Channel 4 to confront race issues
Published 15/10/2009 | 00:01
Channel 4 is to give a platform to people with controversial views linking race to intelligence in a series of programmes busting "science's last taboo".
The broadcaster said its season will strongly challenge such opinions and "explode" the myth that science can support ideas of racial superiority.
Promoting the season, Channel 4 has also altered photos of well-known figures such as Baroness Thatcher, the Beatles and US president Barack Obama to change their racial appearances.
The first programme, Race: Science's Last Taboo, will see Rageh Omaar talk to academics who believe that aspects of the human brain are linked to race, as well as interviewing scientists with radically different conclusions.
Oona King, Channel 4's head of diversity, said the programme shows conclusively "that you cannot link race to IQ".
Omaar also said in a clip of the show that views society found offensive "are not defeated by being ignored".
The show was inspired by comments made two years ago by Nobel Prize-winning scientist and DNA pioneer James Watson - who does not appear - referring to research suggesting that black people were less intelligent than other races.
His views prompted London's Science Museum to scrap a planned talk by him, saying the opinions went "beyond the point of acceptable debate".
The show also comes in the wake of the Strictly Come Dancing race row and the decision to allow BNP leader Nick Griffin to appear on Question Time.
King admitted she was "slightly nervous" at the outset as race issues can range from being "vaguely controversial to incendiary.
"What's interesting about this series is that it peels back what people think to discover why they think it.
"Even people who know the race agenda inside out will learn a lot from these programmes."
King was asked about Strictly host Bruce Forsyth's views that the nation should treat Anton Du Beke's "slip up" of calling his dance partner Laila Rouass a "Paki" more light-heartedly.
The diversity boss said that when Forsyth was growing up, people believed that race was an indicator of intelligence.
Speaking generally, King said: "What's surprising is how those views directly impact us today and how those views persist."
She continued: "Sweeping racist views and opinions under the carpet will not make those views go away."
Asked whether Forsyth had a place on television, she said: "I think of my white grandmother when I think of Bruce Forsyth."
She said her grandmother was a "very, very lovely woman" who was upset about her family members being "half-caste" and had to deal with her world being turned on its head.
She said: "My view is that we need to open up the terms of the debate, not close it down. I think there's room for people questioning people's responses to the debate.
"The key for me is that when people say: 'You don't have a sense of humour', they're not taking the context into account.
"The context for a black child being bullied day-in, day-out is entirely different from an off-the-cuff remark about 'limeys'."
King also spoke of her own experiences as a child, when her "black, 6ft 2ins dad" arrived to pick her up from primary school in front of four white girls.
"The four of them burst into tears and started crying because they were terrorised by this black man," she said.
She called for a "heated debate" about race, saying: "This series will change the terms of the debate."
Another show in the series called How Racist Are You? will take 30 British volunteers to show how everyone can be susceptible to bigotry, while Is It Better To Be Mixed Race? will challenge beliefs about racial purity.
Channel 4 is also planning a programme examining a trend for "deracialisation" surgery, through the stories of people who go to extreme lengths to make their bodies look more Western.
The season also puts race issues in a historical context with its show The Human Zoo: Science's Dirty Secret.
It looks at how, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, scientists were so fascinated by race that thousands of "exotic" people from around the world were being put on display in "zoos" as scientific demonstrations of racial difference.
The documentary will tell the poignant story of Ota Benga, a Batwa pygmy from the Belgian Congo who was put on display from 1904 and labelled as the "missing link".
The film also looks at how "pseudo science" helped attempts to legitimise the horrors of Nazi Germany.
King was also asked for her views on the BBC's plans for Mr Griffin to appear on Question Time.
She said: "My personal view is that if you don't confront people with counter arguments then you allow them to move into a vacuum."
She said the Celebrity Big Brother race row in 2007, involving accusations of bullying of Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, had not had a "chilling" effect on Channel 4's willingness to broach controversial subject matter.
Channel 4's Race: Science's Last Taboo season of documentaries begins on October 26.