Friday, November 23, 2012

Race, Racism and How EastEnders Doesn't Get It

There's a race war brewing right now in the halls of the Walford Web kindergarten, and Papa John Swallow needs to smack some ignorant ass. 

Truth of the matter is that people who don't understand race and racism and who shout "Racist" or "Racism" at every comment made about the subject in whatever context are, themselves, racist and practice a pretty patronising form of racism known as "white privilege."

The people who put EastEnders together, most of whom are products of leafy white London suburbs and private school educations, are guilty of this and they are even guiltier of passing such an attitude onto their viewers - well, the ones most easily influenced, and that means the babies in the Walford Web kindergarten.

Someone started a thread on the site about Ava, Cora's plot device suddenly long-lost daughter who never even existed in a writer's mind before Jo Joyner's husband decided to go back to work and told her it was her turn to start looking after their twins. The thread was an interesting one and thought-provoking, because it stated the fact that, although Ava Hartman, Cora's daughter, was supposed to be bi-racial, she wasn't. Instead of casting a bi-racial actress, the show chose to cast an Afro-Caribbean actress. The actress is not bi-racial; she is black.

That's not making a racist statement. That's stating a fact, but all the weenie teeny little cockroaches started crawling from the woodwork, wailing racism and defending EastEnders' faux pas without ever understanding what a bi-racial person is and how black people are, themselves, different and diverse from one another. Just like white people.

You can check out the thread here. But I warn you: Prepare to be astounded and even disgusted at some of the ignorance contained in the comments. The level of white privilege, coupled with willful intolerance of a divergence of opinion, points remarkably and pejoratively to narrow minds abounding. 

EastEnders got this one wrong. Just like they got it wrong when they cast two elderly Polish Jewish actors as the di Marco grandparents, a well-known English actress as the matriarch of the family and two totally English actors as two of their four children. The English actors playing the Italian di Marcos couldn't even pronounce the names of their brother (Gianni became "Jee-YAW-nee") or their father (Giuseppe became "Jee-yoo-seppy.")

So EastEnders don't always get it right.

Someone also referenced the Masood family, Muslims from Pakistan, who are played by people whose heritage is neither Muslim nor Pakistani (they're of Indian origin), and Marc Elliott was actually the son of an Anglo-Indian mother and a Scottish father.

But the hype and anticipation put out by EastEnders regarding the newly-discovered Cross sister made the fact that they got her wrong racially a major faux pas, as major a faux pas as not realising Dalip Tahil needed a work visa; and the thread on Walford Web isn't the only forum to highlight this. Check out the EastEnders IMDB forum.

People notice these things, and - unlike the fanbois of Walford Web kindergarten, who know jack shit about these things - being bi-racial is more than the hue of one's skin.

Watch this film clip:-

For those of you too young or too ignorant to know either the actress or the story, that's Ava Gardner singing. Ava Gardner, who was once Mrs Frank Sinatra, was a white Southern girl from North Carolina. The name of the film in which she was starring was Showboat, and the character she's portraying, Julie, is black.

Yes, black.

She is supposed to be a light-skinned black woman - not bi-racial, but black - who was married illegally to a white man. She was, as the Creoles say in New Orleans, en passant blanc.

Many tried it. Many succeeded. And many failed. However, the anecdote concerning this film was that a real light-skinned black actress - not bi-racial, but black - Lena Horne, wanted the role; however, censor regulations at the time prohibited a mixed race couple appearing together as an actual couple in a film was against the film code. So they hired a white Southern girl to play a black woman.

Make sense? No?

There are three commentators on that thread who totally get the incongruity of Ava being black as opposed to bi-racial: Jade, who originated the thread; rosalie and TimWil. They totally get it.

First, let's look at some of the unintentional and, sometimes, deliberate ignorance amongst the commentators. Some can be forgiven:-

Automatic For the People:

 I'd have said she was mixed race. I mean when you compare her to Patrick, she's definitely a lighter skin tone I'd say, but then a darker skin tone than Tanya, so I'd class her as mixed race!

That was so hard to type without sounding accidentally racist, but I apologise in advance if I haven't done quite as well as I'd hoped! 
Mixed race is not the same thing as bi-racial. A bi-racial person has one parent from one racial demographic  and one parent of another. Tiger Woods is bi-racial black and Asian. Nikki Minaj is bi-racial black and Indian.

Mixed race is pure mutt. The American figure skater, Tai Babilonia, is what would be considered mixed race - being a mixture of Chinese, African American, Caucasian and Polynesian.

She looks like this:-

That is not bi-racial. And cut the paranoia about sounding racist. This is the 21st Century. The only people who are constricted about discussing race and racial matters in this day and age are closet racists, themselves - otherwise, known as white privilegists.

Here's a contribution from one of the Walford Web self-styled sages, Jark:-

I don't see how it's an issue. Mixed race parents can produce a child who is either black or white. Mariah Carey for instance.

Uhhhh ... Mariah Carey is not what is classified as bi-racial. Like Tai Babilonia, she is mixed race - or rather, a white woman with one distant black progenitor. Carey's father had one black grandparent, one from Venezuela and two from Ireland. Her mother was white.

As for Jark's former remark, skin hues vary in bi-racial children, just as skin hues vary in Afro-Caribbean people and Caucasian people too. Someone from Sweden looks vastly different in skin tone from someone from the Calabria region of Italy. But, as Jade, Rosalie and TimWil repeatedly point out in the thread, being bi-racial has less to do with the colour of one's skin than the inheritance of certain facial features, or as rosalie brilliantly expresses it:-

 Cora is not mixed raced. Ava should be BI-racial and obviously the actress isn't. And being black in the US is more a social reality than a biological one, Obama for instance.
ust like white people, black people come in different skin tones. Because she's lighter than Patrick doesn't mean that she could be mixed raced. And looking bi-racial is not only a question of skin colour, facial features matter too.
That said I am willing to overlook that because EE usually make an effort and cast bi-racial actors to play bi-racial characters. It seems that EE made an exception because Lorraine Newman absolutely wanted that actress to portray Ava.
This is what she's trying to illustrate. Here is the President of the United States:-

Here is his mother and father:-

And here's his maternal grandfather:-

 If you study these pictures or Google more pictures of these people, you'll see that the President's father, from Kenya, is a dark black man. The President's skin tone is lighter - inherited from his mother, obviously; but if you look closely at her and his grandfather, you will see that Barack Obama's facial features are inherited from his Kansan mother and, specifically, from her father, to whom he was very close. You can see the obvious facial resemblance in the President to his grandfather, a white man.

Now, here's another famous bi-racial personality:-

That's right. Carol Channing, the original Hello Dolly, is bi-racial - the daughter of a black father and a white mother. There is certainly a difference in skin hue between her and Barack Obama, but their facial features are Caucasian.

Now here's where the kindergartners constrict things and twist goalposts to defend EastEnders. First, Shockenders, who displays an appalling level of ignorance:-

Genetics doesn't work that way. It's not like you mix Blue and Yellow and get green. It's all about which genes happen to be the strongest and which parts which may have been burried a couple of generations ago resurface

Now this is assuming something that ain't necessarily so, as rosalie rejoinders:-

 So now you assume that Cora may have some unknown black ancestry that just decided to pop out of her genes when she had a child with a black man. That's convenient. I have no problem to admit that some people take more after their father or their mother but not to the point where half their genetics is erased from their physical appearance. Black people are no more suitable to play a bi-racial characters than white people are, that's why EE cast bi-racial actors. Why did they make an exception to the rule? Maybe because the actress is incredible or maybe they want a OMG I have a white mom moment.

Bravo. EastEnders certainly have cast bi-racial actors when the need demanded it - Libby Fox, for example, Morgan Jackson King Butcher-sometimes-Dixon, and - lately - Fatboy. Those characters and the actors who portray them are clearly bi-racial. Libby's father was white and Denise is black. Bianca is white and Ray is black. Fatboy's father is white; one presumes his mother is black or, perhaps, Indian. Cora is clearly a white woman who had an affair with a black man and got pregnant.

Claire Perkins, a good and competent actress, is a black woman. Yes, her skin tone is lighter than Patrick's. Patrick comes from the West Indies, a tropical climate not far from the Equator. His skin tone would naturally be darker than Perkins's, for that reason, even though someplace in his ancestry, he may have a white ancestor. This is pretty much the same genealogical situation with Perkins. Somewhere in her distant background, she may have a white ancestor. That may account for her light skin tones, which may have been inherited from either one of her parents (both of whom are black).

I would say that Lorraine Newman knew very well that a bi-racial actor was needed for this part, but decided to hire Perkins because of her competence - hoping for the best - that is to say, that the audience wouldn't notice that the actress was, rather than being bi-racial, black. 

She thought wrong, but then, that is the contempt in which the producers of this programme hold its audience.

But the discussion devolves into an ill-thought-out argument which some people seem intent on pushing as a source of racism, focusing entirely on skin colour. One asswit says skin colour doesn't matter if the actress is good, yet I agree with what rosalie is trying desperately to explain to what amounts to an army of stone-walled obtusity: getting the character right is exactly what matters in a story about a woman abandoning her half-black child in the racist atmosphere which pervaded the 1960s.

For many years, bi-racial children, especially those growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, were neither here nor there, in either demographic, caught in a lonely limbo someplace inbetween. Yet people on the forum are grasping at the strawman argument referring to Ava as "mixed race."

Please. There is a difference between "mixed race" and "bi-racial." Look the terms up. And cogitate them, instead of uttering totally ignorant fecal matter as did the incessantly clueless King Pin of Walford:-

Nothing wrong if Patrick had a white daughter or son out there!! it just normal just like everything else, they are human! 
The point, for this deficiente, is that Patrick simply couldn't have a white child, no matter how "white" the child was. They would be bi-racial.

That remark was just obvious ignorance, the sort that comes when one is deprived of an education. The observation made by Nevermindme was just willful and obtuse ignorance.

rosalie had asked how offended the audience would have been to have a white woman portray a long-lost daughter of Patrick - remember the film clip above ... Ava Gardner playing a black woman?

I don't get it. Regardless of what race the actress is labelled as, the character has a light enough skin complection to be considered the daughter of multi racial parents. Afterall, it's the same as questioning why a Scottish actress was cast as Jane Beale, why a hetrosexual male was cast to play Danny. We could label Clare Perkins as 'black' but she can successfully play a multi racial character in the same way Gary Lucy played a homosexual, and Laurie Brett played an English woman. The majority of the audience have accepted it so i'm sure it'll be fine. 
Sorry, no, it's not. An actor is supposed to use his verbal skills as well as his ability to create a viable illusion to give credence to a character which may be far from what he is in real life. Laurie Brett was a Scot who played an Englishwoman. Damien Lewis plays an American. Vivien Leigh played Scarlett O'Hara, a Southern American woman. Meryl Streep, an American, played Margaret Thatcher.

Gary Lucy and Marc Elliott played gay men. Clive Dunn, when still relatively young, played an elderly man in Dad's Army. Myra Syaal, in her early forties, played her real-life husband's granny on television.

All of these illusions are enhanced by the actors special vocal talents and the art of make-up and physical exertions. You can't change race. Clare Perkins is a light-skinned Afro-Caribbean woman. She has none of the facial characteristics prominent in bi-racial people, and for those people saying she "resembles" Cora, you're grasping at straws and insulting the actress, because Cora looks like a man in drag. She is nothing remotely resembling Cora with no Caucasian facial characteristics at all identifiable.

In fact, one IMDB commentator put forward a truly credible actress, complete with picture, as someone who should have been cast as Ava:-

This is Nina Sosanya - Nigerian father, British mother - bi-racial and slightly resembling Rainie. The actress is 43, and Ava's supposed to be 48, but that's what make-up artists are for. This is a bi-racial person.

Oh, and when you're being defeated in a discussion by fact, do what children do and resort to dirty tactics, as per Shockenders:-

And if she still isn't black or white enough you know where to find the bleach and/or tar
 I really don't understant this she doesn't look mixed race enough argument. It's all about dominant genes. If the black side is stronger the child will look darker is the white side is stronger it will look paler is neither side is dominant it will be somewhere in the middle. Maybe this middle what people mean when they're talking about a supposed mixed race look but that's an oversimplification in a world (genetics) that's extremely comlex. 
Or even "complex." OK, Einstein, here are some pictures of pretty diverse bi-racial people. In all of them, the common ground isn't the skin tone, it's the fact that all of these people exhibit Caucasian facial characteristics.

 Alesha Dixon

Leona Lewis

 Jessica Ennis

Karen Finney

Soledad O'Brien

Jeremy Guscott

Lewis Hamilton

Vin Diesel

These are what bi-racial people look like - all varied, some darker or lighter than others, but all bearing the distinctive characteristics of possessing some very identifiable Caucasian facial characteristics.

Now, here's Clare Perkins:-

This is a beautiful and talented actress, who would normally be a credit to a show in such need of credible acting talent as Clare Perkins possesses, but she should not play a bi-racial character. Indeed, not only is it ignorant of EastEnders' production crew, it harps back to all the pejorative racial stereotyping preached in the Fifties and Sixties about white girls having black babies. It's insulting both to the viewer and to the actress.

Why not just stick with this?

Because when rosalie reiterated for the umpteenth time that skin colour was not the issue in bi-racial depiction, this is the response she got from Nevermindme:-

 This is true because all black males have big willies.
This, followed by an accusation of racism from the ubiquitously ignorant Shockenders, in response to rosalie's attempt to show that skin colour isn't the detemining factor in bi-racial people:-

There's multiple racial features but expecting everyone of a certain race to have all those features is a bit racist. It's like saying all chinese people have black hair and slant-eyes which simply isn't true. 

When in doubt, shout racism. That's not what rosalie was saying at all. What she was saying was that bi-racial people, like white people and like black people have varying degrees of skin tone, but it's not the colour of their skin that determines their bi-raciality. The pictures shown above are of people who could be identified as being white or could be identified as being black, but looking at their facial characteristics, their hair texture etc, one notes that they've inherited strong features from their white parent. The actress who portrays Ava, whilst she may have a white ancestor someplace in her heritage, displays none of those distinguishing characteristics. She can't, because she is Afro-Caribbean. She is not bi-racial, she's not even mixed race.

EastEnders cast and cast wrongly because they wanted the actress. They didn't stop to think that they were, perhaps, casting someone whom viewers would recognise as not being the right type for this role. As someone said, perhaps they wanted a black actress for the shock factor, or perhaps the casting people were unfamiliar with bi-racial people and were just ignorant. Either way, it doesn't look too bright, but then again, it doesn't look too bright for what's supposed to be an intelligent audience to defend the indefensible because it's EastEnders.

That really is ignorance.

Update: Just to show you African-American, bi-racial and mixed race, here is a photo of the late singer Eartha Kitt, her bi-racial daughter Kitt McDonald and Kitt's mixed-race daughter. Go the fuck figure.

Does this explain the concept for you?


  1. You know what? Sometimes I've thought you're overly harsh on people when calling them out here, and I stick to that. However, I think you're absolutely spot on on this ocacsion, and you highlight a lot of idiocy over on WW. I've read that thread and it's just embarrassing. As a mixed race person and a human being I was amazed at their cluelessness. Well done for saying how it is.

  2. Eastenders have no excuse for their ignorance. They have that cute little boy who plays Bianca's son Morgan to Ray so why was it so difficult to get it right for Cora's daughter?

    I am mixed race and expect to be represented properly - but to some white people if you have any tint to your skin you are black.

  3. A very interesting article and you've made some really good points. I am mixed race so yes, I do think it's important to cast the right people to do the job. However, got to pick up on a couple of things:

    Eartha Kitt is actually bi-racial, her father was white.

    Carol Channing's mother was bi-racial and her father white.

    There are some bi-racials who can pass as black, for example Trisha Goddard and Colin Salmon.