Thursday, March 09, 2006

Black. White. Episode 1

A month ago, I called it blackface, and left it at that. I wanted nothing to do with FX's Black. White. but it was the comments left by readers in that post that suggested maybe I should open my mind and be less harsh. One reader, an "innocent bystanding poet chick" involved in the project suggested I might enjoy the reactions of the actors as they donned their blackface and whiteface. Other readers wondered how to balance the intent of the show with its tools:

If the show does what it purports to do, which is spread awareness about how racism still pervades our culture, do you think it is necessarily the same as white people dressing up as black people for the express purpose of mocking them?
So, I sat down and watched the series premiere last night. And while I don't know whether I succeeded in completely clearing my mind, but I can honestly say that the show managed to make me horribly nauseous within the first ten minutes. The first problem is the blackface element of the show. No matter how you twist it, turn it, or try to justify it, it's hard to suggest a meaningful distinction between historical blackface and Black. White. Sure, the makeup technology is better, but ultimately it's still donning darkened makeup and pretending you are a race you're not while exalting and reveling in racial stereotypes. Regardless of the intention, the fact that blackface has resurfaced again in modern media is incorrigible. Then, there's the question of what the show hopes to accomplish. Regardless of the juxtaposition of a Black family with a White family in the hopes of creating some sort of joint meeting of the minds on race relations, within the first few minutes, it was made painfully aware that this show was created predominently to educate Whites about race relations. The Wurgel family, for example, reacts to the makeup (and every other activity) as if it's going to be enlightening and life-altering, and each of the hoops that the families are required to jump through for the show seem to focus on breaking down the stereotypes of the Wurgel family members (Brian taking Bruno shopping, Rose going to her slam poetry class). What this show did highlight beautifully was the pure, unadulterated insensitivity of their model White family; mindsets we are to interpret as common amongst Whites (in order to gain any relevancy from this show at all). From the Wurgel reaction to their new "beautiful black skin" to the constant dumb-ass comments by "White liberal" Carmen to Bruno's insistence that people of colour are to blame for creating racism by reacting "improperly" to being called a "nigger" (while simultaneously reveling in his own ability to use that racial epithet as often as he can without anyone slapping him, as if he's trying to show off some encyclopedic knowledge of the Racial Slur Database). Speaking of the reaction of the families to their new blackface, both families disappointingly reacted in a sexual fetishism light upon viewing their mates in their transracial makeup, as if it were appropriate to fetishize being with a person of another race. As a participant in an interracial relationship, the last thing we need is more condoned sexual fetishizing of skin colour. And it's not even like only the men were guilty of this: Carmen, too, couldn't get enough of her new "beautiful, black man". And, as if it wasn’t explicit enough, the show then insists upon some “Passing Lessons” once the families move in together. This consists almost entirely of bad stereotyping, painful commentary, and ignorant prejudices voiced by the Wurgel family. From Carmen suggesting that she act Black by high-fiving people, to the discussion of Bruno’s alterations to his walking, it was nothing but bad articulations of meaningless stereotypes. All thrown together in a display suggesting that one can indeed adopt fake mannerisms and expect to racially pass. Even the Sparks family tried to paint themselves as some gurus of Blackness by suggesting (painfully) that Bruno "act black" by learning dap and slouching a lot. As if racial experience can be summed up entirely by adopted behaviour and some Revlon. Just to put it out there, I was also a little put off by the safe space violation that was the families' first real activity. In this activity, Bruno and Carmen were snuck into an all-Black panel on racism and Brian and Rene were put, in whiteface, into the White version. In both cases, we're supposed to be shocked and saddened by the prevalance of blatent racism in the mind's of everday Americans. But besides there being no real surprises in the panel discussion, it was a little disconcerting tha tthe producers of the show were completely okay with violating the safe space that was supposed to be generated in order to encourage that race discussion. Even though Bruno and Carmen were in blackface, they were still White people, and it felt wrong watching the other panel members be so honest about their feelings about racism in a way they never would have had they known that two White people were in the room. The rest of the show was the same sort of pedestrian race relations discussion -- nothing more than stereotypes and shallow coonery all in the hopes of educating the White Wurgels and the White audience. It was teeth-grittingly painful to listen to Bruno repeatedly scream out the N-word while repeatedly defending his opinion that militant, boat-rocking minorities are the source of racism. It was obnoxious to hear Carmen describe everything as enlightening. And the Sparks should be condemned for their participation in this show, reveling in their self-described roles as racial ambassadors. Why do we have to once again subjugate our experiences to teach White folk about race? Whatever happened to "they should just know better"? I am hoping to follow this show, though. I'm curious to see where Ice Cube takes this travesty and to see someone finally beat Bruno's ass.


Blogger Ragnell said...

Sounds like a reason to be glad I work second shift. My morbid curiosity would have wasted an hour on this show.

And I know, from that time I kept the channel Trading Spouses just because they were switching the Christian and the (apparently) Pagan woman (religion's a big thing with me) I will not be able to stop watching no matter how offensive it gets. It's the shameful trainwreck impulse.

But I digress. The worst part sounds like the "lessons." There's something inherently wrong about "learning to act the part of Race X."

3/10/2006 05:05:00 AM  
Blogger NursePam said...

Did you ever run across an old book called "Black Like Me"? Written before you were born.

Some white journalist found out about a drug that darkens the skin. They took the drug and wandered around down south "passing" as black.

It is probably the closest that any white person will ever come to experiencing what it feels like to be black. However, he was well aware that he grew up white and had the ability to go back to that state at any time.

Still, I don't thinks it's the most horrible idea to try to feel what it's like to live in someone else's world. It may be weak but people have to start to make a connection somewhere. JMHO

3/10/2006 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

Black. White. is not Black Like Me, in any sense. Further, it's not exactly like that book was some excessive step in a racial understanding 'right direction'. Having the ability to pass as a member of the majority in any sense impedes empathy with the oppressed minority. Makeup, while being utterly offensive, remains an unanswered quest for pure truth.

I am a Black man. No person of any other race can understand life as a Black man through a simple palette swap.

And Black. White. was racist reality TV taken to its most obvious "help the majority at the cost of the minority" extreme. The entire premiere centered around reprogramming the Wurgels into people a stereotypical Black person would interact with without incident. It's disgusting; I don't want to reprogram White people. I'd like them to remain just as offensive and inconsiderate as their forebears were, so when they express racial intolerance towards me, I can feel no compunction about hurting them. That's the American way.

Seriously, wearing makeup to look vaguely Pakistani won't take any White person off my shit list.

3/10/2006 11:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Adam said...

Wow James, seems like you have some reverse prejudice tendencies going on. Racism isn't just the province of white people.

That aside, I agree, the show was disgusting, though somehow, morbidly fascinating. The display of white privilege was thoroughly offensive, yet not unexpected.

3/10/2006 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Adam, I see no reason why any person of colour should feel compelled to justify the "racism is universal" point of view just to make White America feel better about their own racism. Sure, racism is not the purvue of Whites, but White privilege, White guilt, and White racial oppression is. Let's deal with that and quit calling "uppity minorities" reverse racists or some other such nonsense designed to change the subject from oppression of racial minorities. It sounds an awful lot like Bruno going on about Blacks and the word "Nigger".

3/10/2006 12:09:00 PM  
Blogger said...

I have to agree with Adam a bit. Your view on this show is extreme.

Blackface? How is this show at all like blackface? Your side-by-side comparison actually illustrates how different blackface is from what they did on B/W. One is for comical purposes (a bad joke) whereas the other is trying to allow people to see what it's like living under different pretenses.

The show (and your post) help illustrate just how wide the misunderstanding is between cultures. White people seem oblivious. Black people seem hypersensitive. Both don't have a clue.

And why why WHY would you not want the majority to TRY to better understand what it's like to be a minority? What is wrong with that?

Your post posits that black people would have nothing to learn from watching a show like this. I don't see how that could possibly be true. And since when did "they should just know better" be a good justification for anything? What purpose does "they should know better" serve? If the majority doesn't know better, maybe it's because they DON'T know and need to learn.

Anyway, good post and a good read. I'll have to keep an eye on your further musings about it. Maybe you'll learn something from this show about white people, too. It's a novel concept.

3/10/2006 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

"Blackface? How is this show at all like blackface? Your side-by-side comparison actually illustrates how different blackface is from what they did on B/W. One is for comical purposes (a bad joke) whereas the other is trying to allow people to see what it's like living under different pretenses." -

Intent is not important when dealing with racism. Intent is irrelevant. The simple act of blacking up - using makeup to reduce my struggles as a Black man to some Crayola consciousness anyone could understand with enough Max Factor - cynically and comically oversimplifies African American issues, for other groups' benefit.

Just because some Whites "learn something" doesn't mean Black. White. doesn't exude racism.

"Your post posits that black people would have nothing to learn from watching a show like this. I don't see how that could possibly be true. And since when did "they should just know better" be a good justification for anything? What purpose does "they should know better" serve? If the majority doesn't know better, maybe it's because they DON'T know and need to learn." -

It's 2006. If a person doesn't understand how to interact with other American citizens by now, no Technicolor intolerance will help them. Even the Black family involved with the show made it clear that the Wurgels would gain more from the experience than they, because the show focused so heavily on the opinions of the Wurgel family. The Sparks' were Negro props only good to instruct the Wurgels in inauthentic Black mannerisms and jargon, when they weren't faux insulted by the Wurgels' immense ignorance towards African American culture. Every American citizen should "just know better", should understand how to interact with the diversity of American cultures and peoples with respect and tolerance, and without offense and racism. If some White families can't handle that, the FX channel will not help them, and Black people should not be conscripted into diversity instructor positions.

If the majority doesn't know better, they sacrifice domestic tranquility to their consciously cultivated indifference to cultural distinction and socioeconomic oppression. The blood of urban crime and periodic rioting and sudden terrorism is on their lily-White hands. Ignorance is not an excuse.

3/10/2006 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Since when has intent ever mattered in America? Rape is a crime regardless of the intent of the rapist. Kidnapping is a crime regardless of the intent. Murder is a crime regardless of intent.

The reason? Intent is intangible. It's too easy to lie about later. It doesn't excuse the act. Donning makeup to pretend you are another race is blackface -- the reason why historical blackface was so painful was not just the comedic mockery of minstresly but the mere fact that Whites might subjugate and oppress people of other races and then don makeup as if this would allow them to become that race -- i.e. race and racial experiences are easily patted on and off like powder foundation.

And I would argue against the idea that the intent of Black. White. is not comedic value. How many people are laughing at these characters? At their attempts to shuck 'n jive like Black folk? If this show weren't funny, it wouldn't keep people watching.

Incidentally, I haven't had much to say about the Sparks yet. Why? Because the show as it currently stands has dealt entirely with coddling the Wurgels. If they start dealing with the Sparks beyond simple-minded unidimensional racial teachers, than maybe I might have something more substantial to say about them.

Do I think the Sparks will learn anything? You assume I think the Wurgels will learn something. And by something, I mean something of substance. And that I care whether or not anyone learns anything at all.

3/10/2006 02:01:00 PM  
Anonymous tekanji said...

Jenn, just to make sure you know, I didn't think you needed to "open your mind" or "be less harsh", I just wanted more of a discussion because - while the two situations have obvious comparisons, I don't agree with James that intent is "irrelevant", but rather that it's not the driving factor.

Ultimately, though, I agree with you and James; I think that Black. White. is more harmful than blackface, not less.

Why? Well, blackface is an obvious mockery, an obvious piece of racism that you can point at and say, "That's racism, not some wishy washy show about tolerance! You uppity blacks have no right to whine and if you're angry at us for being 'racist' then you're obviously 'reverse racist' because we're nothing like the KKK and you should stop being so mean to us!"

There are ways to open dialogues about oppression and prejudice, and the facts are that this show just isn't the way to do it. If it was, there wouldn't be commenters in here using the "reverse racism" defense.

Uh, guys? Reverse -isms are totall bullcrap. Racism is prejudice + insitutional power. James doesn't have any power conferred to him because the colour of his skin, like us whites do. And anyway, even if he is, indeed, prejudiced (personally I think he's not; just angry at all the racism directed at him) then so fucking what? Did he hurt your fee-fees? It's not his shtick to step off and offer olive branches. He's the angry voice inside your heads telling you that you're being an asshole. Majority groups need to hear that voice, even as they need to hear the "can't we all just get along" voice.

Maybe instead of jumping on the defensive when Jenn and James criticize the show as racist, you could - I don't know? - actually pay attention to what are some insightful and accurate criticisms.

No one says you have to agree with the conclusion, but dismissing it as black people being "hypersensitive"? Hello white privilege. Guess what, when something's offensive the onus is not on the person being offended to prove that they're not "hypersensitive" but rather on you to prove that the offensive thing wasn't actually offensive.

So, anyway, great post Jenn. I'm just sorry that you had to watch that tripe to make it! ^^;

3/10/2006 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger said...

Intent is relevant. You simplify the act of putting on make-up as a racist assault. Symbols have power because of how they are used or how they are interpretted. Actions denote and create meaning. Blackface is no more evil than a rock is evil. How either are used denotes their good-(or bad)-ness.

Rape is a crime regardless of intent because courts need bright-line rules to function effectively. If a girl says "no" you have a bright-line rule: you have rape. No human being can make the claim that "no" has always meant "no." However, when it comes to sex and the law, "no" means "no." To posit that this is good evidence of intent not mattering is false. It means that everything must be taken at face value and defined solely by the receiver. It's gross oversimplification of a complex reality.

Can you not see the merit of first-hand observation of racism (in any form it may assume)? Why lambast a white person because he/she wants to know what it's like existing with a different color skin? Instead of seeing such as a meritorious endeavor, apparently, it is racist behavior. You simultaneously criticize the desire to understand and the means to understand. If I could "black up" for a day to understand even on the most remote level what it was like to live as a minority in the U.S., I would do it. It's not that doing such would magically make me a black man and I would magically understand what such a life was like, but it would certainly further my understanding of minority issues. Such furtherance would be invaluable to my ability to "know better." Nevermind, I should just know better instinctively. But you decry such a move as racist mockery of blacks.

The simple act of blacking up - using makeup to reduce my struggles as a Black man to some Crayola consciousness anyone could understand with enough Max Factor - cynically and comically oversimplifies African American issues, for other groups' benefit.

Your whole argument grossly oversimplifies race issues by assuming that every black person's struggle is the same. Your argument pits blacks and whites as having opposing struggles: the benefit of the whites comes at the expense of the blacks. Gross racism cannot be eliminated without communication. "Simply knowing better" is a modus operandi that doesn't allow for communication. I, as a white man, should "know better." How? How do I learn? How do I understand?

Knowing how to "interact with other American citizens" doesn't equate to understanding the struggles of other American citizens. I interact with my wife but I frequently don't understand her. Unfortunately for me, I can only begin to understand what it's like to be her through interacting with her or reading books that discuss what it's like to be a woman. These are poor substitutes for real existence as a woman, but they are all I've got. In the case of donning make-up to look black and experience how people treat me different accordingly, I actually have a real opportunity to glimpse a life different from my own. It's a poor glimpse, but isn't it better than nothing? You could do the same thing wearing a fat suit or dressing up as a woman. Though these only allow for tiny glimpses into different lives, that doesn't make them racist, sexist or otherwise.

Even the Black family involved with the show made it clear that the Wurgels would gain more from the experience than they, because the show focused so heavily on the opinions of the Wurgel family.

How can they know? Because they interact more with a majority culture? Interaction is inequivalent to understanding.

These arguments simplify race down to black and white camps whereby white people constantly oppress black people. Even though I consciously try to make sure my actions aren't racist, apparently, my hands are blood-soaked. And if trying to understand another race is a racist action, why should I try at all? Ignorance is not an excuse but the quest to learn is damnation? Such is a hopeless and futile existence.

Reverse racism is non-sense. Racism is racism. It can be black on white, white on black, black on black, white on white, indian on white, asian on indian, whatever. Racism doesn't require institutional power.

Just to clarify, I wasn't saying anyone was hyper-sensitive except the Sparks on the show. Instead of getting angry at Bruno dropping the n-bomb, they should have tried to understand why he would drop it with so little hesitation. I think most white people don't understand the significance of "nigger." I certainly don't and I grew up in the south. I just know not to use it. It seems pretty clear to me that Bruno didn't understand it either. Instead of trying to talk to him about it and help him understand, the Sparks just got mad. What good does that do? (By the way, I'm not trying to say Bruno isn't a dumbass because he is - that isn't my point).

I have a feeling most of what I'm saying is going to be interpretted as defense mechanisms kicking in. This is a shame, really, but the cards will fall where they may.

3/10/2006 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger nubian said...


rather than attempt to try and school another white person about racism, your comments are ridiculous. how can you sit there and state that donning blackface isn't bad. excuse me? how can you sit there and claim that white people tossing around the word nigger in a focus group is not bad?

people of color are not here to teach whites about racism. fuck, you have angered me so much right now...i can't even finish.

3/10/2006 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger yellowbaby said...

Racism means prejudice plus power. Racism refers to acts of oppression of one racial group toward another. One form of oppression is economic exploitation.

This definition distinguishes between simple feelings of hostility and prejudice toward another racisl group and the ability to turn those feelings into some form of oppression. Blacks might have prejudicial feelings toward white people but they have little opportunity to express those prejudicial feelings in some form of economic of political oppression of white people. On the other hand, prejudicial feelings that white people might have towards blacks can turn into racism when they become the basis for discrimination in education, housing and the job market. Racism then becomes the act of social, political and economic oppression of another group.

So what you're experiencing here is probably not racial oppression but guilt.

3/10/2006 05:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said... see someone finally beat Bruno's ass.

They'll probably save this for an end-season cliffhanger, "Who shot J.R.?"-style.

3/10/2006 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger Ragnell said...

Autodogmatic -- You claim that James is oversimplifying the argument by saying every black person's experience is the same. Well, slapping on makeup and attempting to experience the world as a black person, you're doing exactly what you accuse James of doing.

Each experience builds upon the previous experience which builds upon the basic learning gleaned from the person's family, which has a collective experience built on the experiences of prior generations.

As a parallel, you say you can experience the world as a woman by dressing as one. Well, you can put on a pink dress, learn to talk high, and saunter down the avenue. You can feel bad when you get leered at or looked over. But underneath the dress, you are still a man. You were raised as a man, to act like a man culturally. Women are specifically programmed from birth to act like society expects. You will never have had the experience of your first period and the messages gleaned from it to draw upon. You will never have the experience of being a 5 year old girl and being told not to hit your brother back because it's unladylike. Underneath the dress, you will still be a man and not have that to draw upon.

The fat suit? At the end of the day, the person is still thin. They don't have to assimilate the worthlessness thrown on them for being fat, the people telling them they are lazy, stupid, or ugly. Because they knwo that they are really thin. The insults may sting for a day, but they come off with the suit.

If you were spraypainted up like those on the show, you would still be a white man. You might feel unwelcome in a few places, hear some words thrown at you that you're not used to and they might sting a bit. But you won't have experienced this in your formative years. You won't have to wade through a lifetime of society's lessons and the attitudes gleaned from your parents that they gleaned from their parents and so on and so forth.

In short, you can not understand that way. And to claim that you can is understandably insulting.

3/11/2006 05:47:00 AM  
Blogger said...


You misunderstood what I said somewhat. I wasn't claiming that doing any of the things I mentioned would allow you to know exactly what it's like or even mostly what it's like to walk a day in another person's shoes. To be exact, I said the following:

In the case of donning make-up to look black and experience how people treat me different accordingly, I actually have a real opportunity to glimpse a life different from my own. It's a poor glimpse, but isn't it better than nothing? You could do the same thing wearing a fat suit or dressing up as a woman. Though these only allow for tiny glimpses into different lives, that doesn't make them racist, sexist or otherwise.

"Poor glimpse" and "tiny glimpse" were my words. I'm not purporting that any of these actions would be great substitutes, but again, isn't something better than nothing? I was criticizing James' because he was arguing (per my understanding) that donning make-up simplified black culture while making statements that were generalizations about black culture, thus simplifying black culture, himself.

Again, any means by which we can learn something about somebody different from us at a low cost in ways that do not harm anybody is beneficial. This is why we read about things we do not understand or go to performances that teach us about something we do not know (like The Vagina Monologues). These are poor substitues for actual life experience, but they are the best we can do. The simple act of wanting to know is a communication of an individuals desire to overcome the boundaries of race, religion, culture, gender or whatever that separate us. Why can't we see these acts in that light?

3/11/2006 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Dan Jacobson said...

Actually, sometimes something is worse than nothing. Specifically when that something completely misses the point. With this show, the exercise isn't going to get anyone any closer to understanding what the problem is with racism in this country, no matter how much they may be trying to. Every time the white woman gets called on her racist behavior she flips out and acts as though it's coming from out of nowhere. She has learned nothing. So in that case, in terms of net effect, something is the equal of nothing, i.e. it may as well have been nothing for all the good it did.

But looking a little deeper, we can see that something in this case is actually worse than nothing, because it fills the white people with the sense that, hey, at least they tried to understand, when in fact, they didn't.

Anyway, there is a low cost alternative to all of this spectacle, and it's a technology that predates airbrushed makeup and fat suits by a good million and a half years. It's called listening when people are trying to tell you something.

3/11/2006 12:09:00 PM  
Blogger said...


Thanks for the comment. I think you make a lot of sense. My only argument would be that even if the white woman reacts as though it's coming out of nowhere, she is still affected by the experience. She is challenged in her beliefs. A belief unchallenged will never change.

Listening is the best and easiest solution to understanding anything. There is no doubt about it. But sometimes listening just isn't enough. How many times has someone told you something that you just weren't sure you believed? You had to experience it for yourself to learn. And how do we listen when no one is talking? It's not easy for different races to get together and have frank discussions about racial issues. A show like this pushes the envelope ever so slightly (and even if it does it in a poor way) to get the discussion going. Case in point: this post would not have happened but for the show.

You're right. Something can be worse than nothing. I hope that this his not the case for B/W, but it may be.

3/11/2006 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

For the record, I don't believe that all Black peoples struggles are the same. Quite the contrary - that's why I speak of my struggles as a Black man as opposed to some amorphous, all-encompassing Black struggle.

Given that, I reject wholeheartedly the continued protests of some Whites and others, who believe the most useful method to promote cross-racial understanding is for people of color to "teach" Whites about their lives and issues. I am not a tenured professor of African American Studies. Nor would I want to be.

First, I have my own life; the stained soul of White America just isn't that important to me. Secondly, I'm quite done as a Black man bleeding for America's sins. I hated Black. White. I couldn't watch the episode for more than three to five minutes at a time without needing oxygen. I haven't been that pissed off watching TV in a long time. It was like every Black person on the show wanted to reduce the African American experience to uneducated, ambitionless, lower-class social mannerisms and jargon. When Rose Wurgel, in blackface, performs her first poem in front of the slam poetry class, her sexually charged piece encountered blank stares; at completion, the female instructor remarks that Rose uses many "big words, that I don't understand... you have to know your audience". Like its somehow inauthentic to utilize polysyllabic diction before African American writers? The fuck? No, if teaching White America how to treat their fellow citizens as human beings means that I have to suffer such idiocy for the so-called greater good of brainwashing Whites into becoming "Better People", than please don't be surprised if I play hooky until further notice.

Black. White. was a repugnant exercise in White liberal guilt, made all the more disgusting by Ice Cube's co-producer credit. It's like R.J. Cutler realized that without someone White America would recognize as a former "Baddest Negro on the Planet", the show would never see cable broadcast given its anti-minority content. In much the same vein, Cutler screened the first episode to an audience of several hundred members and guests of the Los Angeles NAACP to avoid the charges of cynical minstrelsy this fantasy TV deserves. Any use of gaudy racialized makeup - blackface, yellowface, whiteface, etc. - remains antagonistic to the rugged individualism and citizen equality that founded our nation.

Racial makeup, in any capacity, is evil. It can be humorous, sad, laughable, or infuriating, but it is always morally wrong, because it presupposes simplicity and stereotype to mask and conceal complexity and diversity in the human experience. No "How am I supposed to know how to treat the darkies as humans?" pleas from any modern American can alter that obvious point.

3/11/2006 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous T/ether said...


I guess I can understand your frustration with how the show reduces racial experience to a one-dimensional punch line...repeated ad nauseum. It's pretty similar, in fact, to how you like to throw around your concept of White America here and there as if it's some kind of unified, flat, static entity. Quite frankly, I'm a bit P.O'd by your penchant for making the White man an easy target...hey, we've all got our problems and presuppositions. one positive place to start a conversation is by stating our point of view, our paradigm, from the outset rather than begging the reader to somehow "get it" without us telling them.

for starters, i'd like to think that we are all complex people, with complex lives and experiences that don't reduce easily down to cute one-liners that sound good and create a shock-value addiction. you've obviously got a great deal to bring to the table, as your life experience is quite different from my own, and your lens of viewing the world is not mine. while we will inevitably be forced to make some simplification and reduction in our paradigms for the sake of quick discussion, let's also remind ourselves that words often do not do justice to the people behind them.

i respect your distaste for the show. i find your feelings interesting, and i am curious to know more. however, the show, like many things witnessed and acted out in life, cannot be siphoned down to something so simple as good/evil. let's debate the pros and cons of what a show such as this might produce. i would argue that there will at least be some residual good to the exercise as well as bad...the net sum being up for contention.

but, what do i know, i'm from someplace called White i really so bad? is there no redemption? what would you suggest is a better way to bridge the gap between race/culture/ideology? let's work this out and let cooler heads prevail.

3/12/2006 02:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Lindsey said...

the female instructor remarks that Rose uses many "big words, that I don't understand... you have to know your audience". Like its somehow inauthentic to utilize polysyllabic diction before African American writers? -- james

I haven't seen the show B/W, but I've been reading the comments here and am trying to learn something about how one person treats another based on many things, but mostly, skin color (as is one of the main points of B/W). After reading James' description of an event in the show (see quoted block above), I felt disgust and shame for Rose in blackface. I don't know if Rose was critiqued because of her skin color, but if she was (as it seems James believes & I believe), I am ashamed at such treatment. I will never know if Rose felt this racism against her since she is white underneath the makeup, but as a white member of the audience, I felt the racism. I felt such shame. Tell me that I haven't learned something from this. NO DOUBT, it must be painful for the recipient of the racist comments and treatment to watch such actions and to watch an entire show about the shitty treatment we dish out to one another (as described by James--needing oxygen, etc.), but when do we ever address the issue in an honest way? If we don't address the issue for fear of people's comments (it's morally wrong, evil, etc.), then when will we ever try to mend our fences? When will we ever try to understand each other? Racism is a very painful issue to confront and address, and the lines of communication can be poor if not inexistent at times, but 'where we begin is where we arrive.' Now, arrive at an answer, probably not. Arrive at a discussion? I hope so! But we have to start somewhere--we have to start period before we can begin to understand each other. With an audience of millions of viewers out there, of course there are going to be different reactions and viewpoints on the matter, but guess what--we've opened the doors of communication and are actually talking about it in an honest way. Now the challenge will be to actually learn something from one another--as painful and diffcult as it may be to talk it out, we must first realize there is a need to talk it out and to also realize, that hey-, maybe I have something to learn here. I don't know who ever said this show was to teach white people something about black people, but I hope that it teaches both of us to start talking about the issues in a real, open way--I've not ever seen that done before and I believe we'd all be the better for it if we started talking. I don't know what the producers of B/W are trying to accomplish, but I know that it's spawned a great many conversations between people of all races to start talking to each other about the big elephant in the room. We all could stand to learn better treatment of our neighbor. Don't tell me none of us has nothing to learn here.

3/13/2006 10:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Carlos said...

i've enjoyed reading this post and the comments that have followed. race issues in america always makes for interesting discussion. of course, as lindsey points out, too often the conversation never takes place.

i haven't seen b/w, but i am going to make an effort to try and watch this week. from what i have been able to gather, based on this conversation, i'm skeptical as to whether or not any of the participants in the show will get anything meaningful from the experience. however, that doesn't mean people watching the show can't.

as to whether or not blackface is ever appropriate, i have to admit that my opinion isn't completely formed. when i first saw a commercial for this show, my initial reaction was, "what are they thinking?" but i also think that if you look at the two pictures from the post, the one on the left is obviously only going to be used in a negative way. no attempt is made to look real, and the person's intent certainly isn't to look real. on the other hand, the picture on the right seems to be trying to look authentic.

contrary to what jenn says, i believe intent does matter, and is nearly always relevant. jenn mentions murder as an example. while murder is always a crime, all murder is not the same. The legal system recognizes different degrees of murder. First degree murder implies the person has premeditated the act and the actions were intended to kill the victim; whereas second degree murder lacks the intent. There are also manslaughter charges that come as a result of one person killing another. in this sense, intent can mean the difference between a 5 year prison term and the death penalty.

hasn't anyone ever tried to do something for you, but been unable to? while the end result may not be desirable, certainly their intentions must count for something? and just because people could lie about their intentions, doesn't mean intent is not important.

all that to say that i think there is a difference between the makeup on the left and the makeup on the right. to me, that major difference is the intent of the two, and that that intent does in fact mean something.

i think james' point about the poetry instructor being critical of using big words is an extremely important one. this is something that for me, is very frustrating and appaling. african-americans are often portrayed as uneducated, ghetto rappers who waste their money on dubs, chains, and grillz, while listening to rap music. this show not only portraying this, but trying to pass this off as authentically black, is disgusting. in no way can this show claim to be a positive force if it tries to pass off these ridiculous stereotypes as somehow "authentic." as james said, why can't an african-american authentically use a polysyllabic word? when the nba implemented a new dress code, requiring "professional" attire, many said that this policy was racist, and that they were trying to force the majority african-american players to "act white." so why does wearing a suit constitute "acting white?" that's an awful message to send. african-americans can't wear suits? they can only wear baggy pants and oversized t-shirts, with the hat to the side? that's bullshit.

this image isn't just portrayed on b/w. it's portrayed in many places. hip-hop, which is currently the most popular form of music, counts white suburban teens as its biggest consumer. hip-hop portrays african-americans as exceedingly materialistic, sex-crazed, thugs. unfortunately, much of white america's exposure to african-americans is through hip hop, cribs, pimp my ride, music videos, and dave chappelle.

while most african-americans are nothing like what is portrayed through music, tv, and other media, many whites in america seem to not understand this. and if b/w insists on furthering this unrealistic image, then they are doing a disservice to the viewers by simultaneously claiming to portray "reality."

my last point is about the idea of "white liberal guilt." while some may be motivated by this, i think it is disingenuous to claim all whites are motivated by a sense of guilt.

while i'm white, i am not motivated by, nor do i feel a sense of guilt. i recognize that my white skin has given me certain privelages. i don't get pulled over as often as james; i don't get followed around in a store as often as james, and women don't cross the road to avoid me. but white people aren't the only ones in america who get privelages. when an asian walks into a classroom, they are believed to be smart, and a hard working student, while when an african-american walkes into a classroom, nearly the opposite is believed.

just because i believe these double-standards are wrong, doesn't mean that my motivation is "white liberal guilt." instead, my disdain for the ridiculous double standards stem from my beliefs on what is morally right and my sense of justice. the idea that my desire for equality is somehow motivated by a sense of guilt over what others have done is flat out wrong, and completely ignores the idea that i could instead be motivated by strong beliefs as to what is morally acceptable and just.

3/14/2006 11:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Aaron said...

I have a few point to make about this topic.
First of all, Racism as defined in Webster's II New College Dictionary is "1.The notion that one's own ethnic stock is superior. 2. Predjudice or discrimination based on racism."
There is a difference between racism and racial oppression. Racial oppression is racism plus power. Just wanted to get that definition out there.
On that note, as a white woman, I have personally experienced racism first hand. I grew up in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood and was constantly berated, picked on, accosted, made fun of and worse just because I am a "wholia". I grew up in a family whose income fell way below the poverty line, yet we were unable to get help from the government because we are white. Does a poor white person have less needs than a poor minority? Apparently so. My sister was unable to get a scholarship she was promised and worked extremely hard for because she was white. And as a female, I'm not even going to go there. I know what it is like to be hated for no reason. I know what it feels like to be a minority. Before you respond to that, look at the number of whites versus minorities, specifically Hispanics in states like Texas and tell me I am not a minority. The standards that were set to determine minorities looks at the number of people that are upper class and what race there are. Just because there are a lot of rich white people, doesn't mean there aren't any poor ones. Why should I be denied help because some other unrelated white person made it big?
We should each be taken as individuals, not judged by race, gender, religion, sexual preference, or anything else. If I dislike someone, it is because they have given me a specific reason not to. Yet I have been accused on numerous occasions of being oppressive because I am white. In my humble opinion, this is no less racist than to think all black people are striving rap stars. It is a gerneralization. Just like saying I have white slave owners in my family history. My family didn't arrive in the US until after the Civil War was long over with, yet I can't count how many times I have been told I owe someone because my ancestors enslaved theirs. It is all bullshit. Why can't we let this stuff go? Because we are all just as intolerant as we accuse each other as being. We will always hate and fear what we dont truly understand. Because we will never truly understand what it is like to walk in someone else's shoes, this will always be so. In a world where identity is everything and you must look a certain way to fit in, can we expect anything else?

My problem with the show is that Mr. Sparks kept saying he was treated better as a white man, i.e. the golf shoe man put his shoes on for him. Sorry folks, no one has ever done that for me or any other white person I know. The only way to truly know if he is treated differently is to go back to the same places, interact with the same people, behave the same way, and be black. Only then, can he say whether or not he is treated differently as a white man. I seriously doubt he has already experienced racism in those specific locations. Bruno, well he is an idiot. I must say he is pigheaded enough to not see the discrimination that is still prevalent. I know that black people are looked at sideways, I know that they are followed in department stores, I know they are treated differently. I have seen it and heard many stories from good friends. My point though, is that is doesn't just happen to black people. It happens to poor people in a ritzy store, women with lots of kids (cause having lots of kids means you are a shoplifter, dont ya know), actually, it happens anytime there is someone who enters a place where they do not fit in. Yes, it does happen more often to black people, but by no means is it exclsively their burden. I know this, because it happens to me too. Just ask any Goth kid who goes into someplace like Dillards if they are treated the same as when they go to Hot Topic. We all know they aren't, and race has no factor in this.

Well, that is all I have to say for now.

3/18/2006 10:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Safe Space? Safe Space? This is a rallying point for the new American left, the defense of a Safe Space provision of racial segregation at an ‘Anti-Intolerance’ panel?! There is no "Safe Space" in the United States or anywhere else! You know what the problem is with Americans today? They’re inappropriately concerned with 'Safety!' This is why they’re having such a rough go of it in Iraq. To genuinely ingratiate themselves with the local population, they would have to forego some concern for their personal safety! I understand that the situation over there must be terrifying, and it's rather too late to do anything about it now, but refusing to leave your armoured, air-conditioned humvee without a full dress of body armour and two loaded weapons at the ready is no way to make friends. Xenophobia goes completely unchallenged in an environment of ‘Safety.’

Is it safe to publicly discuss your ideas about race? Hardly. But it is the duty of every American citizen to participate in an OPEN debate on the health of the Republic, to take risks as they forge and defend their own beliefs. ‘Safety’ is one of the few perks of Slavery. To hell with racially segregated ‘anti-racism’ lectures! Whatever the motivations of the people who made this show, I can hardly fault them for their “violation” of such idiotic rules.

4/03/2006 12:42:00 AM  
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