British Black Millennial Reviews Dear White People
British Black Millennial Reviews Dear White People
I started watching Dear White People at 11 am. By the time I finished binge-watching that evening, there was a news bulletin about the death of Jordan Edwards, a fifteen-year-old unarmed black boy who was killed by a police officer in Texas while he was driving away from a party. This is America’s version of racism, and the surrounding tensions of race relations create the perfect foundation for Netflix’s Dear White People, a series set in a fictional Ivy League University.
A few years ago, while my brother was on his way home from visiting me at university, his train had an emergency stop mid-tunnel. After the passengers walked to the closest station, he pulled out his phone to call my mother for a lift home and realised the battery was dead. With no cash on him and the balance on his oyster card used up, he couldn’t get on another train or bus. At a loss, he asked a few people at the station and at nearby bus stops if he could borrow their phones to call home. Everyone he asked said no. He decided to walk in the general direction of home, hoping someone would let him borrow their phone along the way. No. No. No. “I’m sorry, I wish I could help, I’m just not sure you won’t steal it”.
So my brother stopped asking and walked home from Hendon station to Stanmore. Just in case you don’t know the distance, that’s roughly 5 miles. He was 14.
Looking back now, I know it was approximately an hour and a half walk, but for a fourteen-year-old using bus stop signs to figure out his way home as the sun went down, it was terrifying. This is what British racism looks like.
While we certainly have instances of overt violent racism, for the most part, ours is institutionalised. For this reason, certain parts of Dear White People were foreign to me. The main one being the idea of separate housing for black students like the fictional “Armstrong Parker House” or “AP House”. When I first came across this concept alongside the idea of HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) I found it offensive because of the implication of segregation i.e. institutionalised racism. However, when you delve into America’s history and the reasons for their existence – HBCU’s were born out of a need to provide an education for black people after the American Civil War- they begin to make more sense. HBCU’s remain important and relevant because they are still often the only way that poor people of colour in America can gain an education and so an attack on them becomes a racial one.
However, some race related issues are universal and one of the strengths of Dear White People is its humanisation of the complexities of race politics. The main vehicle for one such exploration is the romantic relationship between lead character Samantha White ‘Sam’ (played by Logan Browning) and Gabe Mitchell (played by John Amedori). Sam choosing to keep Gabe a secret until he forces her hand highlights one aspect of interracial relationships fraught with tension. This is the idea that dating outside your race, especially dating a white person for some people (irrationally) dilutes your racial or cultural identity. As her friend Joelle points out, “I’m not so sure that I’d let a white man colonise my body, and I didn’t think Sam would either.” Jordan Peele also experienced this with the release of Get Out when people realised he was married to Chelsea Perretti – a white woman, they asked how he could write about the black experience while being married to her.
On the other hand, even though part of Sam’s attraction to Gabe is that she can be with him without thinking about race, it is still a large part of their relationship. When the screen cuts to Gabe’s imaginings of Reggie and Sam about to have sex, Reggie calls Sam his “Nubian queen” while reiterating their skin colour “your brown skin into my browner skin”. As this is Gabe’s imagination it shows the audience that Sam is black to him before she is anything else.
It is a truth self-evident, that if there is a black man in a group of white men and the police are called, they will point the gun at the black man. Another issue raised in Dear White People is the conflicting relationship that white people and people of colour have with the police – though granted it was campus police featured in the series. In the fifth episode, when Reggie gets into a fight with a friend over the right to say the word N*****, Gabe can see the situation about to erupt and calls the police because they make him feel safe. What he doesn’t realise or simply cannot comprehend in that moment – even as a racial equality activist, is that he has made the situation safer for himself but more dangerous for Reggie who finds himself staring down the barrel of a gun.
Dear White People also shines in its exploration of colourism within the black community. Coco Conners (played by breakout star Antoinette Robertson) highlights Sam’s privilege as a mixed race, lighter skinned black woman. “You get away with murder because you look more like them than I do”, she tells her matter-of-factly. However, we also see that due to the lightness of her skin Sam’s blackness is called into question. First, when she wants to join the Black Student Union she’s told, “Dear half-white person, you’re just not black enough for the union”, and then when Coco confronts her in the studio by saying she is not a “real sister”. Colourism in Britain is an issue seen mostly in British-ethnic communities as lighter skin is still presumed to be more beautiful. As such, the exploration of this topic in the series is one that will be most relatable for UK audiences.
As long as we have people like Katie Hopkins asking ‘Dear black people. If your lives matter why do you stab and shoot each other so much?’, we will have a place for Dear White People. As long as we have cases of police brutality like Sarah Reed – who was choked and beaten by a police officer and later died in custody, we will have a place for Dear White People. As long as a white person’s comfort disproportionately puts a black person’s life at risk, there will be space for the insightful, complex and often humorous look at racism that is Dear White People.
Written by Weruzochi Chinasa
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