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Pick ‘n mix approach lacks culture

M-n-S-woman-mixedHaving spent the past week trying to disprove the racial superiority myth, last night Channel 4 performed a volte-face with a programme that claimed mixed race people were healthier and more attractive

By Lester Holloway

Aarathi Prasad fronted the programme Is It Better To Be Mixed Race? which you can watch here for the next 30 days.

Despite being a doctor and geneticist, Prasad seemed to be presenting her own homespun theory based on how wonderful and talented her young daughter was.

She then took the viewer on a journey around the world in a desperate quest to put clothes on her argument.


Dr Aarathi Prasad

“Many mixed race people seem to be so gifted”, she began, before speaking to a scientist who said such people had a higher tolerance of disease.

Prasad observed: “It’s looking like racial purity can be really bad for your health.”

The result was that Prasad came across as something of a mixed-race supremacist.

Her unshaken belief in this theory was unchanged by evidence that the human species is young in historic terms and that there are tiny genetic differences between us. 0.1%, to be precise.

One expert interviewed on the programme told her that a healthy lifestyle and environment made more difference to whether someone died of a disease than their genes, but this did not sway Prasad from her conclusion.

“I’ve found out that restricting diversity, being in-bred, is a bad thing”, she intoned, somewhat patronisingly.


Division by shade in Brazil

What then followed was a bizarre experiment mapping facial “symmetry” – linked to notions of attractiveness – and the claim that mixed race people were more symmetrical, ie. attractive.

An essential element that seemed to be missing from the programme, however, is any reference to culture – the importance of knowing your identity. No value given to a unified community.

The desire to eradicate race-specific diseases (eg. diabetes which disproportionately affected South Asians and Africans, and dementia which is almost exclusive to white Europeans) needs to be weighed against the loss of a culture.

It is ironic that historians are fascinated by vanished cultures, yet we often turn a blind eye to the same process happening in the present day.


Hamilton Academical?

Prasad’s passion for mixing also seems to have blinded her to the fact that many great civilisations were not mixed-race in nature. The advanced societies of Asia and South America were bonded by their own cultures.

Mixed race people didn’t build the pyramids, establish the first university in Timbuktu or use trade winds to sell products to Europe in the years B.C.

The C4 programme went to Brazil, a country that has witnessed mixing on a large scale, and heard from experts who said that the mixed race people of the favellas were no more likely to develop mental illness than the white inhabitants of the wealthy neighbourhoods.

But we were then treated to a group of Brazilians of varying shades holding up signs describing their skin colour, such as burnt, tan, cashew, mocha, caramel, cinnamon, dusky, and coffee. Yes, there’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. Yet this division by many shades came across as intensely sad.


Andrew: the pinnacle of zygousity?

The scene seemed to underline where the programme had gone wrong.

By categorising people even further in racial terms, and claiming that one race is “better” than another the channel appeared to be perpetuating the very myths that their own Race and Science series was supposed to tackle.

The documentary’s starting point was a book called Breeding Between the Lines: Why Interracial People are Healthier and More Attractive arguing that mixed race people have a “biological advantage” but it ended by heaping praise on the diverse genes of a man called Andrew (Nigerian mother and English father) who didn’t come across as that superior at all.

Andrew’s genes were the most heterozygous that a scientist had come across, meaning he should have maximum advantages. Andrew was in fact described as the “pinnacle of zygousity”, but to the casual eye he just looked like an awkward nerd. If that’s the future, the world needs to prepare itself for intense disappointment.

The programme unwittingly proved it does not automatically follow that mixed race people are healthier, more attractive or superior than anyone else.

The differences between the most diverse people are very small, and that although we live in a racialised society based on colour – largely thanks to racism and the legacies of enslavement and colonialism – the primary differences are cultural.

The jury is out on the health advantages, but perhaps we need a new documentary on the effect Prasad’s mix-a-matosis approach will have on cultural identity and knowledge of self.

* The writer is black (mixed race) but is not symmetrical, and has recently had a cold.



4 Responses

  1. i totally agree with the assertion. mix-a-matosis and a little cold… not too bad.

  2. Thanks for posting this Lester.

    Is this irony or farce?

    A geneticist presents race based concepts programme despite the overwhelming science (of genetics) showing – as per Rageh Omaar’s programme – that races don’t exist biologically. This is broadcast during a series of programmes debunking race as a valid scientific concept.

  3. Personally, David, I’d suggest ‘farce’ because I fear C4 really did think they were going to change the world with this nonsense.

  4. Please say it louder, races do not exist biologically-as per Rageh Omaar.

    i hear some people are actually asking for re-incanation of Hitler so that he can re-visit what he started during his reign of terror on some people because of their opinions on the issue. ha ha.

    EDITOR WRITES: That’s an extraordinarily offensive comment, Beatrice

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