Black. White. A little muddy

The concept of Black. White. is a good one. They take a white family and a black family, and by use of often impressive make-up, switches their racial appearance. All six folks (each family has one teenage kid) gets to walk a mile in another’s shoes. It really gives folks a chance to walk a mile in the other man’s (or woman’s) shoes.

But as of the first episode (yes, the second one has aired, I’m still catching up), there’s a problem. Some of the folks they cast don’t seem like they’ll be prepared to understand what they see. It’s hard to believe that we’ll get insight from the white-guy-turned-black, for example, because rather than going in with an open mind, he’s going in with an assumption about race relations that he’ll make his observations fit. He believes that black folks don’t get casually snubbed by white folk.

They have the participants living together, so issues like that get talked through, and the really-black family comes off sounding correct in conversation simply because they don’t sound crazy. When the black guy says that living as a black man, you learn to recognize when you’re being snubbed, it carries a lot more weight than the “never happens” claims of the white guy… but from all I’ve seen of human interaction, the reality likely falls somewhere in the middle. There’s a lot of real racial snubbing… but once one gets into that mindset (whether for racial reasons or any reasons), one can assume that every snub is racially based. That’s the kind of thing it would be great to realize, but alas, I don’t think it’s a point that this show will be able to illustrate.

And some things are being identified as race differences that are class differences, or location differences, or just minor specific location differences. When a shoe salesman helps the black-guy-playing-white try on some shoes… well, yes, there may be some places where a white shoe salesman would feel uncomfortable touching a black man’s feet, having bought shoes a number of time (always in the guise of a white man) I’d say that the real difference is that in some stores, they help you try on the shoe, and in some they don’t, and it would not be hard to go through life experiencing one rather than the other.

In the end, it came off more as a reality show about people forced to live together while doing something odd than it does something that was going to generate real insight into the general case of race relations. Disappointing, but I will give the second episode a view to see if it can surprise me.

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Published in: on March 23, 2006 at 12:49 am  Leave a Comment  

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