Celebrity Big Brother Sparked A Debate

I’ll be upfront about this. I’m nervous about posting this blog. It is a subject which is out of my comfort zone but as I resolve to further the cause of body positivity (which is a political movement), raising awareness of social issues is something which I need to broach more regularly. All too often, I witness some kind of injustice and I think “I should blog about that!” but then never get round to it and the moment is gone. And to be honest I breathe a sigh of relief as I get to keep my neck firmly wound in and stay away from awkward topics. I’m not very good at debate and whilst I have very strong views about certain topics I have a bit of a fear of upsetting people. I hope this blog only serves to educate and not to offend.

Last week I posted on Facebook about privilege and it sparked some interesting debate. I had been watching Celebrity Big Brother and was shocked at the highly apparent white privilege and the utter lack of awareness of this by the vastly white population within the house. Usually when I post about something socio-political I get an occasional rant from someone I’ve ticked off. But what I noticed happening in the comments this time was that a few people were angry but seemed to have misunderstood the concept of privilege and so I thought I would write this blog to help explain, because once we start becoming aware of our own privilege, treating others with basic human respect becomes a whole lot easier.

This was my Facebook post:

“Watching the people in Big Brother unable to acknowledge their privilege. People with privilege never think that something which is a problem to someone else is even a thing. Jokes are not funny to everyone. Sally, you don’t understand racism in the same way that Hardeep does because you haven’t experienced it. It’s similar (but not comparable- edited) with people with thin privilege who have no understanding of what it’s like to be fat and the oppression that comes with it. If you ever hear someone say ‘this is a problem’ and you don’t think it is a problem because it is not relevant to you, you haven’t understood or acknowledged your privilege.”

To give this context, Hardeep had just walked away from Sally whilst claiming that a comment she had just made was “borderline racist”, his words. Sally was hysterical (and I don’t use this word lightly as I am fully aware of the double standards between the labelling of men and women’s reactions: often when a woman is crying she is labelled as hysterical to escalate her irrationality but a man would be said to be visibly upset, to downplay his emotional state. But she actually did become hysterical over the course of a few exchanges of words with Hardeep – see video below: the more he stuck to his guns, the more upset she became.) The offending comment was that in order to make Hardeep look ill (for a food task) they should put talcum powder on his face. This was also following another comment at an earlier time when Sally asked him if they could use “that thing you wrap around your head” as bandages [for the food task] referring to Hardeep’s turban, part of his religious attire.This video shows part of the discussion

When he pointed out that her comments were unacceptable she vehemently denied being racist to which Hardeep quite rightly confirmed that he had not called her racist and had specifically said that her comments were borderline racist.

Whilst Sally’s comments were insensitive and highly ignorant, I’m certain she doesn’t believe herself to be “racist” however I do think that these comments come from her unconscious bias (that’s the sneaky thing about unconscious bias: it’s unconscious!)

“Your background, personal experiences, societal stereotypes and cultural context can have an impact on your decisions and actions without you realising.” – taken from the Equality Challenge Unit.

I think Sally’s refusal to accept that she was in the wrong in any way came from 2 places: firstly the fear of the viewers thinking she is racist and her career being over (remember the Shilpa Shetty racisms scandal of CBB5 with Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O’Meara) But also because admitting you’re wrong or that you have been responsible for upsetting someone is difficult. Saying sorry, if you’re not used to it, is hard and defences go up extremely quickly.

I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah yeah, it’s only a TV show” and it is believed  by many to be utter trash, but when it kicks up an important social issue like this I believe that we, society, should learn from it.

But to go back to the situation in the house, I was mostly shocked by the rest of the group. I saw them all (almost all of them white with the exception of Ryan who is a quarter Indian) agreeing with Sally that she absolutely did not make a racist comment and basically ganging up on Hardeep accusing him of “using the race card” (a phrase used repeatedly on the show and in the comments on Facebook and interestingly coined by those with privilege) thus rendering Sally, now, the blameless victim.

Watching this circle of whiteness unable to see what was really happening in this situation, heaping all the blame back onto Hardeep and mirroring what goes on within society on a daily basis for those who live with inequality, was most uncomfortable.

What is white privilege?

“The concept of white privilege refers to the ways in which white people benefit from the fact that they aren’t a racial minority. According to the concept, white privilege extends into every aspect of our social and cultural lives, but it can also be a challenging concept for many people. In fact, the idea of white privilege is that the social and cultural privileges that accompany whiteness go unnoticed by those that benefit from them, which can make accepting their reality somewhat difficult. Moreover, the context in which this privilege is often discussed can be framed in a negative way, leading some people to feel as though they’re being accused of capitalizing on racism or engaging in racist behaviour.” taken from the social psychology section of study.com.

When someone from a systematically oppressed population states that your actions/words have caused them to feel further oppression it is not ok to brush it off and say “you shouldn’t be upset about that because you’ve misinterpreted my intention.” Or worse “How very dare you be upset, you’re making me look bad!” Which is essentially what Sally said. If you have upset someone in any situation and they tell you the best course of action is to stop and think about it. Process it. That old adage “try and put yourself in their shoes.” Getting defensive never does anyone any good.

Let me give you an example which is still topical in this situation. The term privilege is often used within the context of social inequality and goes much further than just race. It involves age, disability, social class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, body shape and so on. Please note how my Facebook post has an edit. Initially I had drawn a parallel between the way that these people were unable to see their white privilege and how people who had never been fat couldn’t possibly understand the oppression that fat people experience on a daily basis. (Thin privilege – individuals moving through the world in a thin body are granted certain advantages over people who are not thin; the ability to move through life without people insisting you need to be a smaller size. If you don’t have to think about that, it’s privilege. Here is an article with examples of thin privilege. Side Note: Apparently, based on a couple of angry comments that were made, I also must point out that thin privilege does not refer to an individual’s ability to lose weight or stay thin. This is an entirely different matter and completely irrelevant to the topic of discussion.)

Of course because I’m curvy and I campaign for an end to weight stigma which is rife within the Fitness Industry, my fat phobia detector is on high alert and when I see social injustice on any level I do draw parallels. But when someone pointed out that “Some would argue that drawing parallels between the oppression that has been faced by people of colour vs the oppression of being overweight is white privilege” I immediately checked my white privilege and could see that I was guilty of being unaware of my privilege: exactly what I was accusing the house of. I apologised straight away and amended my comment. A couple of people thanked me for acknowledging the grievance. It was only momentarily awkward for me being educated by this comment. I am always grateful when someone points out where I can do better. I didn’t throw a fit and get all defensive. I apologised and changed what I could.

I’m not sure if we can ever be fully aware of our privilege but certainly once we’re told directly that our actions/comments have offended someone else, the humane thing to do is listen, think, apologise and resolve to do better. This is how we as a society can begin to break down the oppressive systems that have been in place since time immemorial. It’s how we grow and move forwards towards a more harmonious future.