You know the funny thing about words? They mean something. Not just in the literal sense, but in the weight they can carry. Before looking into the show, the title for Netflix's Dear White People lead me to believe it was probably a documentary discussing all the messed up things that have happened to the black community. As a black male, I don’t need a reminder, I live it every day. However, having now seen the show, I was not only surprised but also incredibly happy with the direction of the show.
“I don’t like the idea of telling someone else’s truth”
Lionel Higgins, 'Dear White People'
As I'm sure the creative team responsible for the show were aware of, the show's title was always going to offend some people. A popular response to the title was “how would you like it if the show was called Dear Black People?”, but this response belongs to those who called the show racist before having seen it. In fact, the comment section for the show's announcement trailer is full of hate speech, the majority of comments having been posted weeks before Dear White People was available on the popular streaming service.
Here’s the thing about people who made the statement that the show was racist: I'm willing to bet that most wouldn’t even give show a chance. They saw the title and immediately judged it, quite literally going against the golden rule of never judging a book by its cover.
In actual fact, this isn't a show that bashes white people.
The show is more than just a group of black people yelling about their oppression or how white people make the world a bad place for the black community. The show is about informing people that there is more to black people than what many see on the surface, as well as how we are often represented in movies or bad reality television. As one of the show's stars, Logan Browning spoke with Ebony about how she wants potential viewers to approach the show.
"Have a conversation. The show is going to start conversation between people who definitely have the same views, but also between people who may not see things in the same way. I think it opens up a safe space for everyone to feel like they can talk about these things and examine the topics in the show and find some of the better outcomes. It’s a show about being a freethinker and finding a voice as a young college student and in society in general."
Each character on the show represents a certain part of how a black person feels when they are often looked at by some white people, and how we sometimes look at ourselves. Colandrea “Coco” is a great example of this.
Throughout Dear White People, we get a look into Colandrea's life as a child, being told to take “the ugly doll” - a doll that is dark-skinned like herself. Because of her darker skin color, she has been treated unfairly all her life. This is something that has been well documented as an issue in the black community. So much so, in fact, that black people often discriminate other black people for having darker skin. It may sound ludicrous, but this is a real thing that happens.
In fact, Dear White People's 'doll test' was surely inspired by a real life experiment that gathered some truly disturbing results. In these tests, Kenneth and Mamie Clark proved that due to social influence, children attributed positive and negative characteristics to a doll dependent on its skin color - labeling the black doll as the 'bad' doll. This also meant that they were highly likely to perceive themselves in a negative light based on their own appearance. Clark concluded that,
"prejudice, discrimination, and segregation created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem."
With this as a prime example, it's clear to see how Dear White People encourages discussion in regards to prevalent social issues.
Another great example is Lionel Higgins, a character that represents members of the black community that get put down more than you’d realize. Higgins supposedly isn’t “black enough”, and I personally know this feeling more than I would like to admit.
We live in a world where being a fan of comic books and wrestling doesn’t make you “black enough” to your peers, while you can also be “too black” for others. The natural reaction to this rejection is to try to fit in; so much so that you can even find yourself in situations you may not want to be in. Lionel Higgins is an incredibly relevant character, stuck between the expectations of his race and his genuine interests. To make matters worse, he’s dealing with issues inside himself, trying to be a journalist and doing his best to maintain his integrity as a friend.
Dear White People Doesn't Shy Away From Ugly Truths
Here's the part that might scare some viewers. There are absolutely moments in Dear White People where things get really heavy, showing truths that many may not want to acknowledge in the real world. I won't go into details (for fear of spoiling the show's impact), but needless to say there are emotional lows that are tough to watch.
"When I am the second black female president, all you'll be able to THINK about is me. And I won't remember your name"
Colandrea 'Coco' Conners, 'Dear White People'
It's a huge shame that people with differing opinions will be reluctant to watch the show. All in all, it’s informative for both sides and could ignite hugely important conversations all over the country. The show offers many things that will make you think, regardless of whether you’re black or white. Overall, it leaves a message of standing up for one's self, tolerance and loving yourself.
Having seen the series, I refuse to accept the notion that this show is racist. This isn't a show that bashes white people, nor does it make black people superior or inferior. Ironically (for a show that has been perceived as racist), the show spent a good amount of time showing both sides of the story. Characters lose more than they thought they would by refusing to be open-minded, and other characters gain things by standing firm in what they believe in. That is life.
Sometimes you have to do uncomfortable things to get ahead and get your point across, and sometimes you have to lose something to gain more. For me, I know that writing this article is going to get me criticism on both ends of the spectrum, but this is something I felt needed to be said, and this socially relevant series is a show that needs to be seen. So, why not watch the show yourself and judge Dear White People on its content - not just its title?
Dear White People is available to stream on Netflix.