Most of you have watched the immensely popular documentary series, the Great British School Swap on Channel 4, where some of our country’s divided communities come together for two whole weeks in an experiment to tackle societal barriers of race and religion.
And, who were these participants? 12 Birmingham teenagers.
Two CBJ reporters – one Arab Muslim and the other White – give a representative run down of all the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ moments of the show to understand if such an approach can break down the inherent barriers.
I’m a second generation British-Libyan-Muslim. I grew up in a majority White school; my life was basically a Great British School Swap.
I mean, the children weren’t an issue for me, it was the adults being out rightly racist. One mother said that she thought the Asian household she was kindly invited to, would ‘smell of P*** or Muslim’. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one sat at home thinking this was wildly inappropriate, even though it was said with a smile on her face as though it was completely normal.
I’m not sure what the aim of getting all the kids to write a list of racial slurs was set to achieve. Perhaps it was a way to try and make the kids aware of what terms are offensive, but there wasn’t an equal balance. It became more of an exclamation of racially hateful terms towards Muslim children and they were clearly hurt by the remarks used towards them, as showed in the one-on-one interviews that followed.
I think bringing together communities from diverse backgrounds to help them understand each other will always be a good thing. But the way the show went about doing it was problematic and somewhat insensitive. An interview of a man saying he’s not a racist, whilst saying racist things, is not progressive.
I’m a White British woman who grew up in an all-White school where cultural differences were often perpetuated, and ethnic minorities demonised by students around me – and so the Great British School Swap really intrigued me.
The children were the grown-ups in the show. The kids showed far more respect and cultural understanding of each other than any of their parents. Due to the ‘in-your-face’ approach to racism, the children were able to reflect and correct their language to break down divisive barriers.
But with the ‘pick the terrorist’ activity – involving the children identifying possible terrorists from all backgrounds – I think the students’ stereotypical decision of choosing ‘brown-looking’ individuals was already presumed by the teachers and was, therefore, an activity to reinforce how ‘normal’ racism has become in society and for students to then reflect upon this.
Also, allowing children to overtly say racist slurs across the classroom was, in my opinion, a step too far in almost facilitating and perpetuating such discriminatory language and ideology.
I mean, students discussing how to spell the n-word was one of the most alarming things I have seen on TV. It makes you question whether the show was there to tackle these cultural divisions, or to provide the most titillating entertainment for passive audiences.
It appears this workshop should have focused more on parents’ inherent prejudices which were far more prominent than the children. It became evident that the students’ preconceptions were more to do with them not completely understanding each other’s cultures, rather than having negative views, whilst the parents’ perceptions were more built from ignorance.