Date of Award

8-2008

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Eric E. Peterson

Second Committee Member

Kristin M. Langellier

Third Committee Member

Sandra Berkowitz

Abstract

In 2006. a reality television show aired on FX called Black.White.. In the show. the white Wurgel family and the black Sparks family agreed to share a home for six weeks, frequently swapping racial appearance by changing the color of their skin with the help of advanced make-up artists. The Sparks agreed to live a portion of their lives as white people and the Wurgels agreed to live a portion as black people. The two families struggle with the concept of race throughout the series, declaring at times that race is a big deal, while at other times deciding that they are all just people and should be able to make a connection with others despite the color of their skin. This study looks at how the show stimulates discourse about race and racism, by exploring how audiences talk about it. It answers the question: How do people talk about race and racism? The study consists of six separate chapters. The first chapter takes a look at relevant literature surrounding discourse on race and racism. In this chapter I set up four existing tensions commonly found in discourse on race and racism: Tension 1: Natural vs. Social\Historical\Cultural, Tension 2: Individual Attribute vs. Social Structure, Tension 3: Interpretive Approaches vs. Critical Approaches, Tension 4: Text/Representation vs. Embodiment/Performance. The second chapter explains phenomenology as a methodology and explains the focus group processes used in the study. For the study, four focus groups of mixed ethnicities groups watched the first episode of the show, and they were asked a series of open-ended questions to stimulate discussion about the show. Phenomenology was used as a methodology, as participants' lived experiences were observed and recorded while watching the show and throughout the discussions groups. The third, fourth, and fifth chapters contain a description and reduction of my findings. Chapter three is the first grouping of themes where the participants' comments are specifically about the show. Chapter four is the second grouping of themes where participants' articulate lay theories about race and racism. Chapter five is the last description and reduction chapter, and it is the grouping of themes where the participants share their own personal experiences with race and racism. The sixth chapter is the interpretation of my findings, in this chapter 1 touch on the limitations and contributions of my study. I revisit the research in chapter one and introduce some new tensions that I found structuring our discourse on race and racism.

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