Trading Spouses Comes to St. Petersburg and Finds the Uhuru Movement
Does stepping up mean selling out?
Not to Abasi Shomari Baruti, the 26-year-old former taxi driver and newspaper delivery guy who appears with wife Latoya Brown on Trading Spouses tonight. in October, Brown switched places for a week with the show's most notorious past participant, Marguerite "God Warrior" Perrin.
Officials at the movement -- a militant, socialist pro-black organization which has been an agressive critic of local police and mainstream media -- have rebuked them for the appearance, and for briefly mentioning the group on camera after agreeing not to. But Baruti sees no difference between earning $50,000 arguing with an eccentric white woman on TV and making $500 working for another white-owned business.
The Uhurus have been at the center of many protests in St. Petersburg's black community, and Baruti himself has served on the front lines. in 2004, he helped lead a protest at the city's BayWalk entertainment complex about police treatment of black people there -- countering a solidarity march organized by the local NAACP. That same year, he crashed a luncheon held by the Tiger Bay political club to challenge the speaker, St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon.
Appearing on Trading Spouses last Friday and tonight, Baruti is hyped as the ultimate challenge to the show's breakout character, Marguerite "God Warrior" Perrin, an aggressively devout white woman from Louisiana who melted down in an appearance last year -- earning enough oddball fame to get on the Tonight Show and get her own rap song. (See another, unauthorized parody here).
Onscreen, the conflict is heated and predictable: He tells her if she were black, she'd probably kill herself. She says she'd be hip hopping around nad eating gizzards. He calls Hurricane Katrina a weapon of mass destruction used against black people. She criticizes him for anti-white prejudice and calls him "barbaric" for burping in her presence, trying to avoid the subject of race completely.
Viewers are left feeling like they're both off base: Baruti seems a bit paranoid and a little too willing to blame the problems of black people on external forces; Perrin seems unwilling to face the reality of race in America because, in her mostly-white world, she never has to.
Uhuru leader Omali Yeshitela denounced the entire appearance as "buffoonery," expressing concerns that "we have a lot of campaigns and projects and don't want them affected." Yeshitela sees a show which reduces their political ideas to a superficial domestic spat (I also wonder if there isn't some anger at seeing a depiction of the group which is beyond their control)
But it is a concern I've also expressed, in a different way, about such reality shows. While producers shrug off questions of exploitation, the fact remains Fox is paying families $50,000 to put themselves in high stress situations which seem calibrated to lead to incendiary arguments. This show doesn't even pretend to try teaching its participants anything about people who live differently than they do -- the money shot is the arguments, and they are pumped for all they are worth.
Perrin, too has made the most of the fame bestowed by her unbalanced tantrum, earning an appearance on Jay Leno, a small movie role, invites to the Billboard awards and Radio music awards and a web site featuring a rap song formatted around her rants.
Tonight, viewers will see Latoya Brown and the God Warrior meet for the first time, exchanging letters which the visiting wife tells her host family how they must spend the $50,000. Brown says she was confused by Perrin's behavior during their get-together and that "there was no meeting of the minds there."
Which is too bad. Because some kind of larger lesson is just the kind of thing which might have made the conflict and voyuerism of this Trading Spouses episode al ittle easier to live with.