Racism in the UK permeates discreetly throughout every aspect of life. Racial biases (conscious or not) are exposed through the dating scene, where one must ‘follow their heart’ – whatever that means. Love is this unexplainable, irrational gut feeling and therefore the guise of love or attraction can reveal deep-rooted racism embedded within society.
The insanely popular reality dating show, Love Island, is highly controversial partly due to its representation and treatment of non-white contestants. Unfortunately, the ‘reality’ part of reality TV comes to the forefront here as the upsetting truth of British society’s racist unconscious, that mostly remains ignored in day-to-day life, becomes unavoidable.
Love Island claims to have pure intentions of helping a group of people find love on an exotic island. It is no secret, however, that the show has certain expectations of its contestants: they must be young and attractive. The attractive discrepancy is where issues arise, because what does it mean to be attractive? Supposedly, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, but we all know that certain beauty standards exist. Since Love Island is a British show, Eurocentric beauty standards that are inherently tied to colonialist and racist views prevail . Love Island producers may not intend for their non-white contestants to be treated in the way that they often are, but it is incredibly naïve for them to not recognise how the show would pan out when the show’s entire premise rests on the idea of hot young singles getting together.
Love Island constantly faces criticism over its racism. In response to the critique of a lack of diversity, the show created a formula of featuring a couple of only black people who would be set up to fail from the beginning. The concern is not just the fact that there is the bare minimum in terms of the representation of non-white contestants, it is how they are treated upon entering the villa.
Black women and Asian men receive the least amount of right swipes on Tinder and Bumble. This is a reflection of how society deems these people as less attractive to their white counterparts. The experience of black women on Love Island is entirely predictable: regardless of how beautiful and likeable they are, they are constantly sidelined and rarely desired by the men. Such can be said of the experiences of Yewande Biala, Leanne Amaning, Samira Mighty, Rachel Finni, Malin Andersson and Kaz Kwami to name a few.
Yewande, amongst many other black contestants on the show, explained her time in the villa to have been dampened, at the very least, by the harsh reality of beauty standards. She said: ‘I personally struggled a lot because every man who came into the villa said their type was blonde hair and blue eyes…I just sat there like, obviously I missed the memo because I’m not blonde and I definitely won’t have blue eyes. It was a struggle and I cried so much.’
And it is not just the boys on the show not picking these black women – it is also the subtle revelation from white women that they do not consider the black women as threat because of their race. This is never explicitly said, because to do so would be blatantly prejudiced, but Love Island perfectly conveys the inconspicuous nature of racism in the UK.
In Winter Love Island 2020, Mike Boateng revealed to blonde islander, Jess Gale, that he fancied Leanne over her. Jess’ response was that she was ‘shocked at this strong preference’ towards Leanne. What could be so shocking about Mike fancying Leanne, a beautiful woman, other than the fact that Leanne is black and Jess is white?
If this is not convincing enough for you, 2019’s Love Island sees a similar dynamic between Danny Williams, Arabella Chi and Yewande, where many viewers noticed Arabella dismissing Yewande’s current relationship with Danny. Yewande also revealed upon leaving the villa how she frequently had to correct fellow islander Lucy Donlan on the pronunciation of her name. Lucy had even asked to call Yewande by a nickname that would be easier for her to pronounce, which Yewande refused to permit. It is a well known experience of non-white people to have to cater to their white counterparts, whitewashing themselves for the sake of white people’s convenience.
The show’s first Winter Love Island shows this with Nas Majeed, a brown man, and how he was almost immediately nicknamed Aladdin. This stereotyping is very convenient and lazy for white people to assert, enforcing a monolithic understanding of non-white people that fails to give them the same level of multifaceted representation that white people receive.
The public’s involvement in the show via voting has exposed not only the biases of the few contestants on the show, but also the view of the general populace. With viewers tasked with coupling up the contestants rather than allowing them to choose for themselves, the black contestants were voted to be coupled up with one another. This form of segregation is very noticeable in the show, often because only the black men show any attraction to the stunning black girls, and this is very concerning to see.
This year’s Winter Love Island has seen bizarre comments made by blonde ‘bombshell’ Ellie Spence. She confessed to thinking that she is a bit more Tom Clare’s type. For context, Tom was coupled up with mixed-raced contestant Zara Lackenby-Brown. In case there was any doubt as to what she meant by that remark, her face after saying this solidifies that she knew the implication of her words. She later displayed surprise when things were going well with herself and black male contestant Jordan Odofin, saying ‘I didn’t think I’d be his type’.
These are just a handful of examples of the racial dynamics within the villa that have remained a constant throughout the show. Love Island is an incredibly popular show in the UK, intended to be a form of light-hearted entertainment with a wholesome premise of ‘finding love’. However, the unavoidable racism that repeatedly shows itself in the show is exhausting to watch.
Particularly for non-white viewers, the show is an incessant reminder of the reality of dating in the UK. It is hard not to take the demeaning way in which non-white contestants are treated on the show personally when you know that the reason for this treatment stems from the darker colour of their skin, which you share.