Remember that one time when that frat threw that horribly offensive gang party and later apologized after the internet went crazy and called them racist? Or what about that other time when two other fraternities and sororities threw a totally racist party where they dressed up in baggy pants and used watermelon cups because “LOL of course that’s how black people dress, plus they love watermelon”?
Imagine if they made a movie about it from the perspective of the black students on those campuses, and you have the basis for Dear White People, which opened today in theaters nationwide. From the moment I saw the satirical banned Winchester University recruitment video, I knew I needed to go see the movie. And I knew I had to take my white coworkers with me. Because I wanted to take them to see a “black” movie. Because I wanted them to get an inside look, even a small one, into what it’s like to be a black face in a sea of white.
Follow me for just a minute, and I’ll explain why. I grew up in a predominantly white area. And now, I’m one of the few black faces I see in my neighborhood/doctor’s office/kids’ schools. And I have very rarely experienced an instance of overt racism. But what I have experienced is everyday race-related incidents sometimes called racial microaggressions. Simply put, those are racially charged incidents or slights that are seen as offensive to the minority but are, in many cases, seen as totally benign to the offender. Still confused? Here are a few that I’ve experienced just this year: being mistaken for “the help” when out shopping; getting caught up in conversations about how racism doesn’t exist and would “go away if black people stopped talking about it”; being greeted with an exuberant finger-snap and “hey, girlfriend” instead of the same “good morning” as your white coworkers.
Still with me? Great. While the movie does have a few missteps — our group of eight agreed that the movie tried to do too much — it’s definitely an inside look into these so-called microaggressions. Here’s a few other themes we picked up from the movie on which you should probably take note.
- Stop asking black people if you can touch their hair. I get it, my afro does look like a fluffy cloud. And yes, I do change up my style from time to time. But I have co-workers whose hair I find to be so thick and long that I get mesmerized by it and yet, I have never felt compelled to touch it. Nor have I ever thought to ask her if it’s her “real hair.” Leave it alone.
- Stop trying to put everyone into a box. Our entire team loved the Lionel character. He spent the entire movie struggling to find his identity — to find a group to which he could belong. In one scene, he describes how he’s not black enough because he listens to Mumford and Sons. We are not one monolithic group — and I don’t mean black people; I mean all people.
- How the media manipulates images of black people. One of the film’s numerous underlying themes (if you’ve read any of the reviews, you’ll know that there are many of them — probably too many) is the prospect of a reality show being shot on the campus of the fictitious university. As one of our editors said: “They don’t want interesting, they want big asses, twerking and language like ‘ratchet’ and ‘basic bitch’ that they can use on Instagram.”
- The N-word is an offensive term that we should stop using. This goes for everybody. Nearly everyone remarked on how many times the N-word was used in the movie. If you’re interested: 17 times. Eight more than it was used in the Jay Z and Justin Timberlake collab “Holy Grail,” and the same number of times it was used in Drake’s “Started from the Bottom.” At the same time, please don’t engage in theorizing why white people should be able to use it if black people can. Why would you want to?
- Just because I’m black doesn’t mean I’m an expert in all things black. Our fave character Lionel got this a lot. Thinking of asking my opinion on growing up in the inner city? Don’t. I have no idea; I grew up in the suburbs. Wondering if the latest stupid comments made by a high-profile athlete or executive are racist? Sure, ask my opinion. But I don’t speak for all black people, so don’t tell your other black friends that I said it was OK.