'What Would You Do?' focuses on racism between children

On “What Would You Do?,” our actors play children bullying their classmates.

ByMark J. Parker
September 6, 2019, 1:47 PM

Tonight on “What Would You Do?” we cast actors to play children bullying their classmates because of race. Two white friends make fun of their white male peer for spending time with a black girl from school.

We brought our hidden cameras to Alabama, where a child named McKenzie Adams died by suicide late last year. Her family says the fourth grader had been receiving derogatory remarks from classmates because of her race and friendship with a white student.

In addition to bullying in schools, cyberbullying has also become a serious issue for children. According to a report that was released in July by the National Center for Education Statistics, online bullying had a 3.5% increase from the 2014-2015 school year to the 2016 school year for 12 to 18 year olds.

In tonight’s episode, we see how customers react when a child is told by her classmates that she should not be hanging out with a white boy. The bullies, played by actors Annabeth and Kayden, want their friend, played by John, to sit with them, instead of with his black friend, played by Kamayah.

Actors portray children navigating a bullying scenario over race in an episode of "What Would You Do?"

Annabeth: I can’t believe they’re hanging out together.

Kayden: I know, she thinks she’s so cool hanging out with her white friend.

Annabeth: She needs to go hang out with her people.

Kamayah: I didn’t say anything to you guys. Can’t you just leave me alone?

John: Yeah, she isn’t bothering you.

Annabeth: Why are you defending the black girl?

As our bullies torment Kamayah while sitting at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama, nearby customers observe.

One woman, Susan, can’t stay silent and approaches the children. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing,” she says to our bullies, crouching down to their level, “but being an adult, I’m not going to sit in this restaurant and bully people like that. It is wrong, and if your parents have not taught you that, you are being rude and insulting.”

When bully Kayden asks her, “Do you think they belong together?” Susan doesn’t miss a beat and asks him, “Who says they don’t belong together?” Before sitting back down with her family, Susan turns to our friends Kamayah and John, and says, “I’m sorry that people think they can act like that today.”

Actors portray children navigating a bullying scenario over race in an episode of "What Would You Do?"

When our host ABC's John Quiñones breaks the scene to interview her, she motions to her parents, who are sitting with her. “It’s the way my parents brought me up. You don’t treat people differently because of their race, their color, their religion, their whatever. It’s not the way I was taught, and I’m not going to sit by idly and watch that.”

The support doesn’t stop there. Another diner, Irvin, watches and shakes his head.

When our actress Kamayah goes to him, seeking advice, he states, “Don’t worry about them. There’s stupid people everywhere, trust me. Y’all just keep being you.” Irvin, a black man, then shares something personal, “My wife’s white. I don’t care.” To comfort the kids even more, he goes to the counter to tell our actress, Teance, playing the waitress, that he’d like to pay for Kamayah’s and John’s meals.

When Kayden and Annabeth keep badgering Kamayah, asking her, “Do you hang out with him because you want to be white?” another customer Teresa, a mother of five, stands from her seat and approaches them. She sits with the bullies and states in a calm voice, “Some things are just plain mean.”

When Annabeth defiantly says, “They shouldn’t be friends,” Teresa says, “It’s not for you to say.” She then moves to the other table, sitting next to Kamayah to check on her. She calls Kamayah beautiful, adding, “Don’t let anybody bring you down and devalue you. There’s a lot of ignorant people in life and you’re just going to have to learn how to move forward.” She also offers to pay for Kamayah’s and John’s meals.

In the final scene, customers Pete and Cathy, a couple, happen to be sitting behind our actors Kamayah and John. They hear the harassment, and Pete turns around in his seat to deliver a warning to our bullies. “I’m going to call a police officer in a minute and let him talk to you. You need to be quiet.” Cathy tells John, “You have to realize it’s their insecurity, not yours,” before she stands up to search for Kamayah.

When Cathy finds Kamayah, she gives her a warm embrace. As they sit back down, Kamayah then gives Cathy another hug, thanking her. “Nobody deserves that,” Cathy says, holding her close.

Once Quiñones sits down with them, Cathy emotionally advises, “Teach your children young, teach them to love, and to be understanding and compassionate, because that’s the greatest gifts you can give them.”

To see how other people react to various scenarios, watch “What Would You Do?” tonight at 9/8c on ABC.