With its contentious title and Netflix uproar, Dear White People premiered to a reception unmatched by its competitors. Namely, Dear White People was deemed revolutionary before the first episode aired, due to the belief that if it pissed white people off that it must be successful. I suppose that this contention was an essential component to the series’ marketing, creating the necessary buzz to arouse both supporters and nay sayers. It’s perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes however, should be an indication of its pseudo revolutionary impact.
In actuality, the series bears all the attributes of any other contemporary melanated authored series:
- A racially ambiguous, or fair skinned leading lady who is hyper sexual
- An interracial romance
- A love triangle that functions to both hyper sexualize and weaken the “black” female image
- A darker skinned, and less ethnically ambiguous supporting character who has catchy one liners that function to remind us that he or she there
These attributes are front and center in the series and reduce the series to reactionary at best. The series follows Samantha White (Logan Browning), an outspoken student at a predominantly white college who addresses white people on a radio show entitled “Dear White People.” White appears the conventional revolutionary, but perhaps her last name should have been foreshadow for her romantic preference. Yes, the so called revolutionary is in a sexual relationship with a white man. This is problematic for three reasons:
- It reinforces the contemporary force-feeding of interracial relationships to black women
- It issues the series a weak black female protagonist, who is not only hyper sexual in engaging in sexual relations without feelings, but who is seemingly civilized by his offer to legitimize their sexual engagement
- It asserts the colorblind initiative. Namely, this depiction suggests that even the strong black woman is susceptible to fall in love with a white man because “you can’t help with whom you fall in love.” In contrast, this depiction illustrates black female leadership as not only a hypocritical, but hollow and ignorant.
These sentiments are perhaps best personified when White excuses Gabe or “white bae” for calling the police after black student activists crash a blackface party solely attended by white students. The police eventually hold friend and fellow student activist Reggie at gunpoint, but White tells Gabe that he “did the right thing.” In summary, protagonist Samantha White is portrayed as a pseudo black nationalist who does not fully understand racism, let alone the systemic induced escapism that lures her into the arms (and bed) of a white man.
The black female characters are actually weak in their entirety, as all endure an overt struggle to assimilate in either appearance or action— a battle to which none successfully overcome. Coco (Antoinette Robinson), the darker skinned, weave-clad supporting character eventually sheds the weave to appease the uncle tom to her aunt thomasina. This transformation should be revolutionary, but her altered hairstyle does not reveal an altered mindset. Instead, this transformation sheds a processed hairstyle and reveals a processed mind instead. Samantha’s best friend Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson), is reminiscent of box braided beauty Dionne from Clueless, who occupies the stereotypical “urban” black girl image . She states a number of cute lines but never seems able to emerge from the shadows of a series who does not afford her enough lighting to prove visible for more than a few seconds.
The series experiences a saving grace in black male characters Reggie and Lionel. Reggie (Marque Richardson), with his chiseled bone structure and hot chocolate complexion is easily the heartthrob of the series. His appeal however is not only skin deep, as he posses a strength, confidence and intellectual depth absent from all other characters in the series.
Reggie is a king looking for his queen, something he believes to have found in Samantha, but her preference for “white” deters his ambitions for a revolutionary black love. The series illustrates Samantha as sleeping with Reggie to “figure out what she wanted” resurrecting the hyper sexual black female body who uses the male body as a gateway to her own cruel and selfish intention to validate her white male attraction. The series presents the black female and male revolutionary as incongruent because they both hold one another to higher level of consciousness— a dynamic Samantha seeks to escape from in her interracial union.
Lionel (DeRon Horton) is also a redeeming character— and a historically sound medley of Baynard Rustin and James Baldwin due to his ability to hone his sexual orientation as secondary to his race. Particularly, Lionel proves reminiscent of Baldwin as a writer married to truth. Lionel like Baldwin remains true to his collective and uses his pen as a weapon to unveil the racial injustices faced by his peers. Lionel as the series’ most developed character, presents the gay male as the perfected black person who is a hybrid of male and female. Namely, he possesses the conventional effeminate romantic preference typically aligned with femininity but encases this attraction in a male shelling. This portrayal is somewhat predictable given that series creator Justin Simien, who like Lionel, is both black and gay. The gay black male as black perfection is problematic due to the inability of the non-heteronormative human to reproduce. So while he may he may be great, he can not procreate, making him a temperate and thereby appropriate hero to white supremacists.
Troy (Brandon P. Bell) is arguably the worst character in the series, but possibly the most accurate. Troy, or as he referred to by series writer Lionel, “a boy whose growth is stunted by his father,” embodies the contemporary uncle tom, who is sometimes fastened in tailored pants and preppy attire, but is always on a journey to a whiteness as a token negro.
A question that dangled in my mind as I watched the series was:
“Why are we still addressing white people?”
Thus, while regarded as a revolutionary series, Dear White People appears yet another effort to counter white ignorance and evil with a white savior figure that possesses a humility and revolutionary selfishness absent from the black characters.
Although emotionally burdened by Samantha’s infidelity, Samantha’s “white-bae” Gabe, still extends his support to the man with whom she slept with—illustrating Gabe as possessing superior morals to the oppressed— a depiction that overlooks Gabe’s faded attraction after affirming that his girlfriend was penetrated by a black man.
Furthermore, the series appeases its white audience in two ways:
- By addressing the most prominent agents in self genocide: black females and gay black men.
- With the interracial sex scene that occurs less than fifteen minutes into the series and Lionel masturbating to his heterosexual roommate in the second episode, its hard to gage the heteronormative males interest in this series as the heterosexual sex scenes are brief or merely implied. This is a dynamic mirrored by black authored series Scandal, who alienates the black male base by placing an interracial romance between a black woman and white man as the show’s core.
- Interestingly, Dear White People features an insulting mockery of the Scandal series, implemented to deflect from any similarities between the two series. Similarities inescapable to the conscious gaze. These similarities function to divide the black collective, leaving them open to manipulation and control by a white agenda implemented by a melanated body.
Black female and gay black male bodies are the target audience for most series, black or white authored, because they bear the most control on black reproduction. Furthermore, if we can incite black women to reproduce with a white man, and produce less fertile children, and black men to be gay, the black collective undergoes the necessary genocide to further white supremacy.
2. By suggesting that their involvement in “black” causes will afford them an opportunity to prove superior to the so-called oppressed.
- Samantha is continuously shut down due to the content of her radio show, Reggie has a gun pulled on him at a black face party–incidents that prove a catalyst for demonstrations and collective black rage. Gabe however, associates with the cause, initially out of love for Samantha, but eventually out of what the series illustrates as a social responsibility to spark actual change. This depiction negated the series’ supposed revolutionary core, as it portrays blacks as only crying out when personally hurt– a huge oversimplification of racism and racial leaders implemented to humanize the white male figure at the expense of justifying the black revolutionary spirit.
The series paints the white male as a prize won by deserving black female bodies who seek to consummate their journey to whiteness by acquiring a white man. Samantha thwarts this journey by sleeping with a black man. She does however prove that once you go black you can’t go back… even if you want to. A depiction that seems predictable on a white- authored series but self-deprecating given the so called black authorship.
Dear White People is not about racism but reflective of racism. The series works quite hard to ensure that whites are not too offended, that they see the best and worst of themselves in a way that’ll create no real difference or provoke any in depth conversation. This is the contemporary way of course, to present a fractional truth in the most shallow way possible–an approach that simultaneously pleases the pseudo intellectual and the so-called white liberal.
The series accurately depicts blatant racism as fomenting black unity and a black nationalist mindset. However, the show’s premise—black students protesting a blackface party on the campus reeks of inclusion and acceptance, a fact mirrored in the collective black presence at a historical white institution whose most prominent halls are named after slave owners (a fact interestingly referenced in the series). The series focuses on blacks trying to belong to an institution founded on their inclusion, a paradox as bizarre as blacks believing that the law is in any way supposed to function in their interest. Instead of focusing on ways to make their own unit stronger, the black students seem overwhelmingly preoccupied with ensuring that white people “get” them, or at least suffer consequences for actions essential to maintaining white supremacy.
I can not help but think that white people enjoy shows like these that illustrate whites as a central component to black life. So to that I issue the following statement:
Dear White People,
Black life is not all about you. There are blacks who actually place blackness as central and seek to focus solely on their collective and ways to implement change.
I can only hope that more blacks of elevated consciousness and racial understanding will write and gift their work to the masses that compose the black collective—allowing us to see what Ossie Davis said of Malcolm X “the best within ourselves.” But until then, maybe we all should read more…