Dear White People: 22 Situations Characters in “Dear White People” Experienced That I Won’t Since I’m White
22 Situations That Characters in "Dear White People" Experienced That I Won't Since I'm White
Violence against Black people has been used to oppress Black people since the time of slavery in the U.S. Even with the violence becoming more visible recently, violence in its various forms has been a rampant issue throughout the past couple centuries.
We white people have a responsibility to educate ourselves and be allies to the best of our ability. To start, I suggest watching “Dear White People,” a powerful and humorous show on Netflix. After watching the first volume in one day, here are 22 experiences the show’s Black characters had that I witnessed.
- Black people are forced into or Photoshopped onto group pictures at colleges to make it seem like the college is more diverse in admissions brochures. This happens even at schools that pride themselves on “diversity.”
- Black people are called upon to lead class discussions on slavery and other racial topics. In addition, by nearly always being one of few Black people in class, they are often put on the spot and singled out by professors and teachers – further contributing to a sense of “otherness” and the expectation that one Black person speaks for all Black people.
- Black culture is often appropriated into a Halloween costume. White people literally still dress up in Blackface and wear dreadlocks, cornrows or afros.
- Black people are blamed for creating divisions or conflict through their discussions of racism when they’re only drawing attention to the oppression they experience in their everyday lives.
- Black people are criminalized and murdered by society and police because of systemic racism. They’re more likely to go to jail than white people for the same crimes, and society assumes they’re violent.
- When white people tell racist jokes, they perpetuate harmful and negative stereotypes about Black people, ultimately fueling a system of mass incarceration and violence against Black people. In contrast, because society favors white skin and white privilege, jokes at the expense of white people do not function to oppress a group of people in the way that racist jokes do to Black folks.
- Repeated external portrayals of black people can have an internalizing effect on the way they see themselves. Not only are they portrayed as a monolithic group, but they’re also seen as being lazy, criminal and many other negative qualities. Black people then begin to see themselves in these false ways and often feel like they can’t achieve great things, or are literally held back by these stereotypes that society prescribes to them.
- Black people’s trauma and oppression is often minimized and forgotten. All lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter, and ignoring that only continues to minimize that pain.
9. Black dolls are often seen as the “ugly” ones, which damages Black children’s body image and self-esteem at a young age. Further, classrooms often don’t have toys and books that represent and encourage Black students as much as white students. Race is socially constructed and taught essentially since birth. According to a 2017 study, children as young as 4 years old showed bias toward white people.
10. Black women are described as “pretty for a Black girl” or “pretty for a dark-skinned girl” instead of just “pretty.” The phrase “for a Black person” in any variation preceded by a positive quality is a problematic microaggression.
11. Aspects of Black culture are often commodified. Making racist remarks while also commodifying Black people’s bodies and talents is problematic because it frames Black people’s existence as meant solely to please white people.
12. Black people are tokenized by people attempting to prove that they’re “cultured” or not racist by being their friend or partner.
13. Black people relive their trauma every time another Black person’s murder comes on TV, social media or the news. They don’t have the time to grieve because their trauma is instantly politicized. Their pain becomes a public platform, a movement, often without their consent.
14. Black people are taught at a young age about race, racism and what that means for them and their safety, while white people can grow up in blissful ignorance of police violence and systems of white supremacy.
15. Black people may feel like they have to police themselves or change who they are in order to “fit in” with others, particularly in historically white spaces, like predominantly white universities. They often feel the need to “code-switch,” in which a prevalent example is the difference between the way Black people talk to their non-Black coworkers and their Black friends. They constantly adjust their tone and terminology.
16. Society portrays Black people as voiceless and in need of a “white savior.” The responsibility of white people is not to give Black people a voice, but to amplify Black voices, and to do so without “patting themselves on the back” afterwards.
17. Black people hear white people say “the N word.” This word has historically been used in the U.S. as a dehumanizing word to subjugate Black people into a subhuman category. And no, saying “the N word” in a song is not okay for white people to do either.
18. Black people are demanded to perform emotional labor for white people, even those who are well-intentioned and trying to learn. Black people don’t owe white people a lesson on racism.
19. Black people are criticized for “self-segregating,” when white people often sit within themselves too. Sitting with white people may also involve any of these 22 experiences in which sitting with people who just get it is important.
20. Black people are often asked “what are you?” or “where are you really from?” in regards to their race and are told that they “all look the same.” Their unique qualities and features are ignored, whereas I can just say, “Oh, North Carolina!”
21. Black people endure intersectional and intergenerational trauma. For example, their lives have added barriers and marginalities when they are also women, disabled or in the LGBTQIA+ community, just to name a couple other marginalized identities.
22. Black people witness white people’s performative activism.
I encourage you to think about your interactions with Black people and reflect on if you have been the cause of any of these 22 experiences, which are only a few in the grand scheme of things. White people, including me, don’t have these experiences but need to be educated on them. That’s why this show is so important – it outlines all of these experiences in a visual, consumable format that doesn’t require extra emotional labor from Black people having to explain them all.
These experiences are highly connected, and they all play a part in systemic racism and oppression. They are separated in this article simply to make for easier reading.