Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Minority Rules

The year was 2002. Staying in on Saturday nights was all the rage. Britain was in the grip of reality television hysteria. The joy of watching people of humble origins become overnight sensations through democratic programming had made the possibility of becoming a celebrity a tangible reality for all of us regardless of looks, skills and discernable talents. Some television shows revelled in their lowbrow brilliance while others made more of an effort by purporting to be talent shows in the search of credible singers. The BBC had its Fame Academy which had an audience of two-dozen; the ITV had its Pop Idol which had an audience of everyone residing in the British Isles. By 2002 the success of Pop Idol had spawned a one-off spin-off show called Pop Stars: The Rivals, in which two gender distinct pop bands consisting of five elected members were borne. The girl band became the beloved Girls Aloud; the boy band went on to become something none of us can remember. It was survival of the fittest and the best band won. Girls Aloud become the biggest girl band in Britain because they had all the right elements. The people of Great Britain had exercised their democratic rights and voted for Nadine Coyle, Cheryl Cole, Sarah Harding, Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Walsh to form the principal components of this fantastic new musical movement. And in doing so the British people had decided to eliminate the bookies favourite, Javine Hylton- the only black contestant left in the show. ITV declared it to be a fair contest but others were not so permissive. People claimed the show had been rigged and that when they had dialled the number to vote for Javine Hylton they were rerouted to a recorded message thanking them for voting for fellow contestant, Sarah Harding. ITV denied any vote rigging and the matter was soon settled by Girls Aloud going on to an amazing pop career, while Javine Hylton became an ad-hoc 'z-list' celebrity appearing on any number of pedestrian reality television shows.

Most ethnic minorities have a pretty good life in Britain and are pleased they're not living in the times of their parents' when blatant racism was de facto. Britain's minority groups go by the notion that anything is achievable if they work for it and demonstrate the talent to excel. We are told Britain is a meritocratic society in which ability is king. That's what I thought until I watched Sunday night's X FACTOR: all my notions of meritocracy and talent going straight out of the window as Cheryl Cole eliminated every single black finalist from the under 25s female group of this year's show. This wouldn't be a big deal if the aspiring black contestants had been poor in comparison to their Caucasian competition, but they weren't. They were, by and large, really fucking good. The white girls, on the other hand, were really fucking shite, with Madonna wannabe- Katie Waissel, and favourite to win- Cher Lloyd, getting through to the live shows despite both of them forgetting their lyrics during the final audition. Cher Lloyd gave up during Sunday's show, transforming into a mumbling wreck when Cheryl Cole asked her to sing for her and guest judge, prick.i.am. The only finalist to have any trace of colour was Rebecca Ferguson, but she is mixed-race, thus ostensibly more palatable to Ms. Cole. Cheryl Cole's bizarre final choices meant the viewers' favourites, Gamu Nhengu, Anastasia Baker and Treyc Cohen, were totally fucked over. I scratched my head and so did thousands of others who have launched social networking sites proclaiming their loathing at the decision.

If something like this had happened in America then there'd probably be mass protests and all-out race rioting. There's a passivity to minority groups in Britain who are letting this slide when it really should be made into a big deal. I hate to say it, and may regret saying it, but what I saw on Sunday night seemed like abject racism. A kind of racism I abjure. What happened was not fair and totally wrong. Cheryl Cole has had a tough time of late with her marriage collapsing and suffering a bad bout of Malaria, but we all know these celebrity judges don't decide on whom the finalists' are- it's a bunch of executives calling the shots. Sure, Cheryl Cole did punch a black cloakroom attendant back in 2003 and allegedly called her a series of racist slurs, but I don't think the buck stops with her. Sure, prick.i.am is a black man who's been paid lots of money to pretend to be Cheryl Cole's friend and participate in selecting her finalists, but he doesn't really have any real say. This is a calculated move on the part of white, middle-class, largely male executives who know that the real support of middle-England will not be with women of colour.

Yes, Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke are ethnic girls who have won X Factor but their success came at a time when they were the only few black people to make the finals. Believe me, both Leona and Alexander were working 50-times harder than any other contestant on the show that year and were 100-times more talented than the competition. This year was the first time I have seen a pool of black contestants who were head and shoulders above the competition and were potentially perceived as a threat because the number of ethnic finalists may have usurped the more accessible white talent. Could there have been a fear that audiences outside of cosmopolitan areas- meaning pretty much everything outside of London- would have shunned the show if there were not more Caucasian contestants to root for? I hope not because that would be a totally depressing thought. For any black kid watching last week's X Factor, the institutional racism demonstrated by ITV was despicable. It's an insult to think that young black people won't be shocked by the decision because many of them have been vocal in their anger at the X Factor. This is coming at a time when despite record investment in inner-city state schools, black pupils are still significantly underachieving, with 55% of 14-year old black boys having a reading age of seven or less. The problem is getting so much worse that this month's Prospect magazine reports on how a group of black boys were taken to Jamaica for a summer science camp in order to expose them to university lecturers, doctors and sundry professionals who looked just like them, thus instilling a sense of inspiration sorely lacking in their birth country. It's not easy being a black person in Britain and the covert racism of ITV exemplifies that.

It seems ITV is perturbed by the claims of racism and the other black contestants that didn't make it through will be given the opportunity to compete in the live shows as part of a new 'wild card' feature. To me it looks like somebody is feeling rather guilty. But this isn't good enough because even if one of the talented black girls finally makes it on a tokenistic wild card then that still doesn't repair the overall damage perpetrated by ITV. I say fuck the X Factor. I'm boycotting the bastard this year and watching Strictly Come Dancing with Brucie instead. Then again, Brucie is the same tosser who defended Anton du Beke when he called his dancing partner Laila Rouass a "Paki" in last year's show. Fuck that old coot Brucie as well. Fuck British television. I'd rather read a book.


  1. Goodness me... I thought this was a serious blog? By joining in the 'X factor is racist' debate you have just descended to the level of the red tops!

  2. Au contraire Mr. Anonymous, I am being serious. If you can't deduce a serious tone from what I'm saying then I think the problem lies squarely with you. I love the X FACTOR as an entertainment show and felt very let down by the events earlier this month. I refuse to watch it this season and urge the rest of you to do so too.

    There's nothing wrong with red tops. Papers like the DAILY MIRROR were crusaders for socialism and women’s rights at one time. More recently they strongly opposed the Iraq war. If that’s the journalistic nature of being a red top then I’m proud of such comparrisons.