Dear White People — First Impressions (Spoilers!)
Disclaimer: There are some minor spoilers in this article, so I would recommend that you watch at least the first episode of the show before reading this!
Why I was interested in the show
The timing to release the teaser for Netflix’s new show “Dear White People” definitely shocked everyone. It was just a week into the new presidency when political conflicts between people were at an extreme high. The title of the show itself raised quite a few questions in everyone’s mind, whether they be negative or positive.
The show is set in a “post-racial” Ivy league school, but after white students throw a black face party (a party where white students paint their faces black and pretend to be black people, usually done as an attempt to… I don’t even know why people do it, it disgusts me), students quickly realize that there are still issues surrounding race that need to be addressed. It is based on a movie with the same title, and from what I read the movie was a satirical film created to target not only white people but also the POC (people of color). It pointed out faults on both sides in trying to cultivate a more inclusive culture, and how to combat racism in a society. I was immediately hooked by the idea and was excited since for the day the show was to be released.
The show released on Netflix today, and after watching just one episode, I have to say the wait was worth it. It raises a lot of questions I’m sure many people (including myself) have had and addresses them fairly well. One of the main topics raised in the episode I want to discuss in this post is the “double standard” that exists in racism.
The Double Standard
A nice rule of thumb people consider about racist jokes is that if you’re making fun of yourself, it’s ok. Otherwise, unless you’re REALLY, REALLY good friends, don’t make any jokes at all.
I believe many people follow that rule pretty well, but there is one race that people don’t worry about making fun of as much, and that is the white people. White people are also heavily criticized when they make racial jokes, and often white people will complain that they are being oppressed by not having the same liberty to make jokes like others. Why is it that our culture allows people of color to poke fun at different races much more than we allow white people to do so? The main character Samantha explains why this is the case very well in the ending scene of the first episode. Here is her monolog.
Dear white people, wow. Y’all really trying it. I get that being reduced to a race-based generalization is a new and devastating experience for some of you, but here’s the difference. My jokes don’t incarcerate your youth at alarming rates or make it unsafe for you to walk around in your own neighborhoods. But yours do. When you mock or belittle us, you enforce an existing system. Cops everywhere staring down the barrel of a gun at a black man don’t see a human being, they see a caricature, a thug, a nigger, a nigger, a nigger. So… nah! You don’t get to show up in a Halloween costume version of us and claim irony or ignorance. Not anymore.
This is a perfect answer to the situation in America regarding the hidden racism that still exists. However, I feel like the problem doesn’t end there. The reason I believe that white people aren’t given as much liberty to make racist jokes is because white people are the majority in the United States. In any society, the majority is the group that defines the culture of the group and often ends up making major decisions as well. And as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. This problem isn’t limited to race. Humans have always created majority groups that dominate a society, and as the majority gets established, they gradually lose the understanding towards the minority.
Majority vs. Minority
I was talking to a friend today about the divide that gets created between the majority and minority, and one conclusion we came to was that both sides are afraid of each other. However, the important thing to keep in mind is that the fear they have of each other is not the same. The majority fears the minority out of the lack of understanding of the group, whereas the minority fears the majority because of the power difference involved.
In Al Gore’s book, “The Assault On Reason,” Al Gore describes the triangular relationship between faith, reason, and fear. Reason overcomes faith, fear destroys reason, and faith wins over fear. When we let the irrational fears that exist in the majority’s mindset to dominate, it creates an unhealthy spiral that continues to create fear in both ends resulting in a suffocating tension that makes it impossible for the groups to coexist. What is really important is for the majority to believe what the minority is saying, and to make an effort to listen to the concerns being voiced. Although there may not be an immediate solution, communication will help create a much more understanding culture, which leads to a safer and happier place for everyone.
Now I realize that in both the case where fear dominates or understanding is cultivated, I put the responsibility on the majority. This will almost always be the case, as it is near impossible for the minority to effectively make a ripple in society unless they are asked for their thoughts, or they break down a bunch of buildings. I’m sure most of you will agree that the former is a better solution, and this reinforces the idea that with great power comes great responsibility.
These are just some of my immediate thoughts and responses I had after watching the first episode. Please leave some comments if there is anything in this article you’d like to discuss more, and share if you think there is any truth worth sharing in it. Until next time!