Toni Tone: There's so much black people are experiencing beyond racism

By Annabel Rackham
Newsbeat reporter

Image source, Channel 4
Image caption,
Toni Tone is an author and content creator starring in Highlife

Whether it's Married at First Sight, Geordie Shore or Too Hot To Handle - reality TV makes up a huge part of what we watch in the UK.

But it always comes with a lot of discussion, often about whether those on the screen really represent the people watching at home.

Love Island is one show which receives criticism over diversity every time it announces its cast.

Author and influencer Toni Tone says she doesn't really engage with a lot of reality TV because "there's no one relatable on there".

She's one of the stars of Channel 4's Highlife, the first reality show focusing on young British West Africans.

"I think I've seen a clip circulating in the past of Made in Chelsea, when there was a black woman on the show for a season or two - and I remember that as the first time I'd seen a black face on one of these shows and I was slightly intrigued," she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

Image source, Channel 4
Image caption,
Highlife looks at the lives of British West Africans

Highlife follows young successful black Brits like fashion designer Irene Agbontaen, Grammy-winning songwriter Kamille and DJ Cuppy.

Toni says the show is different to "a lot of black narratives on screen" because they are focused on "black trauma and people are sick of that.

"There are so many other things that black people get involved with that are positive - Highlife shows black family love and entrepreneurship."

'We know there's talent'

The four-part series was first shown by Channel 4 as part of Black To Front, which was a day dedicated to showcasing Black talent exclusively.

Toni says she wants it to be "the start of more shows being commissioned with a black cast.

"We know there's talent out there, we know people appreciate shows where the main characters are black people."

Toni ended up being featured on the show not only because of the success in her career to date, but also because it's directed by her ex-boyfriend.

"It's awkward but he put my name forward because he knows my family," she says.

Toni felt good to be involved in a project which showed her family and friends' lives in a positive light.

"There is so much that black people are experiencing beyond racism - there's so much positivity that we're engaged in," she says.

Toni has worked with a number of brands, from dating apps to BBC Sounds - where she has a podcast on money management.

She quit her full-time job at the start of the pandemic to pursue being an online personality full time, which she describes as "intense".

"Something was telling me, 'This is the time, it's literally make or break for you' and when I left I did initially experience some anxiety," she says.

But her "gut feeling" was right - soon after she was offered a publishing deal, helped by her relationship advice on Twitter going viral.

"My publisher contacted me and I was like, 'I have so much content for a book'," she says.

The book features relationship advice that she wished she'd known when she was in her late teens and early 20s.

"The face of relationships is changing all the time - it's important to have these conversations because traditionally women did not have the same opportunities or even the same rights as men," Toni says.

'A long way to go'

"That had a direct impact on the way we navigated our relationships when it came to decentring our feelings and our wellbeing and prioritising men."

She says that as a 32-year-old, she sees the readers as her younger sisters and hope they can learn to find their own path.

"I've dealt with people trolling me online over the fact I'm not with child and I'm not married and I'm like, 'Do you have shares in my uterus?'

"We still have a long way to go and society still struggles with deadlines and timelines," she says.

"A lot of people are struggling with the fact that there are women in this world who aren't prioritising relationships, and it makes them feel uncomfortable - because it goes against everything they have been led to believe in life."

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