In 1959, John Howard Griffin, a white man, colored his skin black and ventured to the South for his book “Black Like Me.” Immediately upon publication, the book revealed the still-blatant segregation and omnipresent strife between races.
Even today, some people go out trying to make change, confronting the issue and attempting to bring it to its knees. Others just ignore it, feeling that there is no direct impact on them so it’s not a problem.
Then there are those who sit around in constant paranoia, worried about the looks they receive from different people. So how can you get a better look at the way one race views another? Take a black family and a white family, switch their races, and put them in a house together.
Rapper turned actor/director Ice Cube has created a new show to further explore the issue of racism. “Black. White.” is fairly similar to “Trading Spouses” and “Wife Swap,” the latter in which a mother is sent to a family completely different from her own in terms of race, religion, sexual orientation or politics. “Black. White.” takes it a step further by taking the African-American Sparks family and the Caucasian Wurgel family both from California, and housing them together, effectively intertwining their lives.
The families go through an intense makeup period, changing their skin tone, hair texture and eye color, making them look as convincing as possible. Along with the different appearance, they also change their routines, jobs and lifestyles. Rose Wurgel, who coincidently looks better as a black girl than a white girl, takes a spoken-word class and learns the elements of slam poetry. Brian Sparks, father and husband, takes a job at a local bar in a predominantly white area. Clearly, the fire is being stoked.
Each family reacts differently. When Bruno sees his wife Carmen in black skin, they both instantly fall in love with each other all over again. She looks deeply in to his eyes and calls him a “beautiful, black creature” with an intense longing unseen since the days of James and Florida Evans. Even among the drama, “Black. White” knows how to break the tension.
On the other side, as soon as Brian Sparks sees his newly-white wife Renee he bursts into sudden laughter, as does the entire family when they witness transformation that their son Nick also undergoes.
The show’s most vividly drawn aspect is the way the families clash. Bruno doesn’t feel like racism remains present and contemporary racism is the equivalent of just having a bad day. Bruno also has an alarming predilection for the “n”-word and proceeds to inquire about situations in which it might come into play. Brian, however, has a paranoia surrounding racism that’s a bit too acute, believing that people simply moving over on the sidewalk is a sign of disrespect.
The two contrast greatly and spend a lot of time engaging in (very entertaining) arguments. Though it’s interesting to see them interact outside of their color, their average days are pretty mundane. It’s the everyday get up, go to school, go to work and spend time with your family shtick.
Still, the show is a great idea that could really generate interest, but it’s been done before. Maybe people will actually pay attention this time.
Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars