Thursday, April 13, 2006

Black. White. Episode 6

Wow, poppets, it has finally arrived. Tonight we bid farewell to Black. White. It seems like only last month that we started these recaps and yet, throughout the journey, I've enjoyed sharing my thoughts from you and hearing your reactions in return. There's been controversy, there's been debate, there's been an awful lot of Haterade -- hell, I've probably pissed off a good half of you, intentionally and otherwise. I hope we can all still be friends. The episode opens with a quick summary of the tensions in the house. No one is getting along anymore, and, of particular note is a mounting tension between Rose and Nick. It seems if there was ever a possibility that those two would get together, Devon's presence seems to have shattered it. (Incidentally, several people in the comments section of last week's recap have spellt the name "Devaughn". I'm sticking with "Devon" until I know for sure how his name is spelled. Just because I'm not going with "Devaughn" just because it sounds "ethnic"). "White" Brian and "White" Rene go to a nice restaurant to enjoy their makeup one last time. All transracialization aside, if I had a chance to truly pass, I'd be hard pressed to not go off with one good huzzah of superficially enjoying White privilege. While at the restaurant, "White" Brian notices a single woman who leaves her purse at the bar while she goes to the washroom. When questioned, the woman speaks of a faith in the goodness of others. Brian was definitely right: that's some White privilege right there. "Black" Rose goes to poetry class and reads a poem. Again, Rose has the same problem with her poetry she's had all series -- she's pressuring herself to say something because she thinks she should, but she doesn't know how to. If we are to learn anything from this show, here I think is the most powerful distillation in the most unconscious of places: Rose, blackface or otherwise, learns and subsequently teaches us that we must be ourselves. All pretense is ultimately just transparent falsehoods and the more we try to be something we think we should be, the less we are that thing. It's almost painful as we, the viewer, genuinely wish Rose could find a voice that is her own and be willing to say what she thinks rather than say what she thinks others want to hear. Back from commercial break, and again we're wrapped up in a discussion to be yourself. Rene questions Nick about his "gangsta persona" (personally, I think Nick is playing the stereotype, not necessarily a gangsta stereotype). And again, we are forced to wonder about the parenting skills of Rene and Brian rather than the ignorance of Nick: Rene finds a genuine, bonafide "ex-gang member" to lecture Nick. While we can (somewhat) appreciate the sentiment, we have to wonder why Brian and Rene are passing the buck in parenting their own child. And it's of serious concern that the message is being sent that Rene and Brian are finding "more authentic" Black people to teach him about Blackness. While I don't accept Brian and Rene's attitude towards the Wurgels that paint the Sparks as all-arbitors of Blackness, Brian and Rene shouldn't need to find a Blacker-than-thou counselor. Later, Rose chats with the Elder Sparks about her poetry. She is frustrated that during this project, she feels like she doesn't fit in as either race. She's been eluding to this thought all along -- but again, she can't take credit for this thought. Her language during this conversation is such that she credits the Sparks for the idea for this poem. I hardly think that's either fair or healthy. As a wonderful contrast, Nick pours his poor, angsty adolescent, cooning heart out to Carmen. We find out that Nick has no friends. Oh, sob. Could it be because he's trying too hard to be street when it just comes off as fake? As Carmen walks away, she tells Nick she "finds him fascinating", and again, I flash back to her treatment of the Blacks she's encountered in this project as creatures for her enjoyment or bemusement. Back from commercial break and the producers take a page from junior high and encourage all of the castmembers to write letters to one another. Bruno considers that he "might have offended lots of people in this project". Yah think? Bruno reads his first. He calls Rene: petty, self-righteous, simple, and narrow-minded. Yeowtch. The Sparks say that they learned basically nothing from anyone except Rose. Nick says something pretty non-descript, and why do I characterize it as such? Because I can't remember what he said two minutes ago. Except that Rose calls him "articulate" in her confession cam. We already know I hate that word. Rose's letter is perhaps the most hopeful, optimistic, and indeed the most analytical, and of course, she breaks down as she concludes it. And it seems to be the most fuzzy happy ending we're really going to get out of this show. Nonetheless, racial disharmony is in full force as we anticipate the Wurgels and Sparks catfight -- still arguing over Carmen and Rose's conflict over the word "bitch". And indeed, the catfight is fun to watch. I'm not even sure where to begin: this is reality TV at its finest. They talk over one another, and the sexism is apparent that both Brian and Bruno go at it like meatheaded knights jousting to protect their ladies fair. To me, if it was Carmen and Rene's conflict, why aren't we hearing from them? The psychologist asks Brian why he cares so much about Bruno's attitude -- which brings up Brian's confession that he does care about what Bruno thinks. Which begs the question -- why is Brian so desperate to get Bruno to see and understand the racism that Brian faces. As if Brian's experiences as a Black man must be validated by the White man's "approval". How many people of colour still fall into that trap of needing to justify the racism they face by forcing White people to see it? Why should we care whether a White guy sees and agrees that we are oppressed? Cut to the psychologist going to the bathroom and some symbolic edits of the Sparks and Wurgels just staring at each other in silence. The point is well-made: no one is going to be "fixed" overnight by this project, if at all. And the expectation that anyone was going to change in this project is unrealistic. Back from commercials and Rose is preparing for her poetry thing. Carmen and Bruno attend Rose's thing in Blackface, to continue "Black" Rose's charade. While on their way to the performance, "Black" Carmen makes a comment about all Black people looking alike. Not cool -- but what was more not cool was that "Black" Bruno seems to make some sort of caricature of Brian/Generic Black Militant/Something... It's time for "Black" Rose -- and she, uhm, makes up something while she's at the mic? What's nice about the poem is that it sums up nicely the "be yourself" message, and it is rather powerful. She does need to work on breathing control though. Of course, we then transition into some sort of "the children are our future" message that deflates the whole balloon of Rose's poetry. Rene and Carmen decide to try and bond a little, so they go hiking in the mountains. I'm afraid that two will go up the mountain, and only one will return. Secluded group activity? I hope Rene has an alibi. Meanwhile, Brian and Bruno bond over basketball. Aw, isn't that sweet? Male bonding over a racialized stereotype of a male bonding activity? Back to Rene and Carmen and a superficial kind of truce is reached. It feels fake to me -- like the producers edited this scene to try and create more of a happy ending for this show than there is or should be. Back to Problem Child Nick, and Rene and Brian decide to take Nick to the "Museum of Tolerance". Okay, at least Rene and Brian are taking some amount of responsibility for parenting Nick, although one has to wonder why Nick was never exposed to this kind of stuff earlier. Shouldn't ever Black child grow up knowing about the Civil Rights movement? Why is Nick first finding out about his history and heritage at the age of 16? Insert commercial break, in which I watch a commercial about a mower that can convert from a one-seater into a two-seater. Which begs the question: why would you ever need a two-seater mower? Back from such esoteric thoughts, and the cast has a party to invite all the innocent bystanders in this project to a barbeque. Cameo appearances from a bunch of guest stars on Black. White. including a brief appearance by Wonder White Liveral who gives Rene a scrapbook. There's some speech-ifying, including a poetry class member who calls Rose "Winter Rose". Well, if Rose ever decides to moonlight as a crime-fighting superhero, she's now got her punnish, "clever" name. Perhaps she could be Wonder White Liberal's sidekick... Kenny, the "recovering gangster" says something sorta "profound" (aka sappy) about power or some such. I confess, I wasn't listening. I did laugh, however, that the next shot was of the rich White kids from the etiquette class quickly pulling away in their stretch Hummer. Clever editing, there. Now, there's some sad elevator music as the Wurgels and Sparks pack their things. Bruno confesses that he still believes racism doesn't exist. Perhaps the Sparks should've taken dear 'ol Pappy Bruno to the Museum of Tolerance since it seemed to have scared straight Problem Child Nick. There's some more hugging, some smiles and some brave faces. There's some fortune cookie-esque philosophizing about a better future, a big group hug and everyone leaves with the sledge-hammering of a message that if we just opened our minds a little, loved our fellow man, released hundreds of olive-branch bearing doves to the great blue sky, held hands and sang Kumbahyah, we can end racism. Sorry if I'm a little skeptical. After all, there hasn't been an ad for a reunion special.


Blogger Ragnell said...

That doesn't sound like much of a fight. What a ripoff.

4/13/2006 04:03:00 AM  
Anonymous gatamala said...

You are right about Rene & Brian. It is solely their responsibility to prepare their Black son to be a Black man in America. They dropped the ball.

However their lack of parenting isn't unique to middleclass/affluent Black parents. This affliction is nationwide and transcends ethnic and racial barriers. Their neglect just has specific and dire consequences.


4/13/2006 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger Piig said...

While at the restaurant, "White" Brian notices a single woman who leaves her purse at the bar while she goes to the washroom. When questioned, the woman speaks of a faith in the goodness of others. Brian was definitely right: that's some White privilege right there.

Jenn, I agree with most everything you have posted about Black.White these past few weeks, but I'm inclined to think that this is representative more of class privilege than White privilege. I would never ever leave my wallet unattended in any public space, and no White person I know who is working class would ever do it.

I find that people talk in terms of race when often it's really class they are describing. I was talking to a Black acquaintance recently about juggling utility bills and choosing to spend $15 on a meal out instead of putting it toward my huge electricity bill, and her response was that I sounded Black. The reality is that working class folks of every race/ethnicity have to make similar choices every day. That doesn't mean that the White working class doesn't benefit from White privilege, just that we have more in common with working class people of color than one might initially think.

4/13/2006 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Piig, it's an interesting point you raise -- especially considering that one of the biggest, if not the biggest, fatal flaw in Black. White. is its inability to dissect race from class issues.

That being said, I believe there is a race element here. Would a poor or working-class White person leave their wallet anywhere? Possibly not -- that being the class element, but a rich Black person most likely would not do so either, because POC are aware and distrustful of others because of their race. The reason this woman left her wallet is because she trusts that nothing bad will happen to her -- is that because she's never faced racial or class-based oppression?

I would argue her race has a lot to do with that.

4/13/2006 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

So it's over now?That was quick.Nobody learns anything, everyone goes their own way still holding on to their beliefs.Too bad, but what do you expect?
And all Black people look alike?I thought that saying was reserved only for asians :)
Anyway, thanks for the detailed reviews of each show Jen.I wouldn't be able find out anything without them, with my lack of cable and all.Thanks.

4/13/2006 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous tekanji said...

Has anyone considered that the white woman may have been particularly naieve? Jenn has explored, and debunked, the many ways that acts of individuals are held up as The Way [x] Race Is. Just like scrapbooking isn't a universally white activity (or, I'd argue, a white activity outside of the upper/middle class midwestern type areas), I don't think it's useful to hold this woman up as some Example of Whiteness.

I'm a white woman who comes from a rich family and no one I know (in my class or otherwise) would do something like that. I was taught to not even let a stranger take my picture, lest they run off with my camera.

Another possibility is regional differences. I don't know where Black. White. was shot, but it's quite possible that the white woman moved from a small town where you don't have to be that careful. After all, most people in smaller towns don't lock their doors, and sometimes don't even lock their cars. Coming from a big city, that's practically unthinkable for me. I was nervous leaving my door here unlocked just to go downstairs and get my luggage -- and I'm currently in a small city, in Japan, in a student residence that needs a key to get in.

All that said, I agree with both of you on the class/race conflation that happened in Black. White.. On the subject, I actually read an interview with a person who had written a book on the subject as it relates to Affermative Action. Part of what she was talking about is how those who claim "reverse racism" are actually being disadvantaged by class, not race, but people seem to be unable to distinguish between the two.

4/13/2006 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger Piig said...

That being said, I believe there is a race element here. Would a poor or working-class White person leave their wallet anywhere? Possibly not -- that being the class element, but a rich Black person most likely would not do so either, because POC are aware and distrustful of others because of their race. The reason this woman left her wallet is because she trusts that nothing bad will happen to her -- is that because she's never faced racial or class-based oppression?

Point taken.

4/14/2006 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Man that was a weak final show. I was hoping for some real fireworks, like Bruno revealing his Grand Wizard past, or Renee unveiling her promo shots from her centerfold in next month's King magazine.

As to Brian's assertion of White privilege with the lady who left her wallet at the bar - yes, it's a race thing. It part of the immense catch-all denoted "White privilege" - it's not something every White person does, or has to do, but it emerges from a racialized mainstream comfort with American public settings unthinkable for persons of color.

Rose's frustration with Nick stems from the same general racism her mother offered with her "yo bitch" comment earlier. Rose wants all Black people to teach her Blackness; her poetry class with the lovely buck Devon unmasks as Niggerology 101. Nick's teenage nihilism doesn't allow Rose to "learn from him", and she becomes irate with his presence. Say what one will about Nick (the 'Scared Straight' segments with the ex-gang member and the barber offend more than they could possibly help) but I think his "just don't give a f-" response to this exercise in White liberal absurdity exposed the healthiest attitude. He's not around to play professor, like his parents, to piss off people with his sarcastic conservatism like Bruno, he's not on safari like Carmen or attending a historically Black college like Rose. I'm just surprised that Nick took so long to start yelling at people.

Then you check out Brian and it all makes sense. What a punk. For the record, if a Black man doesn't care about White people, he doesn't speak to any White people or waste time trying to educate them into respecting Black people as human beings. Brian took six weeks to understand that Bruno was a racist, but never realized that he didn't have to care about Bruno. How sad.

Well, I'm glad this exercise in post-1960's guilt is finally over. Hopefully the Wurgels won't have a problem with Rose when she decides to date one of Carmen's "beautiful Black creatures".

4/14/2006 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

Hiya, I was feeling surly enough to face the final episode today and it did indeed suck and reinforced my surliness.

The only thing touching to me was that it looked like Rose had actually grown, and allowed herself to be mentored by Nick's parents. It must have made Nick's parents happy to be able to share racism with somebody, when even their own son is in denial. And yeah, was the Museum of Tolerance Nick's first raw encounter? I mean those kinds of experiences can be quite profound, but damn, his parents do seem to be backpedaling a lot trying to catch Nick up on this stuff. And no, he was not articulate at the end. It was more like he was feeling like a star, and thanking everyone for his Oscar.

Above all, I was left with a tall glass of hatorade for the producers and editing. It was clearly, throughout, manipulated via editing to make white people feel better and perhaps even calm POC down a little. Conclusion: we can all just get along as long as we can walk away from each other after we are done posturing.

All I could feel during the group hugs and tense trucing was that they were so fucking relieved to be done that they would have had SEX with each other just to get out (with their paychecks, of course.)

I like your analysis of the therapy session and the men defending their wives' honor. I was supremely frustrated because probably a two hour session was cut to 3 or so minutes and focused on the men. I suspect there was much more said by the women and they chose the male pissing match for entertainment value.

Did you see the two page spread in People April 5th (which was more pictures than text)??

Rose tells us her mom needed a two week vacation by herself to recover. Poor beleagured Carmen. Herself, says, "the most difficult part was living with a family who did not get who I was and refused to see me for who I was." uh Carmen? Did ya try to do any of that for anyone else? Ever? And while I am dissing you, did it occur to you that POC feel that way around white people every. damned. day?

The little bonding session with Carmen and Nick was BS. They couldn't even look at each other. And Nick wasn't telling her shit.

Bruno announces himself unscathed in the final episode BUT he stole from Rose in the People spread when he said "I put black makeup on and appeared to be but I don't think it truly put me in the shoes of an African American (DUH) That doesn't mean that I deny the existence of racism. Do I believe that Brian looks for it? I do and I can understand why." OK, I missed the first two episodes but I strongly suspect that the answer is a resounding NOT when I ask, Did the Man ever say anything on camera indicating that he understood anything about Brian?

This show did not do a thing for anyone other than create an angry little diversion to showcase racism. But it's been fun dissing. Thanks for the space Jenn!

4/19/2006 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

After posting my reaction (so I wouldn't let my thoughts be influenced) I read through the comments and see that you took some heat for saying leaving the wallet was white privilege behavior. I agree with you. The only people who have ever openly confronted me on my habit of walking away from my purse, leaving it visible in a car, in a shopping cart, even too close to the front door of a house were POC. I am thinking of two in particular who just could not get over my witless trust (which has generally been rewarded!)

Yes there is some classism involved, the world feels less safe to poor whites than it does to wealthy whites. But I can bet you dollars to donuts that woman would not have left her wallet out in a racially mixed atmosphere. Kinda like how I have been known to surreptitiously put my locks down when the car crosses over into the "black" (not just poor) area of town. Yes I confess.

4/19/2006 06:00:00 PM  
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