Participants Rahsaan, Becky and Jennifer are filmed during the 2001 documentary project.

Twenty Years Later

Participants of groundbreaking “Experiment in Black and White” reflect on project’s lasting impact

December 2021

BY MARK SAXENMEYER

When the subject is race, people shut up. Most don’t want to talk about it, especially in mixed company. Few seem willing to speak openly or candidly, for fear of being called a bigot or a racist. And as a result, questions and answers, issues and problems, simply don’t get discussed thoroughly and honestly in America today.

Instead, ignorance festers, fear grows, stereotypes persist, segregation increases.

Experiment in Black and White is a documentary project designed to help change all that—and today The Reporters Inc. is celebrating the 20th anniversary of this national Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning documentary.

The Reporters Inc. managed to round up eight of the ten participants for an in-depth, written Q&A. See below for their fascinating reflections, two decades after they agreed to open up their lives, and their minds, for this groundbreaking Experiment. In addition, the entire documentary and two reunions with the participants have been combined into a streaming video and made available, for free, to the public for the very first time.

TO WATCH THE TRAILER FOR EXPERIMENT IN BLACK AND WHITE, CLICK HERE.

 

TO WATCH THE ENTIRE DOCUMENTARY, AS WELL AS TWO REUNIONS WITH THE PARTICIPANTS OF EXPERIMENT IN BLACK AND WHITE, CLICK HERE.

 

But first, some background:

Experiment in Black and White brings five Black and five White Chicago-area residents (all strangers to one another) together for one week, sequestering them inside a home. They live, eat, sleep, socialize, and debate race-related issues with one another.

They leave their jobs and their families behind, all with the same goal: to break down barriers, to work through their prejudices and biases, and to better educate both themselves (and the hundreds of thousands of people who would end up watching the project). The participants are selected with the assistance of race relations experts.

The group is given daily assignments and tasks, designed and facilitated in part by professors from the University of Illinois, Northwestern, DePaul, and other schools. They converse about everything from slavery reparations and racial profiling, to affirmative action and the use of the ‘n’ word. There are discussions about discrimination and crime, language and behavior, and cultural and sociological perceptions. The conversations are eye opening, provocative, and sometimes controversial. Yet they’re also rational, meaningful, and substantive.

 

The participants of Experiment in Black and White, posing for a group photo during their week together, sequestered inside a Chicago home. 

 

In the end, much of what is expressed publicly by these participants often echoes the views of the general public–opinions and feelings many people may voice privately but fear or resist saying aloud because of the potential repercussions in our politically correct culture. In Experiment in Black and White, the housemates are refreshingly and sometimes stunningly honest. There is no tiptoeing around any issue whatsoever. Though all arrive ready to defend their strong opinions, they’re also willing to change them if convinced otherwise.

Some issues are definitely unresolved, but it’s safe to say that everyone involved in this project gains a better understanding of one another. Each person works diligently towards bridging the racial divide.

Of course, 20 years have now passed since the participants shared their week together. Is it too presumptuous to assume that the project still resonates with them, or that it’s had any lasting impact at all? The Reporters Inc. set out to find out.

Eight of the ten participants agreed to not only answer questions about their Experiment experiences and recollections, but to also share their thoughts about the state of race relations today.

 

Where were you living at the time of Experiment in Black and White in 2001:
WILL: Chicago, Illinois
RAHSAAN: Chicago, Illinois
MARY: Oak Forest, Illinois (a suburb 25 miles south of Chicago)
JENNIFER: Northbrook, Illinois (a suburb 25 miles north of Chicago)
BRIAN: Elk Grove, Illinois (a suburb 35 miles southwest of Chicago)
DALE: Waukegan, Illinois (a suburb 40 miles north of Chicago)
JED: Crystal Lake, Illinois (a suburb 50 miles northwest of Chicago)
DELORES: Kankakee, Illinois (a town 60 miles south of Chicago)

Where do you live now?
WILL: Glenwood, Illinois (a suburb 30 miles south of Chicago)
JENNIFER: Libertyville, Illinois (a town 40 miles north of Chicago)
MARY: Minooka, Illinois (a town 50 miles southwest of Chicago)
DALE: Oak Creek, Wisconsin
JED: I live on the beautiful Geist Reservoir in Indianapolis, Indiana.
RAHSAAN: Atlanta, Georgia
BRIAN: Los Angeles, California
DELORES: Murrieta, California (about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego)

 

Above: Delores in 2001, and today.

Below: Jennifer in 2001, and today.

 

Where else have you lived during the last 20 years?
RAHSAAN: I’ve lived in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
DELORES: Tempe, Arizona
WILL: Riverdale, Illinois and Harvey, Illinois (both south suburbs of Chicago)
DALE: Mass City, Michigan

How old were you at the time of the Experiment:
BRIAN: 23
RAHSAAN: 25
JENNIFER: 27
DALE: 37
WILL: 39
MARY: 44
JED: 47
DELORES: 50

 

Above: Rahsaan in 2001, and today.

Below: Brian in 2001, and today.

 

How old are you now?
BRIAN: 43
RAHSAAN: 45
JENNIFER: 47
DALE: 58
WILL: 59
MARY: 64
JED: 67
DELORES: 70

What was you relationship status at the time of the Experiment:
JED: Married
DELORES: Married
DALE: Married
MARY: Married
JENNIFER: Single
RAHSAAN: Single
WILL: Single
BRIAN: Single

 

Above: Will in 2001, and today.

Below: Jed in 2001, and today. 

 

What’s your relationship status now?
JED: Married 45 years (to the same wife)!
MARY: Married 40 years—to the same guy!
JENNIFER: Married (for 17 years)
RAHSAAN: Married (for 17 years)
WILL: I got married, then divorced, then married again!
DELORES: Divorced
DALE: Widowed (My soulmate of 30 great years, my wife Jill, passed away of liver failure in 2020.)
BRIAN: Still single—but not for lack of trying! (I was engaged for two years, but we broke it off.)

How many children did you have at the time of the Experiment?
WILL: Two, ages 11 and 5
JED: Two, ages 19 and 17
MARY: Two, ages 26 and 17
DELORES: Three, ages 35, 33 and 29
DALE: Four, ages 13, 12, 11, and 5

 

Above: Mary in 2001, and today.

Below: Dale in 2001, and today. 

 

How many children do you have now?
JED: Two, now 39 and 37
MARY: Two, now 46 and 37.
DELORES: Three, now 55, 53 and 49
JENNIFER: Three, ages 16, 15 and 12
DALE: Four, now 33, 32, 31 and 25
RAHSAAN: Seven, ages 17, 14, 12, 10, 7, 5 and 19 months
WILL: The two from 20 years ago are now 32 and 25, plus I now have three more from my wife’s previous marriage.
BRIAN: None. I don’t want kids. I’m too selfish and they’re too much work!

Do you have any grandchildren? 
JED: Four
WILL: Five
DALE: Eight
MARY: Three grandchildren—and two great-grandchildren!
DELORES: Seven grandkids and four great-grandkids!

 

Above: Becky and Nicole in 2001. They did not respond to requests to participate in this 20th anniversary Q&A.

 

What was your occupation at the time of the Experiment:
JENNIFER: I was a student at the University of Illinois-Chicago studying psychology.
BRIAN: I was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago studying art history.
RAHSAAN: I was a clerk in the graduation services office and a student at Roosevelt University in Chicago. I was studying broadcast journalism.
WILL: Assistant Director with the Fourth District Youth Net, a Chicago nonprofit program designed to support and mentor youth
JED: AT&T Project Manager
DELORES: Tax preparer
MARY: Seamstress
DALE: Unemployed

What do you do now?
JENNIFER: Stay-at-home mom
MARY: Homemaker
JED: I retired nine years ago.
DELORES: Retired
WILL: I own a plant-based catering company called Plantbased4lyfe.
BRIAN: Manager of communications for a medical records company
RAHSAAN: I work in private security now and I’m also a student with Techbridge, a program that allows you earn certificates for good-paying jobs in the IT field.
DALE: Actor

 

What other highlights, or lowlights, would you like to share about your life in the last 20 years?

DELORES: Among my favorite moments—when I worked at the polls during Obama’s two presidential campaigns, registering folks and answering questions.

WILL: The high was when I got married again. The low was when I lost my two younger brothers in 2018. They died eight months apart.

DALE: I stopped teaching 11 years ago and became a professional actor. Losing my wife was definitely the low point of the last two decades.

BRIAN: Let’s see, I’ve survived Los Angeles. It’s a tough city to succeed in but I stuck it out and I’m happy I did. I worked in the restaurant industry for most of the last two decades, including as general manager of a popular restaurant chain in Burbank, CA.

JED: I moved to Indiana 10 years ago to be closer to my daughter who opened her medical practice here. I’m enjoying retirement, spoiling my grandchildren, and I’m now involved in local politics and electing important school board members.

RAHSAAN: Other than growing my family with my wife of 15 years, I’ve been a stand-in and featured actor in several movies and television shows such as Spiderman2, The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, Star, The Resident, Roll Bounce, Uncle Drew, and Sixtuplets, to name a few.

MARY: My youngest daughter moved in with us, with an infant and a two-year-old. We sold our home in Oak Forest and moved to Minooka because, with the growth of the family, we needed more room and a bigger house. We still have our grandchildren living with us. They’re now in junior high and high school. My mother is now 90 and in need of a caretaker and I have filled that role as well. Day to day life has just eaten these years up!

 

Why do you think you were chosen to participate in the Experiment 20 years ago? What do you think you represented or had to offer?

WILL: My honesty and my life experiences.

MARY: I was chosen because I was very naive and wanted enlightenment.

BRIAN: I was probably selected for a younger viewpoint.

RAHSAAN: I had some interesting takes on race, being roommates in school with a White student, as well as just trying to navigate through life as young Black man with all of the issues that arise—like crime, finance, housing, dating etc.

DELORES: I was an employed, older, middle class, African American woman—and I didn’t represent what some in the general public perceive us to be.

DALE: I was the first Black student at my junior high in 1976 in Gurnee, Illinois, I was married to a White woman, and we had four mixed race children.

JENNIFER: I think I was chosen because I represented many people who came from and lived in affluent communities—a young White woman who grew up with no African American people around me. None of my elementary school classmates were Black and I graduated from high school in a class of 1100 students with only one African American student. In retrospect, I probably presented as very naïve, and my thoughts and views came across as discriminatory, without a real understanding of that on my part.

 

What’s the FIRST thing you think of when Experiment in Black and White comes to mind?

JED: What was I thinking?!

DELORES: I think about the privileged thinking by some of the White people. For example, when Jennifer said she’d see cars in her neighborhood that didn’t “belong” there. Or when she left her laundry in the washing machine and had to call a house meeting in the middle of the night to discuss someone moving her clothes!

JENNIFER: I think about how embarrassed I am of the person that I was, the thoughts that I had, and the way I behaved as a result. It was my own ignorance, and I suppose for that I’m not ashamed, because the experience, the people I met, and the things I learned, created the person I am today, and that person is so completely opposite of the person that I was 20 years ago.

WILL: The emotional toll it took on us. I had a headache every damn day! The conversations were stressful because people were always upset about something. And there were only two and a half bathrooms in that house, shared by 10 housemates!

MARY: It was one of the most eye-opening weeks of my life. I learned so much, and it allowed me to see a whole different facet of life—one that didn’t exist for me before that experience. I don’t think one week was enough time to fully grasp and internalize the emotions and realities that go along with the issue of racial disparities but it truly changed me, at least for a while.

BRIAN: The first thing I think of is that song (“Thank You” by Dido) that you hear throughout the documentary. The next thought is of that framed group photo of us all that production gave us at the end of the week. I still have that to this day.

DALE: We made history. We made a great contribution to society.

 

Many of the participants’ discussions and conversations were held around the dinner table. 

 

What about your participation in the Experiment stands out as having the most, or biggest impact for you?

DELORES: I learned a lot about the different ways that these nine people grew up and how that formed the way they think about race. It helped to make me look at White people individually, and not as a group. I don’t judge as much, especially White people—until they show me the slightest reason why I shouldn’t associate with them.

JED: We all learned from one another.

WILL: It helped me come out of my comfort zone, even though that might not have lasted.

MARY: I look back and I’m embarrassed by how completely ignorant I was. It opened my eyes to a bigger world. So much was going on, like racial profiling, that I didn’t know about—or I was just so unaware that I didn’t see it. The Experiment made me want to expand my horizons, to become more aware of what was going on around me, and to open me up to more fully experience the good and the bad of our big world. I wanted to become like a sponge, to soak up knowledge and interact with more diverse people. I wanted to experience the outside world. I felt open. Unfortunately, the change was just temporary due to my family obligations that consume most of my time.

JENNIFER: I think the amazing thing about the Experiment for me was that a week in that house gave me the time to actually think about how I behaved and what I thought, and realize how wrong it was. Most people don’t get that opportunity, obviously, and so they remain stuck in their beliefs, and won’t even contemplate different perspectives.

BRIAN: I realized that, to an extent, I lived in a bubble and since then I’ve become more aware of what’s really going on in our world.

RAHSAAN: I feel I can do anything! Because if you can endure being sequestered inside a small house with all of these big personalities, away from family and friends, then nothing is out of reach!

DALE: It changed everything for me, forever. I always strive to learn more and always be truthful.

 

Twenty years later, how does the Experiment still resonate in your life?

DELORES: That experience, with those people, made me a much better person in terms of the way I think, and react.

BRIAN: I’m just more cognizant of how race plays into everyday life. As part of my job, I hire and dismiss people, and I always make sure that my decisions are never based on anything but a person’s qualifications and performance.

MARY: The Experiment was a great experience for me and it made me feel alive, like I never felt before. But then, life got in the way. Today, the experience is just a memory, something that changed me for a while but then slid into the deep background.

JENNIFER: It changed me in an extraordinary way. The experience and everything I learned from it have never faded from my mind or life. Over the past 20 years, whenever a situation arises that has anything to do with race, I’m always thinking about my reaction and what’s appropriate, before I actually respond. I remember things that other housemates said (“When you know better, you do better”), or things that I learned about myself in that week, and I take the time to pause before I react. The experience still frequently reminds me about my privilege and makes me aware of my prejudices and behavior. I still have times when I’m uncomfortable, and I still have times when I struggle with what I think and how I feel, but I’m always working to improve that, and always working to teach my children and to treat the people around me of other races with respect and dignity. The impact that the week had on me, in terms of making me take a long hard look at myself and wanting to work to improve the aspects that came across negatively to me and others, was and is still huge.

RAHSAAN: I always think that we could have done more if we had more time to foster an even bigger impact. I do feel it changed me, being part of something so groundbreaking, and it helped me evaluate my life.

JED: I haven’t told a joke in twenty years!

WILL: I’m proud of it still! I’ll never forget those nine other people. I don’t think there’s ever been a project like this before, and probably won’t be again unless The Experiment producers and The Reporters Inc. can make another one. I hope they do. I wish we could do a 20-year reunion show. I would definitely want to be a part of it.

DALE: It resonates every day. Because of that experience, I ask myself, “How do you want to be remembered? What kind of person will you be remembered as?” That’s what I wake up thinking, and what guides every day of my life. It taught me to express my ideas and thoughts a little more clearly, and to come across less threatening. I’ve befriended some White people who I never, in a million years, I would have never befriended before the Experiment. I put myself out there more. The Experiment will impact me until my very last breath!

 

The Experiment in Black and White participants weren’t allowed to leave their small three-bedroom, two (and a half) bathroom home. They had no contact with the outside world whatsoever–no phones, computers, TV, etc. 

 

In the last 20 years, how have your personal relationships with people of another race changed?

JENNIFER: Since I live in a community with very few Black people, the opportunity to befriend Blacks doesn’t present itself much. I think that’s unfortunate, not only for me but also for my children.

JED: I live in a diverse area in the Geist/Indianapolis area. My granddaughters’ best friends are Black.

RAHSAAN: My relationships with all people have changed because I just don’t put myself out there as freely as I once did, no matter who it is. I focus on common interests with people, more so than cultural or racial. If you’re cool, you’re cool.

DELORES: Most of my friends in Kankakee were Black but most of the people I associate out here in L.A. are just old, like me. They’re of all races. I live in a diverse neighborhood. It’s not like we’re super close but we talk, we sit in the park, we discuss race relations without people getting crazy.

WILL: While I still have friends and associates of many races, I also still think that White and Black people see two different worlds, while living on the same planet. For example, White people tend to promote and back police officers while the average Black person doesn’t trust them at all. So, that alone will always create a kind of divide.

BRIAN: I genuinely don’t care about someone’s race. My circle is pretty diverse. I have friends who are Black, Hispanic, Armenian, Russian, you name it.

MARY: I really don’t have personal relationships with anyone but my family these days. So sad, but true.

DALE: My relationships haven’t really changed except that I have a new friend and mentor who’s an 83-year-old conservative Republican woman. I met her through my new girlfriend and she’s damn near my polar opposite. We talk about race, politics, society. I like talking to her because I’ve seen her change, and she’s helping me change, too.

 

Now that the entire Experiment in Black and White, including the two reunions, will be available for free, worldwide viewing online, what do you want to tell people about it? What do you want them to pay attention to as they watch? What do you want their takeaways to be?

RAHSAAN: Everything you see happened, just as you see it. Pay close attention to how people respond to tough subject matter like slavery. Just use it as a way to start a conversation about race relations.

DELORES: I want them to listen carefully. They may see themselves in one or more of the participants.

JENNIFER: Everyone who watches the Experiment will no doubt identify with at least one person in the house. I would say to viewers today, “Take a good hard look at each person and the perspectives they bring. Then take a good hard look at whether those are positive perspectives. And if not, think about how they can be changed.”

WILL: I would tell them to watch the transformations of the participants, during the different times we were together—and the individual changes in our lives.

BRIAN: Just remember that this is a condensed version of our week, meaning that a lot of the conversations went on much longer and were more in-depth than what appears on your screen. Don’t rush to judge us based solely on this hour and 10 minutes.

MARY: Living in a predominantly White community, there are many people like me that don’t know what’s happening in the lives of Black people. If you watch the Experiment, you get a little glimpse into the struggles of what it’s often like to be Black.

DALE: I just want them to hopefully get something positive and enlightening from it – to just help people better understand each other.

 

Experiment in Black and White was critically acclaimed, and the recipient of more than a dozen major honors and awards, including a national Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association.

 

When you watch yourself in the Experiment (and the reunions) now, what’s the most uncomfortable thing to see in yourself? How have you changed? How are you still the same?

JED: It’s scary! I was young then, and now I’m old!

RAHSAAN: The braids I’m wearing are cringy! I go for a more clean shaven, conservative look now. I have the same personality but I’ve grown in how I view the world and relationships. That comes with being a father.

DELORES: I look fat! And I’m so angry, because I felt like I had to censor myself and get up and walk away due to some of the things being said. I couldn’t always articulate what I really wanted to say because I wasn’t as educated then about race and race relations. Today, I could speak my mind more effectively.

WILL: The first thing I notice is my weight going up and down! Aside from that, I’m a different person now than at that time—older, wiser, and more settled.

DALE: My facial expressions were so angry and, as a result, I was viewed as a stereotypical “angry Black man.” I’m still angry when it comes to racial injustice, but I’ve just learned to channel some of my anger into my acting, comedy, and teaching.

BRIAN: Believe it or not, I’ve never watched it. I swear! I know that may be hard for some people to believe but I want to remember it the way it actually happened, not the way it was condensed for television. However, as far as how I’ve changed, I’ve grown up. There’s a big difference between a 23 year-old’s life experience and that of a 43 year old. I now better understand the complexities of race relations.

MARY: I’m uncomfortable seeing my ignorance and how unaware I was. Yet in recent years, I’ve shut the world out again and, in doing so, I’m no longer part of a solution. Sadly, if something doesn’t affect me in any way today, I don’t pay attention to it. Difficult issues frustrate me, so I avoid them. Instead, I enjoy reading books—fiction take me into a different world.

JENNIFER: Oh boy, I have such a hard time watching myself in the documentary. How I talked, my body mannerisms, and what I actually said are an absolute embarrassment to me 20 years later. I see how ignorant and argumentative I was. Instead of listening to others’ perspectives, I just reacted. And not in a positive way. That being said, I can also be proud because it just shows me how much I’ve learned and how much I’ve changed.

 

Some of the major discussions presented in Experiment in Black and White revolved around reparations, affirmative action, and racial profiling (while driving, shopping, etc.). How have your views or experiences changed, if at all, from 20 years ago on those subjects?

MARY: First off, I don’t believe we should provide reparations. I think it’s paying for something we were not part of. This was a crime committed generations ago. Why should the burden of the crime be put on our shoulders? It’s sad and unjust but it’s part of history. My family came from poor Irish immigrants and were treated horribly, considered lowlifes, and not given jobs or opportunities. Does that mean all the ancestors of the people that treated them like they were less than dirt should be held accountable? As for affirmative action, I have mixed feelings about it. I do believe some need an advantage to make up for the disadvantages that they face. Mostly because of economics and substandard schools, and lack of opportunities. However, there are a lot of Whites that are equally disadvantaged that have fought for that spot and didn’t get it because of the color of their skin. What is really right there? I think there was a time we needed affirmative action but now there are open opportunities for anyone to get hired. I don’t think employers look at race instead of merit anymore. But of course, that is just my opinion and I don’t have a lot of experience in how people are hired or accepted into schools— it’s just what I’ve observed. Finally, as far as racial profiling is concerned, I think it still occurs just by watching some of the news stories throughout the years. It’s unfortunate, but I think it’s going to happen for a long time to come.

DALE: My views have only gotten stronger since more videos of Blacks being treated unjustly continue to be released. As we know, video don’t lie.

JENNIFER: I think that over the years I’ve concluded that I’m not really entitled to judge or argue about what I think is right or wrong about most of those subjects. They still resonate with most if not all African Americans in the country today but they are not my experiences, and nor will they ever be. My White privilege sits with me, whether I like it or not, and I feel it’s important for me to acknowledge that. It’s simply my job to listen to what they’re saying, and support those feelings, and do what is necessary of myself to help others understand as well.

RAHSAAN: My views haven’t changed. The world still doesn’t have much empathy for Black people. Things have actually gotten worse. As long as people continue to have negative thoughts about us and our abilities, etc., we’ll continue to need policies like affirmative action just to get in the door. People still get in a huff when race is brought up—it can get really tense. And being racially profiled now is even more dangerous. We’re having the police called on us and we’re being killed now more than ever—just for doing our jobs, or even existing.

BRIAN: Over time, and as I’ve gotten older, the disparity between the races has become more clear to me, especially how differently Blacks are often treated. Having more transparency, whether it’s police body cams or more media coverage, has helped people see the truth.

DELORES: We as Blacks still have a lot of work to do. We’ve dropped the ball. First of all, we need to know who we are and stop letting other people identify us. First we were “n**gers,” then we were “colored” or Negroes,” then we were Black, then African Americans, and now it’s back to Black. I’m an American. Period!

WILL: Reparations and affirmative action still aren’t big issues for me. As for racial profiling, I’ve only been pulled over a few times by cops in the last 20 years, now that I’m older. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it hasn’t happened much to me. Whatever happened in the past stays in the past. Just treat me well now. I’m focused on NOW.

JED: Race is not the problem. Way too much emphasis is put on it by society. Some people will call someone a racist simply because they don’t like that person. Thankfully, my grandchildren are colorblind. They haven’t been indoctrinated by the public school system and news media.

 

Why was sequestering the 10 of you, with no contact from the outside world, so important to the process?

RAHSAAN: So we could be fully engaged in the process.

DALE: To make us eventually confront our biases. If we were able to run away, no one would get their true feelings out.

DELORES: The sequestering helped us all speak more freely, and stopped any outside influences from changing our minds about how we spoke or what we said.

MARY: We had to totally immerse ourselves in living and communicating with each other. The sequestering prevented us from escaping difficult discussions, and pushed us to embrace the differences in everyone. Being unable to escape one another, you got tied up in the emotions of the others and yourself. Familiarity tends to loosen tongues.

WILL: There were no distractions. We lived like people did during the pandemic—pretty much cut off from the outside world! And as a result, we could focus more intently on the task at hand.

JENNIFER: We had nothing else to do but interact with each other. Everything we did every single day, even sleeping, we did together, and with no outside influences whatsoever, we were left to talk about how the activities and discussions of the day affected us. We talked and talked about what we thought, or about each other, or about our lives and our upbringings. If I remember there were board games that we could play, which I do remember being a welcome relief, but they were also still something that promoted interaction with each other.

 

Looking back on it now, what were the best and most difficult parts about being sequestered in a house for one week with nine strangers?

JENNIFER: The best part was really the relationships that were formed, some positive and some negative, but those also changed throughout the week as well. I think those relationships were the catalyst to look at myself, my prejudices, and how to work on those and change them. I think the most difficult part was that there was no relief or escape from everything that we were going through. If there were confrontations or issues, or a day was particularly emotional, the only people that we had to lean on were other people in the house.

RAHSAAN: The best: Making friends with some of the housemates. The worst: Not being able to get through to some of the house participants, when it came to certain race related issues.

BRIAN: I’m socially awkward and it’s a real struggle for me to get to know people so being put in this situation was extremely stressful. The best part was feeling like I left the house with nine new friends.

MARY: I was excited about getting to know other people and experiencing something new. I loved the feeling I got when I just got to listen in, and learn something new. Still, I was uncomfortable a lot of the time. Most of what I did was question, trying to understand. I was a bit nervous about how other people would see me and judge me, but I got over that.

JED: It was stressful being in a small house 24-7 with no down time, living with nine strangers. Houseguests get old after a few days! I need room.

WILL: The worst part was sleeping in those little beds, three or four to a room! The best was making new friends. We all got to know other people of other races and cultures and backgrounds in a way we never would have if we hadn’t lived together.

DALE: The most difficult part was figuring out when everyone could take a shower every day. There were only two and a half bathrooms for 10 people in that house! The best part was finding out we are all the same, despite our disagreements.

 

The ten Experiment participants reunited for a holiday party in December 2001, eight months after their week together ended. Eight of the ten reunited again for another reunion five years later, in 2006.

 

Was the Experiment, as edited and presented, a fair representation of what went on (and was recorded 24/7) in the house that week?

JED: Yes, it was fair.

DALE: Yes, it captured our emotions and reactions in real time. No filters.

MARY: I think it was a good representation of what went on that week. Still, I don’t think one week was long enough for people to fully let their guards down and really speak their minds.

RAHSAAN: Yes, I think so. We were told that only the bathroom was off limits, if the door was closed. I believe that whatever made it to air was what we did, or how it was.

JENNIFER: I think so. Of course, there was so much that went on and it all needed to be edited because of time limitations. As a result, the audience only gets the juiciest bits. But even watching it today, I feel like it was a pretty good representation of what happened in that week and thereafter.

BRIAN: Because the original documentary was less than an hour long (after commercials), there was limited time to share all of our discussions and, as a result, the full story didn’t always get told.

WILL: I think some valuable footage was probably left out due to time constraints. For example, we had a lot more conversations among just the men at night that weren’t included. And we took an undercover “field trip” to a local restaurant to see if the Blacks were treated differently than the Whites. That didn’t make the final cut either.

DELORES: Yes, but when the cameras were off only then did some of the participants speak truthfully. I think Jed, Jennifer, Will and I were the most honest. Dale, Rahsaan and Becky were kind of over-reacting, Brian and Nicole were too young to know what they were talking about, and Mary was just out of touch with reality.

 

What do you say to people who claim, “Oh, all reality TV is fake!”

DALE: They haven’t seen Experiment in Black and White. There was nothing fake about it.

WILL: They have no clue! We were as real as it got! Nothing in the Experiment was fake.

RAHSAAN: There are real emotions and real consequences for the participants. Now, some current shows have a script or outline as to how they want things to go, but once you get the participants involved it can go in any direction.

DELORES: Some reality TV is definitely fake. But the Experiment was a documentary, not a reality show.

MARY: Ours wasn’t scripted. We spoke our truths, based on our own thoughts.

BRIAN: I don’t know about other shows, but the Experiment wasn’t fake. Everything we said was our true opinion.

JED: The Experiment was different because we weren’t paid and we applied to participate because we wanted to make a difference, not become TV stars.

JENNIFER: I truthfully think that most other reality TV is scripted or contrived, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think that the producers of the Experiment pre-planned how some of the storytelling was going to unfold, before filming even began. I think each one of us in that house was chosen for a specific reason, to represent a specific group or idea. But again, as far as what happened in the house and how it was presented in the documentary, I think it was a pretty truthful representation.

 

For those of you still living in the Chicago area, do you think race relations have improved or worsened in the city and suburbs?

JENNIFER: I live in a suburb with only a very small number of African Americans. I don’t sense any issues or stressors here, but I haven’t even driven down to Chicago in almost two years because of the pandemic –so I can’t really even accurately assess it.

WILL: Chicago is still a very segregated city. There’s an “us and them” mentality between Blacks and Whites. People are comfortable with not changing. There are more neighborhoods that have become integrated and gentrified but this doesn’t mean that your new neighbors like or support you. And Black people still get a lot of pushback when they to move into certain neighborhoods.

 

For those of you living in a different city or state, how do race relations there compare to the Chicago area?

RAHSAAN: Chicago remains extremely segregated so it’s amazing that race relations aren’t even worse than they currently are. That’s a testament to the goodness of people there who are trying to rise above it. With that said, Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs are the Blackest places I’ve ever been. I live in a community where I don’t see many White people at all. In fact, if I see more than 10 White people in the same place at the same time, it’s a rarity! Racist White people exist here but because there are so many Black people in mixed areas, and because there are so many more segregated areas here, I don’t encounter racism nearly as much as I did in Chicago. There are way more places we feel safe here. Aside from that, one of our U.S. Senators is Black, our mayor is Black, there are many Black Congressman—so we see more people like us in power and that provides a sense of pride and security.

DELORES: I left Chicago because it’s too damn cold in the winter, not because of anything race-related. With that said, it’s easier to get ahead in L.A., no matter your race. People are more open-minded and it’s more laid back. Lots of younger people date or marry outside their race.

BRIAN: L.A. is so spread out, compared to Chicago, and you often have to travel through different areas of the city, encountering all kinds of diverse people, to get to where you’re going. There are a lot of transplants here from around the country and the world, whereas many people from Chicago tend to stay there their whole lives because they’re comfortable in their familiar surroundings.

MARY: I now live in a small, predominantly White Illinois town far from Chicago, with few Black residents. But I know if a Black family moved into my neighborhood, I’d welcome them.

DALE: The suburb I live in in Wisconsin is racist as hell. To this day, I still get harassed. I still get pulled over by cops for no apparent reason, other than for being Black because Black people are always considered to be “suspicious.”

 

Obama hadn’t even been elected the last time there was an Experiment reunion (2006). How did his presidency affect race relations in the U.S.?

JENNIFER: Of course it helped, having the first African American president, but the people who supported him were open to change in the first place. I think expectations that he could help erase racism were way too high and unrealistic.

RAHSAAN: It depends how you look at it. Some people saw a Black president and were like, “How cool! How groundbreaking!” Others were more pissed than ever before, and stopped at nothing to get him out of office.

DELORES: I don’t think it helped much. He tried to do the best he could, but some Blacks thought because we had a Black president he was going to wave a magic wand and make all these changes for us. As for the haters, they hated more than they ever had before.

BRIAN: I hoped that his election would help race relations. Not only in the U.S. but as an example for the world to see. But I don’t think his presidency has had a lasting impact. There seem to be more issues and problems involving race and race relations than ever before.

MARY: I think his presidency neither hurt nor helped race relations. I think he was a great president, and not because of his color. He’s an intelligent, articulate, fair, good person.

DALE: It helped to open the door. He was the first Black president and he helped Black people know they can achieve anything. But it also exposed the racism that was deeply imbedded in this country, with all the personal attacks he and his family had to endure.

WILL: It helped in some ways but pissed other folks off. We got to see those folks’ true colors in this country. So much hate and abuse. For example, we kept seeing horrible, racist images of the entire Obama family portrayed as monkeys on the internet.

JED: He was elected twice and some people still think we’re racist country! Enough said.

 

How did the Trump presidency affect race relations?

BRIAN: Negatively. Very, very negatively. He focused on those who didn’t embrace diversity, through his allies and his supporters. He did a lot of damage in many ways which will last years to recover from.

JENNIFER: He allowed racism to be OK, and all the people who were previously secret or quiet or private about their racism came out of the woodwork as a result of it.

RAHSAAN: He affected them in the worst ways possible. He and his cohorts weaponized racism in the wake of Colin Kaepernick and his protests. He’s made the discussion of race a way to dismiss people’s feelings and immediately make them take the offense. We can’t talk about it because it makes the White power structure instantly angry—so much so that they’re now making laws in some places prohibiting the teaching of anything about race in U.S. history that makes the old White guard look bad.

DELORES: I laugh every time I think about how Trump tried, and has now failed, to erase Obama’s legacy with his policies. He was so racist he didn’t want to sleep where Obama had slept and didn’t even want Obama’s official presidential portrait hung in the White House. Worst of all, he helped a lot of poor, uneducated White people, who’ve been silently resenting and hating the progress Black people have made, that it’s OK now to openly hate Blacks.

MARY: Race relations got more charged, more tense during his presidency. There was just too much anger and name-calling between Democrats and Republicans—and I hated it all. People get so angry if you don’t agree with them—you’re either for or against Trump—and I don’t think we’ve ever had a president that divided people so intensely.

WILL: Unfortunately, it set us back years. He brought out things in some folks that they’d kept silent until he got in office. When he called the White Supremacists marching in Charlottesville in 2017 “very fine people” that tells you all you need to know.

DALE: It has had a terrible effect. He was the most racist president in American history.

JED: Trump did what Obama should have done during his eight years in office.

 

What are your thoughts on how the police-related deaths of George Floyd and others have affected race relations?

JENNIFER: When I watched that video and when my kids and I watched the trial, I had to ask myself, “Would this cop have kneeled on the neck of a White man like this?,” and the answer is, to me, obviously no. Still, is this really a wake-up call? Will this really stop other cops in the future, especially if they don’t think they’re being recorded?

RAHSAAN: His death divided us yet again because sympathy involving the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement always comes with an asterisk, meaning “What did he do?” or “He should have complied with the officer’s orders” or “He looked menacing.” Etc., etc.

DELORES: Until the killing of George Floyd, many White people really didn’t have a clue about what we go through. They really thought we Blacks “pulled out the race card” every time we pointed out discrimination or harassment. We as Blacks need to do more—for ourselves—and force change, just like it was forced on us. Our existence didn’t start with slavery. We were kings and queens before we were enslaved and brought here.

WILL: I was saddened but, as a Black man, that situation didn’t surprise me. I’ve seen and known about stuff like this for years. I’m beyond outraged. The difference now is that these abuses are being videotaped. There’s clear evidence that can now more easily hold the perpetrators criminally responsible.

BRIAN: This was awful and sad. Holding police accountable for their actions is necessary to build trust again.

MARY: I think the brutal death of George Floyd opened some eyes as to what’s happening regularly for many Black people. What impressed me was the large number of White people in the crowds of protesters afterwards—it was a good sign that things are changing and that many simmering issues are coming to light. Still, the riots that followed were scary. Were they because of the unfair treatment the Black community has had with police, or because of all the other issues they’ve had with just being Black? The burning of innocent businesses, the looting—how did that help? And it seems like since the riots ended, things have just been swept under the rug again. There is so much anger and mistrust between the races. To me, the problem is so big and widespread that I don’t know how it will ever get fixed. If everyone felt and acted like me I think this world would be a nicer place! We need to examine how people treat one another, and learn to stop looking at the outward characteristics.

JED: The media and the progressive movement capitalized on the sad situation.

 

What do you think of the Black Lives Matter Movement?

DALE: It’s helped to further bring out discussions involving race in America. But then it seemed to turn political and it’s no longer just about equality. If “All Lives Matter” we wouldn’t have had the generations of oppression we’ve had.

MARY: I think the movement is trying to make people more aware of the problems that Black people on the whole face every day—that they want to be treated fairly. And that the profiling and police brutality must stop.

RAHSAAN: Saying that we matter, out loud, is needed. And I support that. But the overall execution of the movement is bad. It can and should be run better, and have a clearer vision. It’s not demanding anything as an organization. Its leaders should be actively working on getting laws changed to actually help our community and move beyond protests. I’d tell the movement, “Don’t wait for someone to do the right thing just because they see your point.”

BRIAN: Long overdue and necessary. This is the first movement in which I felt both Black and White Americans were on the same page. At the same time, I don’t like the rioting and looting that seems to have come along with it.

DELORES: I don’t think they’re as organized or as thoughtful as they need to be. For example saying “Defund Police” – what does that mean? That’s crazy because now White folks think we don’t want or need police. And If Black lives truly matter, they should be going to Black neighborhoods and helping stop Black kids from killing other Black kids. It should always start in our own neighborhoods.

WILL: I think that they pick and choose their battles. I don’t have much confidence in them. They’re not consistent. They should be outraged and out protesting every time a Black person gets killed, regardless of whether it’s a White cop doing the killing or a Black kid killing another Black kid on Chicago’s south side.

JENNIFER: In concept it’s obviously a great movement to support. But as far as what they do and how they do it, I don’t feel qualified to answer. In my community, I see a lot of BLM signs in people’s yards, because they also want to support the idea but I’m not even sure that they know why it matters to them, or what it really means. And what are they doing about it?

JED: It’s a Marxist organization that has fooled a lot of people. It has done a fantastic job in dividing the country and burning cities.

 

Do you think the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th was race-related or in any way rooted in racism?

DALE: Hell, yeah! Trump’s supporters are predominantly White and they want the U.S. to stay predominantly White. More obviously, they called the Black cops they were attacking n**gers. That tells you everything you need to know.

JED: That’s ridiculous. That has nothing to do with it, although the media would like to spin it that way.

JENNIFER: The fact that they even felt they had the right to try to stop the election, shows their appalling White privilege.

WILL: Those were a bunch of privileged, intolerant and insecure Whites who think they’re losing ground in a country that their ancestors built on the backs of Black slaves. They’re losing their majority, and their advantage, as the demographics of the country change.

DELORES: They’re afraid that they’re losing control. Their Confederate monuments are coming down yet they really believe that Black people shouldn’t even be considered legitimate citizens. They liked the country the way it was before, when they didn’t have to be held accountable for the racism of the past, or the present. If those insurrectionists had been Black, they never even would have been allowed to reach the Capitol steps.

BRIAN: Yes, their grasp on the old mentality is slipping through their fingers and it was one last attempt to hold onto it. I firmly believe that if it was the Black Lives Matter movement storming the Capitol, the outcome would have been far worse for the protesters. I’m glad to see the arrests happen and I hope the penalties are appropriate for the crimes they committed.

RAHSAAN: It could be that they feel threatened by minorities becoming the majority but I think it’s more about misinformation. When leadership speaks to one demographic, and it empowers them, seeing things clearly and accurately becomes impossible.

 

What biases and prejudices toward other races do you still think you hold, no matter how hard you may have tried to shake them?

JED: None.

WILL: When a White cop gets behind me when I’m driving I still get concerned for a second or two—not because I did anything wrong but it immediately pops into my mind like, “Oh, here we go again.”

JENNIFER: Our suburb, which is a predominantly White, upper middle class community, borders a town that is far more racially diverse and far less wealthy. It also has a much higher crime rate, so I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times where I’m still uncomfortable in certain situations there. For example, I was in a gas station there the other day and when I walked in to pay, there were three cops talking with the clerk about some kind of theft that had just taken place. However, It’s in those situations where my mind actually goes to what I gained from the Experiment. Most importantly, I learned not to assume the worst about people and that it’s stupid and ignorant of me to base my concerns, fears or reactions on color or race.

RAHSAAN: I don’t have any biases or prejudices. I just wish some White people would look more closely at history and acknowledge what happened to Blacks—without going off and getting offended.

DELORES: I still think people “are who they are,” meaning that their attitudes and prejudices are passed down by each generation to the next. I think if more people studied more than their own culture the world would be a better place. You’re no better than the man or woman next to you. He/she is also human and that’s the only race.

BRIAN: As a result of my participation in the Experiment, I think it’s much easier for me to bat away any kind of bias or prejudice that might arise in any given situation involving race. I don’t buy into stereotypes like some people seem to do.

MARY: I don’t think I’ve ever been prejudiced against another race. Many of the issues we discussed during the Experiment were foreign to me. I think I just look at how every individual person behaves, and then I judge what kind of person I think they are.

DALE: I truly hate racist White people. I have no filter with them. I had an argument with a former neighbor recently who insulted Black Lives Matter and Colin Kaepernick taking a knee.

 

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 20-years-younger self as he/she embarked on the Experiment in 2001?

JENNIFER: I think the only thing I would tell myself is listen more, and react less.

JED: Judge the participants by their character.

RAHSAAN: Some of the participants might stress you out and make you lose your cool. Don’t let them see you get emotional.

BRIAN: Be prepared to get uncomfortable. Listen and be more open-minded.

DELORES: Be cuter! More fashionable! And I’d tell myself to be less worried about hurting anyone’s feelings.

WILL: Don’t hold back. I held back some of my emotions and true thoughts because I was too concerned about being a likeable person.

MARY: Stay open and listen as hard as you can, and contribute more. Most importantly, do something with what you learn.

DALE: Stop screaming and smile a little more!

 

If offered the opportunity to participate in the Experiment again, if it were to be re-booted for a new generation, would you sign up? And would you want to participate with the same housemates, or new ones?

JENNIFER: Of course. My relationships with people of other races, my beliefs, and what I think, are always evolving. I’d like to think that they’re always evolving in a more positive way, but I’d be naïve today to think that there wasn’t still work that I could do, and perspectives from others of another race that would still change thoughts and perceptions I have. I think a re-boot would work best if the producers mixed new people with some of the original housemates. I think that dynamic would be really interesting.

RAHSAAN: I would do it again with the same crew, or different people. If it were even more intense a second time around, no problem, because the dialogue is needed more than ever. I got my points across the first time but since I’m older now, I have more experiences under my belt and more tools to more effectively communicate and better listen. But because of the short time frame (one week) we were together in that house, I’m not sure we really got into race relations as deeply and honestly as possible. Imagine if we’d had more time—it could have really been even more eye-opening.

DELORES: Absolutely! Because I had a lot to say, and I still do! But I’d prefer to do it with mostly new people. I learned all I need to know about the original housemates.

JED: Nope. It was a good experience 20 years ago, but I’m not interested in seeing it re-made. There’s already way too much stirring of the pot in society, that divides us. You can turn on the TV and watch 24-7 nonsense.

WILL: I would absolutely sign up, and I would want interaction with both the original nine and new participants, if possible! But I’d have a whole new narrative, trust me! I’m 20 years older, I see things from a more mature perspective. Some of the issues I thought were big then aren’t as important now, and others are more important.

BRIAN: I have no regrets but I wouldn’t do it again. Too much stress being on TV and being scrutinized by strangers. However, if I did do it again I’d want the same group there. I’d want to see what’s happened with them over the past 20 years. Have some of them dug in deeper into their previous viewpoints, or have they evolved?

MARY: I would like to see another Experiment produced, but think it should be filmed over a longer time frame. I wouldn’t want to be in it again as I don’t think I have much to offer at this point in my life.

DALE: Call me any time—I’m ready! I would do it with the old crew or a new crew. Or both.

 

What are some of the subjects you’d want to see discussed in a new Experiment?

DELORES: The impact of gerrymandering on Black voter rights, and a presentation of true American history (not the versions that are full of lies).

WILL: The wealth disparity in this country. Police still killing unarmed Blacks. The need for police departments to hire more minorities.

JENNIFER: George Floyd, politics and race, how the Obama and Trump presidencies affected race, critical race theory, reparations.

DALE: Reparations, and the truth/facts about American history.

RAHSAAN: Affirmative action, Black Lives Matter, the whole “taking a knee” controversy, etc. These are all very explosive issues and need further examination.

BRIAN: I’d like to see conversations about the media’s role in the narratives put out there about race relations, the harm caused by uninformed “influencers” on social media, and how social media platforms fail to police disinformation in their content.

MARY: There’s still a lot of violence in predominantly Black communities and that should be a subject for discussion. After the Experiment, I learned that as a result of being put down and oppressed for so many generations, there’s a lot of anger and hopelessness, especially in poor, underserved Black neighborhoods. There are a lot of single mothers, living at poverty levels, trying to raise their children with little support. Their kids then grow up with gangs, who can become like a family. These young people come to think that their only way to make decent money is by dealing drugs and arms. Desperation, power, and a need to be accepted leads them there.

 

Politics wasn’t a major issue of discussion during the Experiment in 2001 but it now seems to have polarized the country, sometimes turning friends and family into enemies. What role should it play in a new Experiment?

BRIAN: Politics shouldn’t play a role but it ultimately will. It’s unavoidable today because people’s racial views seem to be so closely aligned with who they support and vote for.

JENNIFER: Nothing beneficial would come of mixing politics into race discussions. As polarized politically as we are now as a country, if we start talking about who we voted for or who we support, it would be impossible to separate the person’s political views from their views about race.

JED: Politics has always been a big part in daily life but the difference is now that it’s become hateful.

MARY: I avoid politics at all costs so I’m the wrong one to ask. I think most politicians can’t be trusted. It’s all about fighting for money and power. And it’s all just too much for me.

RAHSAAN: It should play a small role but not be a major focal point because it becomes so divisive. People will speak more freely if they don’t feel their political ideology is being attacked.

DELORES: Today, if you’re a Republican you’re perceived to be racist. That’s not always true, although I definitely know some who are. But some of the White people in my family are Republicans and I don’t have a problem with that because their political affiliation is more about the tax benefits that they credit to Republican policies. They’re not racist.

WILL: It would probably be one of the hottest topics. A lot more Blacks have been elected to higher office in the last 20 years. Women, as well. We have a Black female mayor in Chicago. We have a Black female Vice President. Times have changed.

DALE: It would play a much bigger role. Nowadays, I determine a lot about a person when they explain their political views because it reveals exactly who you are as a person. How can I be your friend when you’re voting for someone who would like to see my demise?

 

At the time of the Experiment, there was no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc. How do you think the predominance of social media in our culture today would have impacted reactions to it, and to you?

JENNIFER: Social media would open it to a much bigger audience, which can be scary. More people would see it, enjoy it, and learn from it, but it would also empower the horrible people, the trolls. There is a lot of knowledge to be gained from social media, but also a lot of ignorance and hate.

RAHSAAN: The show would have gone viral! Especially some of the parts with me, and Delores, and definitely with Dale—of course with Dale! People could have responded instantly via social media but it could have also altered the direction of the show if there was an edict to make it more exciting or Tweetable.

BRIAN: Social media is such a huge part of society today that I think there would be adverse reactions. People are now quick to negatively pounce on people or opinions they don’t agree with.

DALE: It would have a humongous impact, and not all positive. The racism and disinformation on social media is overwhelming.

JED: Social media has become too powerful. When they can ban the former President of the United States from tweeting, we’re going to hell in a hand basket!

 

You all left the Experiment house, at the end of taping, still with disagreements and divisions. But you all seemed to insist there was an everlasting bond between you. Is that still the case today? Who have you stayed in touch with? Who would you like to reconnect with?

JENNIFER: Social media has made it possible to keep up with each other. It’s a way to know that the other housemates are still thinking of me occasionally and seeing aspects of my life—and vice versa. I’m not saddened that some of the connections have faded because I think that was inevitable. It’d be unrealistic to think that everyone in that house would end up being best friends for life. Strong, different views are a big divider these days, and there are some personalities among us that will never mesh well in the long run. I’d especially love to connect in real life with Will, Rahsaan and Delores—I’s look forward to the conversations I know we would have, or could have. But some in the group have distanced themselves from the rest, and I’ve distanced myself from some of them as well.

RAHSAAN: After the Experiment ended, I hung out with some of the others but today I’m only really in communication with Dale and Will, and sometimes Jennifer. We know some of the same people on social media, plus we’ve always gotten along. If we’re being honest, one week together is too short a time period to create an everlasting bond.

DELORES: I tried to stay connected but, in the end, I don’t think everyone stayed honest. We started to have petty arguments and it wasn’t worth it to stay in touch. I’ve only stayed in regular contact with Will, on Facebook. And now, a little bit with Dale, too. I don’t feel sad about losing touch. It was 20 years ago and people change and grow. But if someone reaches out, I wouldn’t be against talking to them.

WILL: I think we truly connected and the bond is still there, even if we don’t see each other. We’re all older now and life has happened to us, good and bad, but we’ll all always have that shared experience that no else has had. I’ve stayed in touch with Dale and Becky the most, Delores as well. I just reconnected with Rahsaan. But all of that is mainly on Facebook. As for Jed, well, time happened. Life happened. I still miss him though, and would love to see him—Mary, too. I miss all of them.

JED: I stayed in touch with some of the participants when I lived in Illinois but since moving away, I’ve been too busy and haven’t kept in touch. Will and I had more in common by age and experiences than I had with the others so it would be most interesting to catch up with him. I’ll always have a bond with my housemates. After 20 years, I still have a group photo of all of us hanging proudly in my home.

BRIAN: Unfortunately, I haven’t kept in touch with anyone. It’s my fault. I’m a social media hermit. I’m glad I met all of them, but time passes on.

MARY: I don’t think there’s a bond anymore. Too many years have gone by with no communication. I don’t know if any of the other housemates have stayed in contact but I haven’t heard from anyone. That’s probably my own fault as I didn’t make the effort. I’d like to hear from the Black participants about their perspectives on race relations 20 years later. Is it the same as it was, or is it worse? I’m curious to know how the last two decades have affected their lives. I do hope time has been good to them. I still care about them, they were all good people.

DALE: I still talk occasionally with Will on the phone. I’m Facebook friends with him, as well as Jennifer, Delores, Becky and Rahsaan. Mary, Brian, Nicole and Jed aren’t on Facebook, as far as I know. I’ve only been back to Chicago a few times in the last few years and didn’t have a lot of time to see anyone other than family. I wish all 10 of us could get back together again. This country needs the Experiment now more than ever.

 

How hopeful are you about the state of race relations in the U.S. today, and in the future?

JENNIFER: I think it’s a matter of two steps forward, one step back. For example, after George Floyd was killed, the universal outrage that ensued made it seem like there was finally lasting momentum to stop that kind of racist police abuse. But then, when the looting and rioting transpired, a lot of White people felt the outrage had gone too far.

RAHSAAN: Among the youth, I think it’s gotten better because we’re living in a time when kids are more tolerant, whether it be race or self-identity (gay, lesbian, trans, etc.) They don’t appear to care about labels and that allows more connection. But the older generations still don’t seem to budge on real change and understanding. I think we’re more divided now in that most people don’t really want to talk about race, racism, or race relations at all. And then, sometimes when it’s brought up we have groups try to twist it by bringing up things like “reverse racism.” And that just makes everything worse.

DELORES: There’s more diversity but we’re still divided. Today, the racism is blatantly systematic. They’re passing restrictive voting laws, gerrymandering, red-lining, you name it.

WILL: I think we still have a long ways to go. Hate crimes are up. Hate groups are on the increase. More and more “Karens” and “Kevins” are lashing out at Blacks in public places like Walmart. Thank God that with cameras and the media, more things are coming out that may have not been seen before.

BRIAN: I think it’s become more divisive. The older generation wants to hold on to their outdated thinking. The younger generation seems to embrace diversity. That aside, a big part of how the next generation evolves will be based upon their own surroundings and the values instilled into them by their upbringing and education.

DALE: I think things have gotten worse. After Obama’s presidency ended in 2016, the country showed us exactly what it was made up of—White males who essentially said, “We had a n**ger for eight years, and I’ll be damned if we turn the nation over now to a woman! Any White man will do, no matter his baggage!”

JED: We elected a Black president twice and we have a Black Vice President now. I’m just so tired of people calling the United States a racist country. I’ve traveled and spent time in many countries but always look forward to returning to the USA!

MARY: I can only go by what I see in the news so, based on that, it doesn’t seem as if much has changed except perhaps that racial issues are being publicly discussed more. What we talked about in the Experiment 20 years ago is still relevant today.

 

TO WATCH THE TRAILER FOR EXPERIMENT IN BLACK AND WHITE, CLICK HERE.

 

TO WATCH THE ENTIRE DOCUMENTARY, AS WELL AS TWO REUNIONS WITH THE PARTICIPANTS OF EXPERIMENT IN BLACK AND WHITE, CLICK HERE.

 

 

Editor’s Note: The original Experiment in Black and White electrified TV screens, and its message is clearly needed once again. Every day there are new reports of a growing, race-related divide in the United States. The Reporters Inc. believes that this Experiment deserves to be revisited and re-made.

The Reporters Inc. has held discussions about producing a new version of Experiment in Black and White with American Public Television and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as local PBS stations from Maryland to Houston. All have expressed interest, and a desire, to broadcast an updated re-make.

A new Experiment in Black and White promises to be a fresh voice and an intriguing alternative to the typical and often divisive race-related reporting that saturates the media today. Please contact us at 612-333-3180 or at if you’d like to help make this project happen. For more information about the original Experiment, click here.

 

Mark Saxenmeyer created Experiment in Black and White and served as the executive producer of the project. Mark is now the executive director of The Reporters Inc. You can read more about him on our Team page and he can be reached at .

 

 

COMMENTS

One person commented on "Twenty Years Later"
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  • Rahsaan Jahi says:

    Nicole should have participated I would have liked to see where she is with everything if she finished her degree etc. Are her views still the same.

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