It Ain’t Just Wypipo: Five times the Netflix Series Dear White People Came for Their Own That You Should Look Out For
By Pamela Lewis
Dear white people,
You are not alone. I know many of you are in your bag right now, and all in your feels about Netflix’s decision to actually allow a series with a title addressed directly to you and designed to tackle, head-on, some of the caucasities committed by many of your kinfolk. And I get it, the hit “Dear White People,” according to a popular internet meme, is sort of the equivalent to a bunch of cassette tapes in a shoe box addressed to all of you, only instead of thirteen reasons why, they’ve narrowed it down to just ten episodes. But fear not, because black millennials are clearly equal-opportunity wig snatchers! That’s right, I know the title may not imply it, but trust when I tell you that y’all ain’t the only ones being shaded. Grab your tea...and a sweater.
1. Rashida Jones
My first thought? Damn, what Rashida do to y’all? My second… it isn’t so much what she did, but rather what her daddy’s genes didn’t do. The show seems to call out the fact that being biracial can mean many things, and that while some mixed individuals can and will identify as black, others can’t and/or won’t. Rashida Jones, unlike Tracee Ellis Ross, as referenced in DWP, can, has and will play non-black roles, or roles that do not specify race at all. (Remember Karen Filippelli from The Office.) Though this reference could easily be interpreted as a mere acknowledgment of facts, the snarky vibe of the show smells like Teen Shade-it to me. While I doubt the show’s creator, Justin Simien actually wants an individual to deny their other areas of racial heritage, living in a post-”Lemonade” world, I’m thinking the majority of black folk want all black folk, no matter their percentage, to don the culture, to own that shit, and to say it with their chest.
2. Shonda Rhimes
Now this one hurt. The Netflix original begins and ends with direct stabs at the popular series Scandal, and even went as far as to procure a Kerry Washington lookalike. Of course the true person being dragged, though, is the creator, which most definitely is a sting for all Gladiator fans, myself included. Not powerhouse Shonda! Not crushing these white folk in Hollywood Shonda, and yes I did enroll in her Master class! I know I am not the only one that gasped at the mention of the TV sorceress’ show. After picking my edges up from the floor, I had to actually attempt to take it in, to analyze what the message was behind that snatch. And as much as I hate to do it, I must admit that there’s something discomforting about a black mistress in the White House. And despite how entertaining, a lot of black folk just can’t move beyond that, no matter how powerful Pope might be. Again, black millennials are not like their mama’s generation, who might turn a blind eye to something like that because the show’s creator is a role model for little black girls everywhere and the writing is superb! In Big Freedia’s voice, they did not come here to play. (I’ll leave the rest out.)
3. Stacey Dash.
Because Stacey Dash. Dassit.
4. Zoe Saldana
I don’t think I should have to explain this one, but here goes. Black people who have the option of othering themselves must adhere to some rules. You can’t be black when you want to be and then do some caucacious shit that a normal black person would deem offensive and not expect to be yanked, hauled, towed out of our good graces. Blackface ain’t cool, and being lighter skinned and taking a role that wasn’t for her, so much so that they tried (and failed) to blacken her skin is just as messed up as white folk who perpetrate.
5. Iyanla Vanzant
And here lies the very tricky, blurred line that black people down for the cause must walk on. The slightest misstep and you’ve immediately gone from healing your people to one who is just profiting off of their pain. Iyanla is most definitely the poster priestess for walking this tight rope. Is it possible to be great at fixing our communities without building a platform off of our pain and suffering? I don’t want to speculate, but could it also be the delivery? Damn this is messy! You know what? I’m not saying any more on this one.
It appears that Simien is calling for us as a people to be aware of the ways in which we allow blackness to be represented, not just on film but in real life as well. Included in this airing out of our dirty laundry, the show also tackles a bevy of black issues (though steeped in white supremacy) that perpetuate divisiveness such as colorism (more specifically, light skinned privilege), black nativism, Uncle Tom foolery, Hotepia, bougieness, and hateration. Yes, in a sense, we are being dragged. There’s even a scene between Samantha and Coco in which Coco argues, “Is using your radio show to drag other black women part of your revolution?” To which Samantha replies, “If it brings truth to the masses, yes, I drags who needs dragging.” So look, don’t take things so personal. The show was never really directed toward you to begin with. Still don’t believe me? Check out a scene in chapter four when two black characters lead with the phrase, “Dear White People” prior to reading each other to filth in a very heated exchange; even with the reference to white people, they’re clearly talking to one another. A phrase that started off in jest about stupid stuff white people do, became a tool of vitriol hurled at each victim of internalized oppression. Wokeness is, after all, the ability to see white supremacy in all of its forms, and the most conscious of black folk are able to recognize it in our own community and within ourselves. So really folks, this series, much like this blog post, was never meant for you, but rather for us, an attempt to hold the mirror up to ourselves. (Honestly, wouldn’t you expect a title dragging white people to attract black folks more than anyone else?) Dear White People calls for both self-reflection and celebration because we as a people, very much like the characters in this series as well as the creators of black television and film, are evolving by learning from our past. Slavery might be one helluva drug, but we’re all discovering, both on and off camera, how to kick the habit.
Pamela Lewis is a teacher and writer in New York City. Her memoir, Teaching While Black: A New Voice On Race And Education In New York City is published through Fordham University Press.