'Black. White.': Ice Cube's Reality Show That Won An Emmy (For Blackface)
Co-produced by Ice Cube, the 2006 reality show Black. White. took two families, a white one and a Black one, and used actually kind of impressive Hollywood makeup techniques to switch up their races and make them walk a mile in boots made from someone else’s skin. I believe that’s how that expression goes. And, yes, the show did actually win an Emmy for “Outstanding Makeup for a Series (Non-Prosthetic),” meaning that it was awarded for painting white people to look African-American.
Does that make the show racist? The switch-up was supervised by Black people and wasn’t meant to mock anyone, so maybe not, but I also look like the lovechild of a vampire snowman and a loaf of Wonder Bread, so I may not be the best person to judge these things. Instead, let’s talk about a much bigger, less-controversial, but equally egregious problem with the show.
Trying to teach someone about the challenges and experiences of people of another race is admirable, but that’s not what the show was focusing on. Instead, it took the much more familiar reality show route of manufacturing conflict between the patriarchs of the two families. Also, it’s a bit murky, but the white family might’ve actually just been hired actors. (The dad has been acting since the ‘80s, and the daughter was in Disney stuff.)
And while all of that was a lazy and sleazy thing to do, it wasn’t as problematic as the show’s central thesis. Look, it is possible to get some understanding about what it’s like to be a member of a different race, but you 100% don’t need to and shouldn’t paint yourself another color to do it because that might give you a false sense of getting access to some deeper knowledge or something. In reality, the most you can get out of that is a personal perspective that might not be universal or even kind of common for people of a particular ethnicity. More importantly, any race change will teach you absolutely jack squat if it’s temporary.
Bizarrely, the (deservedly) widely-panned 1986 comedy Soul Man about a white kid (C. Thomas Howell) pretending to be African-American to get a law school scholarship somehow understood that perfectly. By the end of the film, a professor asks the main character if he learned something about being black, and he straight-up admits that he didn’t because he ALWAYS had a chance to go back and be white.
Actual Black folks can’t (and I’m guessing don’t want to) do that. Unsurprisingly, Black. White. lasted for a grand total of six episodes, and the most it accomplished is maybe possibly proving that the white Santa Monica dad was kind of racist. That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars well spent.
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Top Image: FX