Why is this an issue?
OK, it’s late at night, everyone is bed, and I’m working. The TV is on and I’m half watching Wife Swap USA. Don’t judge me. I like to have something on in the background that doesn’t require my brain to engage. This definitely fits the bill.
Except that I am engaged in it, due to one of the women taking part in this episode. Pauletta, from New Jersey, travelled to California and whilst waiting to meet her new family she had a look around the house. She gleaned from the photos that her new family was black. She looked horrified. She said “I hope it won’t be a problem, I hope they will accept me anyway. You know, because many times, you wouldn’t be accepted in a situation like this.”
Really? You’re already judging them and deciding they would have a problem with you. She mentioned it again, before the family had even arrived. Once they did arrive, she spoke to her new “husband” as if she were meeting a tribal leader who spoke no English and had never seen someone from the modern world before.
Then they showed her chatting to one of the young children and she pointed to a photo and asked who the two women in it were. The child said that they younger woman was his mother. The woman was white. Pauletta looked like she might faint. Inter-racial relationships? Oh my. And then she put on a very cutsie voice and said “that’s your mom? Oh wow. Your Mom is white? Wow. Oh lovely. No wonder you people are so accepting of my whiteness. Your Mom is white.”
Oh come on Pauletta. I’m shocked. I know that racism exists all over the place still. But I had imagined it to be something else. Something akin to BNP type racism. Ugly, loud. I had not imagined this “cosy” kind of racism that assumes people of different races can’t just get on with life (as much as one can in a programme that pits people at polar opposites against each other – for the record, the polar opposites in this case were lifestyle choices, not race). It’s not even that she was trying to be racist – but I have never before been so aware of someone being so aware of the differences between themselves and someone else. If it were me in her place (and I turned down my invite to be on the show, for what it’s worth, but that’s another story), it wouldn’t occur to me to consider race as playing any part in the situation.
To be fair, she appeared to get over her shock as the programme went on, but it made me feel really uncomfortable that in this day and age people are so shockingly aware of race, and they don’t even realise how aware of it they are. I doubt that she was malicious in her racism, but I can’t find another word for it.
And don’t even get me started on Pauletta’s son who would rather starve than eat a vegetable. He eats nothing but chicken nuggets. But that’s another rant for another day.