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What, another last taboo?

Race-Science-main-picNothing excites Channel 4 quite like the idea of exposing a hidden taboo, and this evening will prove no different when the broadcaster delves into the issue of race and science

Tonight at 9pm Channel 4 will air the first in a five-part series on the subject, with a programme called Race and Intelligence: Science’s Last Taboo.  Controversially, Rageh Omaar opens the film with the question: are white people more intelligent?

The short answer is “no”, but prepare yourself for a documentary that is, in parts, alarming and stomach-churning, as the film presents ‘evidence’ of a hierarchy IQ’s, with East Asians at the top, closely followed by white Caucasians, and a large gap before you reach Sub-Saharan Africans, with Australian Aborigines propping up the table.

Omaar, now with the Al Jazeera network, interviews professor Richard Lynn, who has amassed data which he believes shows there is a global league table of intelligence between the races.

Rageh Omaar

Rageh Omaar

Regrettably, Omaar does not pull Lynn’s theories apart when meeting him, but does go on to meet experts like African-American professor Rema Reynolds, of the Azusa Pacific University, who says “the race gap is not about race at all” but about middle class values of hard work and expectations. The children of middle class African-American families are at least as successful in exams as their white counterparts.

Other experts, like professor Steven Rose, argues that IQ tests are about no more than measuring exposure to modernity. He says that it is now commonly accepted amongst scientists that IQ’s only quantifies ‘cognitive’ skills, and are no longer recognised as a true yardstick of intelligence.

Besides, in an increasingly technologically-proficient world the old IQ gap between black and white is closing fast. Overall, IQ’s are rising at a rate of 3% every decade, but were climbing 50% faster among black Americans. The IQ gap in South Africa, where black Africans were being afforded educational and work opportunities denied to them during the apartheid era, was closing at a rapid rate.

Oona King, head of diversity at the broadcaster, said: “This takes away issues of racial supremacy. I’m proud that Channel 4 disproves that.”

Dami Akinnusi a documentary filmmaker, was more sceptical saying that the film had missed opportunity to explore historical impact of enslavement and racist government policies. ‘We started out equal’, she said.

Akinnusi has a point. The programme also fails to delve into Western government policies – from the ending of slavery to the Jim Crow laws – that have not just to segregated races but sought to keep black people as an ill-educated underclass. To say nothing of the pervasive effects of racism, personal and institutional, that exists to this day and manifests itself in so many unequal outcomes; from school exclusions, to stop and search, to the job gap, to homelessness and mental illness.

It is also doubtful whether the general public will be shaken from their theories about different levels of intelligence, despite the evidence presented in the programme. You can read threads discussing the Channel 4 series here , and a summary of readers opinions here.

For comparison, the Daily Mail also has a thread underneath an article covering this programmes here, along with the Daily Telegraph. Sadly, the Daily Mirror were only interested in the mock-up pictures showing the Beatles and Margaret Thatcher with darker skins.

Ralph Lee, head of specialist factual programming at Channel 4, said the idea of a series looking at race and science was first mooted when Nobel Prize winning US scientist James Watson caused uproar in 2007 by claiming Africa’s prospects because Africans were less intelligent.

Lee said that the real counter-arguments to Watson’s views were not properly explored amid the sound and fury that greeted his remarks. “The real ambition of this film is to provide people with some clarity on this subject”, Lee said. “This gives the lie to the BNP lie that we must preserve racial purity.”

Whether this programme, or any of the other four films to be screened over the next fortnight, succeed in changing the whole discourse remains to be seen. The science of racism goes back many centuries.

But it’s certainly a start, and Omaar concludes that myths around racial intelligence and IQ are deeply flawed. Before he gets to the conclusion, however, the viewer is subjected to the discredited theories of professor Lynn and others who believe that white people are superior.

Channel 4 have once again demonstrated a talent for the controversial. This programme may ultimately be progressive in their treatment of the subject, yet one can’t help but wonder how many more TV exposes such myths about race and science it will really take to truly change the minds of the world’s intelligentsia.

Watch Race and Intelligence: Science’s Last Taboo tonight (Monday 26th October) at 9pm.

By Lester Holloway



2 Responses

  1. is this sort of programme really necessary, we need to move on from this pigeon(ed) programme that choses to put black ppl into a box.

  2. The theories are not discredited at all. In any case I do not want to be a racist please but we must face the facts as painful as they may be. Just as it is painful for a white runner to know that he will never be able to beat an African runner in a marathon because of genetic differences.

    The programme was dangerously misleading by stating that there is some weight in “numbers of genes”. The differences between races may be few (few genes) but the impact of these differences is tremendous. It is no coincidence that hardly anything at all in terms of science and engineering has come out of sub-saharan Africa in the past 10000 years or so! and the difference between the intelligence of races has not to do with IQ test or exams or professional success! that is a given and why is he bringing that up? For example Galois failed the entrance exam to the university of Paris yet he produced the most astounding mathematical theory of his century and coined the expression “a superior candidate is failed by an inferior examiner”. The truth is that the Asians and the Europeans are descended from one African tribe and evolved critical differences required for survival in their long and arduous planetary journey!

    Having said this, in terms of achieving at school or earning a living, intelligence and creativity are just but one requirement. So there is no shame in not being “on average” as brilliant as some other grouping “on average”. Sometimes intelligence is not what is essential to survive in a give environement.

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