“For me, I thought it was going to be fair and square and evenâ€¦I thought I did have a chance to win [Celebrity Big Brother UK]. But according to Faria [Alam] and Dennis [Rodman], because I’m female and I’m American and my skin is brown, I don’t stand a chance.”
[via Digital Spy]
Those were the words as spoken by Traci Bingham earlier today. They were directed at her fellow Celebrity Big Brother housemates, all white and British (excluding Alam and Rodman, who were not present at the time).
Two things were clear from Binghamâ€™s statement. Firstly she wanted a British contestant to clarify the information given to her by her other non-British housemates. Secondly someone had failed to brief Traci on the British attitude to discussions on race.
Unlike the Americanâ€™s, we in the UK find it difficult to discuss race without turning the discussion into a â€œyou are racistâ€? vs. â€œyou are playing the race cardâ€? debate. I know this is a generalisation and I would normally apologise for it however the reaction of the British housemates (as well views expressed by members of a Big Brother forum and first hand experience) suggest to me that it is a valid generalisation.
The saddest part for me about this particular discussion was that the person who was instrumental in polarising the views of the house was none other than MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, George Galloway.
Galloway launched a full scale attack on Bingham. He accused her of calling the British public bigoted and racist. Binghamâ€™s attempts to clarify her stance were met with even harsher attacks from the rest of the housemates who were present at the time. Most were now claiming that Bingham had accused the housemates of using race as a deciding factor when nominating. Within minutes of Binghamâ€™s remark there were numerous shouts of â€œIâ€™m not racistâ€?, â€œhow dare you call me racistâ€? and so on.
Galloway who was by now in his element paced around the room and, to my horror, stated that Big Brother had been won many times by non-whites or â€œminorities of one kind or another.â€?
I am not sure how many Big Brother shows Galloway has watched but I am 100% certain that a black person has never won Big Brother. This may not be conclusive proof that a black person may never win Big Brother but if one was to use previous shows as a guide, then it is clear why Bingham had cause for concern.
Aside from Gallowayâ€™s attempt to rewrite Big Brother history his lumping together of minority people was incredibly dismissive. I rarely accept this sort of attitude from your average person on the street but Galloway is a member of Parliament. His party is called the Respect Party His constituency is 40% non-white. Surely he of all people should be aware of how offensive it is to be referred to as some minority or other. We are not all the same and though we may all suffer discrimination we do not suffer discrimination in the same way.
I was shocked at how incapable Galloway was at grasping what Bingham was saying and also at how he failed to engage in a reasonable discussion. Bingham did not accuse anyone in the house of being racist, nor did she imply that the British public were racist. Her comment was no more controversial than a comment on womenâ€™s chances in the labour market. People make these comments everyday yet it doesnâ€™t result in the same â€œhow dare you call employers sexistâ€? rhetoric. One would expect that a Member of Parliament would have the necessary skills required to understand and respond to such comments without the need to resort to name-calling and grandstanding.
As an avid watcher of Reality TV, I have watched time and time again as a black contestant has lost out to a white contestant of equal talent/likeability. In fact when one examines the trends of recent Reality TV only one show can lay claim to having a black winner; The Apprentice (UK) . The Apprentice was also the only show that did not rely upon a public vote to decide its figures.
I have my views as to why black contestants do not do as well as white people, but that is a subject for another blog post. I rarely get a chance to discuss race and Reality TV with other people. It is an area that I feel needs to be explored especially since Reality TV has become a huge part of modern life. This is one reason why I was thrilled when Bingham brought up the issue. I hoped that in a house that includes amongst its residents a â€œleading member of the left wing oppositionâ€? (as Galloway describes himself) Binghamâ€™s question would generate an orderly and informative debate. Instead it disintegrated into what is now being referred to as a Race Row and the only thing I have been able to learn is that the â€œRâ€? word is not to be mentioned in any context. It makes people uncomfortable.
What makes me even sadder is that despite the fact that Bingham raised a valid point she ended up apologising to the house, as did Faria (and I think Dennis too) for causing the other housemates and the British public offence.
I am not sure if a black person will ever win Big Brother UK. Right now I have a bigger question on my mind; is it possible for a white MP who is incapable of engaging in a discussion of race to represent a constituency whose members are predominantly non-white?
I watched the above incident on E4’s live feed earlier today. It should hopefully be shown on terrestial tv on Channel 4 at 9pm on Wednesday 18th January. Undoubtedly it will be edited, as the whole debacle went on for about two hours. It will be interesting to see how it is edited