The premise of this show is simple: Take two families, a white one from Santa Monica, California, and a black one from Atlanta, Georgia, and have them live together in a house in L.A. The white family, who at times put on make-up to look black, are: Bruno, the father; Carmen, the mother; and Rose, the daughter. The black family, who at times put on make-up to look white, are: Brian, the father; Renee, the mother; and Nick, the son.
I am using the series to explore issues and thoughts regarding race relations.
The best parts of this episode – the most complex one so far – involve Bruno and Nick. It may sound strange to say that this white father and this black son have something in common but they do: both are seemingly ignorant about racism.
And it is not just me saying that. Nick’s own parents say he is clueless about racism after they learn he tells white people he has no objection to them using the “N” word around him.
I previously speculated that Bruno was a fitting representative of white male Americans. My confidence in this promotion of Bruno as spokesman increased after watching this episode, as he raised questions and issues I have heard many white males utter.
Bruno had an idea with good potential only once, but again he demonstrated he was better at talking than listening. His idea was to meet with a successful black man, Fernando, to exchange opinions and perspectives.
It was not long before Bruno was shown saying he was tired of blacks complaining about what he terms “that whole slavery thing.” How many times have you heard this lament from white people?
Bruno went on to make wild generalizations about blacks, another common occurrence among the Brunos of the world. After complaining about black rappers degrading women Bruno said, “I think there is a big lapse in the black community where there is not a promotion of positive values.”
This is an interesting statement for several reasons, one of them being a statement made on the same episode by Bruno’s daughter, Rose. Rose told Renee that one aspect of the black community that she preferred to the white community was the emphasis on family as opposed to the number of white families having separations and divorces.
“I think Rose is a good kid,” Renee said. “She is actually making an effort to learn what it is like to be black.”
The same couldn’t be said for Bruno.
Fernando rightly told Bruno it was wrong to suggest any group of people are all the same. “I think Fernando felt I just did not get it, that I was not willing to look at certain things,” Bruno said.
“We can’t agree on anything,” Fernando said. “I think you are full of crap. I don’t know how your wife can put up with you. I sense that you would be insensitive in other areas and not perceptive on how other people live and navigate through the world.”
“I see it as logic,” Bruno objected.
“Your logic is illogical,” Fernando responded.
And his logic can also lead to other problems. During the episode, even Bruno’s wife expressed concern that Bruno was not trying hard enough to learn from the experience. She also implied that could lead to relationship problems if she grew as a person and he did not.
Bruno shared with both families a video he made prior to the shooting of the series. “I’m anxious to show it to them and see how they feel a bout it,” Bruno told the camera.
In his anti-rap “middle-age rap” Bruno says he, a middle-aged white man, does not demean women or go to prison. He even says he does not “mumble incoherently.” After it is shown, everyone critiques it.
“I think he did it thinking it would make us mad,” Renee said. “” I thought it was just ridiculous.”
“I don’t know if it was meant to get under my skin but it didn’t,” Brian said. “I told him before it is really offensive to me,” Rose said.
Even Carmen said she found the video’s tone “offensive.”
As he has on almost every episode Bruno expresses frustration – sounding at times almost like jealousy – that blacks can use the “N” word but whites can’t.
Carmen, though, got it. “We don’t have the right to use word and they do,” Carmen said.
But Bruno still did not get it.
Meanwhile Nick is struggling with the same questions about the same word.
Nick and Rose have some new white friends over to their house. These are friends from an etiquette class they are taking. The friends do not know that Nick, who is in white make-up, is really black.
Rose quickly realizes they need to do something because they are noticing items around the home that don’t quite fit their expectations and understanding of Rose and Nick.
Nick decides to be straight with them. So when everyone is sitting around he tells them bluntly: “I am not white.” He even lifts a pants leg to show them his black leg. Nick says he is more comfortable now that he has revealed his race to them.
In response to a question Nick says that one guy once called him the “N” word: “I whupped his ass.”
A white girl asks, “Is that the only time anyone has called you a mean name?”
“Just say it,” Nick says of the “N” word. “It doesn’t bother me.”
“It bothers us,” one white girl said.
Later, Nick and Rose are shown on an R.V. with their friends. Nick is still in white make-up but the friends now know he is really black.
A white boy called another the “N” word. Nick says use of the word does not bother him.
One girl asks them not to use that word, saying it bothers her. Someone says it does not matter what she thinks because she is not black.
“It does not matter if I’m white or black,” the girl replies. Later she notes that they are still using the word.
Nick’s mom and dad are shown, frustrated and outraged that he does not understand why they are upset over his uncaring attitude about the use of the “N” word.
“It is just sad to me. At age 16 you have to explain why,” Brian said.
“And you sit over there and you hear us talking and you don’t have shit to say,” Renee said.
“I am so ashamed of you right now. Even the little white girl was offended and you were not,” Brian said.
“What really upset me the most is that I am sitting here trying to hammer home to Bruno, Carmen, and Rose that they are not getting it… come to find out my son is the damn one who is not getting it.”
Brian decides to take Nick to a black barbershop and explains the situation to the barber. While cutting his hair the barber tries to explain to him that it is an unacceptable word to be used.
At the graduation dinner for the etiquette class Nick comes as he really looks, which seems to blow away the white colleagues. After some small talk, the white boys who used the “N” word do some fancy footwork, with one saying he never would have said it if Nick had not told them it was acceptable.
Nick’s parents listen at first to this conversation from another table but then walk over. Renee demands to know who used the “N” word. One of the boys suggests use of the word is a generational thing, more acceptable among younger people.
Brian tells them the word is too powerful and charged to be used by anyone. Besides, Brian said, next time you say the word you may be saying it to someone who is not as nice as Nick and you may get your butt kicked as a result.
Overall, this episode left me with more hope for the family members – all except Bruno – that they are learning from this whole experience.