A full day of commission writing lay ahead of me, however my deadlines will just have to keep looming as I am sat here with steam whistling out of my ears at what I have viewed on Twitter this morning.
Remember the good old days when the only viruses Love Island needed to worry about were those contracted in the Hideaway? Well, cast your minds back to Season 5 – or as it’ll always be known, Amber’s season. Amongst those milling about the villa waiting for a Boohoo deal to drop into their laps were Yewande Biala and Lucie Donlan. Neither were successful in the grand quest of coupling up, and in turn found themselves clutching their water bottles in Palma de Mallorca departures lounge without so much as a promo code.
But behind the frivolity of the show’s premise are darker themes which I don’t doubt will be the undoing of the show in its entirety. Whilst the mental health implications of partaking in Love Island have reached tragic heights on too many occasions, there is also the issue of ingrained racism which the ITV2 phenomena cannot shake, particularly in relation to black female contestants. Yewande’s experience in the totemic villa was, it transpires, no exception.
Yesterday, unearthed screenshots of an exchange between Lucie and a fan showed her claiming that Yewande had ‘always bullied’ her. For any woman of black heritage, alarms are already sounding. Some white women’s predilection for branding black women as aggressors is a trope so common that, from the second I saw this screenshot, I knew the reality of the situation. Without a shadow of a doubt in my mind, I knew that somewhere along the line, Yewande would have called out Lucie on a microaggression or even something racist, and Lucie’s white fragility would have kicked in thus she engaged her white privilege to turn herself into the victim. I knew it with every fibre of my being without needing to hear anymore. Why? Because nearly every black woman I know has been through the same.
As sure as night follows day, came the confirmation of my suspicion. Yewande launched her recrimination via Twitter, stating that Lucie had refused to call the Dubliner by her name because it was ‘hard to pronounce’. The disrespect is one thing, but the racism-fuelled sense of entitlement is quite another.
Now, we all get things wrong from time to time. We are all guilty of saying the wrong thing – if ‘putting your foot in it’ were an Olympic Sport, I’d have a gold medal, an OBE and a spot on Strictly in less than a year. But intention, effort and respect are key. If Lucie had mistakenly mispronounced Yewande’s name but welcomed correction on how to pronounce it correctly next time, then I dare say all would be not so much forgiven but forgotten altogether. Had Lucie asked for clarification on how to pronounce the name so as to avoid getting it wrong, then in my opinion that is not even a mild microaggression because the want to learn and improve is one of the most boss moves of allyship any white person can make. But to wholly refuse to call a black person by their name because she – a white woman – found it difficult to pronounce, shoots way beyond any tier of microaggression and lands squarely in the racism red zone.
I try not to speak for anyone but myself, however I feel confident to assert that ‘Yewande’ as a name is not in any way difficult to pronounce and that to pretend otherwise is a conscious attempt to belittle. However, the complexity of the name is not even the point. Even if the name were difficult to an anglophone, by refusing to call Yewande by her name on the basis that it requires a tiny bit more exertion of effort, is a flagrant disregard for her and her culture. That sense of entitlement, that assumption that western white European is the norm and that nothing else is worthy of effort…that is what stings.
Wading in to give her two pennies’ worth, Amber Gill – the series’ heroine – expanded on the circumstances at the root of the argument, divulging that Lucie had in fact asked if she could just call Yewande ‘Y’ for ease. Although Amber and Lucy maintained an amicable friendship throughout the course of the series, Amber last night disavowed her villa-mate’s behaviour, stating ‘if I see something false or that I don’t like I’m speaking regardless [sic]”.
The disrespect towards Yewande’s name is, as we’ve established, racism in its most pompous form. But the most pernicious aspect of Lucie’s behaviour is, in my opinion, her malice in using vocabulary that has been weaponised against black women for centuries, in order to portray herself as the victim. When a black or mixed-race woman stands up for herself, defends herself, requests that she be treated with respect or as an equal, she is routinely silenced by the crocodile tears of some white women who cry that they are being aggressive or a bully. This crying wolf, this acting up to the angry-black-woman-poor-helpless-white-woman stereotype is one of the most subtle yet vindictive forms of racism that exists, and it has to stop.
Offhandedly calling a black woman a bully once may seem largely harmless if we are to discount the feelings of the woman targeted with the claim. But there is a much bigger picture. Oxygenating this rhetoric that black women are aggressive bullies stops them from being able to speak out when they themselves are being bullied. It stops them from being able to tell their HR manager about an inappropriate incident in the workplace. It stops black women reporting crimes committed against them. It leads to the adultification of young black girls (adultification being the treatment of children as if they are much older than their true age). This adultification leads to black girls not being believed when they report abuse. This leads to the sexualisation and exploitation of young black girls and the judicial system turning a blind eye because black girls supposedly look and act older anyway. This is why it is so, so, so harmful to play up to the stereotype that black women are bullies. It may just seem like one word to Lucie, but it is just the first push of a domino in a whole system designed to keep black women quiet and remind them that they are inferior to their white peers.
The internalised racism in me wants to caveat this plea with a recognition that Lucie, by calling Yewande a bully, would not have intended to play a part in the system that – not too many steps down the line – leads to black girls remaining unprotected from exploitation or abuse. However, why should I tiptoe around her white fragility when it is high time that we all start taking ownership of our mistakes and recognising that we need to educate ourselves on how not to be a part of the problem. Those white women who turn on the crocodile tears to silence black women have been allowed and enabled to do this for so long, because we treat their fragility with kid gloves. We tell them it’s OK that they made a mistake, that we understand they didn’t mean to be racist, or that we know they ‘don’t have a racist bone in their body’…but they do. I’m sorry, but of the 206 bones in Lucie’s body, at least of them is racist. She has exposed this not once, but twice and our tolerance for this type of behaviour should be zero.
This is not a rallying cry for Lucie to be cancelled or for her to receive any form of online trolling whatsoever, from anyone. But she should be held accountable, as should all white women who weaponize tears to silence their black peers. So, white women, if you witness any friends, relatives, colleagues, bosses or others using the angry black woman stereotype to belittle a black woman, call it out. Please. It is no longer enough to simply not be racist yourself, we need you to be actively anti-racist. That is true allyship. Staying silent makes you a part of that problem – it is harsh, but it is 2021 and, without wanting to sound too American, we can do better than this.