Strictly Come Dancing race row: no one is safe from the Twitch-hunters
Apparently not even Strictly Come Dancing is safe in these offence-seeking times.
The popular BBC show has been caught up in a so-called race row, after the two remaining black contestants, Tameka Empson and Melvin Odoom, were voted off the show in consecutive weeks by the viewing audience.
The usual suspects on social media wasted no time in seizing upon this as evidence of racism among Strictly viewers, generating a controversy that forced the BBC to issue a public statement defending itself. A BBC spokesperson told the Guardian that in all but three of the last 13 series of the show, the winners or runners-up were black or mixed race.
The BBC did not offer an apology, as so many others involved in similar situations have. But it is disturbing that it was forced into a defensive position, in which it felt compelled to prove its non-racist credentials. It is all too common nowadays for anyone accused of racism to be presumed guilty, until their accusers decide otherwise.
We usually associate the concepts of ‘presumption of innocence’ and ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ with the legal system, but it would be wise to keep such principles in mind whenever a witch-hunting frenzy breaks out on Twitter. The type of mob justice that is meted out on social media reminds us what happens when they are forgotten.
Where is the objective evidence that the voting public voted off Empson and Odoom for racial reasons? That they left the show in succession may have only been a coincidence, entirely unrelated to the colour of their skin. The fact that people in the media and on Twitter were so quick to jump to conclusions reveals more about their own prejudices than those of the Strictly Come Dancing audience.
When you have a racialised outlook, which assumes that bigotry is endemic, you begin to look for it everywhere, and in everything, to prove what you believed to be the case anyway. This is what is known as ‘confirmation bias’.
Of course, real racism does exist, and there are real victims and perpetrators of it. We should be aware of that and fight against it when it does occur. But we should also be careful not to become paranoid and exaggerate the scale of the problem. Otherwise, I worry that we will create an ugly culture of fear, suspicion and mistrust. Sadly, that may already be the case.
It doesn’t matter how virtuous the morality police believe themselves or their cause to be – a witch-hunt is still a witch-hunt.
Candice Holdsworth is the founder and editor of Imagine Athena.