On Friday night I finished the first season of Netflix’s Dear White People, it’s based off the movie of the same name and from what I hear has a similar plot. I have never seen the movie, but I was hooked by this show and intend to watch any future seasons.
The premise is that at Winchester University a black face party was thrown by Pastiche the school’s satire publication. The kicker is that it almost didn’t happen; the higher ups got wind of it and shut it down, but someone hacked into Pastiche’s Facebook account and sent out the invite anyway. A bunch of white students arrived at varying levels of messed up cultural appropriation. The rest of the season revolves around the situation, but it expands and unfolds. What’s also really cool is each episode follows a different character: Sam, Lionel, Troy, Coco, Reggie, and Gabe.
I think what I love most besides the authentic dialogue, the beautiful camera shots, and the clearly well-written scripts, is how authentically it shows the complexity and reality of being Black and being a person of color.
I am multi-racial, specifically Black, White, and Mexican. This has always felt complicated to say the least. Especially since I do not have tight afro curls, most people quickly pinpoint I am Hispanic of some kind (to the point that every two months or so strangers will try to talk to me in Spanish I always respond in English, sorry), but otherwise I got used to being asked quite frequently “What are you?”
And while I’ve always had friends of multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds, most of the people around me have been White. Not to mention my husband is White. Things were also strange, because my parents tried to raise us just as American kids. We had Christian and American values, but no part of our cultural background was especially celebrated.
My parents didn’t make sure we knew Spanish or knew anything distinct about our cultural forefathers and mothers. Interestingly enough I learned the most about my cultural identity from my grandparents. Especially my Black paternal grandmother, oh how she taught me to love being Black. She taught me the beauty and the pain of it. She told me stories of her childhood, and it was from her that I realized the beauty of being multi-racial and especially being Black. Yet this also reigned in a unique time of feeling like Other. Especially in college I went out of my way to involve myself in non-White spaces.
My eyes were opened to the complexities of being Black in America and I also could see that there was no set story line for me, especially as a mixed race Black women. And for that reason I could see myself in each of these unique characters:
There is Coco who mostly has white friends and has done her best to constantly be the best, most polite, most assimilated version of being Black. But it turns out that a lot of that comes from seeing so many people she loves die, she feels deeply that if they’d just held themselves a little better, went through a situation without as much bravado they would still be alive. And in our messed up world, she might be right.
Sam and Reggie though, sometimes they don’t even know how to separate who they are from being Black or really from the Cause. Everything is about race and they must do everything to fight for the Cause, to speak their voice, to be outspokenly Black and create spaces for Black people to truly be heard. That can be exhausting though and even when they try to let loose and just be, things go horribly wrong.
Lionel and Troy are roommates, but very different, Lionel is a bookish writer and also gay and has taken his time accepting all the facets of who he is. Troy is the son of the dean and always has to be doing the right thing, many see him as a powerful puppet. It seems he’s running a quiet rebellion against who his dad is molding him to be.
Last Gabe, who is white, but the deeply entrenched love interest of Sam’s who it’s clear at times she doesn’t want to love him, but she does. And he so clearly loves her.
I identified with all their perspectives at one point or another. Each of them not always comfortable in the world they’ve created for themselves. And that is what I loved about the cast as a whole, each character struggles in their own way, each character is not your “typical Black person”, each character has ways of expressing themselves that were unique.
Beyond the politics, the racism, and police pulling guns on black people, this show I think challenges us to see that being Black isn’t just one clear cut story. We need to see each episode from a different perspective, because each of us as Black people are all so unique. Each of us as people are so unique. Every last one of them wants to be safe. Safe from racism. Safe from harm. Safe enough to be who they are.
America has work to do before it’s a truly equitable society. Dear White People is adding to the change and conversation in a strong, beautiful, and complex way. Please, go watch it today.