If you live in the UK you’re probably familiar with the show Love Island. If you haven’t seen the show, you should, but a quick summary: it’s an ITV2 reality show currently on its fourth season where attractive singles compete to find love in a villa in paradise. You win by “coupling up” with another contestant and surviving elimination, at the hands of both the public and fellow competitors. Samira is the only woman of colour in the villa this year, so if anyone was going to be unfairly demonised in the media it would be her. A black woman on Love Island was always going to annoy certain demographics, but it’s definitely enlightening to see how people use new media to spice up good old-fashioned racism. In what could only result from extreme boredom, I found myself on a “listicle” in The Tab titled “Imagining if the Love Island cast were uni stereotypes” by Lucy Woodham the headline may not be creative but, in her defence, the article does do exactly that). I wasn’t expecting cutting-edge satire, full of wit and insight (in fact I wasn’t really expecting to engage my brain at all) but when I came across her characterisation of Samira, I had to move my bang so I could read it again. In Woodham’s imagination, “Samira is the kind of girl you would find barging past a patient queue of girls” and is also “a social-climber.” If you’ve seen love island, and you’re not a terrible judge of character, I won’t have to explain to you just how inaccurate this characterisation is.
If my understanding of the term is correct, satire usually requires some aspect of truth. What Woodham has produced, with regards to Samira, borders on defamation. Her characterisation of Samira, is far from surprising, it relies heavily on the racist stereotype of the angry black woman. I am a firm believer that black women have every right to be angry, the world is all to often cruel and unforgiving in its treatment of us, Samira in spite of all of the micro-aggressions she has faced has responded calmly, and is respectful to a fault. She has been largely overlooked by the male islanders, is given next to no screen time, and was even asked if she could twerk (not that there is anything wrong with twerking but, by comparison, how often do you think non-black women get asked this question?). A little over a week on the island, Samira so far has: checked herself before pursuing one of the new additions when she saw another girl had taken an interest; actively encouraged her partner, Alex, to pursue Megan if it would make him happy; made a conscious effort to be friendly with everybody, particularly the girls. If anything, given that the basic premise of the game is you match or you lose, Samira’s behaviour has been extremely passive, and yet someone could still somehow see this as aggression.
We speak so frequently of the “male gaze”, but what about the “white female gaze” as it falls on the black woman and the resulting damage? Lest we forget that 53% of white American women voted to uphold white supremacy in spite of the sexism of the Trump campaign. The target audience for shows like Love Island, is undeniably the young white woman – the Lucys of the world – and they expect to see themselves in the contestants on the show. Perhaps they feel threatened because of the fact that Samira is on a show where attractive singles find love, challenges the beauty standards that make them feel pretty. Perhaps they feel Samira is taking the place a white woman could have had. Or perhaps not. It would take years of research to unpack the complex and deep rooted issue of misogynoir (many people already have and its widely available, should you want to read a more credible source). Whether the reason is insecurity or genuine hatred, the white female gaze demonised an innocent black woman. I will concede only one truth in Woodham’s portrayal: much like the Samira of her imagination, the real Samira occupies a space where others don’t believe she belongs. Every move is an overstep, every action is an intrusion.
Written by Haja-Marie Kanu