The importance of “Dear White People” and the struggle with self-indentity

An opinion piece on the Netflix series “Dear White People” told from a mixed race perspective.

“When the truth is suppressed, it doesn’t die; it goes underground”.

It has been quite some time since I’ve written a blog post, I find that my intentions with this site change every other month. Originally, it was just a safe space for me to talk about my life and adventures, then it became a platform for me to practice my music journalism by reviewing albums, but then somewhere along the way I lost track of all of that in an abundance of things, like my exams, internships, portfolio expanding, maintaining friendships, working etc. And as a result my self-esteem sort of plummeted, especially in a creative sense. But one thing that I like and, above all else, appreciate about this blog is that I’m free to express whatever I want, no judgement on how I deliver statements or no one to devalue my views and opinions, and nowadays I find that my work frequently intersects with issues of race, gender, sexuality, feminism, and progressive politics.

Nevertheless, everybody experiences things in a different way, it’s not always easy to get people to understand what you mean or for everyone to see eye-to -eye. We’re living in far more polarising, politically intense times where things almost go full circle to the point that we lose direction. Or that we’re all reciting the same lines to the point where every room becomes an echo chamber, and it’s getting cramped.

If I choose to one day have children, the only values I hope for them to have is to appreciate nature, to love themselves and their bodies, have gratitude and empathy towards others but most importantly, to keep an open mind towards things and people that they don’t understand. This should be just the basis, but unfortunately this isn’t a natural inclination for everybody.

As a young person I always felt that it was important that I cultivate these strengths within my own character so that I can lead by example, not words. To be open to a new era of political correctness and changing sexual politics. You can call it whatever you want, whether it be “a liberal” or a “social justice warrior”, or the current favourite insult, a “snowflake” *cringes* however, these are the values I live by. Though it hasn’t always been this way.

Growing up in a predominantly white area in the UK (no, seriously the population of minorities is 2.2% in my area and that’s all the minority races in total) I never realised how oblivious I was to a lot of things, or how oblivious others were. Every comment that was made about my appearance and identity I mostly usually brushed off, especially because I was (unfortunately fortunate) enough to be light-skinned and borderline considered “White passing”. Yet still had the features of a Black person. So all my life I’ve been, what can be considered as ‘lucky’ in a way that not being ‘black’ enough came to my advantage, but in the least rewarding way. It’s as complex as it is problematic.

And that’s where my fascination with “Dear White People” came in, I immediately recognised the protagonist, played by Logan Browning, from Bratz: The Movie in 2007. My initial thoughts were “Oh god, please don’t let another mixed race girl not acknowledge her biracial heritage” I know, to some of you this may sound ghastly. But Zendaya in Disney Channel’s Shake It Up had two Black parents, and growing up I found this quite damaging, because it made it seem like multiculturalism couldn’t and shouldn’t exist, like we’re experiments and not the real thing, as if you had to be either one or the other. A “watered down” version of the original. So watching a show that finally addresses the struggles of a biracial individual and the war with their self-identification was refreshing to say the least, as well as reflecting the real internal struggle of figuring out who you are in this world.

Gail Lukasik’s novel ‘White Like Her‘ is a prime example of the struggle with self-identifying, she explains how her mother pretended to be White throughout her entire life and by doing this, she received a lot more privileges socially and economically, because she was “passing”. The saddest part, is that it all has to even matter in the first place. It’s funny how race is apparent on sight, isn’t it?

Yet racism hasn’t always been black and white. White supremacists, for example, used to hate Irish and Italians at the turn of the century. They weren’t considered white. But once people realised that there were a huge amount of them, they needed to include them for power’s sake and they did. Race is almost a concept, but in which involves real and damaging effects.

I kind of understand why people are interested in people like myself who are racially ambiguous. Race, however flawed the concept, is used as a tool for understanding people. Personally, I’m curious about other people’s racial backgrounds too and as human beings we are always searching for ways to identify, and factors like skin tone serve as physical reminders of our ancestry and racial heritage.

BUUUUUT, there are appropriate ways to talk to someone about their background and then there are ways to sound like, for lack of better words, an ignorant dickhead. And a lot of what I went through before was never worth compromising myself and who I am just to have a couple of friends, I’d go through the countless eye rolls and the tone deaf “You’re not even Black so you have no right to be offended!” statements just to get people to finally understand me on some level.

Since recently visiting an old friend from school that I had contrasting views with, the daunting realisation that I’m forever going to have to explain and justify my existence hit me like a bus. It was a heart-breaking epitome, racism is a lot more than “being mean” to someone because of their race. They’re a whole load of stages in White supremacy before being considered an extremist and with the case of my close friend from school, it was past indifference and minimisation, you know, “We all belong to the human race!” and the use of phrases like “post-racial society” and the casual White saviour complex followed by the denial of White privilege, plus never forgetting the constant false equivocation. Classic.

Yet the movie/television show “Dear White People” was enough in its title because it caused a bellicose, erupting reaction. Even Antoinette Robertson who played ‘white whisperer’ Coco Conners stated in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar that the name and podcasts ‘alienated’ White people. The like/dislike ratio on the YouTube official trailer was almost equal and the comments were all too familiar “What if there was a show called ‘Dear Black People??? There would be a war!”

Sigh. In explanation of that; first of all, the intent with the show was to generally raise more awareness with racial sensitivity i.e not doing black face and other blatantly racist hate crimes. Whereas a show directed towards minorities is always done with malicious intentions and is poorly informed i.e. everything Nicole Arbour has posted, ever.

Back to the show; each episode in the second season, save for the last, focuses on the experiences of one character, nose-diving viewers into the realities and trepidation’s of what it means to be black, or not black, or not black enough. Although the creator recognises that the show quantifies this problem through blackness, he thinks it’s a systemic result of the human condition.

In an ideal world, Dear White People would be better received. It encourages people to call out ignorance when they see it while educating individuals without chastising them, and holding both sides accountable. It deserves to have its watercooler moment because it encourages the discussions and bring issues to the surface that we really need to be having during these increasingly divisive times.

As journalist Wesley Morris of The New York Times pointed out in a podcast, change is happening in the Western world; “It’s just happening in dog years”. 

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