The World is ‘Black. White.’
‘Everybody ain’t a stereotype, just because I look wrong I’m about to do right!’ If the new television series ‘Black.White.’ had a motto, this would be it.
Proclaimed and rapped by artist/director Ice Cube, these lyrics are forthright in depicting just what FX network’s newest reality show is all about.
Executive producer Ice Cube explained, ‘[‘Black.White.’] is way more than entertainment, it’s a social experience.’
The show’s aim is to confirm and prove the idea that racism is still prevalent in contemporary America as much as it was throughout the 1900s.
They learn this by dressing up as an individual of their same age and gender, but of the opposite race. Airbrushed skin paint is applied to the body, specially designed wigs cover the hair and colored contact lenses conceal the true eye color of each individual. In addition, their wardrobes are altered in order to fit the stereotypical attire of an African-American or caucasian individual. As a result, they appear to be an entirely different person.
Thus, while the Sparks (an African-American family) are transformed into a typical white family, the Wurgels (a white family) are simultaneously transformed into the typical black family, hence the show’s creative title.
The Wurgel family is from Santa Monica, Calif. and consists of Bruno, his wife Carmen and their daughter Rose. The Sparks, from Atlanta, Ga., include Brian, his wife Renee and their son, Nick.
Both families are middle class and all the adults are college-educated. For the entire duration of the show, the families reside together in a Los Angeles suburban home. It is there that they are able to take off their makeup and be comfortable as themselves.
The intense and at times even comedic elements of the show arise when the two families interact with one another within their Los Angeles home.
Because Bruno is staunch in his opinion that racism is no longer a factor in contemporary society, he rejects Brian’s testimony of several personal experiences with racial prejudice, exclaiming, ‘You only see what you want to see. Discrimination is something you bring on yourself!’ as if Brian’s own actions are the reasons why other individuals, namely caucasians, choose to act racist towards him.
At the same time, when Renee and Carmen (the two mothers) go shopping for clothing that better matches their new identities, Carmen returns dressed in a dashiki Renee looks askance. This serves to be one of the major forms of comedy the show provides—when cast members portray themselves to be so enveloped by mainstream stereotypes that they themselves perpetuate these stereotypes in ridiculously foolish and comedic manners.
In the case of Carmen wearing a dashiki, though, she genuinely believed that such attire would cause her to pass as an African-American while Renee responded with genuine suspicion at the way that cast members perpetuate stereotypes such as ‘all African Americans are Afro-centric’ is truly comedic.
As ‘Black. White.’ began on March 8, the producers had the opportunity to reflect on its progress and whether it coincided with their own expectations.
Ice Cube hoped to ‘expose the subtleties [and layer0s] of racism.’ His co-executive producer, R.J. Cutler, explained that he ‘didn’t realize how hard it was going to be for whites and blacks to see the world through each other’s eyes.’
Cube continued, ‘I didn’t realize how genuinely different an experience it is to be a white American and a black American.’ The cast members themselves seem to have the same reaction as Carmen Wurgel states that she ‘gets the experience’ and her daughter Rose realized on this week’s episode that ‘you can’t act black, you are black.’
Of course, others such as Nick Sparks are slowly recognizing the existence of racism when he is forced to confront the taboo aura surrounding the loaded ‘n-word.’
Even more, Bruno appears to be entirely disconnected and unable to truly understand the cultural differences and social inequality that continues to divide black and white Americans.
The show overall premieres at such a crucial point of American history as racial issues come to the forefront of media attention with the recent natural catastrophe, alias Hurricane Katrina. The product of past racial struggles and recalling concepts of slavery and white supremacy into context, ‘Black. White.’ succeeds in addressing its own political agenda. One will not see a white racist bigot with a rifle in hand screaming racial slurs to a tall dark-skinned black man with an afro saying, ‘fight the power.’
Rather, the show accurately portrays ‘everyday’ people going through their normal daily routine (going to school and work) yet doing it through the eyes of someone of another race.
For the Wurgels, it’s about realizing how much the color-neutral world they think they live in is full of strict codes of do’s and don’ts for individuals of certain races.
Blacks don’t apply for jobs in white neighborhoods; meanwhile white’s don’t speak using slang words or wear urban clothing. For the Sparks, it’s about recognizing that the day to day prejudice they experience (whether through their treatment while shopping or assumptions that they are too stupid to work in certain positions) extends further to affect government decisions and policies.
Through the lessons learned by both families it is expected that audience members are also enlightened by the continual existence of racism and how through its subtlety in contemporary society, it has worsened.