When the film “Dear White People” came out in theaters 3 years ago, I knew that I absolutely had to go see it. At the time, I was still coming to terms with Ferguson and the protests that came in the months after. I had also personally been dealing with ways to try and express my frustration without having to scream in an echo chamber. This movie couldn’t have come at a better time.
Though I knew the movie was satirical, I was excited to see a movie in theaters that would not only throw shade at white people, but give Black Millennials an opportunity to truly see themselves accurately reflected. White people would finally have to look themselves in the mirror and realize that anti-Black sentiments still exist in their utopian “post-racial society” where having a couple of Black friends and voting for Barack Obama were thought to be more than enough to show solidarity.
While the movie did partially challenge white societal views and sense of allyship, it also helped to approach discussions about racism and discrimination. And the movie gave Black Millennials a chance to analyze themselves and how they face a world they once thought was progressive. In addition, through the four major characters, there was a strong narrative of the different struggles of the Black identity and finding their own individuality within the Black community and themselves.
So it was a no-brainer that I would share my excitement and thoughts after the trailer for the Netflix series adaptation of the movie was released. Almost immediately, negative comments from white people poured in. Because many had already seen the movie when it was initially released, it seemed hilarious that the level of outrage didn’t happen back then. So why now, with the Netflix series adaptation?
To answer that question, it’s because we’re living in a time where tensions are running high. We’re coming off a year where many Black men and women have grown tired of silencing their discontent at the microaggressions in their day-to-day lives, all for the sake of respectability politics and white fragility. 2016 was definitely another year of awakening for Black people. For one thing, Black Lives Matter was no longer just a chant at small protests, but had matured into a larger-than-life movement and organization.
In that context, some Black viewers thought the source material actually coddled white people and that it didn’t push the envelope enough to question white privilege. I wouldn’t say it’s “coddling” them. Instead, I’d say that “Dear White People” made an effort to be palatable to white audiences. But that’s beside the point.
Because, to be quite honest, I don’t give a fuck how white people feel about it.
Already, almost every movie or TV show is made for the approval of white audiences. And that is frankly unacceptable to people of color. People of color looking to express the frustrations and hardships they face through creative works end up having to meet a certain standard of acceptance for white public forums. Think about Eddie Huang’s frustration when Fresh Off The Boat, the show based on his own autobiography, ended up being what he called a “cornstarch sitcom” (though he has since made peace with his anger about the show).
Think, too, about the white savior narrative that appears in Hidden Figures in the scene about the colored bathrooms that never actually happened. It almost seems as though we’re always trying to tell watered-down versions of our stories to prevent white fragility. Even when we try to create our own stories and put them in non-traditional forms of media consumption (like YouTube or Netflix), it still creates cries of “reverse racism” and an attack on “white values.”
As usual, white people don’t seem to notice that they live in a country built on the backs of immigrants, slaves, and refugees that have created the superpower status that the United States thrives on today. Whether they like it or not, we are a diverse country full of people with varying backgrounds.
For too long, people of color have been complacent and allowed for white voices to dominate all sectors of business, media, and politics. We have had to carve out our own spaces, and build our own communities. We’ve had to elevate shows like “Dear White People” to liberate the voices of unapologetically Black men and women that have gone overlooked and unappreciated. A show like this gives Black Millennials a chance to find their identity and support their uncensored beliefs rather than tone-police them. Those who have waited to have themselves represented as complex and multi-dimensional people rather than inaccurate caricatures are finally having their cries met. If white people don’t like it, they can continue to stay pressed.
We’ve waited too long for white mainstream media to give us a chance.
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