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Tracey
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« on: March 23, 2006, 01:58:34 AM »

     From the Button-Pushing Desk: "Black.White." & Race

I'm a bit late to the tube on this one, but the reality show Black.White. got its barbed hooks into me last night in just one Tivo'd episode.

Cooked up by producers R.J. Cutler and Ice Cube, the show puts a black Atlanta family and a white Santa Monica family together under one roof in L.A. and has them swap races by undergoing radical makeup sessions to see how the other race lives.

Even after the first few embarrassing adventures as "blacks," it's pretty plain the white family - who apparently feel themselves to be hip and unbiased - have no earthly clue what that means ...

I'm leaving their names out in the following description for simplicity's sake, but this should give you an idea of the sort of set-ups and interpersonal static that drive the show from one confrontation to the next:

- White mom cheerfully calls black mom "bitch" in a lame attempt at trying-to-talk-black. Black mom (who has a heavy, but justifiable chip on her shoulder) is completely offended and has it out with white mom over the kitchen counter.

- Black mom tries to lighten up and gamely offers to go clothes-shopping for black church with white mom - who then buys dashikis for herself and white husband to wear in blackface to black church. They stand up, clap and dance with big, goofy smiles, while a few rows back, black dad grimaces and black mom huddles under her extra-large Sunday hat as if trying to sink into the pew and disappear.

Later, black mom (her skin unchanged) sits down in a Pasadena bar where black dad is bartending in whiteface and proceeds to get an earful from an ignorant white bargoer about how black families would be welcome in his neighborhood so long as they "assimilated."

White daughter (in blackface) joins an all-black poetry group, outs herself (to the approval of most but the raw nausea of one fellow poet) and then invites them all home to give readings of their poetry and meet white mom - who proceeds to make a complete, teary ass of herself ("I am in awe of you beautiful black creatures") and empty the room.

Yep. The show is that pushy.

Is it contrived? Completely - yet no more so than the average "reality" show.

Is it one-sided? So far, it feels that way. The first episode seemed to focus almost luridly on the black family's hurt feelings as a result of the white family's blundering about. Next episode: Further static between the moms, indignation by white dad at being seen as racist, disbelief by black dad at his reaction, and a confrontation over black son's casual use of the N-word.

But what the show does succeed at is gnawing its way inexorably into the issues of race, identity and racial relations to the point where you're squirming enough to ask real questions and consider your own attitudes. Well worth a look.

Four more episodes to go (airtimes on FX).

http://www.lavoice.org/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=1658
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