Racial Politics and Social Inequality on Love Island
by Anita Markoff
Summer is ending, and for a good part of the British population this also means tearfully watching the finale of our favourite reality tv show, Love Island. Unfortunately, blue and pink neon lights, dramatic new romances and glittering parties aren’t enough to disguise more serious problematics the show holds about attitudes in British society. There are some larger issues at play in this year’s season than Laura getting consistently mugged off or Georgia’s overuse of the word “loyal”.
Life is difficult for black women in white dominated spaces. They are frequently treated as less attractive and more dramatic than the white women surrounding them, and seeing producers and contestants alike enforce these mindsets in a popular reality tv show indicates how far we still must go to fight racial discrimination. Samira, the singular black woman on Love Island 2018, began encountering microaggressions from nearly the moment she entered the villa . Upon introducing herself as a dancer, she was very quickly asked by Hayley if she could twerk. While this was not an intentionally malicious query, the question reveals the assumption that black women will of course be most proficient at a style of dance with racial associations over any other. Difficulties for Samira only continued as she was not chosen by any of the boys as a partner to couple up with, despite stepping out and stating that she fancied several of them. She remained in a friendship couple for several weeks before finally meeting Sam, who was romantically interested in her – and even then she revealed to her female friends that they had very little chemistry. She clearly noticed the disparity between the way she and the other white contestants on the show were treated, telling Alex that she had the least positive romantic experiences of anyone on the island including him, as he had the opportunity to flirt or couple up with several women. She was depicted going to Megan in tears after being initially rejected by Frankie in favour of Megan, asking what was wrong with her and why none of the men were attracted to her. As a witty, beautiful and talented woman, there seems to be only one plausible answer: what discouraged the men from pursuing her was the high level of melanin in her skin. This should lead British viewers to challenge their mindsets, and what their initial attraction to a person is based on. If it is something as shallow as their skin tone, not only is that superficial, it is racially discriminatory.
Even after pushing past the unspoken subconscious prejudices Samira faced and finding a partner who truly had romantic feelings for her, she was discriminated against by the producers of the show, who barely aired any scenes of her relationship with Frankie. Despite their compatibility being strong enough that they became official after leaving the villa, they only received screen time while in bed at night or during one short conversation about how well their relationship was going, before Frankie got dumped from the villa. While other couples’ nights in the hideaway were extensively filmed and regarded as significant moments, Samira and Frankie’s wasn’t even displayed on the show. This made Samira’s reaction to Frankie leaving the villa appear unnecessarily intense, affirming the emotional racial stereotypes about black women.
Even the sources covering this issue show how the problem has been trivialised, as most of the outrage has taken place on Twitter, and only celebrity news outlets have been writing about Samira’s treatment in Love Island. While it is fun to watch reality tv as an entertainment or to get distracted from our own messy love lives, it is important to recognise that a show such as Love Island is intended to represent a diorama of the British public: the racially biased attitudes it reveals are likely ones that we hold to some degree. As viewers, we need to ask ourselves how we can improve and make our society a place of equality where black women, together with everyone else, can thrive.