This post does not contain spoilers. But if you haven’t yet watched “Dear White People”, you may want to start today.
When I found out Season 2 of Dear White People would be dropping on May 4th, I knew a binge watch was bound to happen. By Sunday night I had already finished the entire second season and started watching season one all over again.
Usually, when I finish watching a show or film, I do what most modern millennials do, and I hop on the internet to crowdsource opinions and read reviews. The first stop I make is to Black Twitter to see what all of us folks had to say. Then, I’ll scoot over to Google and see what the “critics” and “experts” think. After getting my life on Black Twitter where most conversation fluttered between Kanye and Dear White People, I finally took to Google to see if the internet had similar sentiments, and opinions or could provide any new insight on the show.
After clicking on the first link and reading the first paragraph I stopped. It was clear that whoever wrote the review had no clear interest in reviewing the show. They had no vested interest in giving a quality analysis beyond the generic rhetoric most people already have said. So, I scrolled back up and clicked on the author. Much to my surprise and immediate disappointment, I realized the writer was (and I’m assuming still is) a White Guy who is a seasoned veteran of TV and Film review. So, I went back to Google and started my search again. I made it to the bottom of the page when I realized of the reviews that had been published at the time, all but one were written by white males.
I understand that many of these writers had to write a review. Perhaps it was Netflix that paid their site to publish one, perhaps it was some third-party affiliate. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter.
For those who have already finished season two (I promise this is not a spoiler), the irony in finding review after review written by a white male about a show centered around the lives of black women and men was not lost. One of the main themes of season two is how a white man can literally record the stories of black people and then manipulate and distribute their stories through his lens, completely whitewashing their experiences in the process.
Again, the irony was not lost.
Here’s my issue.
Although this read is specific to a tv show, this problem is not unique. This alludes to a bigger concern. This is what happens when not everyone has a seat at the table. This is what happens when not everyone is present in the room to make their voices heard. We saw this play out in 2017 when Pepsi thought it was totally okay to use the pain of minority groups who are on the front lines protesting and demanding equality, just to sell some soda. We saw this play out again earlier this year when H&M advertised a hoodie that read “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” worn by a black boy. No one thought that maybe, just maybe that was a poor aesthetic.
The outcry that came out after both incidents was loud and swift, but the question I had was the same: Was there no one in the room where decisions are made who could step up and say, this is a bad idea?
I ask the question again today. For all the media outlets who have been spewing out mediocre reviews of Dear White People, was there no one on your staff who is a person of color, or at a minimum, who has a vested interest in the Netflix series who could write the review instead? If I had to take a wild guess, I’d say no.
Now, I think white people wanting to talk about the show is fine. After all, the show is called, Dear WHITE People. But there’s a caveat. If you’re not discussing the show with people of color or allowing people of color to have a platform to speak out about stories that resonate with them…why are you writing a review in the first place?
I don’t have a problem discussing this show with white folks, in fact, I encourage it. But at its roots, this show is not for you. You can watch it. I won’t stop you. But I don’t care about your opinions. I don’t want to know your critiques. You are invited to the figurative cookout that is Dear White People. You can grab a plate and enjoy some ribs. But we do not want and did not ask for you to bring the bland potato salad that is your critique.
There are thousands of TV shows available across a myriad of platforms that can be reviewed. But this show is for us. Made by us. It is for those who identify as a Samantha, a Coco, a JoJo, a Reggie, a Troy, or a Lionel. For those of us who live their experiences in real life. I will concede that many white people if they actually took the time to watch the show, would find bits of themselves in each of these characters. I have always believed that we as humans are more alike than we are different, and media and art is one of the best ways to express that idea. But at the end of the day, this show is meant for us and if you’re not going to include us in the conversations you create online, then there’s nothing to talk about.
I could end this on a hopeful note, but I won’t. This is not the first time I’ve had this gripe. I find that Donald Glovers show Atlanta, has been resigned to the same fate. Review after review written by a White Guy. But, unlike Dear White People, some of the reviews are quite thoughtful. After all, Atlanta did win a Golden Globe and an Emmy. It’s a show for Black People but watched and appreciated by everyone.
Dear White People is not that show. It was marred by controversy even before it hit our screens. The movie of the same name, also faced similar backlash when it was first released. When we see reviews of such a polarizing show written by white guys who scoffed at first hearing about it, it’s a slap in the face. More importantly, it’s why the show was made in the first place.
Dear White People, don’t be Culture Vultures.