Strictly white winners only? Are claims that Strictly is racist valid?


Strictly Come Dancing, along with the X Factor and great British Bake Off, one of the country’s most watched TV programmes, has come under fire recently for alleged racism following the elimination of a number of non-white contestants who in some cases it seems had actually performed better than their white counterparts who were saved by the judges.

This is not the first time that the popular BBC One show has been criticised for deciding who proceeds based on factors other than the dancing and talent displayed by contestants. Last year Jamelia, who was controversially voted off despite receiving higher scores than fellow contestant Peter Andre, did not accuse the show of racism but did publicly announce that she found the show to be fixed to work in Andre's favour. The model/singer-turned-presenter was able to substantiate her claim, drawing attention to the fact that what viewers were shown on TV did not match what actually happened live in the studio when it came to the enthusiastic response that Peter Andre apparently received.

A response to Jamelia’s accusation from a BBC spokesman did not deny the singer’s claims but suggested that there was nothing wrong or deceptive in what had been broadcast: ‘Following Peter's performance in the dance off, for which he received a standing ovation from the audience, continuity shots were taken during a break in filming to reset the dance floor. […] These extra opportunities to capture audience reaction are standard practice in recording TV shows of this nature.'

So what has fuelled the accusations of racism?

When Eastenders actress Tameka Thompson was voted off in the second week, following Melvin the week before, the fact that two black contestants had gone in as many weeks was enough to prompt some viewers on social media to call out the show for racism. But it was this week, after Asian contestant Naga Munchetty became the third non-white person to leave the show in as many episodes that the criticism really grew and the premises of the decision-making has been brought into question.

What do the non-white contestants make of these claims?

DJ and presenter Melvin Odoom was the first to be booted off the current series, based on him receiving the lowest number of public votes (the usual dance-off did not take place for the first time ever in Strictly history since his competitor Anastacia had injured herself). He has since, in response to the claims of racism, spoken out, dismissing such claims as unfounded. ‘If there was a racist issue we wouldn’t be there in the first place. ‘I think it’s got nothing to do with that. I think people are just trying to find a story to make out of nothing essentially.’

Are there any non-white contestants left in the current series?

BBC news and sports presenter Ore Oduba is not only still in the competition but has become one of those tipped to go far in the competition after he received the first ‘10’ scores of the series on Saturday.

Has there been a non-white winner in the past?

Yes, Alesha Dixon (who went on to become one of the judges on the show) was the winner of the fifth series and Olympic gymnast Louis Smith won in 2012.

Overall the show itself does not seem to have a race problem...

Whether it is coincidence or indeed racism that has meant that so far in this series only non-white contestants have left he show, either way it is unfair to label the show itself racist given that it is the public vote that decides who leaves. The fact that there are non-white contestants and BAME stars have won past series (the minority winners were admittedly both light-skinned), means that if prejudice is informing who succeeds on the show then is that of the general public that constitutes the voting viewers rather than the BBC or the Strictly judging panel. A more credible race row is that currently surrounding X Factor’s Honey G, whose performances have been criticised for mocking black culture.

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