Are racists born or made? Pioneering scientists have recently revealed they can detect if a person is subconsciously racist through a series of tests which are as ground-breaking as they are simple to do.
[NOTE: Due to copyrights, the full film will be removed on May 3.]
By Paul Scott
This project began its creative life in 2012. Following the global success of the science series Redesign My Brain, which I created and produced, it became clear that modern brain science has a lot to offer the racism debate. Racism is one of the most important issues on the planet, but for too long it has been in the domain of opinion and conjecture rather than truth and wisdom. So I wanted to make a film that showcased the latest science and scrutinized prejudice through a whole new empirical lens. My hope was that the new science could become a game-changer for racism and spark a new conversation about how to best reduce racism.
I knew that in order for an audience to embrace the new science behind prejudice, the best way was to put the science to the test on television. This approach had never been taken before in any documentary about racism and it was a big challenge. I needed to find the right TV presenter, some top scientists and four volunteers from different racial backgrounds. I then had to persuade them to come together for 10 days and be subjected to the latest scientific tests that would reveal and expose unconscious and conscious prejudice! I am eternally grateful for the courage the presenter and volunteers showed in being prepared to have their own biases uncovered in the interests of helping others. Without their commitment, this television show could never have been made.
Because my production company, Mindful Media, had spent several years researching racism, I knew the science was solid. So when the four volunteers were tested the results were in line with what our scientific experts expected and they revealed we all have unconscious racial bias. But what surprised me was the strong emotional impact the scientific tests had on our volunteers. The pain empathy test, where the volunteers watch a white and a black hand being pricked by a needle, led to an argument about empathy and a heated debate between our presenter, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who felt that compassion should extend to all races, and Caucasian volunteer Nick, who believed that compassion should be limited to just our in-group. The implicit association test, that measures hidden racial bias, brought Shakira, an Indigenous Australian, to tears because she felt that no matter what she does in her life she will always be judged by the color of her skin. Then our Korean volunteer, Silvie, was deeply affected by the fact that the tests made her realize that she had suffered racism throughout her life but had suppressed her sadness and anger about it for the last 16 years.
If our selected volunteers are anything to go by, this documentary will raise many issues about racism and spark debate. But what’s good is that the conversation will be based around science, and how modern science can help us all understand our own prejudice and can provide the tools to reduce individual racism. We all have a role to play in reducing racism and embracing multiculturalism. The experts tell us that we will be more effective in inspiring change if we first deal with our own biases and prejudices. If enough people have the courage to do that then society will follow. This provides perhaps the best hope for the future of race relations on our planet.
Storyteller airs every Sunday at 1800 GMT. Live stream: https://bit.ly/2LDmffl