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WHY I WATCHED THE SHOW AND YOU SHOULD TOO
You have probably heard something about the Netflix show “Dear White People” by now, and whether this exposure came from your slightly-racist uncle complaining about it at your last family gathering, your “totally woke” roommate raving about it, or even just you scrolling past it on your Netflix account while eating some Ben & Jerry’s, you probably had a reaction to it. Think back for a second, what was that reaction? If you had never heard of the show until reading this article, what do you think now? Sit on that for a second. I want to point out that I realize I cannot rightfully speak about the experiences and struggles that are on display in this show due to my own privilege of never going through them. Instead I want to encourage you to watch the show and most importantly, to listen to it and reflect on it.
Let’s go back to that reaction now. I know some of you are busting at the seams, ready to tell me about how even the title “Dear White People” is racist and “what if we made a show called Dear Black People? Everyone would lose their minds!” First off, I get it. I totally understand where you are coming from, I hear you. This question is addressed in the show at one point, the (white) boyfriend of the (black) main character asks her about her radio show Dear White People, and makes the exact point you just made.
Gabe: So, Sam, how would you feel if someone started a “Dear Black People”?
Sam White: No need. Mass media from Fox News to reality TV on VH1 makes it clear what white people think of us.
Have you ever thought of that, the general narrative that we receive and the image painted by the media? Dear White People is not an attack, but rather a response to the message of “Dear black (or any other minority) people, you are different, scary, and not good enough” that often gets thrown into the face of any minority in our society. Instead of looking at Dear White People as an insult, I implore you to do what I did and try instead to look at it as the opening of a letter. When I receive mail that says “Dear Althea, blah blah blah…” I read it and pay attention to what it is saying because I can tell it was specifically addressed to me. I decided to look at the show the same way, as a white person they are obviously talking to me, so I ought to listen.
ARE YOU READY TO WATCH, NOT PLAY DEFENSE?
If you have made it this far, I hope you have decided to watch the show! For now I am going to assume that you have and give you some advice: do not go into this ready to play defense. If you go into the show with this mindset (looking for anything that does not seem politically correct, anything that seems racist, or anything offensive) I can tell you now you are going to get offended and you are going to stop listening and end up missing the entire message. Sure, there are some things in the show that kind of caught me off guard and made me uncomfortable, but that is exactly what they are trying to do. You are supposed to feel offended, targeted, uncomfortable. The show does this not to hurt or blame people, but to show them what people of color have been feeling throughout their entire lives. I think we can handle a little discomfort too.
The creators of the show did an excellent job at giving every character a remarkable story, depth, unique perspective, and a message. They even gave their white viewers someone to connect to, Gabe. Gabe was the white boyfriend mentioned earlier, and he really struggled to find his place throughout the show. Gabe felt that he was an ally, a part of the movement, and one of the group but sometimes he forgot one important detail: he was still white. I learned a lot from Gabe because his experiences gave me an unfamiliar perspective. Even when Gabe did everything right, he had to be reminded that because of his skin color and the privilege that came with it, he would never fully understand what his friends were going through. The awkwardness and discomfort that he felt when attending protests and Black Student Union events is very real, but it is more real for people who are normally on the other end. To me, this was one of the loudest wake-up calls in the show (the other one you will have to watch to understand) and it is one of the reasons even white people, especially white people, need to watch the show.
This show takes one of our favorite pass-times, binge watching, and turned it into an exceptional learning experience. It caused me to think about myself and the privilege that I do have in this society, and forced me to hear the other side of a heavy topic. I promise that it is interesting and just as bingeable as the new season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt that was just put up, and you will not regret your choice. Remember though, you should go in with an open mind and open ears. Just listen to their story, don’t look for problems. Listen, experience, maybe even cry a little, and learn.
*Disclaimer: There are some rather graphic and mature scenes throughout this show and I do not recommend it for youth. I personally felt the need to look away from time to time, and almost stop watching, due to a few inappropriate scenes, but in the end there was invaluable lessons to be learned and I am glad that I stuck it out.