What's up nerds and not-so nerds? Soooo I just got done watching all ten chapters of the controversial Netflix series Dear White People, and it is EVERYTHING. Like the film, it's so much more than what you expected. The title may mislead one into thinking this an anti-white, #staywoke propaganda piece, but in actuality this is a prism of love to black people. And when held up to the sun, all the facets of color explode onto the wall. What writer Justin Simien does is not shed light on what it means to be black. He shows what it means to be human beneath our brown skin.
#1 - Samantha White, the light-skinned/biracial girl who's not black enough
Samantha White, the protagonist of the series, is biracial, light-skinned, and sometimes overbearingly woke. Her in-your-face blackness makes some of her fellow students uncomfortable, both black and white. She knows it and could not care less. In one episode CoCo points out that she gets a pass for her behavior because of her light skin, to which Sam for once had no witty retort. Her silence was a reluctant admission that having light skin as a black woman at times is a kind of perk. At other times, not so much. She recalls being called "zebra" and "half-breed" and one wonders if she uses her woke status to overcompensate for her lack of melanin. It's a conversation that I've had personally with some of my lighter-skinned friends--how they were never black enough for black kids or white enough for white kids and sometimes float in a limbo of identity that can be incredibly lonely.
#2 - Colandrea "CoCo" Conners, the dark-skinned girl who's "pretty for a dark girl"
Those of us who are brown, dark brown, black and blacker have all heard these phrases before. "You pretty for a dark chick." "Hey chocolate drop." "Hershey's Kiss." "I don't normally date dark chicks." "Don't stay out in the sun too long." "You don't need sunscreen right?" While some may think equating my skin tone to candy is endearing, let me clear that up right now. It's not. At all. Stop it.
In contrast to Sam White, is Coco Conners, a darker-skinned diva from Chicago. At an early age, she was conditioned to believe that being dark means being ugly and emphatically rejects nearly everything about being black including her skin, hair, friends and even dating prospects.
This character reflects many of us out here in the real world, struggling to accept our dark skin in a world that tries to convince you light is right.
#3 - Lionel: it's okay to be black and gay
Lionel is a (kind of) openly gay student. He's quiet and shy so he uses his journalistic license at the Winchester Independent to express himself. Instead of the flamboyantly gay character we are used to seeing, Simien wrote Lionel as timid and still working out the kinks of his sexuality. It's a humanizing approach to a subject that has been so frustratingly nuanced before it's almost like minstrelsy.
Yes, some black men are gay. No, not all strive to be drag queens. And that's okay.
#4 - Sam and Gabe: it's okay to be woke and date a white person
Sam, the woke herione of Winchester, purposely hides her relationship with Gabe, who is white, out of fear of the backlash she would receive. When Gabe unintentionally spills the tea, it sends a shockwave among her friends. She is asked a lot of questions and receives plenty of side-eye. But her bestie, Joelle says it best: "if she likes it, I love it." In the end, you should be with whoever makes you happy, melanin or not, and if your friends can't reconcile that then maybe they aren't really your friends.
#5 - "Trying to be white" is not a thing
One scene in the first episode struck me. Sam was walking and had her earbuds in, listening to some somber alternative rock. When a group of black students walk past her, she quickly changes the song to some rap song, lyrics blasting about being "black and proud." This is a familiar scenario--grooving to some Nirvana in the car and when another car pulls up next to you, you quickly change the station. Don't want anyone to think you out here "trying to be white."
Or maybe you've heard accompanied with side-eye:
"Oh you watch anime?" "You like rock music?" "You don't like hot sauce?!"
Yes, we're black and we have different interests. And that's okay. At some point we need to accept ourselves as human and not defined by social constructs. I promise the world will not stop turning if we do.
#6 - Sam and CoCo: Sometimes competition supercedes sisterhood
These two have an interesting relationship. Once roommates, Sam and CoCo were once good friends. They confided in each other, smoked weed together, but soon their ideologies would drive them apart. But simmering underneath was an unspoken resentment of each other, which revealed itself in a heated argument. The first weapon of choice: ridiculing the other's hair. CoCo dragged Sam for her natural 'do and Sam in turn made fun of CoCo's weave. CoCo has, as I mentioned earlier, opined that Sam's complexion awards her favor in life.
This exchange exemplifies the rift that most sisters feel. Instead of building each other up, we tear each other down. Some sisters you can't even offer a polite smile without getting a sneer in return. Some sisters would rather talk about the shoes you got on your feet than see what's in your heart. Some may be jealous of your skin tone, your man, or even your hair. There's an atmosphere of animosity and competition among us that is not present in other cultures. And quite frankly, it's bullshit.
#7 - We deal with social injustice differently
Whether you're a Sam, raging against the machine, or a CoCo who prefers self-preservation over martyrdom, or a Lionel who uses investigative journalism as his voice, your way is your way. There is no right or wrong way to confront the issues. The blackface party that sparked the protests at Winchester was just the tip of a mighty iceberg on campus. The reaction of the students and their interaction with each other is what makes the guts of the story. Protest. Write. March. Shout. Cry. Sit in. Stand up. Whatever you choose to do is okay. The only injustice worse than social injustice is to pretend it doesn't exist.
I was pleasantly surprised by the direction the show took. It was beautifully cast and written. I also appreciate some of the actors from the movie reprising their roles--nice touch. I can't wait for the next season. Thanks for reading.