Love Island And Its Mighty Problem With Colourism

It’s no surprise that the nation has once again been swept away by ITV2’s reality dating show, Love Island. The combination of permanently-oiled abs and constant drama is enough to grab an average 3.3 million viewers every night. But the current season has sparked a lot of conversation and backlash over the racism and colourism within the show. I decided to start watching the show to see what all the fuss was about, and I was upset by just how much I could relate to Samira’s experiences of dating in white circles. I wasn’t interested in the drama unfolding amongst the contestants. I was invested in Samira Mighty – a woman who is overlooked and rejected because of the colour of her skin.

I started watching the show about a week ago, just in time for the introduction of ‘Casa Amor’ and twelve new contestants. Here we go again. Twelve new contestants, nearly all of them being white. Love Island has always received criticism for its lack of diversity, and this year it feels as though the inclusion of Wes, Josh, and especially Samira is a way to fill a diversity quota that ITV needs to meet. It’s great that a dark-skinned black woman like Samira is on a show like this, but her experiences of rejection are all too familiar.

©ITV Plc

I continued watching as all the new boys named their top three girls, and unsurprisingly none of them mentioned Samira. Why is it that none of these men appear to find Samira attractive when she’s surrounded by white women? It seems that Samira is a last resort to them, simply a means of staying in the villa’s limelight. But the fact that none of the boys in the villa (until, belatedly, Frankie) have shown any interest in her is no coincidence. It is so painfully obvious what is going on here and it’s an issue of colourism. A lot of us don’t realise it, but colourism is everywhere. It is a simple truth that, in our society, dark-skinned people are demonised while lighter-skinned people are idolised. This has always been the way and it pervades every part of our society… if we choose to pay attention.

And for those of you who think that this isn’t true because “but Wes and Josh have found girls and they’re black!”, listen close, because it really, really is. This case of colourism becomes something of misogynoir – where dark-skinned black women are demonised due to the trope of the ‘angry black woman’, whereas black men, especially mixed-race black men, are fetishized. You need to look no further than Georgia and Ellie saying that ‘mixed-race’ is their type, while all the boys describe their types as either “blonde” or “brunette”, to see a clear example of the fetishization of black men amidst the marginalisation of black women.

Samira 2

While Wes and Josh are being fetishized and chased by the white women in the villa, Samira is left on the sidelines with hardly any air time because of her constant rejection. I knew that me and my friends in the BME community could see this injustice, but I wanted to know what the public thought about all of this. I searched ‘Love Island’ on Twitter and the only tweets speaking out about the colourism and racism on the show were by people of colour, which wasn’t surprising at all.

But one tweet caught my eye – it said that race had nothing to do with Samira not finding someone, and that Alex was in the same boat. I was fuming. Alex, the dry doctor, received so much love, support, and comfort from his fellow contestants for not finding a girl, reaching the point where they’d set him up to talk to girls that he liked. They did the same with Camilla in the last season. Both Alex and Camilla had the whole nation rooting for them to find someone, but who’s rooting for Samira? As far as the British public goes, it seems only people of colour are hoping for her to find someone.

Samira 1

But what really hit home was when Samira was initially rejected by Frankie. He told her that he liked Megan and Samira walked away and broke down, saying to Megan that she wished she looked like her. Watching her repeat on camera “It’s fine. I’m fine” over and over while crying was heart-breaking. Watching her compare herself to a white woman and wishing to look like her was even more heart-breaking because that feeling is all too familiar. When I took these feelings to Instagram, I had messages in my inbox from people of colour who could relate to this, saying that anxieties over their skin colour were a major part of mental health problems when they were younger.

When I was growing up I had a hatred towards my skin colour and felt it was the reason behind why no one fancied me; I thought that if I was white I would have someone that had a crush on me or that I’d be more popular and everyone would want to be my friend. My skin colour became the root of my depression and growing up and trying to date in white circles when the only person interested was someone that was “into brown girls” really affected my self-esteem.

Samira and Meg

Samira’s experiences are far too relatable for people of colour. It highlights our anxieties about race and dating, and brings back memories of rejection. Seeing a well-established black woman on national television feeling these anxieties and saying these words is painful to watch. Her tears were more than just that feeling of hurt when your man likes someone else – it was a cry about race, about colourism, about why our skin colour stops us from being able to be loved.

What’s worse is that ITV chose to air this. ITV continues to put men on this show that don’t like black women. And yes, Samira is coupled up with Frankie now, but we’re all dubious; Samira will always be second-best after he couldn’t get Megan. It makes me angry and upset that ITV has not responded to the issue of colourism on the show. It makes me angry and upset that ITV allowed Samira to constantly get hurt because no one liked her. And it makes me angry and upset that a black woman’s breakdown and wishes to be a white woman were aired on national television in the name of entertainment.

And the most disgusting thing? We just sat on our sofas and watched.

Nivetha Tilakkumar

Nivetha has just finished her second year studying English Literature and French at the University of Leeds and is currently back in London for the summer. She writes poetry in her spare time on BME issues and South Asian identity and culture, and hosts a BME show on Leeds Student Radio. In September, she’ll be moving to Lille to start work as a teaching assistant in a secondary school.

Niv Words
‘Fetishise Me, I Dare You’ – Instagram: @nxvtkwords

Image Credits: – Radio Times
– World News
– The Sun
– The Daily Edge
– Hello Magazine
– MacMadison News


One thought on “Love Island And Its Mighty Problem With Colourism

  1. Amazing article and amazing poetry at the end. I am really moved by both! I actually am glad ITV has aired it because it has shown this reality to people that are not first-hand exposed to it, such as me (a white girl). I didn’t realise the extent of this huge societal problem and I am glad Love Island has highlighted the issue to the nation. It has sparked a lot of conversation which will hopefully spark a change in people’s attitudes. Your writing has sparked a passion about this subject in me! Amy x


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