Now I don’t usually watch The Apprentice because I detest reality tv, but my husband is an avid fan so yesterday I caught an episode. And was awestruck at the blatant racist treatment of an Asian women, called Sara, by the other contestants. The programme showed how the group (both male and female) talked over her during team meetings, ignored her ideas (which in the main were better that what they produced), and refused to recognise her contribution to the group. When her team failed, they, to a man, blamed her, due to her alleged lack of participation (which was obviously wrong as her contributions were demonstrated throughout the episode). If this was not bad enough, when they returned to the house after the posh, blonde dude got fired, both teams sat round as a group and criticised her lack of participation, referring to her in the third person, as she sat with them. Whenever she tried to defend herself, she was talked over and she was finally lectured at by a man in the other team who said if she ever behaved like that again, he would ensure she was fired. At no point did anybody in the other team ask Sara about her version of events or question the group’s story. At no point, did anybody in her own team acknowledge her contribution or listen to her ideas.
Now why was this racist, you might ask. They never called her a derogatory name or refused to work with her because of her race. This behaviour was racist (and informed by sexism), because racism is a lot more subtle than we like to imagine. Racism is about refusing to acknowledge an individual or allow them a voice. It is about privileging the voice of white people over that of people of colour. This pattern was shown repeatedly during this episode. Sara’s experience of racism was also informed by sexism, as I find it hard to imagine that the male contestant who lectured her at the end, pointing his figure in her face and standing up to physically leer over her, dominating the space, would have behaved quite so aggressively or patronisingly with a man of colour (not least because he might have got lamped).
I have no doubt that the editors of The Apprentice and for that matter Alan Sugar’s pet observers realised what was happening. The editing very clearly portrayed the racism and there was a significant bit of nod, nod, wink, winking, to suggest that Alan Sugar saw what was happening. But did he, or his assistants, or the BBC, pull up the group for their behaviour? Did he challenge this racism? No. Now, I am sure that racism makes for good television, but, while this show is being made, the contestants are under the employment of the BBC and owed a duty of care. By ignoring the blatant racism, the BBC failed in their duty of care towards Sara. By refusing to acknowledge that racism, the BBC perpetuated racism in society, suggesting that such behaviour was excusable and normal. They should be ashamed.