14 November 2006

100% dubious

100% English (Channel 4, 13 November), was an elephant trap that even an elephant would have spotted. If I were a British racist and Channel 4 approached me about making TV show to explore the genetic roots of my origins, I might be a bit suspicious. An eclectic collection of English eccentrics were asked to explain their Anglo Saxon purity to camera before taking a DNA test. As I'm sure you have worked out by now, the results of this test produced the desired effect of proving they were all composites of European, Asian, African and even North American peoples.

In principle, I've nothing against a TV show holding up racists to ridicule, turning the vapidity of their arguments into a whoopee cushion and asking them to take a seat. But rather than turning their opinions against them, I worry that the use of DNA simply ducks the issue. Far from landing a knockout punch, it uses one facile and arbitrary stick to break another.

For example, one of the participants, Danny, was "proved" to be 10% Middle Eastern, 11% South Asian, 37% south-eastern European and 43% northern European. To me this begs the question: if the point of this programme was to show the nonsense of strict racial and cultural barriers, then how do terms like "10% middle eastern" help this? If we are all a hotch potch of different people who have covered the planet through breeding, trading and mixing, then the whole idea of "middle eastern" or "European" from a biological point of view is contradictory. The DNA shows we are a mixture, and the reason we are a mixture is because we are a nomadic species, but if we are a nomadic species, then how can we define things like "middle eastern" which are fixed geographic terms?

It's using simplistic versions of highly-complex scientific techniques to counter an argument that is self-evidently devoid of merit. Or to put it another way, for "European" "Middle eastern" and "African" above, try substituting the words "white", "swarthy" and "black" and see where it gets you.

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