Why is that, the more things change, the more they stay the same?
Like race, the target of the new Netflix show, “Dear White People.”
It’s the mantra of the lead character, the precociously beautiful and biracial college student Samantha White (how clever).
Her mission is to make her white classmates confront race.
The provocative title suggests “Dear White People” is a polemic that lectures white people about their racism.
It’s actually a tale of blacks and whites who can’t “just get along” at Winchester University, an elite Ivy League campus.
The TV series is based on Justin Simien’s 2014 independent film of the same name.
The hilarious satire is chock full of aged stereotypes and trite clichés, like so much of our views on race.
Samantha dons a pseudo militant camouflage jacket, totes a megaphone and hosts a campus radio show, demanding that “Dear White People” get over race.
Yet, African Americans are front and center in the show, and they aren’t getting over it either.
Most revealing and ironic are the black story lines that expose our homophobia, light-skin envy, nappy hair hate, and class wars.
I have caught four episodes. They had more sex (so much sex), drugs (so many drugs) and rock and roll (updated to hip hop) than I ever saw in college.
Try this story line: The male star, a muscle bound, oversexed black buck, jumps from bed to bed, gets elected class president on the majority white campus, while being browbeaten by a domineering dad who also happens to be the dean of students.
Yet so much remains the same.
The black students take refuge at their Armstrong Parker House, airing grievances and plotting for the struggle.
Back in my day, Northwestern University students had the Black House, a prize won after a 1968 sit-in orchestrated by black students.
Don’t come to the Black House unless you are totally black, I was admonished. That means no hanging out with white friends, no listening to hard rock. Dashikis and afros were de rigueur.
Many black students spent vast amounts of time kvetching and plotting to get respect from white folks. Meanwhile, they judged each other’s looks, social pedigrees, who’s black enough, and who’s not.
In a scene in the opening of the series, Samantha and her frenemy, Coco, bicker in front of a full house at Armstrong Parker.
Coco snipes, “The mess on top of your head, you like to pass off as natural?”
Samantha retorts, “You wanna go there, with half of India’s GDP on top of your head?”
“Dear White People” is not all ancient history. The show is aimed at Millennials, after all. A white student shows off his knowledge of the Underground Railroad, boasting he learned it from Wikipedia. Samantha’s black friends learn she is “sleeping white” via Facebook.
The series reminds us that America may be post-Obama, but it’s far from post-racial.
That’s the beauty of it. And that’s why Simien, the show’s creator, said he is forever defending and explaining the title. The Netflix show is about “having a conversation,” he recently told TVGuide.com.
Simien hopes his characters will succeed in “making us understand one another a little better.”
Dear White People, give it a look. You will laugh, and learn a little more about us.
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