If you haven’t by now, then I hope you run to see the magnificent Dear White People on Netflix. The show picks up where the film left off but explores far more areas of Black society, culture, themes identity, mentality and Blackism than the film had time to do. While at first, one would think that the show would be a call to action like the film was for white people; however, instead the show is a deep exploration about what it means to be Black in the millennial era. The show explores many types of Black people and what their journeys mean when they compete, intersect and stand-alone. As such, this article will be to discuss the character development arcs and what they bring to Blackness and some notes about other characters.
*SPOILERS Ahead for the show and the film!
Samantha – A mixed child who struggles with being woke enough to power the masses of Blackness, but is also able to recognize the importance of having a radio show and movement in a PWI (Predominately White Institution) that showcases the issues with Blackness and how pervasive the Blackface party was for the college.
Her character development focuses on choosing love for her white lover, Gabe,versus her love for promoting Black people.
What she encompasses is the difficulties in how interracial relationships will always have difficulty in understanding all aspects of the other, the nuance of where do mixed kids fall in terms of white v. Black allegiance v. being themselves, and the consistent need to prove that you’re woke to Black people who have more melanin than you.
How she relates to me? I have dated white women who wondered like my dad wondered if I could bond with them, but eventually I couldn’t. She infinitely relates to my piece of trying to be myself or literally having to prove to people you’re Black, which is one of the hardest identity crises ever, and I hope all of you in interracial relationships never have to deal with it for your children.
How does she relate to you?
Lionel – Lionel has a two-fold character development due to his gay identity and being a strong journalist who got notoriety for his writing on the party and the film. Much of his development comes from finding the strength to tell true journalism in exposing the realities of the Black people on campus v. exposing the truth behind the ivy leagues racist past. All of this is along with being gay and having to deal with gay people who are not Black and have difficulty relating to him.
He encompasses the Black gay struggle in being accepted by his roommate Troy and others, the urges for gay people to occasionally have legitimate feelings for straight people, and whether or not we will truly answer the call to assist each other or not.
How he relates to me? Lionel reminds me of the slowly struggling to give your voice. My online presence is nowhere near where it used to be in allowing nonsense to go by me versus by bringing attention to injustice.
How does he relate to you?
Troy – Spoiled kid of nepotism who still wants to do right but isn’t sure to stay aligned with his father, the dean, the rich white kids, or being true to Blackness. It’s a constant struggle for what he has to deal with and sometimes you can feel bad for him and other times you cheer for him trying to assuage the situation following the party.
His development comes to head when he finally breaks from all the expectations and simply wants to literally smash the windows blocking him from being great. This break is him choosing his authentic Blackness after denying it and playing an Uncle Tom for years. It creates an amazing moment for his father and Sam in how to reassure a man in denial of his son.
What he encompasses is the struggle to follow the so-called sunken place (Get Out) of pleasing the white “masters” versus going against authority and staying true to yourself even if it costs you your future. He also encompasses that internal struggle of what is the right way in family v. friends and how that shapes you when you are a leader in the community.
How does he relate to me? I have been of students v. societal expectations often at the cost of my job, authority and even my parents. Supporting your heritage sometimes means sacrificing it.
How does he relate to you?
Coco/Colandrea- A child who is all about herself and making sure she gets ahead. While one would see her as entitled, a closer look finds that she is attempting self-preservation in not having to deal with the traumatic childhood she had. She had goals to be herself but also only do for herself which creates an ordeal weaves for straight hair v. curly, being unhappy about a blackface party but also attempting to have white friends or at least an agreement with them.
Thus, her character development is special in that she doesn’t develop and stays in the same ways that she started with. She doesn’t want to hear about Black kids killed by police because she lived that, she doesn’t want to hear about the Black struggle because she did that in order to have a seat at the table, and she rejects much of her culture because it didn’t get her where she wanted.
She encompasses struggles with dark skin and in particular Black women, the struggle to reject your heritage to get ahead, becoming what you hate. She also finds an interesting angle in those times when you would rather not be woke and simply get some sleep because you’re alive in white America.
How does she relate to me? For those times when I had to play the game because it was the only way that works which is much of early networking days in Business.
How does she relate to you?
Reggie – Heralding his I’m Black and Proud brilliance from the movie, Reggie runs counter to for the doubtful Coco and Troy and the romantic triangle between him, Sam and Gabe. Much of his greatness comes from the pivotal fifth episode of the show that turns the show from primarily humor and righteousness to the harrowing realities of being Black in America. As Reggie finds out that all his intelligence, pride and computer coding skills are powerless in front of a cop with a gun.
His character development revolves on him falling off of his Black power, having Sam lift him back and then evolving to realize that nobody can share your identity as a Black person regardless of the whole race’s similar struggles. His pain is his own and he can do what he can, but he still has to make sure he is alive.
He encompasses, police brutality, Black identity, understanding Black intelligence under a white microscope and the need to comprehend multiple histories. He also encompasses the distinctness of being your own person regardless of race.
How he relates to me? He relates to me with my knowledge of BLACK FACTS and white histories. His relation to me is specific in the fear I feel around police on the few times I’ve been stopped by them around the country often by myself before the cell phone cameras were around. To be honest, this moment shook me to my core because you can have degrees, intelligence, and money but to a police officer you’re a nigger and that is one of the lowest and worst feelings you can ever feel when looking at a gun and feeling like a mere child.
How does he relate to you?
Gabe – Sam’s white lover from the film starts the show by exposing Sam’s apparent lack of wokeness because she dates a white man. However, they relate in love and on some parts of being white. It is learned early on that Gabe tries to be an ally to Sam and her friends by not admonishing or condescending their plight for Black awareness in a PWI. However, the reveal that he calls the cops that almost killed Reggie turns him into a character that you’re unsure if you can accept him or not.
His development is one that makes him realize that his love and heartbreak is not where he wants to be. At the same time, he also learns that he is hurting not helping the cause of the Black movement.
He encompasses the white ally, the white perspective of a Black and white interracial couple, racial profiling, cultural appropriation (but not) he also represents white liberalism in believing that Black people need help directly from white people so much as they need white people to help other white people realize their ignorance. He also makes an intriguing argument for when do you call the police? Yes the moment was heinous, but if you’re a Black person in danger what do you do sometimes?
How I relate to him? Growing up in white suburbia I saw this a lot how far can I go with in bringing a white person in until they can’t comprehend Blackness anymore. This was my own doing to myself and the parallels were fascinating – though I never call the police which is it’s own argument.
How do you relate to him? (yes you do relate to him believe it or not!)
Other Characters: What I enjoyed seeing in many of the other characters were the many sides to Blackness. Black as a hashtag, a student union that does nothing, how African-Americans are viewed by the African diaspora (this character has glorious lines that push the differences and thinking between the two and I hope he can be further explored), the other minority ally and of course Joelle. Joelle is a character who I feel could have gotten her own chapter but in a sense maybe worked well as aide through many of the characters navigations with themselves.
Coupled with a great soundtrack and costume design, this show has layers and layers of what exactly is modern Blackness. Furthermore, there is still so much more to discuss and as the characters look at you at the end of the each episode…how will you react? What do you relate to? What do you see? What do you feel? Why would they look to you?
I hope more people see this series for discussion, as it demands to be dissected and digested as food for thought in modern, foreign and bygone circles of knowledge. If there are flaws is that we didn’t get to explore the side characters like Joelle more.