DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, YOUR ONE BLACK FRIEND NEEDS YOU TO WATCH THIS SHOW
Stop what you're doing and watch Dear White People. No, seriously. Go watch it. Why are you still reading this? GO!
Spun off from the 2014 movie of the same name, this new Netflix series unpacks the complexities of the black American experience a masterfully-written, exquisitely directed, and deceptively insightful ten-episode package that's both easily digestible and incredibly satisfying.
You know how after the election everyone said that we needed to reach across the aisle and bridge the divide between white and black, liberal and conservative? Or how your POC friend is always posting that it's not their job to educate others on systemic racism because you're derailing the conversation, feigning helplessness, and putting the onus of the work on them? Dear White People does your homework for you. You’re welcome.
Each episode takes a deep dive into an archetypal black character, exploring their origins and unpacking their faults. There is the camouflage wearing, "militant" black activist with the secret white boyfriend. A second generation college student and student body president who, like Obama, has to be both a remedy for the sickness that is racism while remaining impossibly unblemished himself. There's the loyal sister-friend, who, though she has dating options outside her race, remains loyal to brothers who are not romantically interested in her. And of course, SPOILER ALERT, there is the smart, likable, young black man who undeservedly meets the end of a policeman's gun. In getting to know these characters, you get to know the experience of so many black people who have to navigate predominately white spaces: the code switching, the respectability politics, the oppression. Dear White People is a rare and eloquent glimpse into what it means to be black in America, and I implore you to take a look.
I was tempted to not even tell you about the show because it lets you into the black experience a little too much. Something my momma would've referred to as "discussing private matters in mixed company." It’s purposefully even-handed in its portrayal of black and white characters alike; no one gets off the hook. And so, you are welcomed into the clandestine world of how African Americans navigate identity politics when not under the scrutiny of the white gaze. You get an up-close look at colorism, classism, and the struggle to be “one of the good ones” in front of your white classmates and teachers, while remaining black enough for your African American peers. As show creator Justin Simien explained, "We’re ashamed of not being black enough, but white people never worry about not being white enough. They change their minds all of the time about who they are and what they want to be, but there’s something unique about the black experience where we feel like we have to build these fucking identities like tanks that we can never get out of just to survive.” Dear White People lets you in on the things we hide from the white majority so we can preserve our #BlackGirlMagic, pride, and sanity, if I am to be honest.
Of course, the show is not without its faults. For example, I have pondered about the device of having the main character, Sam White, be in an interracial relationship. It's interesting that both this series and another popular film noted for its social commentary, Get Out, are centered on black characters in love with white partners. Is this a creative way to explore how identity politics and the outside world show up in the bedroom? Or, are the artists behind these works just trying to assuage white fear by demonstrating that their protagonists can't be "reverse racists" since they're sleeping with a white person? Either way, much like the controversy around this TV show's title, I hope that society can one day get to a point where they realize that pro-black doesn't mean anti-white. Until then, do your one black friend a favor and watch Dear White People.