I don’t usually spend my Friday evenings watching the telly through my fingers, but last night I made an exception. Samira Mighty, Love Island’s only black female participant, was due to find out whether she’d have to pack her Boohoo bikinis and go home. To be honest, given her three-week-long man drought, I can’t be the only one who thought she was a goner.
If you haven’t been watching ITV’s Love Island, I won’t judge. It can sometimes feel like you’ve ended up on a school trip with a bunch of 15-year-olds, which doesn’t sound like great TV, but the show’s innate ability to reveal society’s attitudes towards racism and sexism is morbidly fascinating.
The show features a villa full of buff, tanned, and toothsome beauties looking for “love” and fame. People pair up, break up, (break down) and make up, all in an attempt to be the last couple standing. It was a big hit last year but as many pointed out, not that diverse. Marcel Somerfield and Theo Campbell flew the flag for visibly non-white housemates, but where were all the black women at? Or Asian women? Just anyone who didn’t look like a Hollyoaks reject? ITV’s response was to add a 22-year-old black woman to this year’s roster of wannabes.
“Before I’d even seen Samira, I was mentally placing bets on how long she’d last”
Before I’d even seen Samira, I was mentally placing bets on how long she’d last, just like I do when I see a black woman on Take Me Out or First Dates. Obviously, I think it’s great for them, and their appearances on TV can only normalise our existence in the wider world, but I can’t help that sinking feeling.
As predicted, Samira was bypassed from the start and continued to be overlooked as the show wore on. Having collectively decided that they fancied everyone but her, all of Samira’s potential lovers trotted off with someone a little less, erm, black. It got embarrassing, to be honest. From one day to the next, I couldn’t work out whether Samira was still even in the show. As comedian Judi Love put it, “she’s like the brown crisp in a packet of Walkers that no one wants.”
On Twitter, there were some who just couldn’t understand how someone so seemingly attractive and entertaining could keep missing out. But I was baffled about their confusion. Maybe they don’t get out much. If they did, they’d have known that black women’s beauty is nearly always downplayed or unrecognised. That is unless we’re lighter skinned like Montana Brown from last year’s season, and therefore more acceptable. Dark skinned black women rarely feature in adverts or on magazine covers. This blackout, as it were, means we’re not celebrated by beauty standards or deemed anyone’s “type.”
“the fact that race is a sexual factor for so many individuals, and in such a consistent way – says something about race’s role in our society”
This invisibility is particularly felt by single black women looking for love. Research by OKcupid site founder, Christian Rudder, found that “black women were considered the ‘least desirable’ among all races of men. Asian, Latino, and white men tend to give black women 1 to 1.5 stars less.” Rudder went on to conclude that although people can’t really control who they fancy, it’s strange that everyone has the same type. “On an individual level, a person can’t really control who turns them on – and almost everyone has a ‘type’ one way or another. But I do think the trend – the fact that race is a sexual factor for so many individuals, and in such a consistent way – says something about race’s role in our society.”
Love Island can’t solve society’s problems but it could help to change the way people see things. ITV could try investing in a dictionary, looking up the word “diversity,” and acting upon it. The more visible we are, the less of an issue these things might be one day. On the flipside, maybe the shows producers have tried and failed. Maybe Love Island just doesn’t appeal to black women or the people who might be more open-minded about dating them, and after Samira-gate, that might be even less likely.
In the meantime, there’s nothing else to do but carry on watching, and wondering just how long she can keep going. Samira got a reprieve last night when Sam strategically chose her to stay, but like a majority of viewers, I don’t think he fancies her.