My Favorite Part of Dear White People Has Nothing to Do with White People

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There are certain rules in life that I try to live by: Be good to people. Never stop trying to be your best Beyoncé. And, most of all: Don’t give a damn about what white people think of you.

Of course, some might say that’s a kind of privileged fantasy. If you are part of a racial minority in the U.S.—most of all, if you’re a Black person—much of your survival and well being is contingent on whiteness and how it treats you. Much of your overall peace of mind has to do with whiteness, and how it defines you in relation only to itself. It’s unavoidable.

 As a child growing up in Houston, I didn’t know that institutional racism and socioeconomic barriers had more or less kept white people away from me. The one inkling I did have came from my working-class mother: even though she didn’t have the means to support me in other ways, she instilled in me a sense of pride—in not just myself, but in those who look like me. Moreover, she made it very clear that when I did come across white people, some would have certain biases against me, and that I should not let them break me.
Later on, I also attended a college that wasn’t predominantly white. Still, as a Black person living in this country, I’m well aware of what society makes of us. That means I take people as individuals, but never forget that, collectively, white people continue to think the absolute worst of me and mine—or, at the very least, harbor racial biases they might not even be aware of. My expectations are set accordingly.

Knowing all of this, I aim to never be consciously burdened by whiteness more than I have to; it’s pervasive enough as it is. And so, while I enjoyed the 2014 film Dear White People, I wasn’t personally invested in its message. Not to diminish the significance of its narrative—white people perpetuating and inadequately responding to racism is a reality that should be talked about and pushed against. But in many ways, Justin Simien’s film was arguably not so much about identity, but more about the preconceived notions other people have about a minority in a majority space.

 At the end of April, Netflix released Dear White People as a series. Many of the film’s elements have been brought over, but television offers a deeper look at the characters. In this expanded version, I found something I could much more directly relate to: Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton) and his experience of coming to terms with being a gay Black man. Not only did I relate, but I appreciated that story being told—men like us are so rarely seen on television, much less heard from.
Each of the ten episodes of DWP‘s first season is told from the perspective of a different character, all students at a fictitious Ivy League school called Winchester University. In Lionel’s episode, “Chapter II,” we bear witness to his inner struggle: an attraction to his outrageously attractive, no-body-fat-having roommate, Troy (Brandon P. Bell, who reprises his role from the film).

Read the rest at Elle.

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