over him. For some, it seemed Kaz had used Matthew to make Tyler jealous. You would be forgiven for thinking that the uproar caused by this brief love triangle meant that Kaz had committed a murder. Within one episode she had gone from being Britain’s favourite contestant to arch enemy number one. Unsurprisingly, the backlash was most ferocious on social media with people branding her ‘fake’, ‘disrespectful’, petitioning for her to be removed from the show, and of course the usual suspects resorted to racist attacks.

Whatever your thoughts, Kaz’s behaviour was no worse than her fellow contestants. In comparison, Liam Reardon came close to leading himself astray by nearly recoupling with a new girl, whilst his partner, Millie Court remained faithful. And, Faye Winter’s verbal outburst towards her partner, Teddy Soares, caused 25,000 viewers to complain to Ofcom as we watched her behave in a way that was frankly unacceptable. Both scenarios caused obvious distress, yet by the end of the series, both returned to public favour with Faye’s redemption well underway. Liam went onto win the show. It should not surprise you that both Liam and Faye are White.

Such unforgiveness in the public’s responses reminded me of the racist abuse that three Black England football players received after missing penalty kicks in the European Championship final. Prior to the match, all players were celebrated for their contribution in getting the team this far in the competition. Once they made their mistakes, all three were quickly reminded that the empathy they deserved was withheld because of the colour of their skin. Unfortunately, Kaz also learnt this tough lesson. For Black people, making a mistake in public comes with harsher criticism and the road to forgiveness can take twice as long.

In spite of my love for Love Island, I’m unsure if I’ll watch season eight. Now that the US has caught up, I can always get my fix from across the Atlantic. However, when it comes to finding love in the UK, sadly Black women cannot simply switch over.

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