reappropriate

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Black. White. Episode 2

Hmmm... rampant sexism in the guise of crude attempts at cultural passing and the Big Black Penis myth. I did actually enjoy that this has become an issue so early on, showing that this show will at least attempt to deal with race as it intersects with other -isms (in this case, sexism and heterosexism), and not just this overly-simplistic Black-White race paradigm as an isolated model of all-that-is-oppression. The scene with Rose hanging with her poetry group was basically an illustration of another stereotype of Blacks: Blacks as the trendsetters, genetically "cool". At the same time, White girls shouldn't try to rhyme -- if it's not what you do, it's not what you do. What Rose fails to communicate to the audience is that just because she has fallen into a group of African Americans who rhyme, it isn't coded in the DNA of Black people to be good at rhyming. Again we have an instance of the White characters attempting to emulate stereotypes in order to pass. What I really hate about this show is the unabashed, overt racism that the producers need to show. It isn't enlightening that Rene met a racist hatemonger in the White bar who accused Blacks of being uneducated, self-segregating coons. Rene acted surprised, but this kind of racism is fairly universal. Rene asks, "If I hadn't asked him, is this what he would have thought of me?" Yes, Rene, and it's shocking that you, as a person of colour, are surprised by that. Although, finally, we hear Rene articulate the problem with the show -- no matter how many pounds of makeup you put on and try to shuck 'n jive like your idea of a Black man, you will never experience the reality of being Black in America. The problem is that this show shouldn't even try. And yet, still, this confessional scene was couched in another attempt to educate the Wurgels -- again, the Sparks have been conscripted into teaching the White Wurgels about race and racism. Of course, the Wurgels obviously are miseducated, if they think that dashikis and Kinte Cloth is a good idea for going to Sunday morning church. I love how they stood outside a store with a giant sign that says "Authentic African Prints" and actually thought that going in, buying and wearing these outfits would be more appropriate when in Blackface. "Beautiful"? No, honey, it's just plain offensive that you think that this is some game of dress-up and make-believe, and that Black equals African. All dark is all the same to the Wurgels, isn't it? The question I pose to you is whether you think Rene and the Sparks should've said something. Given my thing against racial education, you know what I think. Ultimately, we see again the fetish for the exotic. The dashiki appeals to the Wurgels precisely because it is "different", and that people who are White "can not" wear it with any authenticity. Meanwhile, more and more I'm revising my opinion of Rose. True, she's still a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed White girl with a certain fetishism for Black "cool", and her insecurity about being herself is bordering on the inane, but at the very least her scenes are articulating ideas I can get down with. She should not be so insecure about her style of poetry -- she's a White girl, she's not part of the spoken word scene, she should just be happy with her unique style and work to improve that rather than try to create poor emulations of the other students in her poetry class. She shouldn't write a race poem unless she's doing it for herself rather than to try and fit in with her Black friends. Ultimately, her scenes are about a rejection of the Black. White. artificiality of race passing, about how just because she dons makeup, it doesn't make her anything else but a White girl with dark foundation in a room full of Black people. It's a nice contrast to the incessant ignorance of Mrs. Idiot White Liberal and her Moron Boyfriend. Speaking of which, Carmen's rant about having to watch her words? Sorry? Should anyone care about poor Carmen's hysteria because she has to actually try not to be racist? Being tolerant of others requires effort, and it's another indication of White privilege that anyone might consider that they shouldn't need to put in that kind of work. Even though Carmen was introduced as the slightly more sensible White liberal, she seems no better than her boyfriend. Both of them thought that their White makeup insisted that they "act Black" but again, it's all false pretense. You look like a fool if you go to a Black church and pretend to "catch the spirit"; the minute Carmen raised her hand like she saw the others doing, I wanted to hurl -- especially at church, which should be all about putting everything but your belief in a Higher Being aside. Brian was right on the money -- it was disgusting to watch Carmen and Bruno at church, and then for them to compare it to "regular church" (as if Black church is "unusual") and call it entertainment and a pep rally was just a further indication of just how unintentionally offensive Bruno and Carmen are. Just to put it out there, is anyone else tired of White people approving of Black people by calling them "articulate"? As if the only acceptable Black person is the educated Black person. And then, Carmen calls them "beautiful, black creatures" and questions Chad's sexuality just openly? I don't understand Carmen's character at all -- she's a complete exercise in contradiction. Certainly, they should discuss Carmen's idea that the only racism that can exist is a "negative name". Sure, Carmen means well with her characterization of the Black poet as a "beautiful, black creature", but that doesn't excuse how she has basically called them young, childish, subhuman animals, to be appreciated like a circus sideshow but never respected as an equal. With no one challenging Carmen on her real racism, I again wonder if this show has any merit whatsoever.

13 Comments:

Blogger Ragnell said...

I'm not watching myself, but is it possible that they're trying to handle Carmen gently? I mean, if she freaks out to the point of tears over being told the word "creature" is offensive, can you imagine the hideous meltdown if her fragile reality was truly challenged?

They must be saving that for the season finale.

3/16/2006 03:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have cable, and so I haven't seen this show with the unpromising premise. But I reserve the right to call any layperson (non-PR flack, non-entertainer, non-politician) articulate in a TV interview - I know my white mouth would be inarticulately y'knowing away in a person-on-the-street random interview. Or just frozen in deer-in-headlights mode.

NancyP

3/16/2006 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger nubian said...

i don't want to watch it, but i can't help it. i am embarrased with the sparks who put themselves into this situation. i am disguted with everyone and everything about this show. but i can't stop watching.

3/16/2006 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Nubian: I think it's cool if people of colour watch the show if only to educate ourselves in the state of the mainstream race discussion. I mean, others will watch this show thinking that they know what's what about blackness at the end, and we need to be able to articulate why this show doesn't help the cause.

NancyP, I think "articulate" is a nice compliment, in general. I just get tired of hearing it be a euphemism for "well-educated, non-uppity, assimilated Negro". As if most Black people aren't articulate.

Ragnell: I think it's quite possible that they're reserving all the major squabbles until near the end of the show. I think the Sparks are still trying to tread lightly and a good part of this was Rene, for reasons not explained in the episode, choosing not to say anything when Carmen was being ignorant. I don't blame Rene but certainly I don't think at this point that Carmen is getting challenged on her stupidity.

3/16/2006 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger jose said...

The "black creature" comment almost made me throw something at the television. I now believe that Carmen is worse than Bruno, in that Carmen is the aversive racist that brings you down in the process of being your liberal "ally". Her crying episode is trademarked White Woman Syndrome, which hinges on gender stereotypes and a self-positioning of comparative oppression in order to prevent further attacks ("I'm a vulnerable woman, I'm just as oppressed as people of color! Why are you beating up on me?"). I can picture the white people at home asking "what more do black people want?"

Rose shows signs. It looks like she's beginning to understand the number one rule of being anti-racist: defer to POC experience.

I agree that Brian and Rene are too close to being "educators" but it seems the producers are encouraging "communication". I think it would have been much more beneficial if the Wurgels had gone through anti-racism workshops for and by white people first. When Carmen viewed word usage through the lens of "political correctness" as a rote rule rather than understanding, it's not POC responsibility to educate, especially when Carmen was in a purely defensive mode.

Nubian, do not be embarassed -- consider it research. There are so many things wrong with this show, and it hurts to watch it, but I agree that it's useful to know exactly why it's wrong. It's also important to know how others are perceiving it. John McWhorter on NPR -- http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5282206 -- got bootstrap?

3/16/2006 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

oh jose, thank you for bringing up mcwhorter on npr. i was gonna blog about his comments, but had nothing unique or special to say other than: "ew".

he counters anecdotal evidence with anecdotal evidence? something strikes me as wrong with that picture.

3/16/2006 09:27:00 PM  
Blogger autodogmatic.com said...

Bruno and Carmen are dumbasses. This much was made clear in Episode 2. More generally, I feel like I can say that everybody (including the Sparks) on the show has exemplified some sort of racist behavior after Episode 2. Where did they get these people?

And why hasn't anyone gotten to the bottom of what racism really is: namely, seeing people not as complex individuals with unique qualities that no stereotype could ever capture but as generalizations/objects/textbook definitions?

Even in talking about B/W, there have been a number of statements that generalize based on color:

"She should not be so insecure about her style of poetry -- she's a White girl [emphasis mine]" (Jenn, this emphasized statement detracted from your point - it's not that she's white, it's that she's trying to be someone she's not)

Or...

"Her crying episode is trademarked White Woman Syndrome" and "I can picture the white people at home asking 'what more do black people want?'" per Jose.

These are gross generalizations about white individuals. They are the types of statements that we need to get away from. Racism is only about black and white (or yellow and brown) insomuch as we can't see the individuals behind the color.

I was pissed off at the Wurgels for being dumbasses. I was pissed of at the Sparks for failing to understand their outrage and vocalize such outrage in a meaningful way to Carmen and Bruno. No it's not the responsibility of minorities to educate majorities. But with regard to the show, the Sparks should say something meaningful if they have some an insightful understanding.

When will we stop seeing color and starting seeing human beings? Only when we begin interact and communicate across apparent (but nominal) differences.

All of that said, solid post Jenn.

3/16/2006 10:52:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Respectfully, AD, I disagree, and you illustrate the primary reason why B.W. won't work the way the producers seem to envision it will. Today's mainstream America seem far to eager to pin racism as something effected by "dumbasses" rather than there being any institutionalized discrimination against people of colour.

Yes, the Wurgels are stupid. Yes, they made stupid remarks, but this is not the be all and end all of racism. You don't like generalizations, but the fact of the matter is that as Whites, you all are privvy to certain privileges and mindsets based entirely upon your position of White privilege. White Woman Syndrome is commonplace, tears by a White Woman in public are effectively used to counter charges of racism because White America is able to villainize the person of colour as one terrorizing Whites rather than the pain caused by the original racism charged.

I'm frankly disappointed by your reaction to this episode, villanizing the Wurgels rather than bringing about a discussion for or against White privilege itself. To me, it sounds an awful lot like Bruno arguing that racism only exists in the eye of the beholder and Carmen trying to argue that her statements of "beautiful black creatures" was not racist because it wasn't the N-word.

3/17/2006 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger autodogmatic.com said...

Jenn,

My point is that the Wurgels and the Sparks are racist and don't even realize it. Over and above that, they are just dumbasses. That said, I'm not trying to write off racism as relegated to stupid people. My mistake in misleading you. Though I think knowledge and racism go hand in hand, there's a point where this correlation breaks down. My subconcious racism is what is most difficult to overcome. The Wurgel and Sparks families have the same problem. Their racism is part of their paradigm; thus, they are failing to even see it.

As a White person, I am subject to certain privileges from time to time. These can come simply because of the color of my skin. As an apia, you receive certain privileges because of the color of your skin, as well. There is no absolute statement, here, however. These privileges affect how we view the world. But they differ for each of us. No two white people have been privileged the same. For example, white trash and white collar people will be greeted much differently in a retail store.

WWS commonplace? That's one hell of a stereotype. It's like me saying black people are poor. These are meaningless statements. Insomuch as they demean human beings into one-dimensional objects, they are racist statements.

I'm not sure you got the point of my comment. I'm disappointed with both the Wurgels or Sparks (with the exception of Rose); I picked on the Wurgels more because their idiocy was more the subject of BW Ep 2 than the Sparks.

My most important point (and one you did not address) is that racism is seeing stereotypes formulated on the basis of skin color thereby failing to see complex human beings. Both the Sparks and Wurgels need to overthrow their paradigm of black and white and receive each other as fellow human beings.

-Neal

3/17/2006 02:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mind you, I don't USE the word "articulate" when complimenting or commenting on a person of color's, or a white person's, prepared speech or extempore utterances. I have heard the word "articulate" used to describe professional (politician, teacher, actor, etc) POCs' speech too many times, as if experienced public speakers would mumble just because they are POC. D'oh! Being articulate is a minimum qualification for professional public speakers. And amateurs, novices ought to be encouraged for their approach to content, and forgiven any lapses in style. I use "interesting", "well-argued", and other content descriptors.
NancyP

3/17/2006 06:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FWIW, white pentecostals raise their hands in church. It would be beyond stupid for white high-Church Episcopalians to raise their hands in a Black pentecostal or Baptist - style church service - hand raising's not like "kneel, stand, kneel, sit" motions done uniformly by the congregants - but entirely normal for white pentecostals to raise hands.

NancyP

3/17/2006 06:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Rachel S said...

I'm glad to see that someone is doing reviews of this show. I have watched it, and I have to say I get more and more uncomfortable every time I watch. I just keep waiting for the Wurgel parents to say something stupid (their daughter doesn't bother me so much). Then, the Black creature comment. OMG, I couldn't believe it.

I also hate the way the show assumes that Black people and White people are just so separate and so different that we can't even communicate--such an essentialist notion of race. There were a few times in the first episode where I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. They kept making inferences about how hard it would be to live in an interracial household--bullshit, I do it everyday. LOL!! That whole part of the storyline bothered me.

My partner also noticed something interesting--they aren't showing much of the Sparks son, and last week the previewed a scene where a group of White kids uses the n-word and he doesn't say anything, but they didn't show it. I wonder if that will be down the road.

Just a few thoughts....but I have to say i am struggling through watching it.

3/18/2006 10:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

Neal...

With all due respect, saying that white people commonly react in a privileged way because they benefit from institutional racism is NOT like saying all or most black people are poor. It's like saying all or most black people are oppressed by racism. Which is very much true. It's not a stereotype so much as it is a corollary to the institution of racism.

3/24/2006 08:37:00 PM  

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