Allow me to begin by stating that the characters on Dear White People remind me of people that I know, but wish I didn’t. Thus, I do not contest that Simien’s characters represent a reality. My contention is that this reality does not allow members of the black collective to critically examine what our oppressive continent has made of our collective. Rather, Dear White People illustrates a white agenda put into practice by black bodies and a black writer.
I have written about the previous seasons of Dear White People, expressing my disappointment in what could have been an opportunity to probe black intellectual and artistic creativity in the rudimentary stages.
However, while Dear White People proved culturally catastrophic in previous seasons, this season marks a point of no return.
This season, creator Jason Simien tackles the #metoo movement. The series and Winchester welcome Moses Brown, a black professor and app developer, onto the historically white campus. Allegations of sexual misconduct follow Brown’s entry and emergence as a campus leader and saving grace for the black constituency. Rich, white female student “Muffy” confides in token Coco regarding an unwanted sexual advance from Moses Brown. Moses Brown, played by black Hollywood veteran Blair Underwood, means something special Reggie in particular. Reggie who, of course, was held at gunpoint at a party during the first season, finds purpose and a means to confront his trauma as Brown’s prodigy. Moses Brown breaks ground by making it so that Reggie’s experience will not be a repeat scenario. Specifically, Brown makes it so that campus police will remain unarmed during their shifts.
Though it is Brown who makes this initiative, his actions reflect the efforts of the black caucus who refused to be silent after a campus police officer drew his weapon on Reggie, a black male student. This is an important depiction as it illustrates using your voice as producing tangible results. It is important for young people to see that to make noise is to make a difference.
But despite Brown’s initiative, the series sullies his actions to depict Moses Brown as the media portrays black men daily.
Dear White People molds Brown into a Bill Cosby like character—a black man initially lauded for building black people up viciously taken down by the same media who fostered his once positive portrayal.
When Reggie first approaches Brown, Brown regards the accusations as resulting from his own naivety. The second time Reggie confronts Brown, Brown’s response consummates an admission of guilt.
My question is: if the white media has their Bill Cosbys, their Nate Parkers, and their R. Kellys, why does Dear White People need a Moses Brown?
Specifically, of all the narratives to portray regarding black people, or even black people and sexual assault, Simien conforms to the master narrative and violently casts black people as support in a story that maintains white women as the face of sexual assault. Simien’s plot line creates a fictive narrative where white women are silenced by black male power. Though a black men hold high positions at this college, they are workers: not owners, investors, or trustees, but workers. Thus, the power dynamics are conveniently misconstrued. Universities are plantations, making the highly ranked black man, “good stock.” History tells us that even the best stock were castrated if there were even a thought that he would sexually pursue a white woman.
Thus, Simien’s series ignores the reality that allegations that speak to white female chastity as tainted or threatened by black men remains the downfall of so many who have seemingly consummated American success. Simien’s narrative ignores the reality that the African adjacent woman remains able to mend hurt feelings, or rejection, with fictitious stories that operate as fact in a country that refuses to see the black man as anything but a hyper-sexual beast.
Black men are imperfect. I say this as custom, because given all black people have had to overcome, I do think we as a people approach perfection. I am not sure one can get closer to perfection than those who have every reason to fall but keep standing.
I say this not be egotistical, but to state that there are many sub-narratives in the black experience that Siemen should have included. Siemen could have depicted the Carolyn Bryants as a contemporary reality, or he could have created fictionalized versions of Recy Taylor, Betsy Owens, or Tawana Brawley, bringing black girl trauma to light. Rather, his portrayal vindicates the Carolyn Bryants and leaves the dark girl and the dark man in their European imposed oblivion.
It should be criminal to reference Emmett Till and create a discourse that casts him as an anomaly. Till is a page in a book inundated with countless stories of black male injustice induced by an accusation from an African adjacent women. Thus, Till is not the first or the last page in this narrative, but a page nonetheless. Instead, the series detaches Emmett Till from Moses Brown, just as the white media detached Claude Neal, Rubin Stacy, and countless other lynched black men from Bill Cosby, whereas they all hold hands as mockingbirds stifled by avarice hunters.
It is both a blessing and a curse that the contemporary world gives increased access to storytelling. The blessing is that viewers witness black talent. The talent is often mis used and abused, but talent nonetheless. The curse is that all featured stories lead to white supremacy; Siemen embodies this curse.
This curse poses the following query: What good is a platform if one occupies the space on their knees?
In providing a discourse where a black girl overlooks her white boyfriend systemically passing as a minority, and where black students at a college where the first black people on the campus were enslaved, join forces to take down a black man because of accusations made by a white woman, Sieman illustrates that modern entertainment, for the black viewer, is nothing more than an admonishment. Specifically, black audiences are to learn that witty speech intertwined with the occasional esoteric term are fine as long you fail to actually say anything. Dear White People warns against trying to be anything other than a supporting member or peripheral partiality in America’s oppressive landscape.
In summation, Dear White People casts a dangerous discourse among the cognitive landscape of its black viewers. The series achieves said danger by inviting the black viewer to do what slain civil rights leader Malcolm X warned us against. Malcolm X once said:
“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
This new season of Dear White People attacks the black subconscious, so that by its final episode, the black viewer empathizes and loves their oppressor and sees their collective selves as a rapist underserving of his education and status.
Nevertheless, this post is not to dispute Sieman’s talent or intellect, but to state that he lacks the courage we as a collective need from our writers. I am saying that we need that an Amiri Baraka-like vigor, a “S.O.S.” that “ calls all black people” not to the couch, or to a subconscious submissiveness, but to action.