This three-part documentary, originally shown on BBC 4, examines the history of racism, covering its origins with the enslavement of Africans in the sixteenth century, its overt nature in the colonial projects of the European powers and its appearance within twentieth century western societies. Featuring interviews with European, American and African academics and cultural commentators as well as employing strong images, the programme is a detailed and far-reaching assessment into the way in which racism has been constructed over the last five hundred years.
An important feature of this documentary is its strong, consistent message that racism emerged as a product of social and economic factors. Enslavement is shown to be the root of this erroneous discourse as the European intelligentsia sought to legitimise the slave trade. It is the trade of Africans which is considered to create prejudice, as Professor James Walvin states, 'they didn't become slave traders because of racism, they became racist because of the slave trade.' As a means of proving that the process of African enslavement was justifiable the concept of a hierarchy of human races existing was employed. This is examined as purely as a means to continue the highly profitable trade, echoing the work of Williams by linking the desire of capitalist systems for the ceaseless acquisition of profit with the enslavement of millions. The way in which these concepts born from economic exploitation seep into social and cultural contexts is also highlighted; the works of notable and indeed cherished philosophers and authors such as Locke and Shakespeare are shown to be riddled with the racist assumptions of the period. That the concept of racism was not initially dependent on difference in skin colour is revealed with Dr. Barnor Hesse's discussion of the contact between the indigenous peoples of the
The use of 'race' as a means by which people are abused, brutalised, terrorised and exploited is examined in the documentary with specific examples from twentieth century
It is the ingrained racism within western societies which is called into account by this challenging programme which states how notions of 'race' have resulted in inequality and prejudice. The documentary ends with the reminder that white people within the northern hemisphere still possess the majority of the world's wealth: a wealth which itself was established and maintained by enslavement. Black people from western countries are said to be less likely to participate in this wealth, leading to endemic poverty within some black communities. In
The documentary is a challenging and highly intelligent study; it maintains a coherent structure throughout the three episodes which focus on racism's origins, development and legacy. Its use of analysis from academics and individuals from a worldwide perspective marks it out as a significant piece of programming, and its quality of debate ensures that its message is heard. (review source)