Joel Mowbray
When two young men were walking toward me from the opposite direction on the sidewalk recently, my primary thought was the obvious one: move out of the way to avoid the head-on collision.

With his hands laced behind his neck and his elbows in the air, one of the young men slid toward me as I passed him, he lowered his right elbow and took a good whack at my chest. He did this because I’m white. Well, that was only partly it. I was walking with a friend, a black female. And he and his friend were black.

Though racism is often hard to spot definitively—motives are not always transparent—there was no doubt in my mind. Anger so clouded my thoughts that I was unaware of the physical pain till hours later.

Dealing with racism, however, is not an everyday occurrence for white folk, or even for many others of varying shades of brown, for that matter. But what would it be like to walk in the shoes of someone on the other side of the melanin divide? Such a question, though, is merely a hypothetical that can only be explored with speculation and imagination.

Until now.

On the cable television network FX (part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire), two weeks ago marked the premier of a new show called “Black. White.” (The third episode aired last night.) The set-up is simple: two families, one black and one white, trade races. It is a “reality” show inasmuch as it involves real people and not actors, but a better label would be a “reality experiment.”

Eddie Murphy had explored this terrain—albeit in comedy sketches—more than two decades ago on Saturday Night Live. The black comedian went out in “white” make-up and while trying to buy a newspaper, the white store owner remarked, “What are you doing? … There’s nobody around. Go ahead, take it. Take it!”

Only now, though, has make-up technology advanced to the point where people of African and European descents can credibly pass as members of a different race.

Even with the fairly impressive make-up jobs, the innovative premise of “Black. White.” could have been easily manipulated to fulfill white liberals’ dreams: a reality show staged to prove that whites are bigots, yet blacks are pure. Some whites encountered in public by the participants are laughably bigoted, but much of the six-episode series presents a more complicated picture, where most racism is unknowing, and the villains are not just white folk.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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