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Racial progress or another failed experiment?

TV Review: Black.White – Episode One

I care a lot about race, racism, prejudice, and discrimination.

I say that by way of explanation for both my curiosity and nervousness as I watched the first installment of the six-part documentary series Black.White. The show is airing on FX at 10 p.m. on Wednesdays, EST.

By way of background let me mention that I have written about my white man’s guilt and other thoughts on race.

There have been many attempts in television and film to address issues of race and prejudice. One reason I wrote such a positive review of the movie Crash was because it did a good job of talking about how we all have some prejudices, although how much we acknowledge and act on it varies.

But for every Crash, there are 10 other programs that exacerbate stereotypes about various races.

Although I had given up on reality shows, I decided to give Black. White a try. It also helped that I respected the director/producer, R.J. Cutler, who made the excellent documentary The War Room, about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential election.

The premise of this series is simple: Take two families, one white and one black, and use make-up to make the white family black, and the black family white, and then have the two families live together.

The situation could result in some profound conversations, exchanges of racial remarks or, more likely, something in between.

If it does a good job of addressing racial issues that could lead to advances in race relations, however slight. If it screws up, it will join the junk heap of programs that try – but fail – to do a good job covering racial issues.

I have a bad feeling about this show after watching the first episode and reading news reports suggesting the footage has been manipulated to make some situations appear more extreme and racially charged than they actually were.

My biggest concern at this point is Bruno, the white father of the family. Bruno is the kind of guy who — as he openly says — looks forward to being able to say the n-word. Each time Bruno uses the slur, the camera pans to Brian, the black father, who looks upset. Brian later says “my jaws clench up” when he hears the word.

Bruno is the kind of guy who is excited because now he can try out his “black” walk. Bruno is the kind of guy who suggests black men, including Brian, go out of their way to look for racist situations. In other words, Bruno is a clueless idiot.

Perhaps that is fitting.

Maybe Bruno symbolizes what is wrong with the average American.

So now I brace for the rest of the episodes with the hope that Bruno – and by extension those who think like him – will have some breakthrough moment where they realize that Brian is right that racism, while more subtle in nature, still exists and is a terrible problem.

My fear?

That instead the show will contain moments like, in the first episode, when the white family demonstrates the way that white people hug and the black family shows how it differs from how black people hug.

This was shown as if this was some revealing moment. But the reality is there is no one universal way that all black, or all white, people hug, just as no race collectively thinks alike on more substantive issues.

I sure hope the series improves. Otherwise, the series may be simply replacing old stereotypes with new ones and the Brunos of the world will remain clueless.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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