‘Burkas Will ban Bacon’: U.K. Channel 4’s TV Show ‘Great British School Swap’ Reveals Disturbing Racial Stereotypes

[Great British School Swap | Photo Source: channel4.com]

U.K.’s Channel 4 seems to be reigning high on the model of ‘let’s push some children from diverse backgrounds — who have never met — in front of a television camera’ and it’s documentary series “The Great British School Swap” is the perfect example. The three-part series followed the lives of two groups of students, from two different schools, with ethnic, cultural and religious splits. The children would reject prejudice and decidedly learn to love or hate one another. “The Great British School Swap” was also an uncomfortable watch to its predecessor “How the Other Kids Live” which followed a similar premise — somehow though it was less optimism-inducing and less heartwarming. Watching as a British person of colour, it was a frankly depressing wake-up call about the state of this country. 

The series took 24 students between the ages of 13 and 14, 12 from an effectively all-white school, and 12 from a practically all non-white, mainly Muslim school, and allowed us to watch as these two very different sets of teenagers in one environment. Both schools are situated in neighbourhoods of Birmingham in the West Midlands of the country, that, according to the show, can be described as nothing short of segregated. 

[Read Related: Boris Johnson as U.K.’s New Prime Minister is no Victory for Ethnic Minorities]

The experiment started with the white school kids from the town of Tamworth spending time at Saltley Academy, a predominantly non-white school. Some of the Tamworth students admitted on camera that before this experiment, they had never met nor interacted with a single South Asian person — something that to myself and hopefully many others seems incredibly shocking in today’s Britain. Walking into their adopted school, the Tamworth pupils felt scared, out of place, like everyone was staring at them. Following their time at Saltley, it was time for the swap-over and the Muslim children made the trek to Tamworth, where the houses were nicer and the people seemingly posher. The Muslim children, stripped of the comforts of a familiar community, were greeted with monkey noises.


The children were put into pairs, one brown, one white, to induce interaction. The families were heavily involved too, with parents visiting each others’ homes for playdates and dinners. These scenes, in particular, were highly charged, revealing the still existing power dynamics between white and brown, and the pure lack of foresight that it takes for a grown woman to leave a Muslim household overjoyed that their home didn’t “smell of Muslims” as she expected. In fact, this mum isn’t even ashamed to tell her friends that she’s friends with some Muslims now! 

Channel 4’s programme description calls the show, “an experiment exploring racial segregation” in which “pupils from contrasting areas swap schools.” Except that I just don’t know whether ‘segregated’ was really the right choice of language for the series, as it tried to depict overly polarised, incredibly isolated communities through questionable comparisons to pre-Civil Rights US South. Although the two groups had rarely mixed, the structural disadvantage was evident, and as the show made clear, cultural blindspots, misconceptions, and ignorance were rife. It’s not like there are literal laws separating the communities.

[Read Related: Cherry-Picking Equality: The LGBT Protests Including South Asian Parents Storming U.K. Primary Schools]

I fear that the use of such terminology is actually more divisive, exaggerating reality to make their experiment a more necessary and shocking baptism of fire. Typical of such sensationalised television, and as expected, only the children with the most extreme of views were given air time. Of the 24 featured, we were only given time with a few — I presume those with more tolerant and accepting mindsets were not considered good TV personalities. One gets the sense almost everything in the show has been manipulated to fit the right message of hope when the experiment yields positive results. 

If the views expressed by the young people featured in the series were unedited and anything close to accuracy though, this is grave and very concerning. Because I wasn’t wholly convinced by the end that racism had been trumped through a couple of weeks of mixing. The student party (from both schools) and presentations in the final episode were uplifting and showed the extent of all the participants’ learning and growth. But somehow, the pessimist in me just doesn’t see long-lasting changes in attitudes even in this small sample of people.

It’s one thing to find out it’s possible to like, even love, an individual you’ve spent your whole life being told you must hate. But it’s another to genuinely rid yourself of deep-seated prejudices, and truly understand where another group is coming from and achieve more tangible shifts. That’s where I worry this show falls down and might encourage white people to fall into an “I can’t be Islamophobic, I’m friends with a Muslim!” mentality. 


If I’m completely honest, as a British Indian watching this with a close British Pakistani friend, we both found this incredibly uncomfortable viewing. Watching the white students speculate on whether Islam is “a country?” and come out with beautiful sound bites like “The burqas are wanting to ban bacon” and “Does the lettuce have to be halal?” made us feel physically angry. The utterances of the Muslim kids like, “I just don’t like gay people, they make me feel weird,” equally so.

Still, I was glad that LGBTQ+ and gender issues were explored in-depth, as well as the debunking of many myths regarding radicalisation and terrorism. Diversity of views within the Muslim community were also teased out, rather than painting them as a homogenous mass. It’s not all bad, and it’s important that issues of ignorance on both sides were explored, rather than one-way racism. It’s just that the educational tactics to combat their views were too superficial. When one white mother fears the “Paki’s” will come to Tamworth to take her job, or the children debate (quite insightfully) whether the Queen actually represents minorities — one wonders what they understand about the empire, the Commonwealth, the hate crime that causes ‘segregation’ (i.e British, rather than American history) that has clearly been missing from their education system.

The sad thing is, for many, this show was probably quite educational and positive. For people of colour, I only feel sad that my grandparents have been in this country for over fifty years, yet a basic understanding of other people remains largely non-existent. One thing’s for sure, if the participants of this experiment really have changed their views, I’m not sure how pleased they’ll be in 10 years to recall that literal video evidence of their uninhibited prejudice is still floating around. 

By Arisa Loomba

Arisa is an undergraduate History student at the University of Warwick and an avid participant in the realm of student … Read more ›

Indo Caribbean Actress Saheli Khan Lands Role as Young Anna in Disney’s Musical ‘Frozen’

Saheli Khan, young anna in disney frozen
Saheli Khan

From singing and acting to drawing immaculate figurines, Saheli Khan, 11, has made her debut in the North American Broadway tour as young Anna in Disney’s musical “Frozen.” As a first-generation Indo Caribbean, with roots in India and Pakistan, she continues to pave the way for young people with similar backgrounds.

[Read Related: Rebecca Ablack: The Guyanese Actress Talks Netflix’s “Ginny and Georgia” and Indo Caribbean Representation]

Khan has always enjoyed entertaining those around her and she continues to have the motivation to pursue her passions. In school, she always sought to lead her class in songs and she was encouraged by her parents and teachers to enroll in music and acting classes, even at a young age. These ventures fueled her passions even more.

Continue reading to learn more about her journey!

What do you like about acting the most?

I like to portray different characters. Specifically, I like playing characters who have strong personalities and those who portray a sense of bravery, especially during problematic occurrences.

As a first generation Indo Caribbean actress, how do you feel about your journey as a young Disney princess? Do you feel that you are paving the way for other Caribbean and South Asians who want to pursue similar paths?

Diversity has always been important to me, but in today’s society, I feel that most people would like to be accepted and encouraged. As a Disney Princess, I am simply helping to broaden the field for all young people to see that skin color should not matter.

Saheli Khan
Saheli in Hidden Folk outfit| Photo courtesy of Saheli Khan


What do you like about your character, Anna? Is there anything that you may dislike?

Young Anna is a ball of sunshine! She is happy, funny, and a delight to be around. Despite having a troubled childhood, she grows up to be just as joyous, but she is also courageous as she goes on a journey to find her sister. I love everything about young Anna and she truly embodies who I am as a person.

Who is your inspiration and why?

My parents are my inspiration. My mom is beautiful, loving, and she works hard without ever giving up. No matter the task, she finds a solution and keeps on going with a smile on her face. She always tells me, “Whenever you feel overwhelmed, remember whose daughter you are and straighten your crown.” And my dad is my best friend. He’s insanely funny, caring and knows all the best places to eat! My parents are exactly how I want to be when I grow up.

If you had a magic wand, what show would you do next?

I would love to be Annie on Broadway or play the lead in a series or movie. 

What is the one last thing that you do before you step out on stage and the curtain goes up?

There are many things I do before I step on stage. I do fun and silly things quietly with my “Frozen” sister, Mackenzie Mercer, and play with my Anna pigtails for good luck.

What are your other passions?

I love to sing, act, and spend time with my younger cousin, Ayla. I also love to draw and color since it makes me feel relaxed. I was told I have a great ability to draw and make figurines ever since I was a child. And I love exploring new cities and eating at great restaurants with my family.

Saheli Khan
Saheli dressed in her “Young Anna” costume | Photo courtesy of Saheli Khan

What advice do you have for young people who are just starting their careers, specifically within the field of musical theater?

To have a positive mindset, practice diligently, and enjoy every moment within the journey. I have learned that there may be some occurrences that may not take place the way that you want them to, but there’s always an opportunity to learn from them.

 Aside from your career, how do you balance your schoolwork and acting?

I attend school virtually, which is essential when I am on tour. Each day I have scheduled school hours that allow me to focus and complete all school assignments. Once that is done, I have most of the day to work on extracurricular activities, go on outings, and hang out with my friends. Though performing takes a large chunk out of my day, it helps that I enjoy it, so it doesn’t feel like work.

What types of roles do you see yourself playing?

I love to play humorous characters such as young Anna from “Frozen.” I truly enjoyed this role as it captures who I truly am.

What are your plans for the future?

To be the best version of myself regardless of what career path I choose.

[Read Related: Nadia Jagessar Talks Finding Love, Not Settling and Shines Light on her Indo-Caribbean Roots]

Khan’s debut marks the start of a budding career. With her array of talents and future goals, we are bound to see more of the young actress in the future and more representation of Indo Caribbeans in mainstream media. If you would like to purchase tickets for Disney’s “Frozen,” click here

Feature Image Courtesy: Saheli Khan

By Anita Haridat

Anita Haridat is the owner of the wellness website, Healthy Spectator, which is a platform to help people find inner-balance … Read more ›

Anita Verma-Lallian Launches Arizona’s First South Asian-owned Film Production and Entertainment Company

Anita Verma-Lallian

Indian-American commercial real estate and land consultant Anita Verma-Lallian launched Camelback Productions at an event held in Paradise Valley, Arizona, Jan. 7. Billed as the state’s first women-and South Asian-owned film production and entertainment company, it will focus on South Asian representation and storytelling, according to a press statement issued by Verma-Lallian. The announcement follows “Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s $125 million film tax credit for film and TV production that was introduced in July 2022, “ the statement added.

The Jan. 7 private launch party and meet and greet introduced investors and supporters to what’s ahead for Camelback Productions.

Noting the “major push to see minority groups represented in the media over the past few years,” Verma-Lallian said she wants to see more South Asians represented. “I want my children to see themselves when they watch TV. I want my daughter’s dream to become an actress to become a reality. Skin color shouldn’t be a barrier to that.”

The event opened with remarks from Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who has served as the city’s 62nd mayor since 2019. She welcomes the company to “the greater Phoenix community.” She expressed confidence that “the team will attract some of the country’s top talent to the Valley.”

Guests at the event included actor and comedian Lilly Singh, actor Nik Dodani, Aparna of Netflix’s “Indian Matchmaking,” Bali Chainani and Anisha Ramakrishna of Bravo’s “Family Karma” fame, and Paramount+ executive P. Sean Gupta, to name a few.


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The company is Verma-Lallian’s first venture into the film industry. She is known for providing full concierge services for land seekers and developers of all types of sites and assists investors in discovering viable properties in the Phoenix area through her company, Arizona Land Consulting, the statement added.

Named in honor of the iconic Camelback Mountain in the Valley, Verma-Lallian says she wants her production company to have the same indestructible foundation. Camelback Productions plans to begin its first project later this summer.

‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani’: A Perfect K Jo Showcase Celebrating the Filmmaker’s 25 Years in Cinema

Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani

It’s always a flamboyant affair of colour, emotions and grandeur when Karan Johar directs a film, and his latest blockbuster “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is as K Jo as it gets. After recently being recognised at the British House of Parliament for 25 years as a filmmaker, Johar is back to doing what he does best — bringing together families and star-crossed lovers, but this time with a modern touch. He makes a decent attempt at showcasing progressive ideals and feminist issues while taking us on this family-friendly ride.

“Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” is a larger-than-life film revolving around the love story of a boisterous Rocky (Ranveer Singh) from a wealthy Delhi family, and Rani (Alia Bhatt), a sharp journalist from a progressive Bengali household. And of course, despite belonging to completely different backgrounds and lives, our protagonists, in true Bollywood fashion, fall hopelessly in love through a string of slow-motion gazes, warm embraces and some truly breath-taking song sequences in Kashmir’s snowy mountains. They are then forced to face their opposing families which brings along the family drama in the second half of the film.

The plot is not the film’s strongest point — there’s no real surprise about what’s going to happen next, and yet the film doesn’t fail to keep audiences engaged and pack an emotional punch. This is down to its strong acting, witty dialogues and K Jo’s classic, beautiful cinematography.

K Jo

Ranveer Singh sinks into the skin of his character with ease – not only does he make the hall burst into laughter with the help of perfectly-timed gags but he pulls off those dreamy gazes ,expected in K Jo’s heroes, to evoke that typical, fuzzy-feeling kind of Bollywood romance. Alia Bhatt’s intelligent and undefeated character is no less a pleasure to watch on screen — not only does she look breath-taking in every shot but her feminist dialogues earn claps and cheers from the audience as she brings a progressive touch to this family drama.

[Read Related: ‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra]

Albeit, while Bhatt’s dialogues do their best to steer this film to the reformist drama it hopes to be, some of Singh’s gags and monologues on cancel culture bring out bumps in the road. The film could have done better to reinforce its points on feminism and racism without using the groups it tries to support as the butt of jokes.

There is also a case to be made about how long these Punjabi and Bengali stereotypes can go on with often gawkish displays of Ranveer’s ‘dilwala-from-Delhi’ character among the overly-polished English from Rani’s Bengali family. But it is with the expertise of the supporting cast, that the film is able to get away with it. Jaya Bachchan in particular is as classy as ever on screen; the stern Dadi Ji holds her ground between the two lovers, while Dada Ji Dharmendra,  and Thakuma Shabana Azmi, tug at our heartstrings showing that love truly is for all ages.

K Jo Rocky aur Rani

Saving the best to last, it is the film’s cinematography that makes the strongest case for audiences to flock to the cinema. The soul-stirring songs steal the show with their extravagant sets and powerful dance performances that treat the audiences to the much-awaited cinematic experience of a K Jo film. While audiences may already be familiar with the viral songs, “What Jhumka?” and “Tum Kya Mile“, it was the family-defying fight for love in “Dhindhora Baje Re” that really gave me goosebumps.

Overall, the film does exactly what it says on the tin and is a family entertainer with something for everyone. It will make you laugh, cry, and cringe at times, but nothing leaves you feeling as romantic as some old school Bollywood with a mix of new school humour, in true K Jo form.

Stills Courtesy of Media Global House



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By Anushka Suharu

Anushka Suharu is a British Indian journalist, with a Masters in Interactive Journalism (City, University of London) and a BA … Read more ›