Let me start off by saying, aside from African Studies majors, I see no point why we all should not watch Netflix's Dear White People.
As someone who is obsessed with race, I am embarrassed to admit I actually saw it in my "suggested shows" tab on Netflix and avoided it for months. I thought it was going to be a serious, dry, historical, and simply boring educational docu-series. I STILL SHOULD HAVE WATCHED IT, after all it's written and directed by
Justin Simien, a Sundance award-winning gay man of color. And I call myself a "race, class, gender, junky." Come on. Somebody take away my Well-Meaning-White Person Badge.
Well I did/do watch this series and it is not only educational, it is totally entertaining. The writers of the show clearly want you to be entertained as you gain perspective on issues related to race and gender, so let boredom not be an excuse to avoid this any longer.
The star of the show, Samantha (played by Logan Browning) does an amazing job of portraying a complex and nuanced character. While this show is called Dear White People, the name of the radio show Samantha hosts on campus, the subtext of the show is likely intended for all races. It "reads" like a message to white people, but also an intimate venting session among people of color. In many ways, it feels as if people of color are granting white people a voyeuristic opportunity of what mostly "black spaces" can be like, without the judgmental gaze of white people. That being said, the creators of the show of course know that white people are watching and that is not entirely un-obvious. Excuse the double negative.
In the United States, we live in a white world. White, straight, male, fully able-bodied and Christian are the norm. It's not the most prevalent population…just the most accepted. As you take away one of these identities, maleness, white-ness, straight-ness etc…. Less and less privilege is granted. Race is at the top of this magic privilege pass and Dear White People shows us just how pervasive racism still is, in all the micro and macro ways. It spells it out SLOWLY and CLEARLY for SLOW and UNCLEAR white people. R-a-c-i-s-m.
However that's not all this show does. Racism doesn't just mean privileged white people acting like ignorant asses to people of color. It doesn't just mean unacknowledged white privilege, or gentrification, or the unfair handing down of ancestral wealth, likely stemming from the work of unacknowledged slavery. It also means the internalized oppression, internalized white supremacy, colorism, and self-hate that many people of color are born into, grapple with, resist…every moment of every day.
This means we get to see Samantha fall in love with a white man, and hide it from her friends. We get to see her wrestle with her relationship to whiteness, and her white father. We get to see her want to embody Blackness, Black pride, Black activism from a place of strength as well as sheer disappointment. Viewers will appreciate that she is far from the "perfect Black woman." We also get to see a bunch of 20-somethings figure out life in college, sexuality, relationships, family issues and a million other identity-related concerns that they can't separate from their race or gender. Samantha doesn't just have "Black problems" or "Girl problems" or "Millennial problems."
So often as white people, we apply "Blackness" to news-related violence, activism, death, struggle, power, resiliency, and other negative and positive intense overtures. This show slows things down without ignoring the realities and costs of being Black. Some days, you are just a person, a person with a cold, or a midterm, or an awkward date, or at least you want to be just those things for a hot minute. The characters on this show remind us of this. A show about a bunch of white kids on a college campus is just called a show. A show about a bunch of kids of color on campus is called a show about race. Food for thought….Or better yet, TV for thought. Better get watchin'.
Keeping It Real
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, is a writer, a personal coach, and even though she is very very fun (just ask her three year old daughter) due to her academic inclinations, always the pooper at the party. She works with all kinds of people to improve their ability to work with all kinds of people. She can often be found hiding from her two children in her laundry room. More about her on her website.
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