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Let’s Talk About Race & Big Brother


I put this off for awhile. Mainly because I knew I needed to write this in a way so that the people who understood what I am going to say extends beyond the people who were already willing to agree.

I also wanted to write this in a way to get the people who already agree to understand the circumstances that lead up to this and how best to deal with the aggravation of it.

Television and Entertainment at large cater to white people, there’s no bones about it. They make up a majority of the US population and therefore they are the ones who get catered to. That in and of itself isn’t necessarily about race but about eyes and money. Is it lazy? Sure, but if it makes entertainment companies money, why in their right mind would they change it?

Big Brother is no different. That being said, the representation in the show is quite low and inexcusable. We’ll get there in a second.

You may ask, “where does this come from? What is this piece about?”

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Well, the other day on Twitter, Big Brother Alums Da’Vonne Rogers and Parker Delon were having a discussion on race and how it plays a factor in the game. This comes on the heels of the eviction of contestant Chris “Swaggy C” Williams, who was sent home on an 8-4 vote and seen by people in and outside the house as “aggressive” despite rarely showing any traits (one could argue that Winston is the most aggressive person in the house). People have mocked his nickname, or rather, himself for giving himself a nickname and then asking people to refer to him as said nickname. This was a point that Williams himself ragged against by stating that former contestants like Mike “Boogie” Malin, “Evel” Dick Donato, Enzo “The Meow Meow” and plenty others have had their own nicknames that weren’t harped upon. Black and minority players tend to be at a disadvantage in the game (particularly Black players) because of implied stereotypes. If you’re putting 16 people in a house and approximately 14 of them are white, you’re going to have a decent amount of them with preconceived stereotypes of minorities because odds are there are a few who grew up around mostly white people and their interactions with black people and other minorities are limited to what they see on TV or social media.

Any black person can tell you what it’s like to be the only one in a room full of white people who have never been around someone like you before. It’s either a race to authenticate you or a race to keep distant from you. That’s what I don’t think a lot of white people who chime in on this topic on Twitter or Reddit DON’T understand. They assume that “race isn’t a big deal”, and they say that, but that’s not how they act, we know that’s not how they act, because we see it in what they say and do. We’ve already had three racial incidents in BB20, none of them as bad as 15 (we’ll get to that in a second):

  • Kaitlyn dropped the n-word with a hard “er”
  • Angela and Rachel talked about tanning equating to changing ethnicities
  • JC dropped the n-word

Now a lot of (white) people will look at those 3 incidents and think “yeah, there’s a problem there”, but there’s a very vocal group that will defend all three of those.

“RAP MUSIC USES THE N WORD, IF THEY STOP USING IT, THEN WE WILL”

“THERE WASN’T ANYTHING PROBLEMATIC WITH WHAT RACHEL/ANGELA SAID”

“HE WAS USING IT AS AN EXAMPLE”

Which to JC’s minuscule defense he was attempting to compare two demeaning words, however, he should’ve known not to say it and should have used Bayleigh’s words to describe WHY that word (when referencing little people) can be considered offensive. He knew better than to use the word, used the word, was called out on using the word, and then doubled down.

What I’ve said time and time again is that there is a clear difference between racism, being a racist and being ignorant. Ignorant people make comments that they don’t realize are hurtful, where else you label them is all about how they respond to being told that their ignorant comments can be hurtful. That is the key too. If you’re aggressive at correcting someone, they’re going to be aggressive at defending themselves, you do have to tell them where they f***ed up, but in a respectful manner or else they won’t hear you. (I know, I know it isn’t fair because you WANT to react, but are you trying to react or educate?) A racist person is someone who holds onto a lot of racist beliefs and they truly buy into that. They believe blacks and Hispanics are lazy or that all Asians are super smart nerds, they believe all of that. Racism is what occurs when you act upon those racist beliefs.

In all three of these incidents you have ignorance and racist remarks, but I don’t know if I’m truly going to call any of them racist. Kaitlyn is just hopelessly ignorant. The N word isn’t yours to say just like straight people shouldn’t say the b word to women or the f word when referring to gay people. Those marginalized groups have reclaimed what was once used against them as a word that they embrace each OTHER with (key words: each other, not you). Stay out of that, it’s perfectly acceptable to just NOT say a word. It’s easy.

Communication is also a major part of this: the way we communicate with each other when it comes to solving these issues is key. I know people don’t want to hear that, but you can’t just spout off when someone does something ignorant if you truly want them to learn why what they’re saying IS ignorant. I get that there are a LOT of black people and people of color who are beyond wanting to educate and just unleash their frustrations on people, and again, I get it.

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Every black male to ever play BB in 21 seasons (Missing: Josh and Ramses from Season 19)

This also blends into the casting problem, above are 13 of the 15 African American men to EVER be cast to play Big Brother (excluding Celebrity BB, which featured Metta World Peace). On top of that we’ve had less than 10 people of Asian descent, barely any people of Hispanic descent, and rarely anything outside of that spectrum. The show also tends to combine the “black” or “minority” character with the LGBTQ+ character, essentially combining two minority roles into one. There’s nothing wrong with this, but when that person is the only representation of BOTH of those communities, that’s a bit of a copout. Add to that the show tends to cast African American women in one of two roles, it becomes a bit of a headscratcher. For example, only Danielle Reyes (S3/7), Libra Thompson (10), Monet Stunson (12), Amber Borzotra (16), Danielle Lickey (OTT) and Bayleigh Dayton (20) were cast outside of the “loud and sassy” or “super religious” role (Amber and Bayleigh were cast as the models). While Jameka Cameron, Chima Simone (11), Kalia Booker (13), Candice Stewart (15), Jocasta Odom (16), Da’Vonne Rodgers (17), Zankiyah Everette (18), Neeley Jackson (OTT) and Dominique Cooper (19) were all cast to play that role (Ollie from 10, Keith from 13 and Howard from 15 were cast to play that male version of the religious side of the role). We can tell the archetypes BB players are cast for through the first two episodes. Their intro packages and initial diary rooms are intended to paint all players a certain way to make them more immediately relate-able to the audience. Which leads to people picking their favorites and getting invested during the first week. Think about the archetypes we tend to have across the board:

  • The surfer (Hayden S16, Tyler, David, Cody 16)
  • The athlete (Faysal, Russell, Nick S8)
  • The All-American (Jeff, Drew, Nick S15, BeastMode Cowboy, Cody 19)
  • The Southern Girl (Jordan, Amy, Sam, Aaryn)
  • The Wildcard (Joey 16, Megan, Matt S12)
  • The older one

There are other archetypes that get cast, but these are the ones BB consistently gives us.

*We don’t know what Jodi Rollins was cast to be as she was evicted Day 1.

By now, I’m sure that someone reading this has been rolling their eyes and asking themselves or wanting to ask me “why does EVERYTHING have to be about race? Why can’t we see past color?”

My response will always be the same: you don’t see race because you don’t HAVE to, you can be fine surrounding yourself with only white people and keeping people of color out of your spaces, or only keeping “Acceptable” people of color in your spaces. In other words, it’s easy to ignore other cultures or ideas when they aren’t part of your every day mold, and since white people tend to be the “dominating culture” and make up a majority of the population, there are plenty of situations where it’s easy for a white person to just not have to deal with people of color. I’m not saying this is something that you, Joe Person, do intentionally, I’m saying that it’s a subconscious thing, ESPECIALLY if you grew up in an area that mainly consisted of people who look like you.

No matter how much you don’t want it to be, race plays a significant factor in a lot of things on the day to day as well as within our scopes of entertainment. There isn’t simply an escape from it as most people of color will tell you, it’s just a thing that is. We’ve learned to simply deal with it and keep moving. That doesn’t mean we don’t want those situations fixed or are okay with dealing with them, we’ve just learned how to.

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BB15 Contestant Aaryn Gries flipping the mattress of fellow Contestant Candice Stewart in an attempt to rile Stewart during one of BB’s most volatile seasons

While race had been touched upon in seasons past, it came to a head in Season 15 when the antics of Aaryn Gries and GinaMarie Zimmeran boiled over into a full on confrontation with Candice Stewart that Howard Overby intervened in. Aaryn and GM demonstrated a level of jealousy and bigotry toward Candice (for reasons unknown) and made several derogatory comments about her skin color and attempted to intimidate and mimic Candice by flipping over her mattress and shouting “Whatcha gonna do girl!”

Eventually Howard separated Candice to calm her down and was later seen in another room breaking down, trying not to explode from the confrontation. If Howard had reacted negatively in that situation, he reinforces the stereotype of angry, dangerous and violent black man despite being the one provoked. If he doesn’t directly respond, as he didn’t, he seems like a vulnerable person who can be pushed and exploited. He and Candace were evicted back to back.

Season 15 is a hard season to watch for many people, and that’s the main reason why. A lot of people push on how that season is worth rewatching because of the strategy, but getting through Candice and Howard’s eviction is way too hard to watch.

To be fair, Julie Chen put her on the spot immediately after her eviction (1:30 in, starts reading comments at 2:24) and to be fair, she wasn’t even the worst of the 3:

Even Chima Simone chimed in regarding how race is perceived by production and other players:

5cQ8f32W_400x400“What qualified as ‘rule breaking’ in my case has been excused and outright ignored in other players who don’t qwhite look like me. Three white men have been expelled for violence – their privilege could only go so far. I was held to a different standard and the best the producers could do was blame it on “rules” (again that many players – past and present have broken) and a drowned microphone. If I had turned me ire onto Jeff, Russell (anyone but the producers) and lived up to the angry black woman trope, my exit would have been my own and not based on that lazy “rule breaking” narrative the producers story edited. This was all the end result of GIVING a power to the side of the house that thought they were at Summer Camp. Couldn’t win for s**&, and had that one something in common. My side of the house (filled with the most diversity of any BB cast) was kicking ass and taking names because we had the forethought to combine brains and brawn. Or rather, credit where it’s due, teaming up with the athletes was Ronnie’s (not ours) idea. We decidedly won both mental and physical challenges. We: the Asians, Latinos, African Americans, the Middle Easterner and two progressive white guys in Jessie and Ronnie. We won until we didn’t because of production intervention.  Even with how it all played out, production still couldn’t get Jeff to the end.” – @ChimaSimone

Chima has a point, to an extent. Her chance at the game was ruined because production decided to give Jeff power disguised as an America’s Vote (Jeff got the best edit on the show). Jeff received an overpowered gift in the form of the Coup d’etat, which had only previously been awarded in Season 7 and never used. Jeff was able to usurp the HoH on eviction night, replacing both the nominees with his own, sending Jessie home. This is what sent Chima into a fuss where she eventually through her microphone in a pool and was expelled from the game. She gave them the easiest out by destroying their property, but the more and more time passes, the more I’ve been able to understand her frustration. Chima got a diva edit on the show, it was easy, if you only watched the show, to dislike her. The edit pushed her as catty, combative and prissy, when she really was competitive, and not afraid of backing down from people and their comments. Her back and forth with Casey during a luxury competition says it all.

The problem is that it’s incredibly easy for production to rope a black contestant into a certain mold without even really trying or thinking about what they’re doing. Big Brother 11 had one of the most diverse casts we’ve ever seen, and there were flaws with every person on that show, how we like it, but there’s no doubt that Chima’s side of the house would’ve continued to wipe the floor with Jeff, Jordan and company if not for the Coup. Things would look even worse when Jeff returned a season later and said some pretty homophobic things.

I could go on and on, and I feel like I’ve rambled on enough, so let me make my point as concise as possible now that we’ve reached the conclusion.

  • Big Brother needs to cast more people of color, having 1-3 a season is not enough. If those 1 or 2 players aren’t as good, there goes your representation early.
  • Limiting the number of POC can create a scenario where they are painted a certain way without really anyone to defend them (see Swaggy C being painted as “aggressive”)
  • Things said in the house can be little or no consequence to a white contestant but significantly affect the psyche of a POC (such as a racist word or phrase, see Season 15)
  • Big Brother is a fun and exciting ass game, and we all should be able to enjoy it and see a representation of ourselves across the spectrum. We love this game and want it to continue for as long as possible, but we want representation too.

The Community itself can be kind of toxic, so it’s good to try and have an open space where we can talk about those things without people getting defensive. Redditors paint Twitter as a BB hellscape and Twitter BB users act as if nothing good happens on Reddit. We’ve had overzealous fans attempt to get people fired for voting the wrong way in the house, etc.

Let’s get back to enjoying this damn game. I hope in the future we can see more representation and less racism.

Thanks.

Make sure you check out our Big Brother coverage on the website

We’ve also got a Big Brother podcast that’s run through our flagship ‘Don’t Call It a Podcast’ program, you can subscribe to that here!

Follow me on Twitter at @EagleEye1906

 

 

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