ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Bruno was not only flat-out closed-minded, but I dont think he really wanted to experience anything new,
because if he acknowledges that there is a difference between the way blacks and whites are treated, then he
has to make a change. But he didnt want to make a change, so thats why he remained in a state of denial.
Brian Sparks Kam Williams
Black Man Reflects on Being White for Five Weeks
Black White Interview with Kam Williams
41 year-old Brian Sparks was a contractor before he and his wife, Renee, and their 17 year-old son, Nick, agreed to appear on FXs Black White. And now that the show is over, he and his family have returned to Georgia, where hes back at his former profession, despite all the sudden attention which comes from being on a hit TV program. This landmark reality series, in which a black family and white family swapped skin colors while living under the same roof for five weeks, enjoyed the highest ratings ever for the premiere of any unscripted cable show. Over the course of the just-completed season, Brian frequently locked horns with Bruno, the white father, a man who got a lot of mileage out of his stubborn refusal to acknowledge that racism exists.
Besides the tensions seen on the screen, the show had its share of off-screen controversy, when it came out that the members of the white family had three different last names, and that two of them were actors. Regardless, I found Black White to be fascinating, which is why I tracked Brian down to find out how the experience had affected him.
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Kam: Hi Brian, I loved the show and Im not too proud to admit that I got a little misty-eyed at the end of the last episode.Brian: I appreciate it.
Kam: What has been the effect of the show on you?Brian: Its been strange. I learned a lot during the making of the show. And then going back and actually watching it, I picked up some of the things I didnt know about, because I didnt participate in all of the events with others in the house. So, I had to sit back and watch them unfold.
Kam: What made it strange?Brian: That I had a newfound respect for some, that I felt the same way about others, and that some needed a great learning process to grow more.Kam: Obviously, to distill five weeks worth of taping down to six hours, a lot of footage had to hit the cutting room floor. Did you feel that FX edited the show fairly?Brian: I think they captured me very accurately. I was very impressed with the editing. Of course, you always feel they couldve put more in, but given the time frame, and all the footage they went through, I think they did a great job at capturing what I wanted to project. I know I cant speak for everyone, but I think they were fair to everybody comparing what I saw in the house and in the activities I did share with others to what I saw on screen.Kam: Do you think living under the same roof with the Wurgels made a difference?Brian: As you could see, a lot of the heated arguments and blow-ups occurred inside the house while we were discussing things. So, yeah, if we had stayed in separate houses, I think there would have been a slightly different outcome to the show.Kam: How many hours a day did they have the cameras running? And did they use cameramen or tiny unobtrusive cameras?Brian: Cameramen. And the cameras ran from the time we woke up, until the time we went to bed.Kam: What was it like having cameras following you all the time?
Brian: After the first week, you kind of forget theyre there, and just go about your daily business.Kam: Since doing the show, have you and your wife, Renee, returned to Atlanta and gone back to your previous jobs?Brian: Exactly.Kam: What is it like to be working as a contractor, and then suddenly have a hit TV show?Brian: [Laughs] Its great, but theres an asterisk by it, because everywhere you go, you always run into people who say, Hey, youre the guy from Black White, or I saw you on Oprah. So, every day, you have to stop, or pause to talk about the experience. So, its back to business as usual, but with a great feeling.Kam: Are you still in touch with Bruno, Carmen, and Rose?Brian: No, though we did put in a call to Rose last night after the final episode aired. At the end of the message we left on her answering machine, we told her to tell Bruno and Carmen that we said Hello.Kam: Does that mean you came away feeling closer to Rose than to her parents, Bruno or Carmen?Brian: Much more close to Rose than the parents, yes.Kam: Bruno seemed very closed to the notion that racism still exists. Did you think of an experiment like trying to rent a home in a white neighborhood with him?
Brian: That would have been a great one, to do real estate. We had all sorts of scenarios in mind before we arrived in L.A., but once we got going, I had to focus on the things that I had to do. He was such a small part of the equation that I really didnt have time to focus on him. During the taping, I got to a point where when he couldnt see the obvious things that I did show him, I felt that he wasnt going to get it no matter what I did, because he didnt want to get it.Kam: What did you think of Bruno, the white father?Brian: Bruno was not only flat-out closed-minded, but I dont think he really wanted to experience anything new, because if he acknowledges that there is a difference between the way blacks and whites are treated, then he has to make a change. But he didnt want to make a change, so thats why he remained in a state of denial.Kam: During the last episode, you called Bruno a racist. Do you still stand by that?Brian: A lot of people asked me about that. When my phone rang, that was the number one question. I know how harsh an accusation that is, but yes I do have to stand by it, because that was the demeanor that he showed me over the course of the project. I couldnt be truthful and up front about everything else that went on, but lie when someone asked me if I felt Bruno was racist, when I knew in my heart that I did.Kam: I agreed with you because of the way he defended his wifes referring to your wife as a bitch because its supposedly slang that black folks use all the time for their women.Brian: I could live with her having said it, and Renee could forgive her for saying it, but we just didnt like the fact that they couldnt admit that it was wrong.Kam: How did you feel about Carmen overall?
Brian: I think Carmen came in naïve. Shes learned, and shes grown during the project, even though Bruno stopped her progress on the set, as far as getting back to us, the Sparks family, and relaying what shed learned. I had to go through the whole project saying, I dont think Carmens getting anything out of it either, when I could later see that, in fact, she was, in going back and viewing the tapes.Kam: I liked that their daughter, Rose, didnt try to act black and that your son, Nick, didnt try to act white, the way that Carmen and Bruno were adopting jive mannerisms, as if some specific language, dress and set of behaviors would make it easier for them to pass.Brian: Yeah, were all different. There are no two black people alike and no two white people who are the same. Yes, they have a white skin, and we have a brown skin, and thats a physical difference that everyone can see, but were all unique in our own way
Kam: How is Nick doing? He was facing some challenges having dropped out of school.Brian: Hes in a military academy down in Fort Stewart, Georgia called Youth Challenge Academy. Hes doing very well there. Hell be graduating June 16th, and that puts him back where he needs to be with his peers, as opposed to where was when he left. Hes in a much better situation than he was staying in the Atlanta area and trying to finish out school.Kam: And how is Renee doing back in everyday life?
Brian: Shes glad the show is over, but shes enjoying it. Shes getting recognized on the street as well. And she works in a predominantly white office. They loved the show and everyone shared the same sentiments that Bruno pretty much messed it up for the whole white race.Kam: I have a question about the make-up, because on TV, Rose is the only person who really looked like she could pass. Of course, that was on TV. In real life, was everybodys makeup convincing?Brian: From what I heard, to the naked eye, mine was truly convincing, and, of course, the white familys was truly convincing, because its easier to go darker than it is to go lighter. So, the only one whose makeup was kind of suspect was Renee. They had a little trouble with her makeup.Kam: Did any of you have problems with the color coming off?
Brian: No, the makeup guys did an excellent job. First, they would put the makeup on, and then a sealer on top. We were smart enough to whisper, Hey, I think somethings coming off, into the mike if something was coming undone. Wed then go into a bathroom, and someone would come to meet us there for a touch-up.Kam: When you were undercover as a white bartender, how did you feel hearing locals making racists comments, such as suggesting it was a good neighborhood because it was white. Were you ever tempted to break character?
Brian: Thats interesting, but no, it never crossed my mind to break character because of anything that I heard, although it was shocking and appalling to hear it still being said in this day and age. And it wasnt like Id never heard it all before. So, while I did get tight-jawed, nothing ever really got me to a point where I blurted out, You know what, you fool? Im really black, blah, blah, blah. But it was tough from day one, when that young guy said that his parents taught him to go wash after he touched the hands of a black person.
Kam: How did you react to that?Brian: I really had to put it all in perspective. I felt that this project was way bigger than the six of us. I thought, this is America, and that whatever happens, I just have to take it on the chin, and let the country see the outcome.Kam: Are you interested in doing a second season of Black White?
Brian: No, because this already has America talking. Thats all I wanted. I didnt care about the situations, or whether people liked or hated the show, just as long as everybody talked about it.
Kam: How did you come to be on the show?Brian: We auditioned for it. I was surfing the Internet through a website that a friend of ours turned me on to, when I stumbled upon an ad that read, black family needed for a project.
Kam: About how many families auditioned and why do you think that yours was picked?Brian: I dont know the exact numbers, but R.J. [Producer R.J. Cutler] says that it was in the hundreds. We were picked based on our personalities, our liberal background, and our willingness to go into the project with an open mind about whatever might happen. They also had to test our skin conditions for makeup. So, a lot of factors went into our selection.Kam: Was there any message that you were trying to deliver on the show that didnt come across?
Brian: A lot of messages got lost because of all the bickering and separatism that went on in the house. The main thing that I wanted America to get out of it was that were all different, and were all the same. We do have different colors, and there are biases on both sides, but it all boils down to the fact that were all Gods children. I like to say were Gods human snowflakes, because every last one of us is unique.Kam: Rose had a crush on a black guy from her poetry group in the next to last episode, but they never addressed that on the final show.
Brian: Yeah, she was liking herself some Devon. Youre right, they never informed you of what the status of their relationship was.
Kam: Do you know whether theyre still seeing each other?Brian: Interesting you should ask, because Devon called me last night to discuss some things, and we were laughing about that after the last episode. Hes at Howard University now, and said, I have a girlfriend down here, and Ive been taking a lot of heat about Rose.Kam: So, hes not in touch with Rose.
Brian: He left a message on Roses machine right before the first episode aired, but he hasnt heard from her. So, thats another interesting thing. She often told the poetry group on the show, I want to keep this going, but I dont think shes had any contact with any of those poetry kids since.
Kam: Although I think Rose was very earnest at the time, it now sounds almost as if she was slumming in blackface, a chance to see how the other half lives before conveniently going back to a life of white privilege.
Brian: Youre right, because they know that once its all over, they can go back to be the privileged ones. I dont think that Rose, Bruno or Carmen are keeping in contact with anyone theyve met on the set. Whereas, I still call the makeup guys, and say, Hey, how are things going? I still keep in contact with some of the golf buddies that I made. Renee and Debra took a cruise together and are good friends. We have maintained contact with the poetry kids, the producers, with a lot of people. I dont think theyre in touch with anybody.
Kam: The credits say that Brunos a school teacher, but in doing my own research on him, I discovered that his last name isnt Wurgel, but Marcotulli, and that hes an actor, and that Carmen is a Hollywood casting scout.Brian: Thats interesting, because whereas we auditioned, they knew someone in casting, and thats how they got set up for their audition.
Kam: I have no idea, but you have to wonder whether Carmen might have known the casting director for the show.
Brian: She did know the casting director, and thats how they got introduced to Black White.
Kam: And Bruno has been on TV shows like MacGyver, Murder She Wrote, Baywatch, JAG and several movies including Spy Hard, One Tough Bastard, Safety Patrol and Moon in Scorpio.
Brian: Wow! I remember Safety Patrol, but I didnt know he was in all that. And Rose was on a show the Disney Channel.
Kam: Wow! Now I didnt know that. She must have used a different last name, too. How is she doing in college?
Brian: Shes not in school anymore. She dropped out of college.Kam: Do you know why?Brian: I dont know if its because she just wasnt ready, or if she wanted to pursue acting.
Kam: Are you thinking of parlaying this into a show-biz career? Ive interviewed a lot of reality show veterans who feel a pressure to do that because theyre suddenly famous.Brian: As a matter of fact, it is something that Im entertaining and checking into right now. And both families have already signed a contract to do some speaking engagements at colleges starting in the Fall.
Kam: Looks like you and Bruno are linked for life.BS: Our two families are definitely linked for life. Whenever you hear one name, the other will definitely come out. Thats not a bad thing. I dont have any animosity towards Bruno whatsoever. I just wish he would wake up and realize that there are differences for blacks and whites.
Kam: Is there anything else I should be asking you?Brian: [Laughs] Youve covered more than anybody else has with me.Kam: Thanks for the time and the interview, Brian. Lets do another one when you go on tour with the Wurgels in September.
Brian: Sounds great. I would definitely love to do that.Kam:And give my best to Renee and Nick, and let them know how much I loved the show.
Brian: I really appreciate that.
posted 17 April 2006
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For July 1st through August 31st 2011
#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake. She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 27 December 2011