Not A Black. White. Issue

Last week the African, Latin, and Native America Cultural Center (ALANA), the African American Student Alliance (AASA), the Debate Society and the Sociology and Anthropology Department funded a series of events surrounding the F/X reality television show Black.White. about two families, one white and one black, who lived together under one roof and, with the help of professional make-up, tried to assimilate into the opposite race with the intention of understanding the dynamics of racism in contemporary America.

Approximately one hundred students and faculty members crowded ALANA’s multi-purpose room last Tuesday, according to Tara Meister, the leading organizer of the week’s events. A screening of three out of six episodes of Black.White., introduced the Wurgel-Marcotulli and Sparks families who were exposed every day to their respective temporary racial communities. Each group was “taught” to engage in stereotypical behaviors of the reverse race.

The next day, Bruno Marcotulli and Brian Sparks, the fathers in the show, sat before a full Love Auditorium. President of AASA senior Thomas Dilworth and Co-Treasurer sophomore Malik Samuel Wright opened the lecture by addressing race relations in America at-large, and more specifically, in an institutional context like what is Colgate University.

Marcotulli and Sparks began by outlining the premise of Black.White. for those in the audience who were not familiar with the show, followed by a brief summary of their experience with race and racism in their youth. Marcotulli, the son of an Italian immigrant father and a Danish mother from New York, felt that he had grown up immersed in various different cultures without any hatred. On the other hand, Sparks told of the adversities he faced going to a primarily white school and being told his skin was too dark, and then getting criticized for having light skin when he attended a school with a large black population.

Sparks’ toughest challenge being in the show was hearing the N-word used freely by Marcotulli. He said his wife Renee also felt insulted called a bitch by Marcotulli’s wife, Carmen, in her attempt to use “black language.” However, Sparks did admit that he enjoyed playing his role as a white man.

“Being white was an incredible feeling because you fly in straight,” he said. He jokingly recommended that the public “experience it for [themselves].”

In response to Sparks, Marcotulli blamed the marketing system for portraying him as a racist bigot.

“We broke records and much of it was because they had me say ‘n—-r’ through the entire first episode,” Marcotulli said. In the show, Marcotulli looked forward to being called the N-word so he could demonstrate that he could brush it off and perhaps open up dialogue between people of different races.

Sparks said that he had been interested to see how Marcotulli would react to less overt racism.

“I wanted Bruno to see what I go through, that racism no longer exists so bluntly. Subtleties, looks, physicality, the small things can be discriminatory,” Sparks said.

Marcotulli said that this was not one of the things that he took away from the show.

“I understand the sensibility but sometimes people play the race card a little too excessively,” Marcotulli said. “I also understand there is white privilege. I always understood. But if you’re a jerk, you’re a jerk. I don’t care who you are. African-American, Caucasian, whatever.”

The setting grew tense as the students and faculty grilled the actors with many different questions. People asked about the men’s personal growth, or lack thereof, after the show. Students shared their personal encounters with racism asked questions about topics ranging from the presidential candidate Barack Obama, to the lack of diversity in Colgate’s campus, to gangster rap.

Several people explicitly called Marcotulli a racist while others implied it. Other students confronted Sparks for visibly keeping his opinions to himself and trying to avoid questions.

“It seems like people are willing to whore themselves to anything just to make a few bucks,” first-year Angelica Chapman, a spectator, said. “I wanted to learn about the show and if it did play a role in addressing racism in today’s society. But when I learned that Brian and Bruno were only pawns in some producer’s game, I found myself asking, Are the producers white? How much money are these men getting paid? Why aren’t the women here? I was angered at Brian and Bruno’s display of ignorance. I felt it was a waste of time.”

Students’ opinions continued to be heard in Friday’s debate about whether or not white privilege exists today. The turnout was not as large as expected, however, due to a mix-up in time and location.

“My hope for this event is that it got people of different backgrounds talking about these controversial issues amongst their friends and family,” Wright said. “These little efforts are what help change the world and the status quo.”