CH4 - Race, Stereotypes and Big Brother

By Davina McCall | Fri 12 August 2005

Big Brother 6 was a perfect example of how the media commercially exploits faith, gender and race to create explicit, offensive and decadent programmes for mass public consumption.

In 1988 the pop group Bros successfully tapped into the heart of British culture with their hit song ‘when will I be famous’. Subsequently Channel 4 launched the UK’s first edition of the Big Brother series in 2000. It was an instant success and the perfect vehicle to perpetuate the very British ‘I want to be rich and famous’ aspirations of the nation.

Big Brother 6: Vanessa Layton-McIntosh, Kieron Harvey (Science), Makosi Musambasi, Derek Laud

When Trevor Phillips the head of Britain’s Commission for Racial Equality applauded this years Big Brother as a positive contribution to tackling racial stereotypes we should have known we were in trouble. This year the sixth edition of the so called ‘reality’ game show had the highest number of African British participants in its history. Unfortunately the prerequisite conditions for the acceptance of African people on the show were an egotistical or antagonistic persona with either a low level of self esteem or a high level of cultural disinheritance. Add this to the shows infamous heady mix of emotionally unbalanced and dysfunctional characters, it became inevitable racial tensions would arise as they did. The revealing ‘asylum seekers and immigrants are bad’ rhetoric, the typical ‘your sort of people’ phrases and the obligatory ‘chip on your shoulder’ accusations were never a stones throw away, but in a unexpected twist some of these racist comments often came from the most unlikely of quarters.

Our supposedly representing cast was;

Derek Laud, 40, who Phillips described as ‘the world’s poshest black man’ was anything but (that honour goes jointly to Chris Eubanks and Trevor Phillips himself). The egotistical self confessed Tory gay who comfortably described himself using the loathsome ‘Golly’ epithet exhibited a level of self hatred that no amount of verbal pontification could mask.

Kieron Harvey rapper name ‘Science’, 22, a positive yet irritatingly antagonistic young brotha on his journey to manhood who despite claiming to be ‘keeping it real’ revealed an ignorant, MTV Base fed persona which served only to reinforce almost every derogatory caricature and racial stereotype that exists about young African men.

Makosi Musambasi, 24, who Philips described as ‘the feminist Zimbabwean nurse’ exposed herself to be anything but someone concerned with challenging gender inequality. She instead, made a mockery of African women by abusing her faux-Africentric image to ruthlessly prostitute her own external beauty. Her ugly inner self dominated by loose moral values, extreme vanity, a compulsive need to lie and a craving for acceptance by Europeans was rivaled only by Derek.

Vanessa Layton-McIntosh, 19, a confused bi-sexual teenager with an extreme level of low self esteem.

The racism in this series was not only caused by the housemates. The producers and editors behind Big Brother also showed their prejudices. In broadcasting Derek’s comment about wanting to join the BNP to get rid of African British males like Science they hid behind the limp excuse that says because it was an African man who had said it he could not be racist. But he was. And if we all believe that we should not treat people different because of their ethnicity then we should also acknowledge that if the comments Derek made had come from a European participant then they would have been vilified albeit in a display of mock disapproval.

Desperate Derek showed his extreme level of cultural disinheritance when he also stated that Jamaica should be re-colonised. Yet even if these views are personal does it matter? Is it important that for almost eleven weeks these four people were the highest profile African Britons in the entire country and by behaving as they did they collectively let us down? Does it matter that the final show was watched by over seven million viewers, that is more than the audience of Live 8 and that the vast majority of that audience is European? Does this challenge racism as the head of the CRE claims or merely perpetuate it by normalising it?

The answer is in the audience response.

Derek who was the model of assimilation, the Pinocchio of the show, the pseudo-African man who dreams of one day becoming European was given the warmest welcome. The audience loved him, his conservative aspirations, hatred of 'foreigners', his willingness to be penetrated by another man, his acceptance and non threatening demeanor when faced with injustice, his empathy with racist organisations like the BNP. Here was a man who doesn’t know his history, rejects his own cultural heritage, in his own words is ‘a follower not a leader’. Derek ‘the Golly’ as he offensively named himself was clearly seen by the audience as a positive role model for all African men.

Science on the other hand was the enemy. Angry and hostile, antagonistic and challenging. He lived up to the stereotypes but sometimes seemed almost ‘normal’, annoying as hell but ‘cool’ at the same time. He’s accused the Big Brother editors of cutting out his debates on history and inequality. Nonetheless the audience was both scared and entertained by the remainder of his performnce. To them he was the perfect modern day minstrel, if only he had been shot a few times with a couple of scars to show, then he would have been the perfect gangsta rapper too.

Whilst poor Vanessa, the audience felt she was like that inoffensive girl at work, not quite as ‘whitey-fied’ looking as Beyonce but she definitely had that ‘sassy sista thang’ thing going on. Nice but dim, yet lean and trim. Perfect company for the office Christmas do.

And finally Makosi. The exotic African woman. If Science was the enemy then Makosi represented the devil. The audience hated her for her manipulative prowess, whilst the women were jealous of the effect she had on their men who secretly lusted after her. Makosi was a sexual predator consuming everything, whatever gender in her path, not because she should, but because she could. Yet when she exploited her immoral sexual antics in the pool with the camp european alpha male in the house, they hated her for it, she had gone too far, the game was now over, how dare she claim she was pregnant, how morally repugnant. Her pantomimesque performance earned her one of the worst exits in Big Brother history. Even the usually neutral host Davina McCall publicly distanced herself from her, in effect throwing Makosi to the lions as the audience ruthless attacked her in a manner so cruel even those of us who felt let down by her started to wonder if there wasn’t an element of something else.

Yet Peter Bazalgette, the man behind Big Brother, claims that the voters are completely uninfluenced by issues of race and ethnicity in deciding who they want to evict or keep in. Trevor Phillips idiotically praised him, and during his speech at the Race In The Media Awards 2005, said he wants to ‘remind us that the media can change this nation for the better’. We know that Trevor, so can you please tell us why the CRE and Ofcom are idly sitting by while it’s changing us for the worse.

Makosi Musambasi: Rewarded for shameful antics

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