Big Brother & the Race Card Paradox

Some people don’t understand that the term “race card” also refers to the exploitation of racism by racists. A common form of racism, for example, involves painting people of color as overly sensitive or reactionary when they rightfully point out racism. Paradoxically, when people claim that Candice and Howard are “playing the race card,” their critics—both inside and outside of the house—are the ones actually guilty of playing it. My point is illustrated in the following two scenarios:

Scenario 1: A majority of the Big Brother house votes out one of Aaryn’s allies. Aaryn places the blame for this move on a black person (Candice). She flips Candice’s mattress on the floor, taunts her with race-baiting stereotypes, and laughs as her ally GinaMarie repeatedly mentions Candice’s race. When Candice discusses and cries about the sustained abuse she’s suffered in the house, she is NOT “playing the race card.”

Scenario 2: Amanda Zuckermann has called Andy “Faggoty Ann,” said Candice’s hair is  “greasy and nappy,” characterized Helen (a Korean) as “the fucking Chinaman,” and referred to the “the black guy, the Asian, and the gay guy” as the “three outcasts.” CBS has shockingly made Amanda the primary narrator of Aaryn’s racism. Producers have also featured scenes wherein Amanda directly confronts Aaryn about her racial animus. Now that Aaryn’s in power, Amanda has backpedaled and told Aaryn that she does not think she is racist and claims people like African American contestant Howard use the “race card” to get ahead in the game. If anyone in the house plays a “race card,” or exploits racism, it’s Amanda, who shifts between vocalizing racist speech, deriding other people’s racism, and suggesting racism in the house is not real.

Candice and Howard have displayed enviable comportment in the face of sustained acts of racial antagonism. Claiming that either of them plays a “race card” is in itself racist, especially when one considers how the cast’s two African American contestants have, time and again, refused to directly respond to race-baiting hate speech.

Final rumination: I feel like CBS’s racism edit has been unfair to Aaryn, given that producers have placed the exclusive onus of racism on her shoulders. Spencer and GinaMarie, in particular, have fanned bigotry’s flames as often as Aaryn, yet their vitriol has not made it to CBS’s edit of the show. Racism and homophobia are unfortunately common, ordinary, everyday phenomena. When Big Brother constructs a narrative that suggests anti-gay and anti-people of color speech is extraordinary and relegated to a single person in the house, the show misses the point. I am thrilled that the program’s awesome production team has taken the first step in telling a complicated story about racism and homophobia. I just worry that they’ll miss an opportunity to go beyond the first step. Ratings jumped by over a million viewers when the initially included racism into the plot. Viewers are clearly ready for a more nuanced discussion about race and sexuality in the house. Go further, dig deeper. I believe in you, Big Brother. 

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