Last Night’s TV – The Event, How Racist Are You?

by Lynn Connolly

The Event, How Racist Are You?
I’m not entirely sure that I came away from this programme with the correct impressions. I’m not even sure that any impression could be correct; maybe it’s all subjective. And by all, I mean not only the content of this programme but the subject it toyed with – that of racism.

And toy with it it did, for while it was billed as an “event” and therefore one expected something rather more conclusive and shocking than the actual result, what the entire thing came down to was a very simple experiment. Too simple in fact.

The result wasn’t a result at all and it all rather petered out to nothing, but that’s not to say it didn’t yield some discoveries, but again, I think calling it an ‘event’ was overreaching.

The entire thing was based around an experiment that teacher Jane Elliott used on her white pupils in the ‘60s. She separated brown eyed kids from blue eyed kids, with the instruction that those with blue eyes should be treated like second class citizens and generally derided and scorned.

The object? To get white kids to understand what it’s like to be held in contempt simply because of something about your physicality. And it was successful it seems back then, but with the aid of Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Elliott brought her experiment to the UK and tried to reconstruct it with rather shambolic results.

Throughout, Elliott came across as bossy, overbearing and often unpleasant, but for a large proportion of this programme, that was deliberate. Psychology and implementing its fundaments are of course pivotal to what amounted to a mind game, but there were other times that Elliott came across as having taken that ‘act’ on board and actually welded it into her persona.

When many of the members of both groups – the segregated blue eyed and the ‘superior’ brown eyed – objected to what was being asked of them, Elliott blamed latent racism for their reluctance to fully embrace her experiment. She refused to accept that some people just didn’t want to belittle and abuse someone else arbitrarily, simply because someone else had asked them to.

As I mentioned, Elliott often took exception to this, but surely the flip side of that coin is that history has shown us – especially with the Nazis – that groups and individuals who ‘hate’ because they’ve been told to, and not because they personally have any animosity towards the group they’re told to loathe, are vicariously being racist. So how can Elliott accuse those who chose to be non-participants of “latent racism” when they are refusing to be told to hate and act out that hate?

The whole thing buckled when a member of the brown eyed group told the blue eyed group that their intelligence test was a set up and ‘rigged’. And Krishnan’s attempts to discuss all that had gone on with Elliott was scuppered by her annoyance at the non-compliance of the participants.

I suspect the problem is that while children work on a very logical level – and understood via the experiment that to hate because of a physical difference is stupid – trying to get adults to replicate it didn’t take account of those adults abilities to see what was coming a mile off.

It was too simplistic and Elliott – though she has to be admired for her relentless work in exposing and helping to rid the world of racism – was too arrogant and unbending. She’s become a victim of her success with this experiment and though she described herself as “a bitch” she’s far from it – she just needs to stop pretending she is.

As to the overall effect of the programme, it was not the revelatory shocker which it was purported to be, but nonetheless, it was an interesting watch.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.