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Big Brother now bans racial slurs. But what about BB22’s implicit racism or autism-mocking?

Big Brother now bans racial slurs. But what about BB22’s implicit racism or autism-mocking?
Memphis Garrett during the veto ceremony on Big Brother 22 (Image from Big Brother via CBS)

“We are aware of press reports about Big Brother fans on social media accusing a houseguest of whispering an offensive racial slur,” CBS said in a statement given yesterday to CBS reality TV state media, Entertainment Weekly.

That was a reference to a conversation Memphis had with Cody that was broadcast on the live feeds. The two are talking about David, and Memphis says, “Dude, David is a…” or possibly “David is an…” The audio is hard to hear, but some fans thought they heard Memphis start to say the n-word.

CBS’s statement went on to say that Big Brother’s “producers have listened to the scene using enhanced audio. Additionally, the Network’s program practices team isolated and played back the scene several different ways using professional, studio grade audio equipment. After close examination, it has been determined a racial epithet was not said or uttered.”

That sounds right to me, and I trust their analysis; I don’t hear a racial slur in that audio. But the key part for me is the final sentence of CBS’s statement: “Hate speech will not be tolerated, and those who violate the policy will be removed from the Big Brother House.”

That’s new, and welcome, because Big Brother has hosted an incredible amount of hate speech, including overtly racist language and racial slurs, uttered by everyone from winners to players no one remembers. Last season, when white men spoke violently about a Black woman, one of them was only warned by producers. The show’s winner denied being a racist during the finale—though almost a year later, apologized for both social media posts and past behavior.

So CBS’s clear statement about “hate speech” represents a turning point, one that’s similar to the point the network and its executives finally arrived at last December, when they announced substantive changes that they’d be making with Survivor’s production, including actually prohibiting sexual harassment in the game.

That it took 40 seasons for Survivor to create rules about sexual harassment and unwanted touching is nauseating, just as it’s horrifying how long CBS, its executives, and producers have permitted, defended, justified, and dismissed the barrage of hate coming from its summer cash cow, Big Brother.

Still: this is a welcome change. Except: banning hate speech hasn’t stopped a lot of hateful behavior.

At the beginning of the Big Brother 22 live episode on Sept. 10, the show’s announcer, using his normal screaming, used-car-lot-advertisement voice, summarized the season, which up until that point had consisted of an alliance of all white people (“The Committee”), which nominated the only two Black women.

Yes, for the first month of this incredibly boring season of Big Brother, only white men won Head of Household, and then nominated only women and people of color for eviction. In week five, a white woman became head of household, and then nominated the only two Black women in the house, Bayleigh and Da’Vonne.

This past week, Dani first nominated both Kevin and David is notable because yet again, the nominees were people in not just the minority alliance, but actually members of marginalized groups: a Black man and a gay man of color.

David used a power in the game to save himself, and Kevin was saved by Da’Vonne winning the veto. Dani nominated Tyler and Ian in their places, respectively, and that’s the first time two white men have been nominated all season.

Dani, Nicole, and Memphis mock Ian’s autism

Memphis Garrett and Ian Terry during the week 2 nomination ceremony
Memphis Garrett and Ian Terry during the week 2 nomination ceremony (Image from Big Brother via CBS)

Ian has recently disclosed that he’s on the autism spectrum, and in the house, has a tendency to rock or swing in the hammock. (Repetitive movement is a behavior associated with autism and is sometimes referred to as “stimming.”)

Dani, Nicole, Christmas, and Memphis made fun of Ian’s rocking, and accused him of using autism as a “strategy.”

“I’m not very sensitive toward the type of person Ian is,” Dani told Nicole. “There’s something about him where you just want to hold him and take care of him, but don’t even tell me that that’s not strategy.”

Nicole replied, “It’s great strategy, because I feel like I want to hold him and protect him.”

Dani said, “I don’t deny his feelings and emotions are not real. I believe that he uses them to an advantage in this game, not in real life.”

Nicole asked, “Who wouldn’t?”

The mocking of Ian got much worse. In a different conversation, Dani referred to Ian walking around “in his underwear at 3 a.m.” and then sitting down on a bed, Memphis said, “I will kick him in his teeth, and I will be like, He’s on my bed, what do you want? I thought he was a ghost; I thought he was from the Shining.”

Memphis continued, imagining how he’d justify kicking Ian in the face: “It was an accident.”

Dani then kicked into the air and said, “it was on accident.”

Then, discussing how they think Ian is suddenly more confident in the house, Memphis mimicked and mocked Ian’s physical movements, saying, “What the fuck? That’s fucking weird. It’s so weird to me.”

What’s weird to me is 1) producers doing absolutely nothing about threats of violence, 2) last Thursday’s episode of Big Brother ended with Julie Chen Moonves, “Let kindness be the rule for everything you say.”

Well, fuck that: You don’t get to pretend kindness is important when your own show has such cruelty.

So far, the only consequences seem to be for Nicole, after a fan tagged her Instagram sponsors in a tweet, with Olay saying they wouldn’t work with her in the future and a winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, tweeting that they’d sever ties.

Ian was voted out yesterday, having not been actually kicked, thankfully. But why is even the threat of violence acceptable?

There may not be racial slurs, but there has been racism this season

Bayleigh Dayton and DaVonne Rogers during the veto meeting before Bayleigh was evicted from the BB22 house
Bayleigh Dayton and DaVonne Rogers during the veto meeting before Bayleigh was evicted from the BB22 house. (Image from Big Brother via CBS)

Meanwhile, as Hamsterwatch noted, the story of the group mocking Ian was “growing legs while the racial microaggressions this season have not, particularly when Christmas’s pre-nominations rant was so blatant.”

Let’s look at that. In week five, before Christmas nominated the only two Black women in the house, she openly asked, about Bayleigh,”Is she gonna cut me when I put her up?” and added “I’m gonna get shot. Like, somebody’s gonna put a fork in my face today. I’m just saying: I’m scared, and I’m not easily spooked.”

Suggesting, without evidence, that a Black woman would respond violently to a game may not be an explicit “racial epithet,” which CBS says are not allowed, but it absolutely is a stereotype, and an example of implicit racism. That means it may very well be something Christmas is not aware of, versus someone who, say, intentionally uses a racial slur.

Implicit or unconscious bias may not be as obvious, but it’s there, from stereotypes to double-standards. It also has very real effects, affecting contestants’ ability to play the game on reality TV competitions like Survivor, for example.

An example of one double standard actually aired on CBS, during last Thursday’s episode. The editors included excerpts of a conversation between, at various points, Christmas, Da’Vonne, and Bayleigh, which began with Christmas being mad that Bayleigh was mad that she’d been nominated for eviction.

As Da’Vonne said, “Christmas keeps saying, “well, Bayleigh is upset, Bayleigh is upset. Yes, the girl is upset. You. Put. Her. On the Block. If Bayleigh is upset, let her have this moment. You don’t get to dictate when it should be over or how she should feel. She’s pissed—rightfully so.”

Christmas’ reaction prompted Da’Vonne to reflect on the double-standard she’s held to on Big Brother. “I hate this game. Why does she get to talk to me like that? But if I respond everybody’s going to look at me crazy. And she’s talking to me like I’m her child and if I respond to that I’m going to look crazy. I’m going to look like, there goes Da’Vonne—that’s the eruption we were waiting for,” she said.

“Tyler, I hate this. If I react or I respond, they’re all going to be like, that’s the Da’Vonne I was waiting for, that’s what I wanted her to do,” Da’Vonne added.

Bayleigh had a similar response. “You don’t get to play victim in this situation. You used me, and you know you used me, and that’s what I mad about it,” she told Christmas, who responded both physically and verbally.

“Back up and get your fingers out of my face,” Bayleigh told her, and then noted. “If I did that, I would be labeled as something crazy.”

Christmas marched up the stairs toward the HOH room, and actually clapped at Bayleigh, saying, “There’s a difference between game and personal.”

“If I did that, I would be labeled as ghetto-ass black … If I was clapping in somebody’s face, I’m a ghetto Black girl. She does it, and she’s fine,” Bayleigh said. “It’s very frustrating.”

It is frustrating, especially given the context of Christmas’ statements—which did not air—when she said she feared Bayleigh would have a violent response to being nominated.

I do appreciate that the episode gave attention to Da’Vonne and Bayleigh’s explanation of—and frustration with—the double-standard they’re held to as Black women on a competition reality show, especially Big Brother, which has far too many racist players and fans in its history.

Before Bayleigh was evicted, Da’Vonne used her pre-vote speech to, in part, give attention to racism outside the house:

“Justice for Breonna Taylor and every other Black life that has been taken unjustly and unfairly, simply because of the color of their skin. All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter and that includes Black trans lives as well.”

After Memphis, Dani, and Nicole’s comments about Ian were broadcast on the live feeds, evicted Big Brother 22 cast member Kaysar tweeted that this “reflects society’s failures when it comes to our handling of diversity. We could use a lesson in empathy & awareness. [People] who are neurodiverse & on the spectrum should be protected not trashed. I have zero tolerance.”

In another tweet, he wrote, “People on the spectrum are some of the best our society has to offer. I’m mortified by the actions of these Big Brother houseguests.”

In a video he says, “Racism that is outward and in-your-face is easy to detect, and is easy to speak out against those things. Micro-aggressions sometimes come from people who have no idea that they’re doing them, and yes, sometimes they mean well.”

Also, Kaysar wrote on Twitter, “Covert microagressions are just as destructive to our society as outward racism and should never be tolerated. Houseguests should have known better and will hopefully learn from this.”

Hopefully, they will. But I’ve not seen any evidence of that, nor have I seen any evidence that CBS has learned from it. They may have no tolerance for racial slurs—and they should not—but the network and producers continue to tolerate, and ignore on television, their cast members’ micro-aggressions and implicit biases, even as they affect a game for $500,000.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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