When I first heard that Justin Simien’s Dear White People — a 2014 satirical film on racism and the Black experience at a PWI (predominantly white institution) — was being turned into a TV series for Netflix, I had an immediate visceral reaction. That reaction was NO. Nope. I’m not watching and you can’t make me. Picture a toddler plugging their ears petulantly. That was me, avoiding any and all urging for me to watch the series. As grateful as I am for an increased number of Black artists spearheading mainstream projects that reflect their realities, sometimes I don’t want my art to imitate life. No. NOPE.
So when I heard the hubbub about Dear White People, I was fully prepared to close my eyes and plug my ears. I was afraid that it would add to the excessive coverage of political shenanigans and civil rights violations that are plastered, daily, on any site with a timeline.
In a twist of fate, and with the twisting of both arms, I have made it through episode one, which featured the aftermath of a blackface party and this brilliant gem: “You are not Rashida Jones biracial, you are Tracee Ellis Ross biracial. People think of you as black,” being said to protagonist Sam.
Dear White People managed to address the curious case of charcoal mask selfies, cultural appropriation, interracial dating, and definitions of blackness in only thirty minutes. After watching it, I wasn’t sure whether to dismiss it, unpack it, or keep watching.
For a show that exists in a particular niche that strives to entertain, inform, and certify us all as #woke, many of the show’s plot points are hilarious in that “post-racism isn’t real” sort of way. For instance, when Sam says during an episode of her radio show that being her (i.e. a woman of color) for Halloween is not acceptable, the bleak humor works — only because it would seem that the show waxes on the racism of the past, when in fact the subject matter is still so current.
Because there are many who have not grasped that dressing up as an ethnicity, culture, or race is never okay.
Can a show like Dear White People, and all of its entertainment-based social justice brethren, really wake people from their post-racial slumber? Do we need a show like this in 2017? And what should come from watching as a Black person? As a white person?
The show uses heavy doses of humor and relatability to fuel the conversation that we so desperately need to have in 2017. Conversations that revolve around (but are not limited to) how bananas are being hung from nooses as racist expressions at real college campuses, and how brands that have been been historically-Black owned are failing to represent the dark-skinned and kinky-haired consumers who actually use their products.
Is a show like this meant to serve as a point of reference for white people who, when things like the ad that shall not be named happened, trolled the comment sections of every Black think-piece writer with remarks about victimhood and reparations? If that is the goal of Dear White People, it will always fail. Not because the show isn’t amazing for the task that it takes on, but because a bitter pill will always be difficult to swallow.
In spite of the criticism of the show, what this show is not is an attack on every white person within a ten-mile radius. It’s more of a gentle prodding if you will, a subtle reminder that we did not dream the 2016 election and that privilege is not afforded to all.
Dear White People will not change the minds of those who have found comfort in their ignorance, and it may simply relay what many of us already knew. But it has us all talking, which has been long overdue.