What was most surprising?
Maggie Johns: "I was surprised how casually Bruno said the N-word. That is the worst curse word ever. I don't know the true meaning, I just know it really offends black people. You should never say it in a black person's presence."
Katie Johns: "Or a white person's presence."
Their mom, Becky Johns, who remembers homecomings and proms canceled in her home town outside Pittsburgh because of often violent tension between whites and blacks: "Thank you. Don't say it ever. I hate that word. I can't believe it's used as frequently as it is in the music. I grew up living what that word meant, those times."
Becky: "Bruno made me angry. It seemed really strange when he was trying to get his walk down [as a black man]. The man eating and drinking at the bar made me angry." A man at the bar had bragged about how safe the neighborhood was because it was all white.
Maggie: "And when the white guy said he washed his hands after shaking hands with a black -- that would be really hard to hear."
Katie: "I didn't like how when both families met . . . it seemed like they didn't want to get to know the other family. And they were quick to judge."
What didn't ring true?
Bob Johns: "I work at a car lot. The way they [the black people in the show] say black people are treated is not true. Anyone who came in and said they had bad credit would get similar questions. And sometimes customers feel more comfortable with someone from their same nationality. I've seen it."
Katie and Maggie whooped with laughter when the white teenager went to a poetry slam, and all the kids were asked their favorite entertainers. Her answer, the Cranberries, was met with stunned silence. They're a white Irish band.
What depressed you?
Katie: "It makes me sad how black people take some of the things we do so offensively and so personally. Like when Brian [the black father] walked down the street and said that a white woman didn't look him in the eye. Sometimes we're not doing things purposefully."
What gave you hope?
Bob: "This is nothing like the old days. We've come a long ways."
Would you be comfortable walking into a room full of black people?
Maggie: "No, you would not. You would freak out."
Katie told the story of walking into a McDonald's around the corner from the Fort Dupont ice rink in a predominantly black neighborhood in Southeast Washington, where her brother was playing hockey. She was wearing her school uniform and oxford shoes. "I go up to the counter, and the first thing the guy says was, 'Don't be scared.' Not what I wanted to order."
Can this program be instructive?
Maggie: "I'll probably want to go sit with a black person in the cafeteria and talk with them and make sure I'm not offending them. . . . It's kind of habit that different groups hang out. Like on the first day of school, you tend to hang with people who look like you."
Do we need a gimmick to discuss race?
Katie: "This brings up all kinds of topics no one ever talks about. This is going to open a lot of people's minds."
Although her best friend is black, she said, they rarely talk about race. Then she joked: "When we talk about getting into colleges, that's the only time race comes up. He'll say, 'Well, I'm black, so I'll get in.' "
One thing you want blacks to know about whites?
Becky: "I got offended when the black people got offended. I didn't know it would make me that mad. . . . That white family is not a good representation of white people."
Katie: "But a lot of black people think so."
Becky: "We need to make 'I'm not Bruno' T-shirts."