Dear White People Tackles the Alt-Right and the Multilayered Realities of Blackness in Its Sophomore Season
One of the best things about living in this new era of black entertainment is that emergence of options. Instead of having one or two black shows, there are several to choose from. No longer does any singular show have to be the “make-it-of-break it” of quality black entertainment. Every show can fit a different niche and offer its own perspective.
Dear White People occupies an interesting place in its perspective because while it is certainly black and references a lot of black queer culture, it deals with being perceived as either too black and not black enough—much like its characters.
I’ve had my issues with the first season, but overall, I found that it portrayed a lot of the multifaceted realities of the black experience, especially when it came to Antoinette Robertson’s Coco. So as I got ready for the second season—or volume as the writers are calling it—I was looking to see what it was going to be doing better, or worse, in its sophomore year.
Dear White People Volume 2 makes it clearer than ever that Winchester University is more than just a school, it is a stand-in for America and racial realities we are dealing with today—something that has been confirmed by the show’s creator, Justin Simien.
Last season ended with our protagonist Sam’s protest falling apart and Troy breaking a glass window and being arrested. The aftermath of this incident and all the racial tensions that have been building over that time emerge in the form of “AltIvyW” and “Dear Right People,” a politically right-wing radio show that seems stereotypical until you remember that you’ve basically heard all of this rhetoric in real life.
One of the overarching themes of DWP Vol. 2 is growth and dealing with various forms of trauma. Reggie, who has PTSD from having a gun pulled on him at a school party a few weeks ago, has been going to therapy in order to deal with it. “Talented Tenth” Troy falls into full delinquency as a way of grappling with the way he disappointed his father and “his race” by breaking that window in a public sphere. Both men use sex and drugs as a way of coping when they are let down by the institutions that are supposed to make them feel safe.
Characters like Joelle and Coco (also known as the MVPs of the show) both have to make decisions about their value as darker skinned black women or “Kellys” as they call themselves. This includes asking themselves about the love that they deserve from the men in their lives and what sacrifices they willing to make to achieve their long-term goals. Rarely are black women really allowed to be emotionally vulnerable and DWP not only allows that for their female leads, but their men as well.
Sam and Lionel’s stories intersect the most because they are the true main characters, even within this ensemble. Sam has been getting a flood of hate via Twitter because of the protest, that combined with her break-up with Gabe causes her to lash out, keep silent and suffer academically.
When she finally decided to engage, she chooses to lash out at the troll, “AltIvyW,” a troll whose hate speech emboldens racist activist on campus.
The alt-right storyline, especially in the college setting, was apt. Conservative students in this country have made it known that they feel like their opinions are not welcome and even some “liberals” have complained that the youth of today are too sensitive, too emotional. Yet I think Dear White People makes it clear that the issue is not sensitivity, but that in this new Internet age, “Logic, reason, discourse—it’s out the window.”
Even the antagonists of last season, the white writers of the satire magazine Pastiche, cringe at the hate spewed by “AltIvyW.” Which includes calling Sam a “half-breed” that tears her down bit by bit as she tries to be strong despite the immense damage these comments do to her spirit.
It’s one thing to argue back and forth about the validity of micro-aggressions, safe spaces, and other hot-button issues; it is another when it turns into full-on hate-speech. Especially because it is unclear who is being honest and who is trolling, which is laid down perfectly by Tessa Thompson’s character Rikki Carter, a black Fox commentator (Thompson also played Sam in the original movie version of Dear White People).
The greatest thing about DWP—and its greatest flaw—is how broadly it encompasses so many realities. I can’t think of another show that had two black women really sit down and have a conversation about abortion. Nor one that confronted the racism of gay culture so perfectly, like when Lionel is told by another black gay man that “he isn’t into other black guys” or the casual use of terms like “rice queen.” It also gave me a femme lesbian dark-skinned Trini girl! I will be forever grateful. The spectrum of black identities is vast and so is the spectrum of whiteness.
You have Gabe, who is very much a “good liberal white guy,” but often just reads as a character who exists to let people know that “hey we don’t mean all white people.” Then you have the guys at Pastiche who are by no means politically correct but know when a joke has gone too far. Then finally you have Sam’s father, William, who we are properly introduced to this season and is shown to be the reason that Sam is such an intelligent person, but also a source of some angst to her because of her biracial identity.
The show also doesn’t frame the Alt-right as a purely white, straight entity, instead acknowledging that there are a number of people of color who do back up their speech and are propped up because they are non-white.
Still, the Dear White People puts so much on its plate that you find yourself longing for other characters half of the time. While Logan Browning is amazing as Sam, the character, as well as Gabe, are among my least favorites and I wish we could spend more time with literally anyone else. The secret societies plot is fun and adds to the surreal elements of the show, but not enough is done with it to make me care.
I can’t think of any show that does better with the topics that DWP does right. It excels at fully immersing itself within queer black identity, but also can be so surface level that it is accessible to everyone. DWP is absolutely a black show, but in that sense, it is a show about America and the black American experience in 2018, which is something everyone should be aware of. But it also strives to build a bridge, which in our current climate is a struggle within itself.
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