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Channel 4 race for cover

Race-Science-main-picChannel 4’s series on race and science is drawing mixed reviews. This week Diane Abbott joined the critics calling the programmes “rehashed nonsense”, an attack which brought a wounded response from the broadcaster

Others have been more complementary towards the five-part series which C4 claims will “debunk” the myths around racial superiority, ideas that have often relied on “pseudo-science.”

Tonight sees the newscaster Krishnan Guru-Murthy ask “How Racist Are You?” In a controversial experiment, thirty people of different races are divided up and asked to role-play living in an apartheid system. One of the objectives is to test how many accept or rebel against the instutionalising of racism.

One viewer, Leona Muse Samuels, gave her reaction to the first documentary Race and Intelligence: Science’s Last Taboo

Personally, the proposed link between race and IQ did not hold enough credibility to warrant any continued discourse from me. The question is not whether people of African descent have a lesser intellect, but whether or not we are capitalising on our potential. This is the kind of discussion that is of benefit to our community.”

Independent documentary filmmaker Dami Akinnusi commented that C4 had set up to disprove a theory that had not been endorsed by the science world in the first place:

Although socio-economic status and class are considered as factors influencing this underachievement, the investigation fails to acknowledge any historical context, which might have been excused if we were looking at the UK. However failing to mention slavery as a contributing factor in this debate means the documentary didn’t take the brave step it could have done and is only controversial in its omissions.”

It seems that an underlining issue with the series is that TV’s maxim of courting controversy and asking provocative questions does not readily lend itself to the delicate task of unpicking theories and myths around race and intelligence.

Being populist and academic is a difficult tightrope to walk at the best of times. But when you add race into the mix, it is an almost impossible task to get it completely right. C4 have probably done a good job working within their format, but it has not been enough to take many progressive-minded Black people along with them.

The Event: How Racist Are You? Channel 4 tonight at 10pm

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2 Responses

  1. I didn’t get this programme??- no conclusions were drawn and most of the participants thought it was a waste of time.

  2. On balance I think the season has been positive.

    I would agree with Dami Akinnusi that the Rageh Omaar programme was not wide enough, but I think overall it was able to debunk race and IQ in a way that many would have learned from it.

    Despite how horrific the plastic surgery programme was, and tomorrow’s may be, it exposed that many see their unhapiness with their bodies as a racial, not individual issue.

    Personally, I think the programme makers would have done better if they introduced the participants to white people who had the same condition (short in height; or with small/large breasts). This might have challenged their assumptions. What I think the programme did do is expose the fact that the participants views are encouraged, reinforced, or possibly suggested by medical practitioners profiting from their insecurity.

    I think the Jane Elliott / Krishnan Guru-Murthy programme was a disaster. It ended abruptly without much reflection. It seemed to prove that the approach doesn’t work in such a condensed format, and that Jane Elliott seemed to be operating on a universal / US style approach and missed some of the nuances of race in the UK in comparison. What was revealing is how rather than leave the set, one white participants stayed and then sabotaged the session.

    I think the exposure of some of the history of racism and racial theories is necessary, and this was done to good effect by the Hugh Quarshie narrated ‘Human Zoo’ documentary last night.

    I’m less confident about tonight’s show. I haven’t seen it, so it is perhaps jumping the gun, but I think it has taken some great recent achievements (Barack Obama, Lewis Hamilton) and then gone for broke. I believe that in an attempt to prove a theory it may be overlooking some of the difficulties mixed-race people face and the stats that bear that out.

    That said, overall, I think the season was worthwhile, and that many people will learn something(s) from it. However C4s programmes often did not ‘debunk’, and they are therefore open to criticism for misleading their audience.

    TV is one medium where we can learn the lessons of the past and present, and that is useful for how we see and shape our futures. We shouldn’t be offered diamonds and then given sequins though.

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