Skin colour ad-lib lands TV host in hot water

By Quinton J. Hobson

Mixed twins Lucy, right, and Maria Aylmer appeared on Australian talk show.
Mixed twins Lucy, right, and Maria Aylmer appeared on Australian talk show.

Actors, comedians and entertainers are either trained or born with an instinct to improvise.  Meanwhile, it’s no secret that talk show hosts, news anchors and journalists rely on Teleprompters.

But what happens when a news anchor suddenly decides to go off-book? Apparently, the result can be quite harrowing.

The term “mixed twins” refers to a rare phenomenon in which twins are born looking strikingly different from each other. Mixed twins are bi- or multiracial fraternal twins born with completely different skin colours.

Hailing from the United Kingdom, twins Maria and Lucy Aylmer experienced this first-hand. Born to a white father and a biracial mother, Maria inherited their half-Jamaican mother’s dark skin and curly hair, while Lucy, with a fair complexion and long red hair, took after their father.

The sisters were guests for a scheduled interview on the Australian breakfast television show Sunrise.

Introduced by journalist and co-host Samantha Armytage, Maria was presented first, with Armytage, taking cue from her faithful Teleprompter, candidly explaining, “Maria has taken after her half-Jamaican mum with dark skin, brown eyes and curly, dark hair.”

No issue there, right? Armytage was simply doing her job, stating the facts. Concisely: Maria looks Black.

However, Armytage’s introduction of Maria’s fair-skinned sister was slightly different: “but Lucy got her dad’s fair skin – good on her-– along with straight red hair and blue eyes.” The host decided to get creative; Armytage’s “good on her” was definitely not on her Teleprompter.

In April, a 30-second segment of the broadcast found its way onto YouTube, where it was quickly met with widespread backlash and allegations of racism against Armytage.

To viewers at home, Armytage’s quickly ad-libbed “good on her” and friendly shoulder nudge / wink appear to have been a congratulatory gesture, praising Lucy for her fair skin and titian locks, as though she had won something over her sister. Visibly, Armytage’s comment also appears to have shocked her co-host David Koch, who in the video quickly turns his head in Armytage’s direction to shoot her a puzzled glance.

Viewers were openly outraged, taking to the petition website to demand an apology from Armytage. In less than a month, the petition entitled “An apology for Samantha Armytage’s racist comment on Sunrise” collected nearly 5,000 signatures, to which Armytage complied, issuing a statement that reads, “I would be mortified if anyone thought I would say or think anything racist. It’s not in my nature. To anyone who I might have offended, I’m sorry.”

While also apologizing on Armytage’s behalf, Sunrise Executive Producer Michael Pell defended his host’s comment. Dismissing the issue as nothing more than “a misunderstanding,” Pell explained Armytage’s comment was simply an inside joke, part of a bit that the TV personality does regularly, in which she pokes fun at her own fair skin, which is apparently exceptionally pale for an Australian.

By “good on her,” apparently Armytage was simply acknowledging the fact that Lucy is like her.

Lucy herself has also released a statement via her Facebook account defending Armytage. Claiming to have perfectly understood her joke, Lucy testifies she was not offended by it, explaining, “We do not think it was necessary for her to apologize and I apologize to her for any distress it may have caused,” continuing, “We know what Samantha meant and that’s all that matters to us so we would appreciate it if people would STOP MAKING THIS OUR PROBLEM.”