Britain’s Got Talent is a one of the many localised TV talent shows owned by Simon Cowell. The idea behind it is that it showcases the best of “British Talent” as decided by a UK based television audience. The notion of Britishness however, can’t quite be pinned down to one tangible idea and is different to everyone. Therefore, it would be naive to think that we all share the same ideas of nationhood and values as much as we’re heavily encouraged by ITV to believe. The street dance troupe Diversity, led by Ashley Banjo recently performed on the show and to their dismay once the programme aired, TV regulator – Ofcom received over 7000 complaints and counting. Why would the much beloved dancers garner this much negativity you ask? Well, they took a knee as a show of solidarity in the fight against racism during their performance, and that sent the “British public” into a tailspin.
Diversity won the 3rd series of Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 to jubilant crowds, as they captured the hearts of viewers, beating Susan Boyle to win the title. This showed the “British public” as a fair, accepting and a multiculturally diverse society. It’s fair to say that Simon Cowell probably thought it was a safe bet and a juicy ratings boost to have them return to the show and perform, making the “British public” seem progressive and tolerant once again in the midst of racial tensions, with Simon being righteous the author of it all. However, that backfired when the mogul failed to realise that in a post Brexit Britain with our potential trade deal partners killing Black people for sport and us having blood on our own soil, Diversity isn’t something the British viewers are fully confident in and they definitely don’t want to battle this moral dilemma on a Saturday night.
As farcical as the reaction to Diversity’s performance has been, with Briton’s approaching this ‘breach of regulations’ by picking up the telephone to complain, like a satirical scene from a Carry On episode, it shamefully highlights precisely the issue that Black and other minorities face when it comes to race and racism topics in the United Kingdom. The truth is that the country prefers Black people belting ballads, break dancing or playing football, instead of speaking out and protesting in a climate that justifiably warrants it. Those are the options, oh and shutting up altogether of course. Despite the reports of police brutality and systemic racism, Black people can rest assured that broadcasting these issues into a British home on the weekend is a quickfire way to rile up the calmest of Brits. Unfortunately, the “British public” couldn’t keep a stiff upper lip when dealing with the “adversity” of watching Black people kneel, similarly, to how Americans became outraged when Colin Kaepernick did the same for equality. The idea that Black people are merely entertainers or athletes and nothing more, is entrenched in racist ideology and couldn’t be clearer than it is in 4K resolution. The consequence of slavery and racism is vividly unpacking itself this year and there is simply no escaping it. Had Diversity not made the statement, they would have been hailed for a fantastic performance, Amanda Holden would have given a standing ovation, and everyone could move on pretending that the house isn’t on fire. But the curtain has fallen on the performance the “British public” on TV has been giving for the last few decades and the racists are finally showing their true colours.
There is a huge resistance to understand or even acknowledge the problems on this little island but that is the fuel that runs the racism machine and essentially keeps racism burning. To say that the British public doesn’t wish to engage on the subject of racism and simply wants a holiday from it all, is as naive as thinking that Prince Andrew had no involvement with underage girls and that the British press didn’t drive out Meghan and Harry. The longer Britain clings to the concept of “keeping calm and carrying on” when dealing with racism, the more likely it will unmask and embarrass itself further and that’s probably what needs to happen. Since the performance, Jordan Banjo, a member of Diversity sat down for an interview and emotionally relayed how many messages he had received after their appearance on Britain’s Got Talent, “horrible stuff about us, about our families, about how even now Diversity is not diverse enough because there’s only five white people in it.” When speaking of racism to a racist, more times that none, you will be met with the uncomfortableness of guilt which manifests itself in an uncontrollable, illogically racist fashion. That is usually how it works in my experience. All the group wanted to achieve was to spread love and positivity, but as long as Black men are taking a knee, racists will only ever receive this as the complete opposite. An assault on their dark consciences when they’d rather be recharging for the week ahead.
Exposing the racism that exists in Britain through a popular British television show that has built itself on representing the people, has come at the cost of the group members mental health and the stresses of dealing with abuse from strangers. Diversity stared the “British public” right in the face, and they couldn’t cope with it. Their performance arrived like that one thing you’ve been avoiding all week suddenly popping up, singing and dancing during your primetime viewing. They should be applauded for their efforts and challenging the status quo despite the outcome and the future obstacles they will now face as a result. If anyone was looking for any evidence that this country has a long way to go in facing its issues, just tune in next week for another episode of Britain’s Got Talent where I’m sure they will have booked the Proclaimers so they distance themselves from this debacle as quickly as possible.