Family and Racial Intimacy on Black.White.
The fourth chapter takes on the televisual rescripting of Sprigle, Griffin, and Halsell with a reading of the FX cable series, Black.White., a 2006 reality television show where two middle class families—one black and one white—“switched” races to experience racial difference. This chapter attends to how Black.White. moves the genealogy of empathetic racial impersonation from the theatrical stage, newspaper, trade books, and film to the visual logics of television. This shift reveals an investment in empathetic racial impersonation at a moment dominated by the changing discourses about race and race relations in the 21st century. Importantly, this chapter expands discussions of racial experimentation beyond the U.S. South. Set in Los Angeles, this “reality” show spuriously reinscribes the black/white binary even though Los Angeles has long been recognized as a multiracial city. By focusing on the fraught relationship between the two families, this chapter contends that Black.White. dramatically exposes the limits of empathetic racial experimentation as a tool of racial reconciliation. Ultimately, it evidences an empathetic failure in the cross-racial promise supposedly demonstrated by this seemingly new, but ultimately decades old, impersonation experiment. It also considers the histories and politics of whiteface.
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