"Black. White." poses questions about race

March 14, 2006, midnight | By Lynda Seumo | 16 years, 2 months ago

Reality show looks for the existence of racism in America

"Black. White." is a new reality show that pushes buttons because it deals with a topic that not many people want to discuss: racism. It is not only controversial because it searches for racism in America but because it questions society's definition of race. The show poses the questions: What makes you black? What makes you white?

In the quest to find answers to these questions, two families have decided to exchange races and live in the same house.

The Wurgels are a typical white American family from Santa Monica, CA, according to their daughter, Rose. The father, Bruno, wants to participate in this project because he wants to poke into the issue of race to see if any flames might emerge. Carmen, the mother, has "compassion for those who suffer" because her own parents were both involved in the civil rights movements.

The Sparks are a black family from Atlanta. Brian, the father, confesses from the start that he has had some bad experiences with both blacks and whites because of his light skin. Renee, the mother, is outspoken about her feelings and honest about the way she views race. Their son, Nick, seems more reserved and less vocal about his opinions on race.

Upon arriving in Los Angeles both families go to their makeup trailers for their transformations. After the color spray, the hair weaves and wigs and color contacts, each family member emerges looking somewhat like a version of their selves in the opposite race.

At home the families teach each other how to pass for the opposite race. Brian teaches Bruno a new greeting style and enhances his walking style by adding a little bit of bounce to it. Then Rose brings up the point that most of what they teach each other is based on stereotypes of a race and that not everyone who is part of that race adheres to that stereotype. An example of these stereotypes comes when Brian instructs Bruno to slouch in his seat and not to have good posture if he wants to pass as black. In another example, Rose, also disguised in black makeup, joins a slam poetry class, where she writes a wonderful poem riddled with complex words and phrases that her black classmates do not really understand.

The show then brings up the issue of paranoia. Is Brian simply paranoid, or does he have the right to walk around with a chip on his shoulder because he is black? Bruno, on the other hand, comes into the experience believing that racism doesn't exist in America. Through this experience, he might realize that racism is not always so obvious and laid out in full view but can come in the most subtle of ways.

All these questions are left up to the viewers to answer for themselves, and the show makes no attempt at establishing an answer for them. Those who watch the show will embark on a journey that will force them to examine their own beliefs on the existence of racism in America as they watch two families examine themselves on national television.

"Black. White." is rated TV MA for mature audiences only and airs on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on FX.

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