I'm not sure how many people still tune into (or have ever watched) The Real World/Road Rules Challenge. I've covered various incarnations of it over the past couple of years for Donnybrook but haven't touched on this season's Battle of the Exes until now -- and really it's not even the show itself that I'm mulling over today. It's the ugly events that took place in last night's episode.
I don't need to bore you with back story -- whether you tune in to this show or not, that's not going to matter -- what I want is feedback and some opinions about the disturbing actions of two of the cast members last night. But in fairness to Emily, one of the cast members in question, I do need to give you a quick recap of her history with her team member Ty, who was faced with one of the ugliest presentations of racism (whether purposeful or not) last night that I've ever seen on any MTV show (and yes, I did see the Real World episode when Davis dropped the N-Bomb on roommate Tyrese).
I'll sum this up quickly for you -- Emily and Ty were cast members together on The Real World: DC and the two developed a romance that eventually fizzled out. Emily revealed on her season that she is a cult-survivor. Her parents raised her in a strict (unnamed) religious sect, but at 17 when she became an adult, she got out and has since been trying to acclimate herself to the rest of the world. I have to stress that part about her upbringing -- the incredibly sheltered nature of it -- because it prefaces her actions on last night's episode. While I'm unsure about whether or not that excuses it, I do believe that it's something we should all take into consideration.
So fast forward to last night -- the "twist" in this season's Challenge is given away in the title: Battle of the Exes -- the teams that are competing together for money are past Real World or Road Rules cast members who have either been in serious relationships or briefly hooked up at one time or another. Emily, who is Caucasian, decided to pull a prank on her ex Ty, who is African American, and his new love-interest Paula (who is also Caucasian). She and another girl decided that it would be funny to pretend to be Ty and Paula and run around the house making out. Here's where it gets tricky. In order to "accurately" portray Ty and Paula, one girl (who is of Brazilian descent) covered her face with white powder in order to be Paula... and Emily decided to cover her face in chocolate pudding in order to be Ty.
As a biracial American who has grown up in a culturally diverse family that includes members of Caucasian, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin, Native, and African American descent -- I've not only seen how much our different races have in common, I've also seen how different races are perceived: I've seen racism in many different forms and I've been the victim of racist slurs myself -- this is why I'm so stuck on this episode, because when I saw Emily and Camila walk out of the bathroom last night with their faces covered in chocolate pudding and white powder, my jaw dropped to the floor and my hands flew over my mouth. I don't think I've ever seen anything like that on MTV before. There was no warning before the episode aired alerting viewers that they may see something disturbing (as MTV has done in the past -- both for the earlier mentioned N-Bomb drop, and other episodes that have dealt with cutting or eating disorders) -- there was only a quick cut in the beginning showing Ty yelling at Emily, Paula looking downward in shame, and no view of Emily's face or any clue as to why Ty and Paula were so upset. The episode then started with the caption "Two Days Earlier" and we had to wait until halfway through to find out what all the hurt feelings were about.
After Emily and Camila emerged from the bathroom and cameras closed in on Ty and Paula's reaction, his partner still didn't understand that he was angry about the white and black face. She assumed he was angry because she was making fun of him and his new girlfriend making out all the time. Someone else on the show had to pull her aside and explain what black-face was - she'd never heard of it. To make matters worse, her partner in the prank, Camila, couldn't see what the big deal was and laughed it all off as a big joke.
After initially getting very angry and threatening to leave (which would've eliminated Emily from the show as well) Ty took the night to sleep on it, and forgave her in the morning. I don't know if I were in Ty or Paula's position that I could've handled what Emily and Camila did in the same grace and tact which they showed. They both pulled back and really examined the full context of the situation -- Paula tossed it off as mean girls being mean girls, and was more concerned with how her love interest Ty was handling it, given that Emily is his teammate. How can you be on the same team as someone who could be so insensitive and cruel as to do something like that? And can you accuse someone of a racist act when they're ignorant of how ugly that act really is?
Were Emily's actions racist? I don't know. Were they ignorant? Absolutely -- but were they mean-spirited? And if her ignorance was in fact innocent, does that make it more forgivable to you? Watching her break down in tears after the implication of what she'd done was explained to her -- I still sat there unable to decide. It's hard for me to imagine that someone who's had a few years away from whatever sheltered upbringing she grew up in wouldn't have realized how offensive and disgusting she and Camila were being. How would you have reacted? And would you be so forgiving of a friend who did something so horrible in the name of a joke? I just don't know that I could, and I'm interested to see how others feel about it.
Follow Vanessa Becknell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Ask_Alistair