Sunday, April 5, 2009

push people's racism buttons as a practical joke

Sony's Internet television outlet, Crackle, is offering a new show that's basically an updated version of "Candid Camera," but with a narrower focus. It's called "True Colors," and it's all about race. People of various races are unwittingly filmed in tense situations that escalate into an exposure of their "true colors," that is, what they would do when confronted with racism.

The show is similar to some episodes of ABC's "What Would You Do?", in which unwitting individuals are filmed amidst actors performing increasingly tense incidents, all so that we can see how the unwitting individuals will react. The difference is that while ABC's show claims to have a serious, socially enlightened purpose, "True Colors" is mostly just for laughs.

I see problems with both shows, but so far, "True Colors" seems worse. What each staged incident amounts to is a practical joke, and when it comes to race, practical jokes strike me as a bad idea. That's because racism is not a thing of the past, no matter how much a lot of white folks would like to believe otherwise.

Crackle has some of this new show's segments online, with a promise of many more to come. In the following example, a KKK robe is dangled in front of an African American woman so that we, the voyeuristic viewers, can laugh at her reaction.

What I'm wondering is, when white viewers laugh at her, what kind of laughter is that?

There's a sort of clueless insensitivity at work here, and it reminds me of the equally clueless wearing of Klan robes by PETA, the animal rights activists/provocateurs, to draw attention to objectionable elements of a dog show. No matter how well-intentioned PETA and its workers may have been, I consider that stunt racist. It demonstrated a common white oblivion to the reactions of non-white people to blatant signifiers of racism, and a blithe disregard and dismissal of such reactions when they became apparent.

This "True Colors" segment seems even worse in that regard, because it invites us to go further, by laughing at a non-white person's reaction to a ghastly signifier of racism.

Imagine a parallel situation. A white person decides to stage a practical joke for her black friend's birthday. She takes her friend somewhere, maybe for lunch, while others prepare a surprise birthday party. After lunch the black friend is led in, the lights are turned on, and everyone yells, "Surprise!" But, the real surprise, is that everyone's wearing Klan robes!

Wouldn't that be hilarious?!

Well, maybe for some people, but would it be hilarious for the black friend?

The woman who gets similarly punked in this "True Colors" segment seems to take it pretty well when the joke is revealed, and she must have signed a release, allowing this segment to air.

Did you find this segment funny? And again, when white people laugh at her, what kind of laughter is that?

h/t: Average Bro; other "True Colors" segments are viewable here.


  1. i did not find it funny at all. i was severely uncomfortable. even at the end when the girls were laughing. i think it's disgusting making a show like this, since the targets will almost always be poc, so i can't help but think this is for a white audience? even so, klan robes are a symbol of fear, and though it doesn't have the same sort of fear in me as a white woman, it still makes me uncomfortable (like when i was at a backyard party with my parents, and one of the friends of a friend pulls out his KKK newsletter from the local chapter in michigan and started reading off racist jokes, my mother and i were disgusted, and afraid--suddenly realizing what type of company we were in).

    i don't want to meet the white person who finds this show funny.

  2. It wasn't funny at all. That ridiculous music doesn't help. How do we complain? Racism isn't a joke.

  3. Macon D,

    Once again you fail to identify the creators of such entertainment as though the effect on black people was all that mattered.

    What about the motive and intent of the show? Is it merely to make us "laugh" or is it to prove that in a modern liberal society, "racism" does nothing to inhibit a black person's freedom?

  4. that was awful. and the more I think about it - the more I can't really get the point of the show. It's called True Colors - like they're testing people to see "what they're REALLY like" [as though there is a metric for correct responses to racist situations, and people true colors will show whether they reacted acceptably].

    To me, Punk'd is more of a "true colors" show, because you get to see how people respond in random situations - whether they're calm, enraged, etc. This show seems like it's geared to entertain white people at the expense of any and all POC.

    what if this girl had started crying uncontrollably at the sight of the robe? what if her family had been terrorized by the Klan? would that have been "good tv"?

    second Mr. M - where can I complain?

  5. ok - I just went to that site and watched a video asking if white people should get reparations for the money they lost when slavery ended. and there was a girl who believed that they should - and compared it to the loss of a cow - or a journalistic article - any money-making vehicle. AAH! And the black guy still hugs her after the reveal.

    Am I in Bizarro world? wtf?

  6. Thordaddy: Once again you fail to identify the creators of such entertainment as though the effect on black people was all that mattered.

    The effect on black people is not all that matters. This post is about interactions between people and this segment, white people especially--identifying the segment's creators is irrelevant to that focus, and to my questions about that interaction.

    What about the motive and intent of the show? Is it merely to make us "laugh" or is it to prove that in a modern liberal society, "racism" does nothing to inhibit a black person's freedom?

    Don't act naive--the motive is to make money. It's clearly NOT "to prove that in a modern liberal society, 'racism' does nothing to inhibit a black person's freedom." Get off your "liberal society and freedom" hobby horse--it's irrelevant, and it's become very boring.

  7. Mr. M, I think complaints could be filed here--I found these contacts in Crackle's "News and Press" section; if Ms. Mullens and Rothman are not the correct contacts, I imagine they can steer you toward the right people:

    Public Relations

    Kelly Mullens

    Sarah Rothman

  8. The owners of Crackle are Japanese. Guess they have no real qualms with racism either...

  9. OMG that is SO messed up.

    not ok on any level.

  10. What a lost opportunity. What's *really* funny is skewering those in power (in this case, whites). Why not 'flip the script' and poke fun at whites caught engaging in (supposedly) backstage racism? Funny *and* useful.

  11. That is the most fucked up thing I have seen in a very, very long time. Maybe ever. I imagine I would have been afraid for my life. Not funny. Not cool.

  12. Anger in Black and White
    Perception and reality can be badly misinterpreted

    by Gary Norris Gray, • View all articles by Gary Norris Gray
    POSTED: Apr 5, 2009

    Email • Print • Discuss • Digg this story! •

    CALIFORNIA -- While watching the NCAA playoffs on Saturday afternoon one of the commercial showed a parity segment of the Tom Cruise 1980’s movie Risky Business.

    There is a scene in the movie where Cruise slides across the floor playing his air guitar while wearing boxer shorts. In this commercial show four middle aged white coaches sliding across the floor, Roy Williams (North Carolina), Rick Pitino (Louisville), and Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), and the last one former coach Bobby Knight lip-syncing to the song.

    These coaches were all wearing boxer shorts, what a sight to behold.

    The hard rock band, Metallica was standing at the fireplace watching these coaches slide across the floor. The leader of Metallica asked, “what are you doing?”.

    Knight answers, “ We are playing Guitar Hero”, the leader of Metallica responds, “Now you need to play the new Guitar Hero by Metallica”, Knight responds, “So”, Metallica try’s to end the conversation with, “That means your going to have to put on some pants pops”, “Who are you calling pops?”, Knight responds.

    Mr. Knight gets mad at the Metallica remark and throws the miniature black drum set at the Metallica band members expressing his displeasure at the age-ist band’s remark.



    White male anger and it’s funny.

    Mr. Knight participated in a similar commercial with the Volkswagen car company. He threw a chair at the talking car again trying to be a joke. After many phone inquires Volkswagen pulled the commercial.

    White male anger and it’s funny.

    Many years ago the television commercial industry produced the same type of commercial with John McEnroe. McEnroe famous temperamental professional tennis player in a commercial Mac throws his racket and screams at the umpire “You cannot be serious”. Insurance and medical companies now have kinder and gentle commercials showcasing McEnroe.

    Once again, white male anger is funny and everyone is expected to laugh.

    When African American male does the same thing as coach Knight and McEnroe the observers’ response is interesting. White females still cross the street when a group of young Black males are walking toward them.

    In most major American cities, Black Males are ignored when they try to hail a taxi at night. The fear of the Big Black males can be directly traced to slavery. White America still fears Black male anger and has yet come to deal with this emotion.

    Let President Barack Obama exhibit an emotional tirade. How long would The President stay at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. after a Barack rage incidence?

    A recent Subway commercial featured the former New York Football Giant Michael Strahan. He's building a nice ham and cheese sandwich. A Subway worker states that one item does not belong in that sandwich. Strahan turns, looks down, and gives this young woman a glaring stare.

    However, he does not say a word.

    Then the little woman runs away as fast as she can.

    This commercial intentionally conveys fear, specifically big black males.

    That was done intentionally to convey these feelings toward Big Black men.

    African American men should feel compelled to write to the Subway organization and tell then we want they want that commercial pulled off the air because it reinforces this stereotype behavior.

    This is just an example how some people still sees things in black and white and still exploits Americans negative emotions toward African American men.

    A week ago in Dallas, the family of Ryan Moats could have experienced a double tragedy if events had turned out differently. The football player for the Houston Texans received a phone call from the Dallas hospital where his mother-in-law lay dying from cancer.

    Moats drove his wife to the hospital with his emergency lights flashing and to the right of the road. Is it this what drivers are told to do in emergencies? Mr. Moats stopped his SUV for a second at a red stop light, then he proceeded through the intersection when it was clear of traffic.

    One of Dallas' finest turned on his police emergency lamps and followed Moats to the hospital, instead of leading the Moats to the hospital. This white policeman was angry that Mr. Molts did not stop.

    This is a clear example of white male privilege and the abuse of power, you add white male anger you have a dangerous combination. African American males dare not express this kind of emotions for fear of the consequences.

    We all know the rest of the story. If Mr. Moats had been an angry Black man what would have happened? If that young white policeman had an itchy trigger finger, it would have been a double tragedy.

    Now a week later the Dallas Police Department and the police officer apologized to the Moats family. This past Wednesday police officer Powell resigned from the Dallas Police Department.

    When young black educated males are growing up in this country, they are told over and over again, never to show anger. Never show anger, even-thou Black males may experience this potential volatile emotion. Even-thou if the moment warranted such action.


    African American men are told by their parents to be quiet be cool and survive your life may depend on these three mantras. Well, for Mr. Moats, it averted a double tragedy and death to another member of the family.

    Keeping anger inside killed one of baseball’s greatest Black heroes, Jackie Robinson who died way before his time. His traumatic experiences on the field in Brooklyn took away many years of his life.

    Robinson said nothing when he was playing for the Dodgers.

    This trend has continued with Classic examples of this racial attitude. Black speed skater Shanti Davis would not practice with the United States team in the Olympics. Davis wanted to win individual gold medals, not team medals because the team never embraced him as an equal member.

    The New York Mets former Manager Willie Randolph could not say what he wanted to say about certain players when the team did not perform. After New York let Randolph go the Mets won 14 of 20 games.

    Randolph could not vent his anger to the Mets organization or their players. Former Mets Coach Bill Robinson wanted to be manager but never happened. Again Robinson had to just walk away and say nothing.

    Has former manager Hal McRae received another job after his tirade in the Kansas City Royal locker room? NO!!!!

    Former Indiana basketball coach Mike Davis, and former Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith, had to walk away after being fired for very questionable reasons.

    Former Head Coach John Chaney (Temple University) wanted rip into head Coach John Calipari, (then University of Massachusetts), now new coach of the University of Kentucky, in a fit of anger.

    The Atlantic Ten Conference suspended Chaney, even though he didn't strike a blow. UMass had just beaten TempleUniversity that night and Cheney had enough.

    He was not only upset about the loss, but also at the low graduation rates at UMass Black basketball players under Calipari. That was his reason for going after Calipari but most people are unaware of.

    The American media portrayed Chaney as a crazy man be never reported the reasons why. However, the images of him going after Calipari lingers in many Americans minds.


    Black males exploding with rage and anger, strikes fear in most peoples mind. America still wants Black males to be quiet and old Stepin Fetchit it in the sports world.

    America does not want African American males to make any political statements nor stand up for your fellow Black players, nor be proud to be an African American male, just get paid at the end of the day, end of the month, or end of the year, and go home.

    “Ya sir masa I’m here for ya masa”

    “I’ll be cooning for ya masa”

    “I be Skinning and Grinning for ya masa”

    Just look at African American football bamboozlers Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson. They are the new heroes of the White Sports networks because they do not threaten the white establishments.

    This is the image that sports establishment want, Black clowns. Black, yes men. Owens and Johnson are smiling all the way to the bank. Owens and Johnson fill the bill.

    Think about this the deafing sound of Black quarterbacks Philadelphia, Donovan McNabb and Jason Campbell of Washington. The silence of Allen Iverson of the Detroit Pistons and last the silence of numerous Black hockey players in the minor leagues.

    When will African American males in sports be allowed to speak their mind without repercussions? When will they be allowed to show constructive anger on the court, on the field, and on the diamond?

    Gary Norris Gray is a writer for Gibbs Magazine and author of "The Gray Line". He can be reached via e-mail at .

  13. Wow. I am not a POC, but I felt so scared for that woman. I was like, "Why hasn't she run off yet?" I felt that if I were her, I would've just walked out the door. Not funny AT ALL. I mean, I understand why she would laugh at the end, because obviously it's better if it's a joke than if it's real, but that doesn't make it good or acceptable.

    I am glad I saw this video because I feel like I can understand what it must be like to go through that now. Of course, I have been a minority and afraid in other ways, but generally in ways that I could hide.

  14. I did not think it was funny, either. How lame. I am embarrassed and ashamed to see that some white folk get their jollies off stupidity such as that practical joke. I can tell you without a doubt, that if I were there, I would wasted no time in punching his lights out.

  15. F*ck no, it's not funny. Just a decade ago a black man was dragged to his death behind a truck of some white supremicist A*hole.

    Here's a question: would it be funny if a friend led a jewish person into a surprise party and everyone was dressed as Nazis?

    Ha f*cking ha.

  16. Who's responsible for this show? We need to start an e-mail campaign for them to end this travesty.

  17. Hi, i know its been a while since this blog post...
    I have a brother-in-law who thinks its funny to play on my sensitivity about racism: that is, he makes somewhat racist jokes to get a reaction out of me.
    Id really like to see the show you blog about, as I think the concept is parallel to my (personal) issue here.
    I don't think its funny. I think jokes like that actually perpetuate a reality that we need to be critical about, not laugh about.
    I notice that the clip has been removed from your blog and I am unable to find it anywhere else, not even on Do you have any suggestions as to where i can find it?

  18. @Humanette The show actually still is on Crackle, you can check it out here:

    Thanks all for your thoughtful opinions on the show, we appreciate the feedback.

    Community Manager, Crackle

  19. I may be late, but I want to add an idea here.

    Racism, the opinions, history and feelings of POC (and in this case, blacks) are a complete joke to the white establishment.

    The experiences and lives of blacks in general are not considered worthy of examination, or reverence at ALL to people who create and enjoy TRASH like this.

    What on Earth would be funny about shoving a symbol of TERROR, OPPRESSION and SICKNESS down the throat of a woman whose forefathers died by the hands of those it represented. Really? A f***ing KLAN robe?

    Honestly, putting a black woman in the room with a white man in possession of a Klan robe is beyond tasteless, it's HATEFUL. No matter how you try to spin it. The creators and actors of this skit KNEW the woman would exhibit FEAR, OUTRAGE and overall UN-COMFORT and that's what they wanted to see; a person of color squirming for their entertainment.


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