“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”; “beauty is only skin deep”; “don’t judge a book by its cover.” How many other ways can it be said? Even while objectifying people’s appearances, our highly critical society pays lip service to the people it routinely stomps on. The public is always looking for ways to prove that physical beauty is only a cosmetic for the contents of the soul, but their empathy is merely a concealer for their continued obsession with looks and appearances. Racism is harder to undress, although it usually clings to the bone.
Entertainment Tonight has done some investigative journalism, for the first time ever, by having one of their attractive correspondents don a fat suit and hang out on the streets of major cities while looking to attract attention.
This young woman came back crying after her miserable experience. “Everybody’s looking at me,” she complained.
But maybe that’s because so many cameras are following her around. Maybe they think she’s Ugly Betty?
They could probably observe some real results if they went out onto the streets without their makeup or their hair done, and witness the real constraints placed on those who don’t conform to a certain look and who don’t stress a certain dress code.
Unlike men, women are sold the idea that they must wear a mask when being seen in the public eye. Plastic Surgery convinces some women that if only they had a different nose or a chubbier lip, then they’d be beautiful. But that doesn’t always make it so.
Ice Cube, the white rapper, shares his views about racism on his reality series Black. White., which ran on the FX channel last year. Oprah, whose vast fortune and celebrity profile are seen as extraordinary because she is a black woman, advertised the show on her program.
Using prosthetic makeup, the show’s producers allow a white family (the Wurgels) and a black family (the Sparks) to trade ethnicity and to–theoretically–step into one another’s skin. Where’s their first stop? A golf course, where no hostilities are aroused, but a few looks and a few awkward glances do occur. A shoe store is their next destination, where the unsuspecting shoe salesman becomes a representative for the opinions of all middle aged white males.
There are some genuinely shocking moments, as when a Caucasian credits his peaceful and straight nit neighbourhood to the lack of black folks-something he confesses unbeknownst that he is talking to a black man being followed around by cameras.
The prosthetics were made by the people who brought you Big Mamma’s House (2000) and White Chicks (2004), two films with very unconvincing prosthetics and makeup. But both of those films were comedies, not serious explorations of race relations, and they knew not to tread on other’s toes without wearing clown feet.
Black. White ultimately doesn’t expose anything new about the role race plays in our society, it merely strengthens the opinions their subjects had going in. While Brian, the black father, felt as though a sudden weight had been lifted off the shoulders of the strangers he encountered as a white man, Bruno, the white father, failed to gather any results from his experience that might indicate that blacks were treated less fairly than whites.
The only liberation he felt was in now being able to use the word “nigger” in public. While trying to expose racial insensitivity, the members of either family are indulged in repeating and inhabiting racial stereotypes as a way of ‘becoming’ their neighbours.
Does wearing a fat suit or a prosthetic nose actually allow you to see what it’s like living in another person’s skin? Not if you’re still looking through your own eyes.