Dear White People: A Review
Amid the controversies surrounding the whitewashing of Death Note, cancelling iconic shows like Sense 8 and the potential price increase of their subscription plan this year, Netflix managed to do something right. Although not without its own ridiculous and unfounded controversy, Dear White People was the kind of show we all needed when it aired in April and it’s something we still need now.
With Season 2 debuting in 2018, I wanted to look at why this show is so important in the current political landscape as it continues to be impactful months after the fact.
Dear White People is about a mixed-race girl named Samantha who hosts a radio show called Dear White People. The setting of the show takes place in a “predominantly white Ivy League university”, where Samantha and her friends feel marginalised and want to speak up about the racial tensions that underlie their university experience. It is a narrative many would identify with, particularly if you attend Royal Holloway, where a substantial majority of our students are White.
When Netflix first released the trailer for the show, there was uproar from people that stated that the show was “racist against white people” and contributing to “white genocide”. There were also people that tried to turn the tables and asked Netflix how they would feel “if someone started a Dear Black People” show. Not only are all these criticisms idiotic, they are all tackled as topics of conversation within the show itself, which these people would know if they had bothered to delve deeper into the show rather than simply writing it off. The discourse on Twitter also showed people either threatening to delete their Netflix accounts if the show was not immediately cancelled. One Twitter user said that “people protesting “Dear White People” are the reasons there is a movie and TV series called, “Dear White People”. I’d say that that is an entirely accurate and quite hilarious analysis of the situation.
The show is based off a film of the same name that was released in 2014. Justin Simien directed the original film and is involved in the Netflix creation as well. Both the film and series looks at the racial tensions and divides that occur within America and uses satire, sarcasm and irony to enhance the comedic effect within the racial debate.
Simien responded to the critics on twitter, stating that “equality feels like oppression to the privileged”. This was an extremely poignant assertion that seems to ring truer and truer every day, despite it being posted nearly 9 months ago. With someone like Donald Trump at the helm of the United States presidency and the increase in black people being killed by police officers and public citizens alike, Simien’s words are increasingly true. Every time there is a Black Lives Matter protest or an intense twitter debate or a public figure like Colin Kaepernick decides to take a stand by, in fact, doing the opposite and participating in the ‘Take A Knee’ movement, there are calls of ‘White Genocide’ and ‘Anti-White Rhetoric’. Again, ridiculous, and it simply points to the sensitivity of those that are threatened by any story that they aren’t central to or haven’t dictated themselves. It would be funny to see people that accuse people of being ‘liberal snowflakes’ in such a state if it weren’t so serious.
Teen Vogue stated that “asking for respect as a human being is hardly genocide”. In fact, the dictionary definition of the word genocide is “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group” - a show calling for respect for a race of people and representing their experience isn’t extermination of another race.
There is an abundance of white people reacting badly to critique of their systemic privilege. People think that giving rights to other people mean taking rights away from themselves. When same-sex marriage was legalised in the U.S, people didn’t want “gay people to be given special treatment”. Here’s the crazy thing: equality and respect isn’t special treatment.
But, this is why we need to keep fighting. We need to stand up and fight for the kind of representation that Simien and Netflix have given us. Netflix has taken a great step in the right direction with Dear White People but we have to continue to show people why allyship is important and why giving certain marginalised groups of people a voice doesn’t mean other groups will lose theirs.