Friday, October 31, 2014

Let's Discuss Dear White People

Yes, I'm disrupting the usual Friday tradition of recipes and links, but I promise to be back in regular programing next Friday.  This was worth the disruption for me.

Last week, I talked briefly about seeing Dear White People.  Have any of you seen it yet?  There were a lot of different questions and ideas brought up that I want to talk through.  After the movie was over, Caleb and I had an engaging conversation about stereotypes, the black experience in America, and how people become easily offended.  One of the tricky things is... Caleb and I are both white.  Our perspective is somewhat limited, and that's why I want to talk about this with others.

There were plenty of things talked about in the movie that seemed ridiculous and even hilarious.  In fact, promo videos like this are supposed to be funny.  (See more here.)  Some of the other points, though, make me wonder.  So, here are some of my thoughts.  Some might be nit picky or even off the mark, but I'd still love to hear your thoughts on them.

Let's discuss.

In the trailer, you can hear Sam say, "The minimum requirement of black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised to two."  She also says "Black people can't be racist."  This, friends, is part of the satire of the movie; it just isn't true.  The thing that makes my blood boil when I read the high school social activists on Tumblr is how they think they can redefine ideas like racism and cultural appropriation.  Just because something offends you doesn't mean you get to tack it onto the list of things people can't do.  To completely break it down, needing black friends to not seem racist places the power in the eyes of the beholder, and it enforces the idea of individual definitions.  On the contrary, people can be friends with whomever they like, and they shouldn't have to care about what others think of them.  Besides, you wouldn't want me to come up to a black person and say, "I need another black friend.  Are you interested?"  That leads to using people as tokens, which is another thing Sam has issue with.  Then, as far as, "well why can't you just get to know black people like you would any other person?"  See, that's the way it should be.  Building relationships should happen organically.  Whoever is in your circle is a potential friend.  Requiring people to go far out of their circle to find a black BFF is pretentious and unfair.

Also, black people can be racist, don't be ignorant.

There's a section of the movie where Sam describes the three categories black people can fall into.  Yes, there only three.  (Now who's putting people in a box?)  There's the "Ooftah" who manipulates his "blackness" to appeal to the crowd he's with.  He might make self deprecating jokes about his culture or race to fit in, or he might play up his culture to seem cool.  There's the "Nose-job" who tries to escape from the characteristics of her culture and race for one reason or another.  Then the "One Hundred" is 100% black just because.

I think the movie showed a little bit of how ridiculous it is to drop people into only three groups.  A telling moment came when Sam said, "I'm tired of being everyone's angry black girl."  Even she herself was finding her label exhausting.  What I'd really like to know is if black people in America do hold these categories to be true and absolute.  Are these stereotypes pervasive?  Do they really matter?  And when you find someone in one of the first two groups, does it color your perspective of everything else you learn of them?

Another thing I really want outsider perspective on is the idea that the black American has to choose a side.  The idea that they can either be solid black and remain in some underprivileged community or conduct themselves in a way that allows them into the American Dream.  One of the black fathers in the movie said to his son, "You have no idea what they see when they see you."  One of the black girls changed her name to "pass the resume test."  Pardon the expression, but is it really this black and white?  How inescapable is the demand for a choice?  Does it vary from community to community and from city to city?

I'm going to go ahead and stop now, but please let's have this conversation.  Leave comments below email me, whatever you like.  I' finding this all very interesting, and I want to know what my fellow Americans and Atlantans, black and white and all of the above,  work with and deal with.

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Thank you for sharing your thoughts! If there is something you want me to respond to specifically, feel free to send me an email; I'd love to chat.