Yup, Dark Skin Black Women Still Need To Prove Themselves On Love Island

Why were other contestants who also behaved badly shown more grace?
Catherine, Ella and Whitney From Love Island Season 10
Catherine, Ella and Whitney From Love Island Season 10

And just like that, another series of Love Island has come to an end. We’ve watched couples make up and break up, we’ve seen people being pulled over for quick chats and more importantly, we’ve grown to love (and maybe hate) another set of contestants.

One of the most notable differences in this season was the diversity among the contestants. We’ve seen the occasional non-white contestant year in and year out, but this year we had a range of contestants from several different ethnic backgrounds.

Most people were quite happy about this as it’s a reflection of society in the U.K. However, not everyone was pleased. Some of the Facebook mums (also known as Karens) claimed that the episodes were starting to feel like they were watching Straight Outta Compton – so much so that they stopped watching it altogether.

Which highlights an ongoing issue within the show – race.

As a big fan of Love Island, I’ve written continuously about the treatment of Black women on the show. Since the arrival of Samira Mighty in season four, Black women have often been seen as props in the show – with Black female contestants having been continuously chosen last or not chosen at all by other male contestants.

So much so that during season five I wrote an article for Gal-Dem, explaining why I didn’t want to see any more Black women on Love Island. As years have gone by, the tide has started to change slowly. Last year’s contestants Indiyah and Dami were viewer favourites, coming in third place.

This year featured two dark-skin women – Catherine Agbaje and Whitney Adeshola Adebayo who went on to place second with Lochan Nowacki.

Catherine and Whitney were fan favourites but things started to turn sour for both contestants as time went on. After coming back from Casa Amor, Catherine chose to re-couple with Elom, though she was previously coupled up with Scott.

Though she was well within her rights to re-couple with someone else, fans weren’t happy with how Catherine spoke to Scott about her decision. Some people claimed Catherine was gaslighting Scott as she believed he was making the relationship all about him.

The critiques about Catherine’s behaviour started turning dark. She was receiving death threats over her treatment of Scott. And the conversation sparked an ongoing debate within the Black community when Love Island comes on: the concept of ‘staying-on code.’

Defining this concept is quite tricky so I reached out to some of my friends for some answers. “I sort of define it as an unspoken expectation to protect the presentation of a shared characteristic regardless of whether you’re in actual agreement. It’s performative,” my friend Ade told me.

Another friend explained it more simply. “It’s an unspoken rule/expectation that says you should correct Black people in private/safe space but support them publically.” It’s a concept I don’t know if I fully agree with.

I’ve always been quite open with my thoughts on Twitter, especially with Love Island. But I started to notice that the more open I was with my thoughts surrounding Black contestants, the more critique I faced.

I’ve been called out a few times for ‘not being on code’ but I don’t believe that Black contestants are above critique. I also believe you can critique a contestant whilst showing them support.

However, my friend and fellow journalist Jasmine believes staying on code is important as Black contestants are more likely to receive all-around support. “If we don’t support them, no one else will,” she says.

“Naturally, they aren’t getting the same amount of followers or brand deals as their white counterparts. So we need to help them elevate them and help them as much as possible,” she says. And I can’t argue with that. Year after year we see White contestants leaving with thousands more followers than Black contestants.

More importantly, Black female contestants are hailed to an impossible standard. Whether you agree with Catherine’s behaviour or not, it’s clear to see that she wasn’t given the same grace as other contestants. It was clear to see that the audience’s overall opinion of Catherine had changed and she was soon voted off the villa.

But why were other contestants who also behaved badly shown more grace?

Male contest Tyrique has received constant critique with his comments towards other contestants, specifically to women and yet he made it all the way to the final.

Fellow contestant Sammy was also called out for his rudeness but despite the backlash went on to win the show with his partner Jess.

Contestant Whitney was not let off scot-free either. Critique for Whitney began as she got into a heated discussion with fellow contestant Ella. Harsh words were exchanged from both parties but it seemed that Whitney was the only one receiving the backlash online.

Many Black fans saw this as a blatant example of colourism as Whitney was being described as ‘scary’ and ’aggressive.’

*Angela who is a 27-year-old marketing assistant from London says seeing the way Whitney was treated, reminds her why she isn’t a consistent viewer of the show. “Why aren’t we ever respected?” she asks.

“I was taken back when I saw Tyrique tell Whitney to shut up, I don’t think he would have spoken to a non-Black girl like that,” Angela says. She believes Love Island is a reflection of society as there’s so much pressure on Black women to be perfect. “We’re treated as non-human,” she adds.

I will always be a fan of Love Island. For the most part, it’s entertaining and brings the nation together. But, I’m not sure if I can continue seeing the way Black women on Love Island are treated on and off the show. The show has come a long way but I don’t know if I can feel comfortable continuing to watch it.