Despite not enjoying the first season of Justin Sieman’s series Dear White People, I did establish an appreciation for characters Joelle, Reggie, and Lionel and their masterful portrayals by talented by black actors. This time around, my predilection was replaced by indifference. I only completely made it through the two episodes featuring the experiences of black female students Joelle and Coco—to which I was subjected to violent portrayals of my collective personhood.
The title of the series “Dear White People” articulates a dedication to a specific audience—white people. This articulation makes the series unique, as it fulfills a similar agenda seen in Scandal, and other black authored series, but lets viewers know this from a title that most falsely conceptualize as revolutionary. Dear White People, like other series with black creators/ writers, gains traction for their so-called black authorship. However, said series fail to actualize said blackness, by intention. In essence, the black authored series is content created for a white consumer by a physically black producer , but donning a white mask manifested in their series and worn in an underserving badge of nuanced blackness and contemporary honor. Thus, the disappointment experienced by the visual consumer seeking black content by a black creator proves inescapable as even those who appear black regard black as secondary—if at all. This is most evident in the following depictions on the second season of Dear White People:
- Profane Dialogue
It was very disturbing, and even ironic that the word “f*ck” is tossed around so frequently and unapologetically by the series’ black leads. I suppose this inclusion is supposed to be a commentary on the way post-millennials supposedly speak, but the dialogue depicted the black students of an ivy league school unable to shed their gauche exterior.
Using the word F*ck is just as violent as any word in the English language, but the use is particularly jarring as its presence adds nothing to the statements being made.
It is also quite telling that the series also uses the n-word, religiously and unapologetically. Sam, the series pseudo revolutionary lead, uses this term to reference white boyfriend Gabe in a bizarre moment that exposed her already flawed enlightened persona as pure chicanery.
- An influx of interracial love scenes
There is only a single demonstration of black love in the series, between Reggie and Coco. The consummation of feelings that started at the end of season one, was the climax anticipated by any and everyone who mistook the series title to be pro-black. This consummation however fails to reach a climax, as their interaction is interrupted by Sam and never resumed. Instead, viewers are subjected to a graphic interracial love scene between Samantha and Gabe moments later. Viewers watch lead characters Samantha, Troy, Reggie, Lionel, and Coco all engage in sex scenes with whites. These graphic depictions of interracial sex have become a staple in black authored sitcoms—burning the eyes of those who tuned in for something different but got the same old violent visuals.
In an interview Sieman stated that he does not think television should try to “fix race.” To this I agree, but this is not how the series presents itself. The series presents itself as exposing the often ignored dialogues surrounding race at institutions of higher learning. So while it may not function as a means to fix race on a global scale, it does seem to desire to fix race representation. I do agree that television should not seek to fix race, but it should not worsen race representation—yet somehow it does. Sieman’s work illustrates that the error in race representation is in what I would call contemporary blackface.
3. Resuming the Black Female Abortion Narrative
The topic of black female abortion has maintained traction in white media since 2010 after a soho billboard made headlines for its statement:
The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.
Since then, Toni Braxton, Nikki Minaj, Chilli from TLC amongst others have come out with their abortion stories. Abortions were also part of the black female narratives conveyed on Scandal and Being Mary Jane—central in depicting the cost of success for the black woman. Dear White People authors a similar narrative. Coco, the ambitious assimilationist is determined to win. She is also determined not to follow in the footsteps of her family whose dreams were cut short by motherhood. Her actions are one of survival, not of vanity. She wants an abortion like she wants a weave—to cover what she feels needs room to grow—to mask what she feels is she simply not ready to give/show the world.
The abortion narrative pre 2010, was seemingly an all white affair. Though black literature and poetry spoke of abortions, these stories failed to gain traction. Yet, abortion for the African woman maintains a prominent place in contemporary discussions. Namely, it has become a means to demonize the black female body. The image of the welfare mother, portrayed as a black “breeder” too lazy to work, is a contemporary fixture used to depict the sacred sanctuary of motherhood as incongruent to the black female body. The engendered abortion narrative fills a similar narrative, though with an even harsher connotation. The black female abortion narrative dispels a portrayal of the black female body as posing more harm to the black body than a white supremacist society. This implication foments the violent coercion of white supremacist thought onto the black and white mind alike.
IV. Ugly Dark Girl Narrative
Joelle is the robin to Samantha’s batman—the designated sidekick an d partner in crime. She’s bright, and beautiful—qualities that appear dim in juxtaposition to Samantha, her lighter, thinner, and longer-haired counterpart, because well, this is America.
Joelle illustrates a valid colorism conflict, compartmentalized by a recurring series reference to Kelly Rowland. Kelly Rowland, one third of Destiny’s Child—-a conventionally dark-skinned girl whose light was significantly dimmed next to Beyonce.
My comments do not function to suggest that colorism is not a tried and tested issue within the black collective. My comments do function to state that this narrative has become somewhat banal. The ugly dark narrative is a prominent source of white propaganda, where the white psyche is afforded the symbolic profit of a black body oblivious to the treasure in their ancestral heirloom—melanin. Thus, the ugly dark girl narrative as it appears in the series does nothing to advance this representation of white hegemony. Rather, this depiction functions to ensure that white viewers learn to view the black girl as she has always been represented.
V. One-Dimensional Dark Male Portrayals
It is problematic that men not passing the paper bag test are not awarded more than a single dimension on the series. The student from the continent, aside from a few comedic lines, has no depth in either season. Also, Joelle’s ethereal love interest Trevor, is not only deprived development but stereotyped by the Hotep caricature.
Hotep does not exist.
Are there some males who engender a problematic portrayal of what they label black consciousness? Yes. But it is imperative to note that these people are neither conscious or black, but melanated folks who use a myth of consciousness to create some kind of elitism. Hotep is a white supremacist caricature of black consciousness that presents those on a journey to enlightenment as mentally unstable and socially offensive. This caricature functions to depict a pending black consciousness, and not white supremacy, as a societal problem that must be solved.
VI. Black Female Sisterhood
The sole silver lining in this series are the moments of sisterhood. In deciding to abort her child, Coco is able to lean on a fellow black woman for non-judgmental support. This, and the sister support Sam received when her father passes, is both beautiful and heartwarming to see. Though, this is in sharp contrast to the cisgender black male relationships which are largely under-developed. This polarity in portrayal depicts the intersectional black male as more willing or perhaps more vested in depicting functional black female relationships than cisgender black males–substantiating my next and final point.
V. The issue with Intersectionality…
The show, as a product of an intersectional creator, inevitably functions to fulfill an intersectional agenda. What this means is that the topic of blackness is tackled from an inherently anti-black perspective. Particularly, the intersectional author seeks to tackle blackness superficially from so many angles that he or she actually fails to analyze blackness at all.
This series illustrates why the time of those desiring an elevated state of black consciousness is best spent reading, and why those claiming intersectional labels like “woman” or ones that pertains to sexual orientation, be restricted from speaking and writing authoritatively about blackness.
Black Power ❤