« on: March 06, 2006, 09:41:08 AM »
here's more info on that Black/White show coming on tomorrow...
To Black Family on ‘Black.White.,’ the Show is ‘America’s Mirror Check’
When Brian and Renee Sparks, a black couple from Atlanta, were offered a starring role in a documentary examining race relations, they jumped at the chance, fully believing it would allow them to explore what life is like living in someone else’s skin.
Through “Black.White.,” a six-part series premiering tomorrow on the FX Network, the Sparkses and their teenage son, Nicholas, are virtually transformed into suburban white Americans. Producers of the show, which include actor and rapper Ice Cube, left no detail untouched, having the family undergo extensive make-up, training with dialect coaches and even placing them in a southern California home for six weeks with a white family that would live their lives as blacks.
For Renee, a 38-year-old dental office manager, the project seemed like an exciting way to see firsthand how different life is for blacks and whites in modern day America. But she admits she had no idea how much of a toll the undercover assignment would take on her emotionally.
“To be a fly on the wall to see what white people may say when we’re not in the room just sounded so neat,” Renee told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “Going into the project, I didn’t think it was going to be a very hard or frustrating experience. But for me, it was very hard, and I wanted to quit throughout the project.”
Those moments of frustration included Carmen Wurgel, Renee’s white counterpart, wanting to buy a dashiki to wear to church, calling a young dark-skinned woman a “beautiful black creature” and gleefully using the b-word during an exercise, explaining that she felt it was a common way black women greeted one another.
“The difficult part for me was dealing with the family,” Renee said, adding that dealing with Carmen’s husband, Bruno, was often as exasperating as her interactions with Carmen. Like so many black women appearing in reality TV shows, Renee had no problems expressing her feelings, especially when Bruno or Carmen’s words or actions would push her buttons.
“It wasn’t really my character to yell at her, but certain things she would say or do would make me,” Renee said, reflecting on a time when, in black makeup, Carmen went to a hair salon with Renee and was moved to ask a black woman if she could touch her hair.
“I just wanted to say to her, ‘I can’t believe you’re forty-something and this ignorant,’” Renee said. “(Her actions) really blew me away because she really thought there was nothing wrong with what she was doing.”
Some more amusing moments of the series have Bruno and Carmen, in black makeup, attending a church service in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw area. Brian and Renee look in awe as Bruno and Carmen clap, shout and sway right along with the black congregation. Bruno, who’s seen "raising the roof" a few times, later says he was caught up in the service, which he likens to both a “show” and “pep rally.”
There were times, though, in which a light bulb did go off for Carmen and Bruno’s 17-year-old daughter, Rose, Renee said, pointing to a part of the documentary that shows Rose trying to apply for a job as a black teenager. Despite a sign indicating a job opening, Rose is told by the store manager that she isn’t sure of any openings. The sales manager then struggles to find a job application for Rose, who is obviously pained by the act many of her black peers might shrug off as a normal occurrence.
Oftentimes equally as frustrated as his wife, Brian left the project with a different mindset. The 41-year-old computer technician said he hopes the actions of the Wurgels make people, both black and white, see that there is still some work to be done in terms of race relations.
“It was a good project overall, something that America really needs to see,” Brian told BlackAmericaWeb.com. It was he who stumbled across the application for the show while surfing the Internet one day. After an initial interview, Brian and Renee found out what the premise of the show would be and decided to go for it.
“Whites always want to know blacks are thinking and vice versa, so I thought this was my chance to see,” said Brian, who was pleasantly surprised at the service white men get when shopping. One of his outings as a white man had Brian go to a golf shop. While there, the salesman sat Brian down, removed his shoes and placed a pair of golf shoes on his feet. It was the first time he had ever had such treatment, Brian said.
But everything wasn’t always rosy. While working as a bartender in the Santa Monica neighborhood in which he lived during the project, a white patron explained to “white” Brian how the community was “one of the last bastions” left unaffected by immigration, a community that was safe to raise a family.
Brian knows such a stinging, yet honest dialogue would never have happened if the man knew he was black. It was one of many moments that can serve as life lessons for everyone, Brian said.
“I hope (viewers) get the message that, when you meet everyone, meet them with an open mind and closed eyes instead of meeting them with a closed mind and open eyes,” Brian said, who, along with his family and the Wurgels, has appeared on everything from "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to “Good Morning America” to promote the show. “It’s time for America to get a mirror check.”
Whether or not viewers get the message is debatable. Patricia Dixon, Ph.D., an associate professor of African-American Studies at Georgia State University, said it has the possibility to leave an impression on some.
“It’s going to be like reality TV, and people kind of tune into that kind of stuff,” Dixon told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “I think it can tell us certain things about race relations, but as black people, there are things we already know. For over 300 years, we’ve been trying to say how we’ve been affected and it’s ultimately fallen on deaf ears.”
There have been countless studies, articles and discussions that have addressed race relations, Dixon said, but the fact that “Black.White” will be a six-part series may offer people an opportunity to take in all that is presented and possibly change a few minds. However, for many people, opinions on race and society have been made over generations and will not change over a six-week story arc.
“White people are privileged by their skin color and unless people have firsthand experience of what it’s like not to be privileged, than they don’t understand,” Dixon said.
Jules Harrell, Ph.D., interim chair of Howard University’s Psychology Department, agreed.
“There’s so much that you just can’t change (in terms of race). This show’s premise doesn’t change the historical complex in which people find themselves,” Harrell told BlackAmericaWeb.com, adding that a six-week experiment can’t possibly erase all that a family has come to know about themselves and their ancestors over the years.
“The history of one’s family is part and parcel of what goes on in terms of how people function in the present,” Harrell said. “With 'Black Like Me' and this current project, white people may very well know that blacks are mistreated, and they may say it’s unfair, but they can also say that they have a way out.”
In fact, each participant did have a way out, daily removing the spray-painted on make-up, hair extensions and eye contacts that made them the opposite race. They would return to their shared home and recap what transpired throughout the course of the day. Sometimes, they would go out as their actual race to see how their made-up counterparts were treated. One day, Brian went shopping with “black” Bruno, who refused to see any how he was treated any differently in his new skin. When a salesman offered him help, Bruno saw it as good service while Brian saw it as the salesman sizing up “black” Bruno. While walking down the street, “black” Bruno says he was able to maintain eye contact with a white for three seconds, although Brian said the woman slightly clutched her bag as she passed the two men.
Bruno’s refusal to see even subtle racism is not unusual for many white Americans, Dixon said.
“Some are in denial, some are ignorant and just don’t know how much (discrimination) impacts us,” Dixon said, adding that many who do understand the injustices of racism sometimes choose to ignore our cries for equality.
“They have their own issues and things they have to deal with. It’s almost like they’re tired of hearing us whine,” Dixon said.
“I think the ones that truly get something out of it and take it for what it’s worth will see that America is different than what it’s perceived,” Brian said, adding that he and his wife believe that Carmen and Bruno left the experiment not truly recognizing the hidden racism that many blacks face on a daily basis.
“The ones that see things through the eyes of Bruno will probably never get it or never approach me to have a real conversation about race,” Brian said. “I really don’t care if everyone in America loves me or hates me. I just want them to talk about the show and talk about race. If that happens, then my job is done.”