Dear White People Volume 2 arrived on Netflix earlier this month but if you’re still unconvinced, here’s our review of Volume 1.
The Netflix series Dear White People, based on the 2014 film of the same name, is set at an Ivy League, predominantly white, fictional campus of Winchester University. The series is told through the eyes of multiple black students when racism is thrown to the foreground of campus life following a blackface campus party hosted by the white-run campus magazine, ‘Pastiche’.
The series shows people with different experiences of blackness, by including mixed race media major Samantha ‘Sam’ White (Logan Browning), journalist Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton), student body president Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell), the accommodating Colandrea ‘Coco’ Conners (Antoinette Robertson), and unwilling martyr Reggie Green (Marque Richardson).
Each episode does a superb job of placing us in the shoes of the relevant character’s narrative. During “Chapter I,” we understand the struggles Sam faces of being fully accepted by neither black nor white communities on campus due to her mixed race, which she overcompensates for by being an active and forceful member of the Black Student Union. Sam ensures any racial issues are brought to the foreground through her polemic campus-based radio show ‘Dear White People’. Sam cares deeply for many of her friends and maintains personal relationships with them despite their differences, however, she also faces being called a hypocrite for her relationship with another media student, Gabe Mitchell, as while he is an open-minded and self-proclaimed ally of the black rights movement, he is also white.
During the opening moments of “Chapter II” we are converted from the extroverted, and assertive Samantha to the introverted and meek Lionel. While only moments before we were exposed to Lionel as a questionable, and manipulative person, telling Samantha she had no choice but to come clean (about what? Go watch and find out!) or he would expose her, we suddenly understand how a timid, young black man is internally arguing between his conscience and his career.
Additionally to this, Lionel faces the double discrimination of being a gay black man who is only now coming to terms with his sexuality. As a young man trying to gain respect within a masculine community, and prove himself careerwise, Lionel demonstrates how there is often so much more going on beneath the surface. It isn’t just the issue of racial discrimination that’s affecting so many black students, but also the other aspects of themselves that fall into minority categories. All that as well as the general struggle of trying to establish themselves both academically and socially.
“Chapter III” explores the pressure of Troy as he is voted into the role of Winchester University’s student body president. It’s clear that he has earned the role as he is an excellent communicator between all types of people and areas of student life. However, behind this facade Troy faces a lack of confidence as he feels he is not the right fit for the job and it’s insinuated that the main reason he landed the position is due to the white guilt on campus following the ‘Blackface Party’, and his father’s role as Dean of Winchester University. My issue with this is that it refuses to acknowledge that he worked hard for, and deserves the role; it wasn’t handed to him.
However, this episode does raise the issue of inclusivity in an array of areas throughout society; it’s important for there to be a range of racial, social, sexual, gender and disabled identities in order to understand the best ways to benefit everyone. I’d like to believe that Troy was voted into the role as he holds the best attributes for the job and not due to trying to fulfil a quota or have it handed to him out of white guilt. As within the few episodes up to his win, he proved how approachable and attentive he was while also being authoritative. That being said, representation for communities so often overlooked is of value in a society that sees straight, white and male as the norm in leadership positions.
Dear White People plays with the ways institutionalised racism also creates and changes the perspectives and experiences of black students. Coco, the protagonist for “Chapter IV,” details her journey throughout her college experience, and her childhood, explaining why she chose to turn her back on her culture in exchange for acting, dressing and speaking as ‘white’ as possible. Coco’s also possibly one of the characters that have been hit hardest in Dear White People.
Reggie, “Chapter V”’s protagonist, faces a similar struggle when he is standing face to face with a barrel of a gun as a member of the campus security’s racial prejudice shines through during a typical college party. Instead of fighting back, Reggie demonstrates how difficult it is to talk about or even testify officially as a victim. It’s refreshing to see that even a strong man with an entire group to back up his story, finds this difficult to discuss immediately following the incident. Hopefully, this will help audiences to stop victim blaming or asking why it wasn’t reported sooner.
Dear White People does a sensational job of exploring a range of different ways race impacts the lives of people; from not being fully accepted by either group due to your mixed race, people assuming you don’t deserve something but are instead a quota filler, intersectional prejudices and how people have already decided your guilt based on your skin colour.
Dear White People simultaneously highlights the ignorance of more privileged groups as they begin to rally for other causes (such as the campus alcohol binging culture) or claim reverse racism, rather than listening to the concerns of the black students and the accompanying racism they face. It works alongside the racial tensions currently happening on campuses across the United States, as well as current gun laws. This series is progressive and assertive and just fantastic.
Dear White People: Volume 1
28 April 2017
4 hrs 25 mins