The Netflix adaptation of Justin Simien’s acclaimed film, Dear White People, has come to an end with its fourth season.
Although the series was initially met with a frosty welcome, watching the past four seasons has allowed me to reflect on my own experiences in dealing with ignorance, identity and overcoming racial stereotyping.
As a young black girl living in a predominantly white area, I could write a novel on the endless ignorant comments I’ve had said to me.
Friends have questioned my racial identity after spotting songs on my Spotify playlists that don’t fit the rap or R&B genres.
I can recall when peers called me ‘posh’ after I read aloud a section of one of my GCSE English books – because apparently being well spoken wasn’t part of the black people rulebook.
Although I like to think I’m all big and bad in my head, the truth is that in reality, if confrontation is coming at me this way, I’m running that way.
And so I handled those situations by shrugging them off and thinking those responsible didn’t mean anything by it.
But it was through watching Dear White People’s Samantha White (Logan Browning) that I realised I could be handling these kinds of comments differently.
The show followed a handful of characters as they navigated life at Winchester University, with Samantha one of the leads. The best way to describe her would be a combination of Malcolm X and Lisa Bonet from The Cosby Show; she’s a young strong-willed woman advocating for black rights.
Taking inspiration from her, I know if someone were to comment on my tone of voice today, I wouldn’t hesitate to put them on the spot by asking them, ‘what do you mean exactly?’. I’m not a petty person, but watching them trip and stutter over their words would be quite amusing.
Although Samantha’s willingness to expose problematic people and institutions landed her in hot water on a daily basis throughout the series, it’s what made me fall in love with her unapologetic nature. She knew exactly how to challenge those who questioned her identity with careful thought and a hint of shade.
‘Dear White People…’, she said on her radio show. ‘Here’s a list of acceptable Halloween costumes. A pirate, a slutty nurse, any of our first 43 presidents.’
‘Top of the list of unacceptable costumes: me.’
It was an epic moment.
The blackface party scandal in episode one resulted in escalated tensions, and instead of retaliating with violence, Samantha took it upon herself to educate her peers on what is and what is not acceptable.
There have been many incidents in the show that I can relate to directly, like feeling out of place and dealing with microaggressions, but it has also effectively drawn attention to wider issues like colourism and self-identity.
Early in season one, we are introduced to Samantha’s former friend turned nemesis Coco Connors (Antoinette Robertson) and out of all the characters on the show, she was the one I related with the most.
Coco is a dark-skinned woman who wears a long, wavy weave and a full face beat of makeup, all the time, which completely contrasts Samantha’s natural look. However, despite all of that, she is aware of the importance of using her voice as a black woman and she demonstrates this when speaking after a white security guard pulls a gun on fellow student Reggie Green (Marque Richardson).
Coco is a product of the ghetto – according to Sam – however, Coco wanted to steer far away from that stereotype, which resulted in her being rejected by both white and black people.
It was Coco’s isolation in a school full of people that resonated with me the most, and that feeling of not being ‘black enough’.
Just like Coco, I am career-driven, well dressed and love wearing a full beat of makeup from time to time. However, I found myself changing my own appearance to fit in with a secondary school crowd full of white girls.
From year seven to year nine, I had my hair in braids to school and I liked it that way. It was simple and it saved me from combing it constantly.
Then I turned 15. I had a predominantly white friendship group, and it wasn’t long before some of them got a little too friendly with the boys who went to the school next door.
I remember standing with my group of girls and a group of boys came over to say hi; I was the one on the side, the one that wasn’t spoken to.
I felt out of place in the white crowd – and the black crowd thought I was too boujee and posh. The last thing a young person wants to feel is out of place.
University was the confidence boost I needed. Meeting people, especially young black women who had a similar secondary school experience to me, was what I craved.
Now I am a young woman who’s found joy in using her voice in different mediums, whether that’s through writing, the occasional podcast appearance, or being part of open and honest conversations about racial matters.
Part of that confidence has come from watching this show. It’s why I am adamant that Dear White People is underrated. I believe the wording of the title has been an excuse for some to dismiss it entirely.
When Netflix uploaded a teaser for the show in 2017 it didn’t take long for certain people – the kind of people who refuse to accept institutionalised racism still exists – had something to say about such a title.
The show was accused of being anti-white, and people even deactivated their Twitter accounts as a sign of protest.
Four seasons and 40 episodes later, the show has proved them wrong and we say goodbye to the students at Winchester University.
The sharp dialogue and witty humour makes it the perfect programme to inspire and influence our current and upcoming generation on compassion between races, instead of ignorance and aggression.
The daily hurdles the students faced served as a harsh reminder to the audience that for many, these situations are not just new headlines and protests, they are issues that many people face in a world that holds deep-rooted prejudice.
Seasons one and two saw the show at its best, in my opinion. It allowed me to understand the importance of being in control over your own narrative, which is something I am no longer afraid to do and will keep doing.
I’ve found my voice in my writing, and who knows where that’ll take me in the next five years or so. My voice matters.
Season 4 of Dear White People is available on Netflix