TRIGGER WARNING: “This show is meant for both Black and White audiences and every other color imaginable” as Variety magazine critiques. If discussing race makes you uncomfortable and you want to just comment below without reading this or watching the show, don’t waste your time. You have been warned.
When the release date for Netflix’s “Dear White People” was announced, the internet lost it. The new series, which wasn’t even out at the time, was accused of being racist against white people. However, that controversy only accentuated the point of the series and brought more attention. It currently holds a 100 percent “Certified Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes with “Timely, provocative, and sharply written, Dear White People is an entertaining blend of social commentary and incisive humor.”
Dear White People is the spin-off television series to Justin Simien’s 2014 film of the same name. In fact, he creates, writes, and directs the series. It’s about students of color dealing with racial issues while attending a predominately white Ivy League college, which leads Samantha White to host a radio show called “Dear White People.” Each episode’s storyline focuses on one particular character and is told from an objective point of view.
The title “Dear White People” is controversial to some, but that doesn’t mean that this show is attacking White people. For anyone who thinks White people can be victims of racism, let Samantha White (Tessa Thompson circa 2014) remind you this:
The Oxford Dictionary defines “racism” as:
Racism: [noun] Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
It also defines “prejudice” as:
Prejudice: [noun] Preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual evidence.
Black people have never held a system of power and used it against white people. Name one point in history when white people have been marginalized and antagonized because of their race when mostly people of color were in power. Black people, anyone, can be prejudiced — including White people.
In context, the words “Dear White People” isn’t a middle finger to White people. It’s a love letter, a wake-up call, and a conversation starter. It’s not the show that’s racist, but the people who get butt-hurt over a title that are prejudiced.
Don’t let the title fool you! Just like with the film, the main goal of the series was to bring awareness to the racial issues Black people face every day that are constantly swept under the rug. In this political era, a show like this needs to be watched. You can’t judge a book (or a title) by it’s cover. Without a show like this, we would only see Black people in these…
WARNING: Spoilers up ahead so don’t read further until you’ve watched it and then we’ll talk. It didn’t even take me two days to finish it so I know you can finish it too!
Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty and discuss season one. In “Chapter I,” we meet half-Black-half-White (the Tracee Ellis Ross kind and not Rashida Jones kind as Joelle would put it) Samantha White. She is the main focus of the series and is a film major at Winchester University. When Pastiche, a satire but problematic magazine for the school, is accused of throwing a Black-face party to protest against her radio show, Sam isn’t silent.
Everyone is confused about how word got out after the party got prohibited, but the gag is she hacked into Pastiche’s Facebook account and sent the invite! She’s under even more hot water after her White boyfriend confirms their relationship on Instagram.
The only good thing that came out of that fiasco was that it was a wake-up call that racism still exists and it can get ugly on college campuses.
Another thing about Sam is that because she’s mixed, she can only feel validated by her Black brothers and sisters if her boyfriend wasn’t White, she watches Defamation (a parody of Scandal) instead of Game of Thrones, and she listens to gangster rap music. In one scene, you’ll see her walking and listening to music, but once she passes by a group of Black people, she changes the genre she’s listening to.
Enter Lionel Higgins who we meet in “Chapter II.” He is a Black gay man who writes for the school newspaper, is introverted, and struggles with his identity. When he was in high school, he was bullied by his black brothers for acting “gay” which caused him to feel alienated. He couldn’t even go to a black barbershop to get his Afro trimmed! Heck, he can’t go to any barbershop without getting stares.
After a conversation with his boss, he reveals that he doesn’t conform to labels but is told that “labels is what keeps people in Florida from drinking Windex.” The day after a party, he comes out to his roommate and secret crush, Troy, who is totally okay with it. That made Lionel felt very validated and he owned up to who he was.
In “Chapter III” we meet Troy Fairbanks, the dean’s son and most popular Black kid on campus. With his history and background at Winchester University, he struggles with the pressure to be perfect. His over-demanding father wants him to win the election for student body president, but against his wishes, Troy doesn’t vote for himself. Whether he liked it or not, ultimately he was elected. What he doesn’t realize is he serves as this “Black poster child.” In “Chapter VII” he organizes a town hall meeting in which the Black Student Union (BSU) were planning to protest. It’s a good look for him until he get arrested in the finale.
In “Chapter IV” we meet Colandrea “Coco” Conners. She is Troy’s girlfriend and a frenemy to Sam. During the Blackface party, she goes off on a rant that Sam later autotunes to humiliate her. Flashback to freshman year when they started off as roommates and became best friends. Nothing is more exciting then knowing that you and your roommate are so much alike! Sam and Coco will get along just fine, right?
Wrong. After Sam is accepted to the Black Student Union and Coco quits her sorority, she moves out because as Coco is more dark-skinned, she doesn’t feel accepted. She wants to advocate for civil rights, but it’s not her dark skin that’s the problem. In fact, Coco conforms to Eurocentric ideals and beauty standards because she wants people to look past her dark skin tone and accept her for who she is. When Sam got accepted to the Union, it wasn’t because she was light-skinned. It was because she was…
Another thing that interested me about Coco was the great lengths she took to be accepted by her White friends and her boyfriend. As Queen Bey once said, “Pretty hurts.”
In “Chapter V” we meet Reggie and this was the hardest episode to watch. To take his mind off of his crush on Sam, he hangs out with his friends and does some party-hopping. At one of the parties, Reggie is dancing with his white friend to a rap song that has the n-word in the lyrics. When his White friend says that word as he sings it, Reggie politely asks him to not say that word, but then an argument breaks out and campus police shows up.
Reggie is held at gunpoint and that became the most shocking moment of the series. What happened in that scene was a clear example of what happens when you don’t understand how privileged you are and how the cops can get away with racially profiling black people. Police brutality is an issue black people face everyday, but you’d rather be offended that you can’t say the N-word because you’re not black.
Then in “Chapter VI,” Reggie is trying to cope with that traumatic event. Instead of being at the rally that the Black Student Union were planning to blockade in solidarity of him, he performs a poem at a coffee-house and the audience is moved. He later on performs the poem on Sam’s radio show. The moral of the story here is to let victims cope as long as they are doing it in a creative and constructive manner.
Remember when Sam said this when she was a freshman?
In “Chapter VII,” focuses on Sam’s white and sort of woke boyfriend, Gabe. He is probably the only White ally to the Black students at Winchester University. We learn that he struggles with fitting in with his Black friends and at times would feel attacked when they joke about white people. However, he just keeps his cool and brushes it off. It’s later revealed that he made the 911 call at the party, but he did it because he thought the cops would let them off with a warning and not actually have guns. If he was really woke, he should have known that Black people and police don’t mix well. Nice try my friend, but you have a long way to go.
What do all these characters have in common? They all want to feel accepted and understood in not just in the Black community, but the people outside their community. It makes sense that it’s set during college years because it’s a time to find yourself.
Overall, I would give this show a nine out of 10. I liked the sense of humor, the perspectives of each featured character, and the take-away from the show. In season two (should Netflix renew the series), I would like to see Joelle, Ikumi, and Rashid have the spotlight. How does Joelle play into this storyline? How did she and Sam become friends? Rashid must be an immigrant, so does he face xenophobia? What kind of struggles does he face? As for Ikumi, what struggles does she face being an Asian on campus? Another thing is that racism is not a black and white issue. It’s an issue that many minority groups face, so giving the spotlight to a character like Ikumi will show that racism isn’t a narrow topic. On top of that, why not have a Latinx, Native-American, Arab, or Southeast-Asian student get the spotlight? Why not have a conservative black character who grew up in a predominately white town? Heck, why not have a black Muslim female character? She’s someone who faces racism, sexism, and Islamophobia.
I know we’re looking forward to what happens after Troy gets arrested. Does he make it out okay or does it spiral down from there? Fingers crossed that he does not end up being a hashtag. That got me thinking of the recent murder of Jordan Edwards. It’s people like him, Reggie, and Troy to show that it doesn’t matter whether you’re an honor roll student or not. All the cops see is color, not statuses. No one deserves to fall victim because of that.
What did you think of season one? What do you expect in season two? Let me know in the comments below!