Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Race Experience

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? 


  1. I do think that it is possible to imagine yourself in the shoes of someone of another race, but I do not think it would be a very accurate depiction of how that person actually lives. Like you said, people of different races have different experiences and cultural practices so there is no way to completely know and understand everything about how another person perceives the world (this also applies to people of the same race). However, it is important to have empathy towards other people and to try to understand where they come from on certain issues and practices.
    One interesting thing that you mentioned was the need of the participants on this show to label things as either “black” or “white.” I see a huge problem with this desire to categorize everything based on cultural perceptions of another race. Some things simply cannot and should not be placed into concrete “boxes” based on which race they best represent. I think that labeling and categorizing things as inherently black or white perpetuates negative racial stereotypes and the Separatism between races that we read about in “Losing the Race.” Instead, if we tried to think about different styles, actions, and habits as elements of a culture and not structural racial differences, there might be more understanding and accord between people of different racial backgrounds.

  2. Simply seeing yourself as another race can not give you an accurate perception of what it would be like to be that race. In order to have a valid view, you must experience that culture. Race is more than simply skin tone. It has it's own culture, also. If I would think about the notion of me being white or Asian, I would have a stereotypical view. The thought has come to my mind in middle school. However, I spent the entire week with my best friend (who was white) and experienced her culture. I was comfortable and loved her culture as much as I loved my own. The only thought that came to my mind is "What would I look I if I was white?" For me, the kiosk answered this lingering question.

  3. It is not so hard to imagine oneself in the shoes of another race, but I believe it is difficult to come up with an accurate depiction of how one would function in society as a different race. Everyone experiences life differently, not solely because of race, but because no one is exactly like the next. And I agree with what was said previously, different races have different cultural experiences, so people function daily based off of their cultural experiences and what they learned in that personal narrative. It is easy to see myself as a white individual, but I would not know how to function as a white woman because I am not fully aware of the cultural experiences of a white woman. So it takes much more than seeing yourself as a different skin tone, in order to understand the way in which to function as another race. It is really interesting that they would make a show like this; I would think that a lot of people would be hesitant to participate in something such as this. Doing this type of social experiment and airing it to the public illustrates that society needs to better educate itself on racial issues; in relation to race misunderstanding is the root of the problem. I think this show is a good way of getting people to see that there is still some tension between blacks and whites, and it is a good step in educating America on race.

  4. Destiny,
    Thanks for sharing this! I agree with some other comments in that I don't think you can imagine being of a different race without both looking and experiencing the part.
    I also agree with the concept that skin color alone does not determine race; however, I think that this may be an optimistic view. I know several half-Indians gifted with more melanin than me who are treated as if they just got off of the plane from India. When skin shade differs, society correlates differences in appearance to a race and culture. To a certain extent, I do not have a problem with people seeing a skin color and identifying race. The more pressing concern is people correlating skin color to cultural identity.
    The terms “race” and “cultural identity” overlap to some degree but are fundamentally different. Race is defined as “a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.” The science geek in me therefore designates race as a primarily genetic factor. I think it is unacceptable for people to generalize defining aspects of the individual, such as personality or personal viewpoints, to a race. Race is independent of choice; therefore I do not think it is harmful to identify individuals by race. The real detriments to society arise when people assign cultural or behavioral stereotypes based on skin color.