Saturday, December 31, 2011

What Would You Do?

Ever since Oprah got her OWN network I have been over indulging in life changing TV.  I am admittedly not Oprah's biggest fan and was very happy when her show finally ended (at least 5 years too late if you ask me).
But I have to admit that a lot of the content that is on OWN is as life changing and as thought provoking as the old Oprah show and, thankfully, very light on the presence of Oprah (big plus).

There is this show called What Would You Do? which is apparently a re-airing of a show from ABC that I never saw.  Hidden camera shows make me cringe.  I hate to see the awkward situations and feel for the people who are put in them.  Candid Camera, Punked and other shows like that have never been my thing.  But this show is different.  It uses actors to create morally questionable situations and then films how real people react to these situations.  This show is not only a great social experiment but it makes you question how you would react in the same situations.  

As good as this show is, several episodes get backed up on my DVR before I have the courage to sit down and watch one.  This is because the show make me cry every time.  I cry with happiness for the innocent people who do the right thing and for all the people who don't.  I cry because I know these scenarios are based on things that have happened in real life.  This show makes me ashamed of the apathy of society and the prevalence of prejudice.  

One episode that sticks out in my mind was of kids vandalizing cars at a public park.  The park was in a middle class neighborhood in New Jersey and the experiment was done on a very busy Saturday morning.  When the vandals were white kids some people called the cops or confronted the kids but a lot of people just walked past.  But when the vandals were black kids the response was almost immediate and much more aggressive.  When questioned, the people said that they would have reacted the same way if the kids were white but that clearly wasn't what the experiment showed.  

It seemed like in this very white middle class neighborhood, the people assumed that the white kids were some kids from the neighborhood who were just fooling around.  But those black kids, no they clearly couldn't live there, they weren't from the neighborhood.  They were a threat.  Because if media has taught us anything its that young black men are thugs and young white men are just goofing off.  Maybe that's a stretch but I can tell you that people often make assumptions about me solely based on my race.  The people who make these assumptions don't seem to have ever had any meaningful conversations with a black person.  Media must play a role in how they form their opinions because it's not coming from life experience. 

The worst part of this episode was how many people called the police to report a group of black people sleeping in their car in the park.  This was not an experiment set up by the show but a real situation that occurred during the planned scenario.  People were calling to say that they thought they were casing the park and potentially going to rob it.  This was a story that the white people created in their heads because they had been taught to fear black people. Because these people who didn't look like them didn't belong in their neighborhood.  These were a few people taking a nap in their car.  I can't express how harmless this situation was.  I wish they would have re-created the situation with a white family.  I bet no one would have called.  
The crazy thing was that these calls came in while the white kids were vandalizing cars.  So these people took the time to call the police to report black people minding their own business and ignored the white people breaking the law.  It makes me sad.  

I wish this were required viewing for everyone.  It should be a required class from elementary school through college, like English, because it is just as important.  Knowing how to properly punctuate a sentence is a pretty worthless skill unless you're going to become an English teacher.  Learning how to accept people from different backgrounds and live in harmony with people that are different than you is essential.  I don't think society will ever be perfect but it would be a hell of a lot better if people talked about these things and didn't pretend like the don't exist.  In every episode I learn something else about myself.  I hope that I am one of the good people that would do the right thing.  But I don't know how I would react if confronted with a situation like this.  That is the beauty of the show.  It's easy to say what you would do when you are sitting on your couch.  But in real life, how many of us would be cowards?  How many of our hidden prejudices would reveal themselves?  

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