I’m currently on my third tour of duty binging Dear White People, both seasons, on Netflix. Each encore reveals something I missed in the nuanced portrayal of Black students dealing with the trauma of racism while in college. Kurt’s new style as Thor didn’t immediately jump out. It’s a good look but spreading the humanity around for all the characters is an even better one.
In particular, the black female leads were allowed to be cocoa butter, black girl magic, genuine free thinkers and messy in their own ways without being reduced to caricatures. Sam, Joelle, Coco, Brooke, Kelsey and even Rikki exist in the same space without blunting the perspective of the other; almost as if more than one of us can breathe the same air without oxygen being rationed because it’s just gonna run out. All of these ladies exhale.
Sam is passionate, in your face and compensating for her mixed heritage. Joelle is the “Kelly”, loyal to a fault and discerning. Coco is an opportunist, social climbing schemer whose heart beats for what’s right even though her means are different. Brooke is sharp witted, intelligence continually on display and a freak. Kelsey comes across as bougie but beyond that surface description, she’s just as engaged in intersectionality as a queer woman of color. Rikki is exploiting the sunken place but ultimately, it isn’t just for her own gain. There’s a method to her madness even if the audience doesn’t agree. In their own ways, all of these women take the bait as they’re emotionally taxed but never grinded into the angry woman stereotype. Even’s Sam worse moments are rooted in hurt but yet all are still there to give hugs to the wounded Black men in their worlds.
Sam, Joelle, Coco, Kelsey, Brooke and Rikki resist in their own way. She’s vulnerable and prone to being difficult. She walks in confidence and when those stumbles come, another shows the reciprocity of comfort. Even Rikki thought she was helping Sam with her advice while Jo and CoCo were there for her in grief. They’re shown as Black women navigating the world in skin that’s met with criticism and finding a way to not just survive but live to the fullest.
These ladies get the benefit of being fully fleshed out characters. It’s a dynamic that is missing from other sectors of entertainment, the most glaring example being daytime. Hilary and Lily’s rivalry on The Young and the Restless comes across as some white writer who watched Real Housewives of Atlanta for the first time. I’m surprised the actors aren’t directed to throw chairs and roll their necks a few times during a scene. The dialogue is forced and just plain doesn’t make sense at times. In the name of Mo’Nique, please make it make sense. Hilary and Lily are both accomplished woman of color but their screen time is reserved for fighting over Devon. The fact that Lily is pathologically obsessed with her brother’s sex life and Hilary being the town punching bag is just doubling down on the cartoonish aspect of it all. Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner were better matched.
Before I’m accused of respectability politics, I enjoy a good read between Black women. Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating letting the other have a few months ago was everything. We don’t all get along and our tongues cut deeper than any swords. Not all skin folk are kin folk. At the same time, we don’t spend all our time fighting each other. We are our greatest allies. Too much of the time, we all that we got.
It’s cliché at this point but we should be mindful of what we’re allowing to take root in our gardens. Dear White People is proof of the kind of good fruit that can bloom when done right. Not every Black woman is carrying sour grapes and ready to spit, especially at each other. Underneath the pixie dust of Black girl magic, we’re still human and all that it means. It’s nice to see that shown.