I remember reading a Daily Mail article on Alexandra Burke earlier on in this season’s Strictly Come Dancing, and thinking how stupid it was. The article, a short gossip piece on Burke’s ‘secret’ diva antics backstage and her so-called ‘feud’ with fellow-competitor Debbie McGee was all rumours and lacking in fact, but the comment section showed it was believed all the same, “There’s something unlikeable about her” wrote one user, “I always knew she was a diva” wrote another.
The next week she was criticised for breaking down after an incredible performance with partner Gorka Márquez and praise from the Strictly judges, receiving endless ridicule online for her display of emotion, with one Twitter account writing, “Another #Strictly, another 5-minute love in for Alexandra bl**dy Burke. Annoying as they come. And what’s with the fake tears every sodding week?!”. One of the many cruel comments, people were clearly forgetting that Burke’s own Mother, who she was reportedly close to, had passed away less than three months before.
After the social media harassment it was like the floodgates had opened and there was no limit to the attack, and every episode where Burke’s face was shown being analysed for any overly emotional display and criticised, other contestants were even linked in multiple ‘feuds’ with her (even her own dancing partner), all from an ‘anonymous source’. Diva behaviour was reported nearly every day, and as someone who’d seen Burke rise to success on the X-Factor in 2008, I was shocked at how ruthless the media were being, it was as if they’d forgotten the young woman who’d stolen the nation’s hearts nine years ago with songs like Hallelujah, instead presenting her as someone cold, vindictive and bitter.
I could put it down to Burke being simply unlikable, it’s happened to Strictly contestants before. But this isn’t just a low public-vote and a few teasing columns, this is a large-scale, social-media influenced hate campaign against an innocent, talented young woman – a young black woman. Out of the 28 winners of Strictly, there have only been three black British winners since the series began: Ore Oduba, Louis Smith and Alesha Dixon. While this fact is strange enough, it’s also of no surprise that two of out these three black winners are light-skinned. I say this because Strictly is a series judging celebrity contestants on ballroom dancing, and ballroom dancing is, of course, a traditional British affair. And if ‘traditionally British’ contests such as the British Bake-Off and the public outcry of its first Muslim winner has taught us anything, it’s that those who aren’t British enough for BBC viewers will never be seen as a winner.
That’s why a part of me wasn’t surprised to see that first column judging Burke’s behaviour. I read it, along with the comments, and rolled my eyes at seeing yet another black woman in the media being attributed with ‘diva’ behaviour. In a patriarchal society, where black women are either emotionally obtuse or emotionally unstable, loud, cold and bitchy, the media’s portrayal of Burke, and the constant barrage of hate against a woman who’s never had a whiff of scandal isn’t necessarily shocking, (especially when you realise over half of BBC viewers are over 60), but it is a clear example of today’s British audience and its aversion to black women.
The sole three winners of colour off Strictly Come Dancing, left to right: Louis Smith, Ore Oduba, and Alesha Dixon.
The public needs to understand that there’s a difference between disliking someone’s personality and having a subconscious dislike for them because of their skin. When other white female contestants on the show have cried during judging, or even experienced the Strictly curse and falling for their dancing partners (most of whom are usually married), the public turns the other cheek, they’re seen as being ‘just human’ and labelled as ‘real’. So, why, then, is Burke “cheap”, a “fake woman” and being told to “flipping keep her trap shut”? Because she’s a dark-skinned woman of Caribbean heritage who’s successfully invaded a sphere typically limited to white or fair-skinned dancers.
Never mind her talent, her drive or her ambition that has seen her duet with Beyonce, feature on songs with rapper Flo Rida, or, more recently, her performance in West End productions of Sister Act and The Bodyguard, British viewers can apparently see her ‘fakeness’ “just by looking at the photos”. Those particular photos being her dressed up in glitter and sequins with a permanent smile on her face just like all the other female contestants. The bottom line to this being that I don’t buy these comments, I don’t believe the public disliking her because they ‘can tell’, and I wholly agree with Professor Shirley Tate’s recent suggestion that Burke is “too black” to win strictly; while Alesha Dixon had a light-skinned pass, Burke, unfortunately, does not, and as such this has allowed the public and journalists to demonize her, destroying her character in the media but also feeling no guilt in doing so.
Quite rightly, Burke has spoken out against the hate, saying “It got to a point on Strictly where I thought, I can’t take any more mentally“, and who could? Unfortunately, the damage is done, and yet another black woman has been ridiculed and shamed in British media just by being unashamedly talented, “stop the fake stories and let me enjoy strictly” Burke pleads on social media, but with the extent of the media encouraging negative articles, it’s unfortunately hard to say when this hate campaign against Alexandra Burke will end.
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