The rise of the internet and social media has changed the landscape of the 21st century. The ability of anyone to create a website and start writing has given rise to more diverse voices in storytelling in our culture. One of the benefits of hearing from minority viewpoints is that non-Black Americans now have more opportunities to examine how they benefit from racism. It's also a lot more mainstream to know about, and talk about, white privilege, and the inherent advantages possessed based on race. These streaming shows will help you examine white privilege, and question the ingrained assumptions of the racial equality of our society.
The Black Lives Matter movement has made great strides in getting the United States to understand the baseline racial injustices that have been baked into our society. The current protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd and others, have people looking inward to identify the white privilege in their lives.
But just because one hears the phrase "white privilege" does not always mean they understand the concept. That's where storytelling can help. The following TV series can help you explore your own privilege while learning to see the world from a different perspective.
1. 'When They See Us'
When They See Us is a Netflix miniseries from Ava DuVernay, based on the 1989 Central Park jogger case, in which five Black men were wrongfully accused and convicted of the assault and rape of a 28-year-old white woman. It is, hands down, one of the best docudramas dealing with social injustice and race relations in New York City between the Black community and the criminal justice system.
It will be hard to watch these false accusations play out, but that's the point. Even today, incidents like the Amy Cooper phone call attempting to use racism to punish a Black man for asking her to leash her dog show that the mindset behind the accusations of the "Central Park Five" is still prevalent today.
For those who prefer a Black Lives Matter education in an old-school broadcast sitcom TV format, black-ish is here to provide. The story of a typical middle-class Black family quietly deals with coming to terms with a Black cultural identity while fitting into a white upper-class neighborhood, with real eye-opener moments.
The show's most famous episode comes in the Season 2 episode "Hope," where the family grapples with a story on police brutality on CNN, and how the media typically slants these stories in favor of the cops. It's an important reminder that though these things can be intellectual debates for non-Black Americans, for people of color, it's a visceral day-to-day reality.
3. 'Dear White People'
Based on the 2014 movie of the same name, Dear White People is a controversial satirical series. But it paints a realistic portrait of trying to survive as a Black student in the predominantly white and wealthy university. It addresses the many complexities of prejudice from racism to colorism to sexism underneath the snark.
The best reason to choose the TV series over the film is the episodic nature of it. This allows the series to give each of the Black leads (Sam, Lionel, Troy, Coco, and Reggie) a full episode to see the world through their perspective, and experience all the different ways prejudice can manifest, even within communities of color.
4. 'Master of None'
Known for breaking the Emmys' color barrier with its wins for Lena Waithe and Aziz Ansari, Master of None is a look at the immigrant experience as it plays out today. Ansari's character Dev may be living in a comedy series, but the sheer wealth of social commentary, especially immigration and assimilation, is education.
One reason Master Of None is so important is it's not just about one cultural experience. Ansari is a first-generation American, born to parents who immigrated from India. (In a meta-twist, the Ansaris play Dev's parents.) But by casting Waithe and Taiwanese-American actor Kelvin Yu, Master Of None gets multiple characters who each speak to the experience of navigating America as well.
5. 'The Chi'
Speaking of Lena Waithe, her series, The Chi, is over on Showtime. The series focuses on life in the South Side of Chicago based loosely on Waithe's own experiences growing up. Season 3 even sports a guest arc for Waithe as a Chicago mayoral candidate, bringing together race, politics, and coming of age in what might be considered a more optimistic version of HBO's The Wire.
Everyone always says to watch The Wire, a show that plumbs Baltimore's depths from the streets to the penthouses. The Chi does the same but from a perspective of a woman of color who grew up there and sees people, not street hood stereotypes. That shouldn't be a novel experience, but it is, and it's why The Chi is well worth watching.
Here's the thing about Atlanta: It won't try and teach you jack about social justice or provide commentary intended for educating a white audience. That's because it's not made for white people. It does not explain to a white viewer the dialogue it's having about being Black in America. Instead, it just grooves along, expressing, as Glover once put it "how it feels to be Black."
If anything, that makes it one of the most important shows on this list to watch and experience what it's like when entertainment isn't catering to a white understanding. It can sometimes feel like seeing a different world because for once, we're watching it from a different angle.
7. 'Queen Sugar'
Ava DuVernay's other series on this list, Queen Sugar, looks for all the world like a standard family drama, where three siblings move to Louisiana to inherit an 800-acre sugarcane farm. But it's groundbreaking in having women direct every episode, and it handles culture, class, gender, and race with a particular sensitivity to the Black experience.
Like black-ish, Queen Sugar takes an approach of using extremely familiar tropes of soap opera level drama to show the different ways Black people choose to handle living in America. But it never tips over into farce. Even characters like the voodoo-practicing journalist Nova (Rutina Wesley) are never the subject of laughs, but a reminder that not every Black person is wedded to the church, no matter what the stereotypes say.
Watchmen is the series that can boast it taught most of America about the Tulsa riots of 1921 and the burning of Black Wall Street. It's also the only superhero series to deal with the reality of race in America in the 21st century.
The brilliance of Watchmen, which grounds its story in an alternate reality comic created in the 1980s, is it doesn't assume race away in this alternate timeline. Instead, it asks how racism in America would play out in it. The answers it comes up with feel grounded in reality. Reparations happen, for instance, but because there is no grappling with the history behind 400 years of oppression, it sparks a resurgence of open racism. By questioning how history could have gone, it helps illuminate where our reality is heading.
9. 'The People vs O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story'
One might argue that Ryan Murphy can be problematic about race insofar as how his Hollywood series claims to solve the issue recently, or how Glee had a tendency to lean into minority stereotypes. But in the case of his first American Crime Story series, The People vs O.J. Simpson, Murphy and company hit it out of the park.
The secret was in focusing on the lawyers, Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, Courtney B. Vance as Johnny Cochran, and Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden, and their prejudices, insecurities, and drives to win were what propelled the case. With so many high-profile court cases to come out of Floyd's and others' deaths, it's a timely reminder of how much the court system and lawyers can affect the outcome.
10. 'Orange Is The New Black'
Netflix's original Trojan horse series became one of the best shows to examined race and incarceration. Orange Is The New Black may begin by focusing on a middle-class white woman trying to survive inside a prison.
However, it soon balloons out to focus on how our society doesn't help people out of the cycle of violence and imprisonment, and how police target communities of color. Orange Is The New Black remains one of the best stories about what it's like to be inside the system, with no hope of ever finding a way out.