dear-white-people

Every year, I openly say the phrase, “I’m all race’d out this year.”

It occurs, right around Halloween ironically when my blood gets warmer, my tolerance for certain things plummet and I think a stiff arm is a much better way to engage in conversation than a greeting. The Ray Rice “costume” that filtered social media Saturday night officially became the moment I said it.

And I couldn’t look back.

So when Dear White People, a film about the inner workings of collegiate life at a fictitious Ivy League college first entered my conscious in January, a whole heap of emotions decided to park themselves in my brain before whizzing by like comical Batman graphics in the 1960s. Edgy promo tools, the anger that just simmered for brief moments only to boil over, the entire year has felt like it was building up for Dear White People to exist. Internet culture has deemed it responsible to shine a mirror on white people and every little moment of their pumpkin spice, hipster code, “I might be more down than you” and general “I feel your pain” existence.

This is beyond black comedians doing the slightly tiring, “black people do this, white people do that” bit. In its place is something far more performance wise, memes and filtered images of white people exhibiting every bit of “caucasity”. Riots at pumpkin festivals, dressing up in black face for Halloween costumes to try and get blacks to laugh at the joke, removing the color from Disney princesses to make them look like every other idea of built in beauty and typecasting, all of it seemingly was primed and curated for Dear White People to stamp and knock out all in one 90-minute expose.

Dear White People didn’t do that.

There are of course images and moments in Houstonian Justin Simien’s debut film that bring up these items. It also digs into the story I’ve carefully had to live with for the better part of 26 years, assimilating and “fitting in” to a culture that still has no true way to comfortably identify itself.

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Black culture, the vibrant, constantly shifting and evolving idea that gets poked and prodded at consistently is the focus of Dear White People. It’s characters, had they been simple, flat and unbased would have no doubt ruined all of the arguments they set to answer throughout the film. Yet, we have four prime characters, each of whose stories intersect in a “we’re part of the same ecosystem, thus we’re going to eventually deal with one another” sort of way.

The princely black jock, the Alpha Male who is more Obama than say Killer Mike is a legacy child who is dating a white girl as a form of a chess move. The nerdy black kid, awkward and shuffling is doomed to not understand where he exactly fits in because he has to battle homophobia and black culture’s loudest (and closeted) taboo. The light skinned girl who on face surface is radical and unapproachable by any “standard” of white society is secretly sleeping with her white teacher’s assistant and coins their entire relationship as, “just fucking”. The girl, who dreams of reality TV stardom and the want to standout wants to assimilate more into white culture and their ideas of beauty (straight hair, colored eyes) than being a girl with an unusual first name from Chicago.

For the longest periods of growing up in middle-sized city Texas, I held the ideal of going to a HBCU as secondary. Television had told me that this is where I could slide into courses with like-minded individuals, people who looked like me who no doubt wanted success and to be treated as equals. Then as I got older and started seeing academia given more credence at schools that were predominantly white, my thoughts of succeeding at an HBCU waned. No longer did I want to live the life of Dwayne Wayne and find Whitley Gilbert, I merely wanted to be exceptional and obtain those “first black” qualifications that I look back on now as quite idiotic.

That’s kind of the thing you’re handed when you’re a third generation black kid in your family and are the first to do any serious amount of time post high school. (Note, generational traits on “societal black evolution” is key in Dear White People.)

It may have been “new black” ideology running through my veins before I even knew what it meant but that was what it was. An HBCU, strong universities like Prairie View or Texas Southern were made out to be schools that were small extensions of high school. Even the “dream” colleges like those in Atlanta or DMV areas seemed far-fetched because I wasn’t going to consider being homesick.

Times change.

So did I.

Dear White People, as a film is one of the smartest pieces of celluloid attached to a larger picture I’ve seen in quite sometime. The comments aren’t made to be outright funny but they’re asking you to peer inward because you’ve said these things either out loud or amongst your select group of friends. You dislike Tyler Perry. You don’t want anyone questioning your hair or thinking it’s “weaved”. Your skin crawls when white people try to defend the use of the N-word and you would much rather yearn for three dimensional characters represented in film and television as opposed to stock caricatures.

You say these things because you deal with them every single day. The everlasting search for identity and proper justification for the things you deal with. Rules are different in societies, even when you politically try to appease both sides as one character eventually learns near the final 15 minutes. Everything mushrooms into one cloud of race, anger and frustration much like Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing had some 25 years ago. Simien knows this. His camera shots and angles are much of the one’s Lee discarded years ago. Those same stark look and shots, even the movie theater group think moment which takes shots at Tyler Perry and 2 Chainz is a Lee trademark that Simien smartly applies.

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On a Friday night, while plenty of teens (mostly Hispanic) flocked to a nearby theater to see Quija and get their frights, I saw Dear White People. The theater felt cavernous. It lacked the right amount of people I thought a film like Dear White People deserved to be shown to.

Instead, there were just eight of us.

College educated or not, male or female, it didn’t matter. We were all tied to the fact that once upon a time, we tip-toed through the landmines that make up college. All the politics, idiosyncrasies, sexism and confusion that make up what we deem college to be. All of it found a home in Dear White People because that’s the actual college experience. Everything you tied yourself to via sports team, clothing, sexuality, Greek & club affiliation, how to joke without offending, what cliques to belong to and separate from, being the byproduct of a longstanding interracial couple and the internal backlash you may fight with, interracial relationships period, all of the little things that make black life its own awkward beautiful spectacle.

Dear White People is about black identity in a world that seems off-put by it.

Like the world we naturally live in to begin with.