‘The Challenge’ Gets Racial: Emily & Camila’s Joke + 3 Other Incidents We Can Learn From

Photo: (MTV)

In Wednesday night’s episode of “The Challenge: Battle of the Exes,” the teams found themselves thinking about marriage and weddings — except for one duo who found themselves in a sticky situation on race and racism. Emily‘s ex-fling, Ty, has had a thing going with Paula. So, Emily and Camila thought it’d be funny to role play Ty and Paula’s relationship. Emily put chocolate on her face to mock Ty, while Camila added a few extra layers of white powder to hers. Oy.

+ WATCH: Emily’s chocolate stunt strikes a nerve with Ty.

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So was it racist? Well let’s take a step back. The action itself (blackface) is what we call a microaggression. In this instance, while Emily and Camila had no intention to offend, their actions were overly offensive and racist to Ty. It’s like when someone says, “That’s so gay!” or “That song is so retarded.” Or take this example from The Microaggressions Project:

“I’m participating in a self-defense class this semester. The day before class started, the instructor sends out an email with information on the class. A paragraph explained that the class was not a martial arts class, so it was not recommended for men. Are men born with inherently better self-defense skills? I didn’t think so. Guys get mugged too. And what about the fact that 10% of rape victims are men?”

In this case, the instructor didn’t mean to offend, but students were offended — and they have a pretty darn good reason to be. For the incident we saw on “The Challenge” last night, I reached out to a good friend and fan of “The Challenge,” Marc Johnston, a Ph.D. student at UCLA who has done research on race, racism, and microaggressions. He explains:

“Part of the issue here might that we generally lack consensus on a definition of racism leaving the decision to call something racist a subjective one. In this instance, someone might call the use of blackface racist, while someone might say it’s just racial. But the way microaggressions work is that it really depends on who felt targeted by the action (in this case, the blackface), no matter what the intentions were. My stance would always be that if (again in this case) an African American or Black-identifying person felt targeted by seeing the blackface, then that person’s feelings of experiencing something racist should be affirmed. That’s not to say that every other African American or Black-identified person would also say that it was racist. But that’s not the point. If you know the history of blackface, you would probably understand why someone might feel targeted by seeing the blackface and you should support that person’s racial reality.”

Blackface, especially due to its history, will certainly get you in hot water every time. It will offend — just don’t do it, even if you think it’s all fun and games. On some college campuses, for example, students intending to celebrate a culture held events that relied heavily on racial stereotypes. For example:

+ Compton Cookout Party in 2010 at University of California, San Diego: Guests were encouraged to wear gold teeth, nappy hair, or a cheap weave, speak loudly with limited vocabulary, and eat watermelon–all in celebration of Black History Month.

+ South of the Border Party in 2007 at Santa Clara University: Guests dressed as janitors, gardeners, gang members, and pregnant teenagers.

+ MLK Party in 2007 at Tarleton State University & UConn Law: Guest dressed as Aunt Jemima; attendees drank malt liquor from paper bags and ate fried chicken.

In these instances, being racist may not have been the intention, but in any situation, the use of stereotypes can be a dangerous thing. Easily put, avoid it. And if you ever find yourself in a situation where someone is offended, it is best to hear them out and understand where they’re coming from.

Emily and Camila say they’re not racist, and I wouldn’t be quick to disagree. The person and their actions are two different things; someone who is not racist can commit a racist act. Johnny Bananas even tries to excuse her action by saying that they “know she’s not racist” because she’d dated black men in the past. It’s like that age-old “I’m not homophobic because I have a cousin who is gay” excuse. At the end of the day, the action itself was clearly offensive, and because Ty was offended, it is important to not only affirm what he feels, but to learn more about why he was to avoid it in the future.

Have you ever offended anyone without meaning to? Let us know in the comments, and tell us what you learned from it. Plus, take a poll at MTV Remote Control.

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