Race in Unexpected Places: Showtime’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl

by Latoya Peterson

A few weeks ago, completely burnt out on all things intellectual, I scooped up a copy of “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” the book based off the blog of one Belle Du Jour. I had seen excerpts from her blog online and liked her voice and her writing style.

I noticed that Showtime had picked up the show, and retained the original actors instead of just remaking the show. I tuned into watch the first episode, but I wasn’t planning to blog about it – the book’s characters had been overwhelmingly white and I assumed the show would be more of the same.

And it was. Except for an interesting snatch of conversation.

Belle (played by Billie Piper) is meeting with her Madam and some of the other employees of the agency over lunch. Her Madam passes around an illustration of a man who has been accused of passing around counterfeit money. She passes the picture to the purple haired call girl, who immediately makes a snide comment:

Purple Haired Call Girl: Eastern European (said knowingly.)

Blond Call Girl: You can’t say that!

Brunette Call Girl: That’s racist!

Purple: You can’t be fucking racist against Eastern Europeans.

Belle: You can be prejudiced.

Purple: I’m fucking prejudiced then.

Belle: Fine, then we’re all agreed.

Brunette: They are my people!

Purple: Oh that’s funny how you’re listed as Swedish on the site then, isn’t it?

Now, I am not too familiar with ethnic conflicts in Europe (aside from the last few that ended in bloodshed) but that exchange on the show as well as the recent conversation we had here about race in South Africa makes me think Racialicious should do a formal series on how race and ethnicity clash in other areas of the globe.

But that’s for another time.

As the show continued on, I found myself delighted with the soundtrack. Most of the music was new to me, as it skewed heavily British. There was one song in particular I found myself trying to track down, “Cannot Even (Break Free)” by a group called the Noisettes. I checked out their MySpace page and found two other items of interest on their page:

1. The lead singer is another Black Girl who Rocks.

Shingai Shoniwa (pronounced Shing-eee)[1] born in 1981, of English and Zimbabwean descent is the vocalist and bassist for the UK indie rock band Noisettes. Her first name, Shingai means ‘perseverance’ in the East African Shona language.[2][3]

Shingai Shoniwa performed briefly in a band called Sonarfly with other Noisettes member and songwriting partner and Noisettes guitarist Dan Smith. Shoniwa grew up in a South London public-housing estate and the experience, Shoniwa says, absolutely informs her music. “Wanting to escape from reality can inspire the greatest and most trivial creative natures in people,” and “I think escapism is something that connects all of us. Everybody has their own little soundtrack, and I guess I’m trying to make my own soundtrack to my escape plan. I want people to realize that there’s so much more.”[4] Shingai first wanted to be an actress, and for a while joined the Lost Vagueness crew as a burlesque performer and co-creator of the now legendary ‘Golden Egg Routine’[5]. She studied circus skills at a London youth club as a teenager.

Shoniwa Joined Amnesty’s Make Some Noise and appeared in an Instant Karma! video singing John Lennon’s song, Imagine to help stop the violence.[6]. [Source]

2. And they had an interesting banner:

Apparently, the Love Music, Hate Racism movement started to combat the increasing support for the British National Party. Their website notes:

Our music is living testimony to the fact that cultures can and do mix. It unites us and gives us strength, and offers a vibrant celebration of our multicultural and multiracial society. Racism seeks only to divide and weaken us. Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) was set up in 2002 in response to rising levels of racism and electoral successes for the Nazi British National Party (BNP).

We use the energy of our music scene to celebrate diversity and involve people in anti-racist and anti-fascist activity – as well as to urge people to vote against fascist candidates in elections. LMHR has helped to mobilise against further BNP election victories, in the tradition of the Rock Against Racism (RAR) movement of the late 1970s. [...]

We want to create a national movement against racism and fascism through music, so it’s vital everyone gets involved however they can.

Rock – Hip-hop – Bhangra – Drum n Bass – Indie – Reggae – R&B – Punk – Grime – Jazz… OUR MUSIC!!

And I love their downloads:

Sounds like something we could all be down with.