Black Twitter is all aflutter about Love Island’s Leanne Amaning and Mike Boateng, the show’s first black couple. The lovebirds have had the hashtag #BlackLove trending, their his’n’hers durag and wig cap combo have delighted viewers and many a meme of their imagined traditional Ghanaian wedding has been mocked up. All this and it has not even been a fortnight.
The hysteria over the budding romance perhaps looks excessive. But the #BlackLove hashtag long predates their dating and for good reason: it is something the media is not particularly invested in portraying, especially in the UK. This is why H&M’s campaign featuring the footballer Raheem Sterling, his black fiancee, Paige Milian, and their children was a welcome gift when it landed last Christmas. It has been more than 30 years since the black British sitcom Desmond’s first aired, and while the US continues to roll out family sitcoms such as Black-ish and its spin-offs, Grown-ish and Mixed-ish, we aren’t much closer to our own “Black Brit-ish” equivalent. When attempting to portray diverse couples, the media is hesitant to feature one black person, let alone two; interracial romance being seen as able to depict aspiration in a way that a black couple – without a white participant – isn’t.
This is not as simple as being a straightforward issue of representation. Statistically, black people in Britain – black men in particular – are more likely to date outside of their race than any other ethnic group. Anxiety around Amaning and Boateng parting ways is almost wholly based on fears that he will “leave [her] ass for a white girl”, as the Kanye West lyric goes, making light of the fact that this is often what happens when black men “get on”. This is the other reason why the Sterling family’s advert was such a hit; there are many black footballers, but how many black Wags can you name?
Boateng and Amaning are not the first black contestants on the show, but the fact that they have chosen each other is of note, given research shows most races have an overall preference for white partners.
When watching the recouplings through my fingers at 9pm, I often wonder what it must be like to enjoy these types of programmes as a white Brit. For black viewers, everything is personal: from Trevor McDonald on News at Ten to Makosi’s stint on Big Brother, the actions of black people on television have always been bigger than the individual. Boateng and Amaning aren’t simply another good-looking couple, but community mascots. We will know black love is being consistently represented when black Love Islanders coupling up and splitting up is met with the same indifference as the others. Until then, the fate of #BlackBritishLove rests on a 22- and 24-year-old, competing on the televised equivalent of freshers’ week, specifically engineered toward breaking up couples.