During the race discussions held a few weeks ago in conjunction with the race experience kiosk, Professor McKinney posed the question did any of the participants try to imagine how their lives would be as the other races they were able to view themselves as. For me imagining myself in that context never crossed my mind as a possibility, but I could not quite figure out why. However, after watching a television series suggested by another person at the discussion, I was able to form an opinion as to why I do not think it is possible to imagine your life as another race simply based on skin color alone.
In this series titled “Black. White.” creators conducted a social experiment in which two families, one black and the other white, “trade their racial appearance using studio quality makeup and live together for 6 weeks, discussing the collective experiences.” The show follows these families, individually and collectively, as they explore different opportunities in which they can test their theories and opinions on race and racial stereotypes. Both of the families were willing participants; however, there was a lot of tension and stubbornness from some of the characters to fully immerse themselves into the life of the opposite race. Everything the families did or suggested to one another as a characteristic of black or white people was heavily based on racial stereotypes. For example, the families went through dialogue sessions in which the members of the black family taught the members of the white family how to “talk black” and vice versa. This was a very problematic activity, because it not only was an essentialist portrayal of this family as a representation for the entire African American race, but it also reinforced the stereotype that blacks are anti-intellectualists and incapable or unwilling to use standard English. Along with this one instance were others in which the families repeatedly deemed certain actions, habits, sayings, styles, etc. as essentialist black or white “things”. These instances, in my opinion, showed that race as far as skin tone, was not the only attribute at work here in this experiment.
For someone to experience the life of someone of another race, changing their skin tone is not enough. One has to be knowledgeable of the culture and the day to day experiences, and even then this is not generalizable enough to be a representation of the entire race. The daughter of the white family conveyed this best when she stated that “I’m not black…I’m not black! You cannot act Black. You are black. And there are some things you cannot just be a part of if you’re not part of it.” This sentiment not only applies to black or white people, but anyone of any race- you cannot, by changing the tone of your skin, simply identify yourself as that race based on your appearance. There is a culture and lived experience behind that person’s existence in which race only serves as a superficial surface.
If you are interested in watching the show, the episodes can be found on YouTube under the title “Black. White. Series”.
Do you think that one can imagine his or her life as a person of another race based on seeing an image of oneself as that race? If so, would the depiction be valid or based on stereotypical perceptions of that race?