As a person from a minority background, my research into racial discrimination in reality TV was certainly troubling, but unsurprising. From having other children at primary school sit away from me in the canteen because of my ‘weird food,’ to constantly being told to play the ‘dog’ when playing ‘mummies and daddies’ in the playground because I have ‘hairy legs,’ I have faced some form of racial bias and discrimination all my life. For me, instances of racial bias within the microcosm of reality TV are not a ‘one-time thing’ or ‘a little mistake.’ Racial bias is part of the social fabric we live in.

Is it Just Me?

In many ways, the world has changed since I was a child.  I, like millions across the UK, sat down in January to watch the brand new series of BBC hit show ‘The Traitors.’ But after many weeks of staring diligently at the TV at 9 pm, I couldn’t ignore a familiar and uncomfortable truth. Maybe it was just a passing thing. Maybe I was reading too much into it. But on reflection, I think it was perhaps inevitable that I’d notice this familiar foe. 

What was it, exactly? Simply the way that people of colour were being overlooked, underappreciated, and ignored by their white counterparts. 

Of course, this isn’t anything new. Racial prejudices have been a persistent problem, with countless media establishments ignoring this issue and even capitalising on it at the expense of ethnic minorities. Today we are increasingly seeing big-budget reality TV shows pull the ‘diversity hire’ stunt by cramming in people of colour to look ‘inclusive’ and then eliminating them one by one until only the white contestants remain to battle for the winner’s crown. There is also that irresistible tendency to stereotype certain contestants. This is how we end up having the ‘angry black woman,’ the ‘bossy Indian,’ or the ‘oppressed and shy Arab,’ that audiences love to tear apart.

At the Round Tables, I noted that the contestants deemed ‘most suspicious’ or having ‘behaved like traitors’ were usually people of colour, such as Jaz and Antony. And whilst everyone was constantly rooting for Diane, I found her frequent confrontations and accusations towards Anthony very unsettling, to the point where they felt too aggressive and insinuating. Nevertheless, this general air of suspicion and intrigue was justified by the assumption that certain contestants were ‘acting like Traitors.’ Fine, but acting like Traitors in what way? What counts as Traitorish behaviour? And why these particular contestants when they had solid theories?

Jaz especially comes to mind. Known by the whole of UK Twitter as ‘Jazatha Christie,’ it was frustrating to watch his theories get dismissed and laughed off — too many times to be a coincidence. I could feel myself being transported back to school, where I also found myself and my ideas dismissed and ignored. Even if such instances of racial bias are almost certainly subconscious, do they somehow cease counting as examples of microaggression? And, could I be guilty of the same tendency by reading too much into this?

Back to the Playground

In any discourse about racial bias and microaggressions, certain people, especially white people, are quick to jump the gun and say ‘No, you’re just trying to victimise yourself’ or ‘You’re reading too much into this.’ As a person of colour, I have to keep brushing such things off, even when it is apparent that I am being discriminated against. After a while, ignoring such behaviour is easier than facing the ‘you’re being paranoid’ accusation.

Still, I’m going to stick to my gut and say that discrimination has increasingly taken the form of microaggressions, and this needs addressing. The culture of microaggressions and racial bias is arguably most apparent when we watch reality TV. This, however, is symbolic of a wider issue; that of discrimination and the racial divide that are very much alive and kicking. In removing people from their ordinary settings and placing them into a microcosm of reality TV, we can observe the racial tensions that continue to divide society.

Despite making headway in reducing racial discrimination and bias, studies show that the problem has not been eradicated. A 2022 Guardian study reveals that ‘More than 120,000 workers from minority ethnic backgrounds have quit their jobs because of racism,’ owing to workplace discrimination.

Researchers at Number Cruncher Politics further confirm that workplace racism is getting worse, with 44 per cent of respondents admitting to not reporting racist behaviour because they ‘didn’t think it would be taken seriously.’ This becomes even more apparent amongst young people, with 58 per cent of Black, brown and minority ethnic workers between 18 and 24 years of age reporting having suffered racism in the last five years.

As I began to process these facts, I asked myself the most important question: Why is this still happening? Why are people of colour still facing racial hostility in the form of microaggressions when so much progress has been made to criminalise racism? The answer, I believe, comes down to a simple subconscious response that reflects an inherent distrust of people of colour, which has been socially acquired through the generations. Many people do not even realise when this subconscious racism kicks in. A person can be tolerant and just and still display subtle racial microaggressions that were learned in childhood.

When I was young, such microaggressions were never checked or acknowledged. There was never any opportunity for a person to be made to understand the harm they were causing through their behaviour. The sad truth today is that many people are not intentionally racist, but sometimes the playground personality rears its ugly head.

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