What's The Problem With 'Dear White People'?
We are in a time when racial, social and political divide has taken precedence in the lives of everyday Americans.
From police brutality in black communities, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, to the unpredictable inauguration of our 45th president, there is tension in every corner of the US.
So much so, that the new Netflix original series to be released on April 28 of this year, “Dear White People,” is sparking even more of a divide.
There have been many controversial and provocative films and TV shows released before the trailer for “Dear White People” was uploaded to YouTube.
However, it is unusual that the series has sparked so much debate and offense months prior to its release. The trailer for the show which has been viewed over 3 million times already has 360,000 dislikes— tipping the scale when weighed against its 45,000 likes.
But while many may see the series as offensive, some have already taken drastic measures to delete their Netflix accounts and are encouraging others to do the same.
The name alone is enough to put people on guard.
The title addresses an entire race of people, and the trailer features screenshots of white people with thick brown paint on their faces wearing afros and making faces at the camera.
Anyone, black or white, may have watched the 0:34 second trailer and questioned what they just watched.
In a time of intense divide, the series really brings about racial and social divide in a way some may consider tactless and distasteful.
The Real Intention
While the title grabs attention, it also creates a duality. It cleverly generalizes and groups white people as a response to the many times people of color have been categorized and stereotyped as a group.
In our media, people of color are still not nearly as represented. Therefore, every time POC are represented, it matters.
The trailer may suggest that many (if not all) white people are wearing black face. The idea itself is appalling and many may believe that black face ended long before the turn of the century.
However, black face is still alive today in many places, including the Netherlands, where there are ongoing protests against Black Pete.
Black Pete is a part of a tradition for a parade they hold every year. Yet, many protest because the character perpetuates a stereotype of blacks being sly and mischievous jokesters which can be found in literature that harps back to slavery.
While they are slowly starting to change the Black Pete image by wearing rainbow colored faces, they are still wearing afro wigs and continuing the stereotype.
And the scary part? Some people still don't see what's wrong with Black Pete.
There have even been cases actual black face and cultural appropriation on US college campuses.
Talking about Race
Race is always a touchy subject, and people always become defensive when the topic is at the forefront of a conversation.
Why? People do not like to bring up the bad that happened in the past. It is easier to forget, move on and pretend the past has no effect on the present.
When the past is brought to the forefront, people go on defense; they do not want to be blamed for what they had no control over. That is fair, however, as a society, it is our job to assess how negative stereotypes and prejudice continue today so we can implement positive change.
It is not by coincidence that that black men make up most the prison population as addressed in The New Jim Crow. The book debunks the notion that systemic racism was eliminated with the election of Barack Obama.
His presidency showed a dramatic shift in the views of our nation, but in 2016, we elected a president whose campaign was partially run on overt bias toward people of certain religious backgrounds and geographic areas.
With tensions high, everyone is arguing, but no one is really listening. How can we have productive conversations about race?
Dear White People: The Movie and the series
Yes, in fact, there is a movie called “Dear White People” that was released in 2014.
The series is based on this film. No one boycotted the movie; it is safe to assume that Netflix is central to the animosity. The entertainment conglomerate is using their platform as a space for social commentary on the state of race relations in the US.
However, before making any more presumptions, please watch the movie. It is available on Amazon and Hulu. You will be surprised.
The film is a satire that comments on prejudice from both white and black communities.
To give you some background, Samantha White (Tessa Thompson) is a radical, outspoken film student who runs a radio show entitled — you guessed — “Dear White People.”
She has an unrelenting mission to point out black marginalization and points fingers at white people who perpetuate black stereotypes. Ironically, her name is Samantha White. She is also a mixed-race, but completely dismisses and hides her “whiteness.”
She covers the silky waves in her hair in tight headwraps, promoting the continued establishment of an all-black dormitory and even kicking the white kids out of the dining hall.
However, she has her secrets; she's torn between the only suitable black boyfriend on campus and the boy she loves, who is white. How can she be pro-black and have a white boyfriend — especially with all of her black friends watching?
Then, there is Coco, Sam's foil. She attempts to deny every part of her blackness, growing up in black Chicago, having brown skin and being named Colandrea.
To combat this, she wears “weaves” or straight hair and blue contacts and hangs out with white crowds when she can.
Then, there is Troy a respectable black man whose father is the Dean of Students. With law school in the future and a leadership role in the dorm, he seems to have it all—except room to express himself.
What do these three distinct characters have in common? Pressure from the black and white communities to conform.
Sam White never felt that she could claim her father in public because of her blackness which carried into her relationship with the boy from class. She feels that she must choose.
Coco can't be Colandrea (which wouldn't pass the resume test) from Chicago and not be perceived as what she would consider—a hood rat. How can she be accepted into the white community with so much blackness? She must choose between her blackness and her desire to fit in.
Troy as a black man is trying to push his way to success in a system that was created to make him fail. He must choose between his true desires and his fathers for him.
The Use of Satire
But why chose satire to portray this problem? As stated in the film, “satire is the weapon of reason.”
Everyone likes to laugh and sometimes, you need to laugh at yourself to truly see the absurdity. For some — or many — the movie alone is like looking in the mirror whether they are white or black.
The fact is, some people don't even realize when they are being ignorant about other cultures or groups of people. Think about touching someone's hair without asking, which happens to many black people on occasion.
One, it social weird to voluntarily put your hands in someone's hair without permission. Two, it shows a lack of sensitivity. How would you feel if someone did that to you that you didn't know?
For blacks, the same holds true.
If you felt strange as a black woman dating a white man, that is the effect of social “rules” held on both sides that some people still follow in the 21st century.
Yet, satire is a tricky genre to successfully implement.
Tim Parks of the New York Review explained the crucial nature of getting satire right,
“Since satire has this practical and pragmatic purpose, the criteria for assessing it are fairly simple: if it doesn't point toward positive change, or encourage people to think in a more enlightened way, it has failed.”
Ultimately, the medium is meant to help people assess themselves and understand their contribution to the underlying issues.
Please Watch “Dear White People”
Considering the state of our country, the timing of the series is not uncanny. Talking about race at this time in our history and in this form naturally creates tension.
Regardless of animosity toward the series, people will watch it, even though it will not be easy.
The film and subsequent series has a message for both “sides,” and is meant to open a much-needed discussion.
Whether satire will be a successful medium to prompt discussion is up for debate.
But the question is, will America finally self-reflect?