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The annual token black Love Island contestant

Winter Love Island has come to a close, and as we draw near to the summer season of Love Island, many black viewers are filled with apprehension, waiting to see who will be the next token black woman on our screens. It’s fair to say that black female contestants have not had the best time on the dating show.

Year after year, the black woman faces an intolerable amount of rejection. Every season’s first episode starts with the contestants picking who they would like to couple up with based on appearance. Samira, the first black female contestant, was picked last. A year later, Yewande was also picked last, followed by Leanne. Then Kaz was picked last, and this year’s love island saw the same trend continue. When Tanya made her debut as the newest token black girl, only one male contestant stepped forward to couple up with her –Shaq, the only black male contestant. The others not stepping forward promoted a narrative that the show has been promoting for years; black women are not desirable, and if they are desired, it’s only by black men.

We watched Samira get rejected by every guy she was interested in for the first four weeks. Then, when she finally coupled up with Frankie, we thought she found her match. Later episodes revealed that he preferred her white castmate, Megan, more. Indiyah seemed like the first black woman not to struggle to couple up in the villa. There was Ikenna, Dami, Deji, and Samuel, but this just displays the other side of the conversation. If the black woman is wanted, it is only by black men. Not once did the likes of Jacques or Luka show interest in Indiyah, and let us not forget that Davide referred to her as a “downgrade”. These episodes of implicit and explicit discrimination mirror dating life for black women. A study conducted on dating preferences on the dating site ‘OKCupid’ found that black women and Asian men have the hardest time matching on dating apps.

It’s painful to watch, especially when there is half a decade’s worth of televised mistreatment towards people who look like you.

Diversity is different from inclusion. Diversity involves having people from various backgrounds, whilst inclusion ensures that everyone feels welcomed and valued no matter their differences. Love Island may have a diverse set of contestants, but they fail to ensure that all the contestants will be able to find actual suitors. This encapsulates the entire issue with tokenism. To put it simply, tokenism is when the conversation starts and ends with “we need more BLANK people here”. It is a step in the right direction to acknowledge that there is a diversity issue, but the conversation must be extended further. It is not enough to meet a quota; we need to discuss how to accommodate the entrance of people from different backgrounds.

Love Island is not the first to practice tokenism, with other institutions like our university being culprits of the same practice. Have you ever seen a university post where the ethnic minority takes centre stage? It can appear disingenuous. Ultimately, it causes adverse effects for the token individual, like the feeling of isolation and being forced to deal with immense pressure. As we are edging towards our 10th season of Love Island, I hope this time will be different. And to my black women, we love you.

Image Credit: Bermuda/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Via Flickr

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