Will TV Networks Stand Up to The Easily Offended?

CAPTION: Audrey’s hair salon – a hotbed of casual racism?

Media latch onto any story that fills online space and gets clicks – especially when they involve controversy for other media and negative reaction on social media. This item is an example of that. But so too was the row over an allegedly racist comment on a recent episode of Coronation Street screened in Britain, when scriptwriters put words in the mouth of Coro Street’s favourite bottle blonde, Eva Price.

 

Roots - showing her roots.
Roots – showing her roots.

While visiting Audrey’s hair salon, Eva lamented the state of her dyed hair with the original colour growing through. She had “more roots than Kunta Kinte” which was followed up with: “No idea who that is, by the way, just something my mum used to say  It was an innocuous and dated reference to the seventies drama series tracing the forbears of an American slave going back to Africa. The innocuous comment set off a mini race row.

Is Roots Beyond a Joke?
Is Roots Beyond a Joke?

Several tweeps were aghast and some thought the comment was racist. Around 276 viewers laid complaints with the UK standards watchdog – as is their right. Producers issued a pro-forma apology for any offence.

But was there any need to apologise? Comments did not disparage Roots or Kunta Kinte – it just incorporated them into popular culture, in a hokey kind of way. Is Roots above that?

The taking of offence laughable when an activist and author Dreda Say Mitchell wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian what she thought was offensive, and revealed the danger of content producers cowering in the face of the easily offended. She wrote:

“It should be pretty obvious to everyone by now that some of us were going to take exception to character Eva Price’s remark, apropos of her dyed blond hair,  Even if Eva Price and her mum don’t get it, you would expect TV people to have a handle on why those lines were a very bad idea.”

She pointed out that the original series of Roots in the 1970s was great TV and to some extent, Roots was a response to the rise of civil rights and an attempt to engage dramatically with the racial divide in the US, the country’s great “unsolved crime,” and its history.

“For many black women, our hair has helped us to reclaim our cultural identity and redefine notions of beaut. The notion that someone would think it’s acceptable for a white, female character to trivialise Kunta Kinte as she talks about her hair roots is also out of kilter with how many black women have been using their natural hair roots on a journey of political and social expression. For many black women, myself included, our hair has helped us to reclaim our cultural identity and redefine notions of beauty. 

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