Why Can’t ‘Big Brother’ Contestants Stop Being Racist?

We are only seven days into the new season of Big Brother, and yet, we cannot escape the age-old tradition of some white hardbody slipping something racist into conversation. Big Brother 25 cast member Luke Valentine was caught on the Big Brother live feeds last night in conversation with three other houseguests when he said, “I’m in the f—ing cheese room, n—a.”

The caucasity jumped out.

He followed that up by saying, “oops—dude,” which shares neither a consonant nor a single vowel sound with the previously mentioned n-word, but sure, let’s pretend that’s what he meant to say. Two other houseguests in the camera frame looked on in horror as the 30-year-old illustrator from Florida tried to laugh off the moment. Later, while in conversation with Black contestant Jared Fields, Valentine added, “Well, I’m in trouble now… I’ve been in worse trouble.”

The key detail about Big Brother, of course, is that the fans are literally always watching their interactions via 24/7 live feeds. Valentine’s use of the slur, made late in the night on Tuesday, caused a social media firestorm among those who watch the live feeds. By Wednesday afternoon, Big Brother released a statement that Valentine had been removed from the house.

And I guess the question at hand today is: How, in the name of Julie Chen-Moonves, do these people continue to run into a bar that is set so incredibly low?

Valentine’s expulsion is a rare, but welcomed, move from CBS and Big Brother. Ten years ago, the series aired what was arguably its most controversial season, featuring a handful of housemates who berated Black, Asian, and LGBTQ+ contestants. In the decade since that infamous season, there have been a number of, let’s call them “learning moments.” In Season 20, houseguest JC Mounduix and Bayleigh Dayton had a heated discussion after using the n-word and a derogatory term for little people, respectively. In that same season, houseguest Kaitlyn Herman also used the n-word while singing lyrics of a song. Those instances led to Big Brother establishing a zero-tolerance policy around hate speech.

Then, late in the fall of 2020, CBS announced a diversity pledge, promising that at least 50 percent of its reality show casts would be contestants who were Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

I explain all of this because, while efforts to increase representation and up the ante on repercussions for hate speech are commendable, it seems that not even the promise of a potential $750,000 is enough to quell a certain type of person from dropping hate speech.

Even with those implementations, houseguests as recent as last season have been embroiled in controversy regarding racism. The bullying of Taylor Hale, the series’ first Black female winner, was a key storyline during the 2022 season of the series. Houseguest Kyle Capener also came under fire for suggesting a white alliance to counter the people of color in the house. And yet, still no racist-related expulsions!

Valentine, who, again, has only been in the house seven days essentially only had one rule to follow: Stay away from the hate speech. The expectations are abysmally low, and yet, here we are talking about it again. And while there’s never an excuse to drop that word, there’s something extra confounding about Valentine’s use of it because it wasn’t weeks deep into the game when someone might have become accustomed to the cameras. It wasn’t in the heat of the moment during some kind of argument (though, it bears repeating, neither of those situations would justify use of hate speech).

No, Valentine’s use of the word came less than a full week into the game, in front of a Black houseguest, no less. As fans pointed out, it was said so casually in conversation that it came across as naturally as saying, well, dude.

And maybe that’s why the ask to stay away from hate speech is so tall for some of these reality show contestants. Because when you’re just casually dropping n-bombs in conversation, that says something about your lexicon to begin with. As wild as it is, in 2023, it seems that the gravity of that word has still yet to seep into everyone’s brains at the same rate.

While Big Brother has evolved over the years, I suppose the one constant from Season 1 to Season 25 is that when the cameras and microphones are always on, there’s only so long before the true you is revealed. And if the gravity of the word itself won’t bring you down to Earth, best believe that the backlash from using it will.

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