Race on reality is no TV game

Controversial discussions about race in America are no longer reality — they’re reality shows.

Last night, two cast members from the cable reality program “Black. White.” spoke on campus. The show documented two families — one black, one white — who donned Hollywood makeup to experience life as another race.

That’s nothing compared to the premiere of “Survivor: Cook Islands,” tonight on CBS. The show’s producers, responding to criticisms that the show does not feature enough racial diversity among its contestants — but more likely worried that the cast-away concept was stale and losing ratings — have decided to divide the 20 contestants into teams by race.

Thursday nights will be a battle of black versus white versus Hispanic versus Asian. It’s sure to be a real winner during the fall sweeps.

There’s no tougher conversation in the melting-pot world of America than race. Since when did it become a game show, then?

The show’s producer, Mark Burnett, speculated in an Associated Press story that it might help dispel stereotypes. But let’s be real: “Survivor” is not a sociology experiment. It’s a game show, and we shouldn’t attempt to draw any conclusions from the actions of these 20 people.

While we’re at it, let’s talk about those contestants. In the first season, the winner and runner-up were famously described as “the rat” and “the snake.” Later seasons included people getting naked for food, and a man who engaged in an elaborate ruse, pretending his grandmother had just died so other contestants would let him win a reward.

People who want to be on reality TV are hardly the best representatives of their race. In fact, they’re probably the worst.

Burnett wants us to hold our opinions until the show airs, to “wait to see what happens.”

But firing up an experiment and waiting to stumble across the results is a dangerous proposition. Especially when tens of millions of people are watching.

What happens if the Hispanic team wins a challenge? Does that mean all Hispanics are superior? What about if the white team is victorious? Does that mean racism is affecting the game?

Outside the show, we have to worry about audience reactions, too. Host Jeff Probst noted that this season is not so much about race, but “ethnic pride.” That sounds a lot like semantics. In fact, there’s a name for one group that is particularly proud of its race: white supremacists.

Will fans cheer only for their race’s team? And does that make them racist?

We could ask the questions that concern us for days. Doesn’t dividing by race negate the experience of multi-racial people? What about Native Americans? And Arab Americans? And Indian Americans? And everyone we, and the show, are leaving out?

Racism, and conflicts and misunderstandings about race are still a huge problem in the United States. Some people want to end Affirmative Action. The divide between urban and suburban areas smacks of segregation from decades ago. And hate crimes aren’t going away.

This country desperately needs real discussions about race, before tensions rise and explode as they have numerous times in our country’s past. But first, we must stop relying on reality television to tell us the reality of our society.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.