Every once in while, a reality show concept makes you sit up and say, “What the … ?” At first glance, FX’s Black. White. appears to fall into that category, taking the family-swapping trend a step further: two families swap race.
The Sparks from Atlanta — mother, Renee; father, Brian; and son, Nick — represent the typical African-American family, while the Wurgels from Santa Monica, Calif. — mother, Carmen; father, Bruno; daughter, Rose — are the white participants.
While the concept from executive producers R.J. Cutler and Ice Cube may seem outlandish, the show is well-executed. In Black. White., the two families live together and in the public eye for six weeks. The makeup jobs are incredible, affording the participants the chance to experience the other’s lives first hand and examine their racial views.
Brian, 40, who says he has been exposed to racism all his life, gets a job tending bar in an all-white neighborhood. He uses the position to plumb some of the patrons’ perspectives, including one customer’s theory that the neighborhood is safe to raise a family in because it has remained primarily white.
His 16-year-old son Nick says he has never experienced racism. But Nick, who reluctantly joined the experiment, displays many of the characteristics found in rap videos.
Bruno contends that Brian is looking too hard to find racism where it’s not. But Bruno is blind to the signs of racism — even overt incidents, like when he and Carmen are gawked at when they show up as the only black people in a cowboy bar.
Bruno and Carmen aver that they are not racist, but some of their actions are cringe-worthy. When attending church with Brian and Renee, the two, in their makeup, go a little overboard, coming across as caricatures.
Rose’s experience is different. She joins an all-black poetry-slam class and, moved by the honesty of their work, “comes out” to them. The friendships survive her revelation.
In fact, Rose and Brian are the only two who seem to get it. She seems sensitive to both points of view, while he also treats the experiment as a learning experience.
Black. White. might not be the most scientific study of race and culture, but it is a revealing one nonetheless.
Oddly enough, FX debuts Black. White. after Black History Month. The first of the six, one-hour installments premieres on March 8 at 10 p.m.