Keeping the Rabble in Line

Banging on about representation: The would be media lens

Friday, June 08, 2007

Big Brother 8 and (another) racism row.

So, during the course of a conversation with fellow housemate Charley, Emily was heard to use "a racially offensive word to a fellow housemate"; more here This has - quite rightly - become a major "talking point" The exchange went something like this:
Charley: "Oooh I hope I'm not pregnant"

Emily: "You're pushing it out you n####r" - I assume Emily was referring to Charley pushing out her stomach.

Nicki: "oooh, I can't believe you just said that!"

Charley: "You're in trouble"

Emily: "don't make a big deal out of it ... i was joking"

Charley: "I know you were ... but " ...]inaudible[..."... some serious shit"

Offensive yes. Now, read the BBC report above and
again here they seem to be suggesting that it was whilst dancing in the's the quote from the BBC report: "Emily said:
'Are you pushing it out, you n#####r?' to Charley Uchea, while they were dancing in the living room on Wednesday evening." (end quote)
So the BBC report - presumably put out by Channel 4 and/or Endemol in the first instance - becomes quite important in providing a context does it not? My own textual analysis (of the BBC report) is that: it was part of friendly "banter" whilst dancing, so "pushing it out" *may be* some reference to dancing, and the use of the offensive word may be *safely* contained within a particular (lazy, assumptive) narrative, action and identification. Importantly: these ideas (of action, narrative and identity), are potentially offensive anyway: inasmuch as the term, actions and narrative(s) are considered "Street" or "urban". OK, I know this is based on a partial "reading" or interpretation, but, this seems to be the suggested (preferred) reading. Given that it did not happen like that at all, they were chatting in the garden whilst having a cigarette, why was that version of events allowed to be propagated?

Could it be that Emily is educated and middle class, her "values" are proximate to certain dominant discourse(s) and as such "common sense"? Therefore there *might* be an attempt to conceal a casual, unthinking, lazy prejudice and recuperate it "there's no way she can be racist is there? She's just a normal sweet girl!" I suppose it's possible. Dominant ideologies are just that (dominant), precisely because they are often not interrogated, just assumed to be (common sense).

Perhaps Channel 4 were not going to show it in the highlights programme? If so, had we not seen it, we could then assume it was part of a "characterisation" in the context of a dance with housemates...still offensive and racist ...

However, the contextual detail was/is considered important.
Someone with whom I was having a debate, before the programme aired, considered it problematic, that Charley used the same offensive term. Along the lines of: "Why is she allowed to use the term and not Emily? ... I reject the lazy logic that says one use of the term (by a young black woman) is considered OK and the same term (by a young white woman) is considered racist." Lots of issues to be dealt with here. Charley may have a right to, and claim on, the term, that Emily simply does not. Even if the claims of reclamation and neutralising an offensive term are not sufficient - that's not to say they are not important - then perhaps we should again consider subjectivity, identity and one's position within ideology. This (sort of neatly) returns us to context. If one is to claim that context is "all important", then perhaps one's position in a context (proximity to discourse) has to be considered important. The identity of the user of the term ... the context ... is important yes? That might be why one can use the term and one cannot.

Was Emily racist?
I suspect that very much like the Big Brother producers in Celebrity Big Brother 5, she had little idea what actually constituted racism...therefore, yes, she certainly has the capacity to be racist no matter how she may, rather pathetically claim "I didn't mean it in an offensive way"


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