Samira’s not your token!

I have a confession to make; I am possibly the only person in the UK who hasn’t tuned into Love Island. However, being plugged into Twitter means that I have watched black people’s reaction to Samira (the only black girl) and feel as though there is an unrealistic and selfish projection of how she ought to have presented herself on the show. I have found that this happens a lot. We are so starved of representation that it falls on the little representation we do get, to encompass whole collective of experiences. It’s unrealistic and consuming, meaning we spend our time being angry or upset over things we cannot change. It can also be burdensome for the person in question.  

I saw one of two reactions from black people on Twitter. They’re either annoyed that the white male contestants didn’t find her attractive, or annoyed that she wasn’t attracted to the other black men they deemed suitable for her. I couldn’t fully understand either response.

We already know that black women are statistically ranked the lowest in dating preferences, and that the show has a predominantly white cast. I understand that this is not fair, but given the circumstances, should we have expected more? For me, this was authentic representation. Love Island is a show that magnifies issues in our society, it doesn’t create them. The fact that nobody found her attractive for the longest time is problematic – let’s face it, she is stunning and it had everything to do with race, but we can’t make people love us. However, I also believe that a lot of the black women fighting in her corner were doing so from a more personal place. They wanted her to undo the image of black women being undesirable so that they felt better about their own preference for white men.

For those who were angry at her preference, it seemed to be about her not representing what they understand as the correct way to be black – “If she doesn’t fancy either of these black boys I’ve had enough.” Willing her to like black boys doesn’t change the fact that that is not her inclination. Again, the issue was not Samira herself, but rather what her visibility should have been used to say about blackness – that we should stick together no matter what. Again, this disregards that she was being her authentic self.

Whilst the show may have put Samira in to fulfil their diversity quota, it was also evident that this was the dating environment she chose of her own volition. We have no control over the environment or the fact that she chose to go there. In both regards I argue: stop expecting your ideals from every black person on a platform. Not every representation of blackness will pertain to every single black person, and even if someone’s experience is similar they are their own person.

The common thread between these two reactions to Samira’s time on the show, is that they are both judgements made of personal expectations. When we want representation on our own terms to encompass our personal experiences, we deny the person in question their individuality. We become  the oppressor, unable to see that person as an individual rather than a token. Projecting our own ideals as the only true representation holds people to an impossible standard.

This is something that often leads marginalised people to feel pressured into performing in a way that fits the status quo. The pressure of trying to represent and please everyone can become burdensome and ironically lead to inauthentic representation as people feel as though they cannot be themselves, or step down from their platforms. In the case of Samira, I do not feel as though she pandered to the expectations of the public (probably due to the social media restrictions of the show), but I do think she carried the burden of representing herself as likable and non-offensive to the audience.

When I saw that Samira was leaving the show “of her own accord” it rang alarm bells. As I said before, I did not watch the show, but I couldn’t escape the headlines or adverts for the show.  There were microaggressions I picked up on that made me weary of the show. Too often, the only black contestant is forced out of these reality shows in reaction to harsh criticism or the manipulation of higher powers e.g. production. Since she has left the show, it has come to light that the footage shown was heavily manipulated, leaving out crucial footage that would support her as lovely, rational and genuine. Footage of her relationship in the house was left out making it look like she was overreacting during her love interests departure. Footage of another housemate’s snide comments towards her was also omitted (though her retaliation was not). Despite the pressure of these environments, we often see black women’s emotional outbursts regarded as irrational, and by showing her as one-dimensional the show aided this narrative.

When she left, I didn’t buy that it was just a personal decision, and getting a closer look at what really happened I can’t help but feel as though the burden of representation was a driving force to her departure from the show. Consider this, though Samira may not have had access to the internet, it wouldn’t have been her first exposure to what other people think about her and her dating preferences. I imagine she would have known that there would have been a large number of black people who wouldn’t like her preferences or her version of blackness, and white people who didn’t find her desirable. The pressure to balance her representing her own authentic self and not upset or give cause for defamation of character, must have been exhausting.

How Samira managed to still portray herself positively despite all of this is beyond me, and it makes me consider how much she had to manage her emotions to pander to an audience that was set on deeming her not good enough. Not only her own people, but those who already had an ignorant ideology of black women as undesirable, sassy, and unfriendly.  Despite not being able to relate to her, and being completely uninterested in the show, I commend her for the strength she showed in lasting as long as she did and being herself. By being on the show at all she does enough for black women representation. The more examples of black individuals we have, the more we can show the multifaceted nature of black people. Not every one of us is the same.

Written by Amara Lawrence

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