Alexandra Burke


The bullying of Strictly’s Alexandra Burke shows just how deeply ingrained Britain’s racism is

Alexandra Burke (Photo: Rex Features)

Alexandra Burke’s takedown is indicative of a wider issue, says Kuba Shand-Baptiste. The UK has a long history of tearing down black women in the public sphere

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By Kuba Shand-Baptiste on

With the return of the outwardly-tame celebrity-dancing-bonanza that is Strictly Come Dancing, comes the inevitable barrage of reports of sex scandals, secret feuds and, as ever, riled-up fans whose support of resurgent public figures rivals the intensity of the fiercest political allegiances. And in the run up to the much anticipated finale, it all reaches peak frenzy.

This year, as with previous years, the early departures of Holby City’s Chizzy Akudolu and former JLS member Aston Merrygold triggered renewed accusations that Strictly has an issue with racism. And these claims have grown more vigorous over the past few weeks as Alexandra Burke, 2008 winner of The X Factor and former West End star, landed in the bottom two for the second week running, despite giving impressive performances.

While Burke herself has refuted the notion that the show itself is racist, many have pointed out that tabloids and Strictly fans alike have taken to labelling her as “fake”, “furious” and even a “home-wrecker” for reasons as small as crying too much on the show. (She lost her mother not long before filming started.)

Others have suggested that the judges aren’t consistent enough with their scoring, and practice favouritism among some contestants while hesitating to award top marks to Burke – despite signalling that they have little to no issue with her dancing.

At this point, whether or not many of us want to accept it, it’s clear that the elements underpinning most, if not all, of the negative reactions to Burke are informed by Britain’s long history of tearing down black women in the public sphere.

This is one of many likely outcomes when black women find themselves under the scrutiny of viewers in a country that has long been plagued by racism

In fact, analysis from The Guardian last year showed that ethnic minorities are 71 per cent more likely to be in the bottom two compared to their white counterparts, and if you’re both black and a woman on the show, your chances of being in the bottom two increase by 83 per cent.

But this is not just a Strictly Come Dancing issue, after all. It’s one of many likely outcomes when black women find themselves under the scrutiny of viewers in a country that has long been plagued by racism.

Black women rarely make it to British reality TV as it is. But when they do, their mere existence is usually enough to rouse anger in the British public. Former The X Factor contestants Gifty Louise and Hannah Barrett bore the brunt of viewers’ racism during their time on the competition too – the former labelled too angry after being eliminated, while the latter was often targeted for being too dark when she appeared on the show in 2013. And even in the wake of her 2008 The X Factor win, Burke became the target of a tabloid campaign to smear her name by highlighting the immigration status of her immediate family.

Misogynoir – a term coined by academic Moya Bailey to describe the intersection of anti-blackness and sexism that black women experience – tends to escalate on the rare occasions that black women, and dark-skinned black women especially, become more prominent in the public eye. You only have to look at the abuse of Diane Abbott (both from MPs and members of the public) to understand just how vicious these attacks can become, and why people like Burke, who is undoubtedly a victim of racism, would be reluctant to engage in the debate.

The angry black woman stereotype follows us everywhere we go, no matter what we do. And as commonplace as it is for people to interpret our confidence as arrogance, or outspokenness as lies – it’s disappointing that merely dancing on a show as inconsequential as Strictly Come Dancing has offended so many, just by way of being who we are.


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Alexandra Burke (Photo: Rex Features)
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Sexism in the media

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