Big Brother: The Racist Gift That Keeps On Giving

Big Brother Members of The Cookout

I have a big admission to make that most people don’t know about me: 

I love Big Brother. 

For the uninitiated, it’s a show in which 16 people enter a house, go through competitions, form informal teams and alliances, and on a weekly basis, they vote each other out of the house. What could possibly be bad about that? 

Perhaps it’s the fact that I first caught a glimpse of the show when I was a teenager, and it’s (pseudo) first-mover advantage on the modern day reality show has forever had a hold on me. 

Maybe it’s the Macheavellian-nature of the show in which everyone is trying to think 2 or 3 steps ahead of everyone else in order to win some significant fraction of a million dollars in prizes. 

It could be the ridiculous applications of athleticism or intelligence required to win individual bouts that brings out the college football player in me. 

Or maybe it’s simply the diverse collection of personalities, regions, backgrounds and professions that make it a nice little foray into the intersections of America’s melting pot–a reflection of our nation. 

Whatever it is, it’s a great show, and one that I’ve been watching religiously since 2006. I have only missed one season, the summer of 2009, when I tried to go without cable and spent a lot of time away from home. I regret having missed that season, and it’s still in the back of my mind to watch that season at some point down the road. 

Despite my love for the show and its many attributes, it has a lot of negatives. First of all, I hate how they almost completely make it impossible for “older” people to win the game. There are clear advantages for men in many of the athletic competitions. That almost always leads to a much lower likelihood of women sticking together and defeating the men; whereas, the opposite goes down every season. And way too much of the good stuff from the payola live feeds is left off the main telecast. 

But of course, the biggest, most apparent, most important, most pervasive, and most consistent issue with Big Brother is racism. 

And no, I’m not talking about race or racial representation, as there’s undoubtedly not enough representation from across the population. I’m specifically referring to the racism, which is ever present in the show itself, that unabashedly targets and confronts the Black castmates on the show. 

Examples? Sure. 

In 2020, Jack Matthews referred to another Black cast member, Kemi Fakunle, as disgusting and a maggot, as well as saying that he would like to “stomp a mud hole through” her. 

In 2019, Paul Abrahamian applied what he himself referred to as “blackface” to himself while attempting to get another Black castmate out of the house. 

Going back to 2020, Rachel Swindler, who appears to be white, referred to her stomach as being darker than another Black person’s skin on the show. Her friend, Angela Rummans, another white-presenting individual, would go on to say “I’m looking ghetto her with the skin coloration”. 

In 2014, Aaryn Gries called Candice Steward “Aunt Jemima”, but in her defense, she was an equal opportunist that also told Korean houseguest Helen Kim to “go make some rice”–which if you think about it, she could’ve used that one on Candice too in case she was running out of racist remarks to throw out into the ether. 

And because the 2020 season cannot be outdone, Kaitylyn Herman decided to sing the N-word in a Drake song while flirting with other boys, because…love? 

And believe, that’s just within the last 8 years, among the stuff I can recall. There’s more. 

But I’m not out here to necessarily cast aspersions. Given some of the racist remarks these people have made, I don’t think I need to. For now, I’m most interested in why this keeps happening. And it really goes back to one of things I already said about why I love this show: it’s a reflection of America. 

And that’s why I’m okay with watching it. It’s almost as good an understanding of America you can get, minus the fact that everyone is actually trying to play down how smart or accomplished they are, as that is very un-American. But the natural feelings people have towards one another, along with the conversations and accusations that take place, often resemble what’s going on in America. And like it or not, racism is something America does well. 

During this past season, Season 24, there was a very nuanced form of racism coupled with a scoop of colorism and a whole helping of bullying. Taylor Hale, a former beauty queen and Black woman, was on the latest edition of Big Brother, and for some reason, just about everybody on the show hated her. And I mean almost everybody, including the other black, albeit often lighter-skinned, individuals on the show. I remember recalling after the 13-episode marke, that I could see how Taylor might rub some people the wrong way, as she is very proud of being a pageantry competitor, loves fashion, and is a little too straightforward about the moves she’s making in pursuit of winning the competition. But in no way in the edits that Big Brother was showing us did she come across as somebody who is worthy of disliking, nevermind full-on bullying. 

This incredibly brave Black woman, who stayed in the game despite the fact that many people didn’t want her in that house for reasons that have little to do with the game itself, had been yelled at, ridiculed, disgracefully lied upon, and threatened throughout her time in the house. I’ve seen people quit their jobs and livelihoods for far less in shorter periods of time, but she kept fighting the good fight. And to be honest, while she’s didn’t say it too much while in the game, besides her own pride, the biggest reason she continued to play Big Brother was out of duty to cause she thought was bigger than her.  

Taylor knew Black people were watching. After last season, when a group of six Black contestants finally bound together to make sure that a Black person would win Big Brother for the first time in 23 seasons of the show, everybody was wondering what the Blacks were going to do this season. And while there was not a whole lot of Black camaraderie going on this past season, Taylor knew how monumental of a moment that was the season before, and how impactful her leaving the house early or giving up might appear to her community and others outside of it. 

That’s a problem Paloma Aguilar didn’t have to worry about. After a week spent ostracizing, lying about, and two-timing Taylor behind her back, Paloma, citing “personal” reasons decided to abruptly quit the game. There was no baggage of having an entire race on her shoulders, nor was she bullied constantly for a week by a fellow woman. Instead, she had whatever issues she might’ve had to deal with, and she chose to quit–not worrying about how that might affect anyone else. Which should be the case. I commend her for deciding to quit when she felt she could no longer withstand being in the Big Brother house. Now, it is coincidental that she had this need to leave shortly after Taylor was about to confront her on all of the things she said and did behind Taylor’s back. At that time, Paloma wouldn’t even let Taylor talk. Some people viewed that as her shutting down Taylor yet again. I viewed it as someone who was so insecure, and yet so guilty of all of the things Taylor was about to call her out on, that she couldn’t even stand the idea of having to face-up to the bullying she committed. Instead of being publicly shameful to a Black woman, she chose to leave the house and give up the $750,000 she was hoping for.

But rather than accept the ambiguity of Paloma’s departure, many of the houseguests simply blamed Taylor. One houseguest said Taylor may not have been the direct reason for Paloma’s departure, but that she added to the problem. Another houseguest said Taylor had a negative effect on Paloma’s mental health. And at least a third houseguest chipped in to say that Paloma wasn’t there because of Taylor’s behavior. 

I won’t bother you with the details, but absolutely none of that was true. If you ask Paloma, Taylor didn’t even interact with Paloma. The fact that Taylor was living in Paloma’s head rent free was nobody’s fault but Paloma’s. 

And yet the Black person–the Black woman–gets blamed for another’s mental health, while the Black woman who is actually being attacked and bullied, gets next to no remorse. 

And that, unfortunately, is America: Black people having to endure being targeted for their race, while everyone around them is getting every bit of support one can muster. 

But I will continue to watch Big Brother, knowing that as long as it’s based on America, issues of racism will continue to pop out throughout the series. Which makes me laugh a bit. Not because I have any issue with my stance, but because there’s a large swath of America that believes Black people complain too much and that racism is no longer an issue, and that we should stop talking about it. And yet, some 4 to 8 million people watch Big Brother every summer, replete with racist issue after racist issue, and then many of them turn off the show, turn on their favorite news network, agree with the primetime news anchor or political candidate that says “race is no longer a problem in America”, and then they think nothing of it when the Big Brother guests proceed to unanimously, annually, and without fail vote a Black person out of the game faster than they entered it.  

Now, what could possibly be racist about that? 

I’ll let you decide the answer to the question. In the meantime, I’ll take the small win of knowing that in the end, Taylor Hale was able to prevail and become a Big Brother champion. And that ability to overcome tribulation, on national television no less, is another reason I love Big Brother, as that’s also symbolic of America, particularly, Black America.

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