Dear White People entertaining and accessible critique of privilege
The trailers screened before Dear White People at AMC Lakewood made it very clear how important a film like Dear White People is in our current culture. Among the previews shown: two movies starring Kevin Hart and one romance movie starring black leads. The idea that Dear White People would appeal exlcusively to a black audience is presumptuous and incorrect. The target audience for Dear White People is not just black people; the target audience for Dear White People is everyone.
Justin Simien’s directorial debut, Dear White People, which tells the story of the black student experience at an Ivy League university, the fictional “Winchester,” is smart, on point and hilarious. Simien uses four different characters to portray different aspects of the black experience today.
1. The gay black student who feels he can’t fit in with his peers because he “listens to Mumford and Sons” and “likes Robert Altman movies.”
2. The campus activist with the radio show “Dear White People” who, over the course of the film, begins to feel burdened by said activist title.
3. The quintessential “overachiever” whose father is the dean of Winchester (and the Allstate guy).
4. CoCo, or Colandria, who says, “My parents may as well have named me ‘Ghetto Ass Hoodrat,’” and resents her black identity.
Throughout the course of the film, the characters explore not only what their racial identities mean to them, but also what their racial identities mean to others. The campus activist realizes that she’s not as much of an activist as she initially thought and that while her black identity is important to her, there are other facets of her identity (such as her passion for film making) that are more important.
The gay black student comes to the realization that his reluctance to befriend other black students at Winchester University is itself rooted in stereotypes and past negative experiences with black people from his high school.
The “overachiever” who does his best to fit in with his white colleagues eventually does stand up for himself and for his race.
And, while CoCo does not abandon her dreams of fame and notoriety, she does come a little bit closer to accepting the part of her identity that is black.
Dear White People highlights W.E.B. Du Bois’s concept of “double consciousness,” the idea that minority groups in contemporary American society are not only forced to conceive a sense of self identity, but are also subjected to the identity imposed upon them by society because of their race. The “black identity” is one that black individuals assume by default regardless of whether or not they feel it is central to their personhood.
The everyday injustices that occur at Winchester are not only the result of student action, but also administrative action.
The infamous radio show on campus, “Dear White People,” is scrutinized by many campus members and is eventually terminated by the university’s president who believes the show is “racist” and unnecessarily controversial. Black activism on campus in general is strongly discouraged by Winchester’s administration and many student groups on campus who feel such protests are inconveniencing and unnecessary.
The film depicts race relations in an honest, interesting and informative way without coming off as preachy.
In a society often deemed “post-racist” when it truly is not, a revival of necessary dialogues is more than welcome, and Dear White People does just that. By disputing assertions that “racism is over” and by elucidating the racism that continues to thrive, Dear White People successfully forces people to honestly evaluate society’s attitudes towards race as well as their own.
Dear White People does not ask white people to apologize for their privilege, it merely demonstrates the ever-present blind participation by people with “race privilege” in a power structure that is inherently oppressive, and asks that they acknowledge and reevaluate the ethics of said participation.