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Dear White People, Black People—And All People

When Netflix’s Dear White People made its debut in April, 2017, the show immediately impressed viewers with the complex emotional multitudes it contained—showing its characters to be what author Cheryl Strayed once described as “flawed, and capable of redemption.” The plot focuses closely on the inner lives of black students at Winchester University, a fictional, predominately white Ivy League school that originally was brought to life in a 2014 film of the same name. Creator Justin Simien, who also wrote and directed the film, demonstrates that there is always more to people than what meets the eye.

Coleandrea “Coco” Conners is a young woman who adds weave to her hair and shortens her name in order to become accepted into a Black sorority. Is this an affirmation of black pride or the upholding of European beauty standards? Or both—or neither? When confronted by another student about showing up to a party where white attendees wore blackface, Coco says, “This might come as a shock to you, but these people don’t give a fuck about no Harriet motherfucking Tubman. They pay millions of dollars on their lips, their tans, their asses, Jay-Z tickets, because they want to be like us. And they got to be for a night. I’m not about to go out in the streets and protest a fucking Halloween party.”

Reggie Greene is a fierce activist for his people, and is constantly challenging them to fight for their rights in the face of injustice. But does that mean every white person he encounters who disagrees with him on race issues is a racist? What if a white friend uses the N-word—but does so in reference to a popular rap song in which the word figures prominently?

The main character is Samantha White, who is shown to be the most politically passionate character—but also, it turns out, the most contradictory. When she’s not in class, Samantha hosts a radio show called, yes, Dear White People, a platform she uses to endlessly call out the transgressions of white people. She courageously derides the white-run campus satire mag (Pastiche) for throwing an offensive party and exhibiting insensitivity to the black community. She attacks police brutality, telling listeners that “kids are getting shot by cops for being black,” and that “voter-rights are still being suppressed.” And yet Samantha White, black-power advocate extraordinaire, has a white boyfriend. It’s the sort of reveal that shows up the complexity of what it means to live in the real world as an actual human being, with all our glorious and ironic contradictions—not as the stereotypical black person of the public imagination.

But this send-up of simplistic stereotypes arguably could be applied to Dear White People itself. For all its self-examination (and self-satirization) of African-American campus subculture, the show never truly extends the same attitude of awareness to its white characters. For the most part, the white people in the show are just stale cookie-cutter political abstractions who fulfill the expectations of their peers of color. In other words, they’re just caricatures—which has made the show’s first two seasons (a third is on its way) frustrating to watch.

Thane Lockwood, a popular white student-athlete on campus is a doofus drunk who kills himself after getting drunk at a party. No explanation, no deep insight into his character, his fears, his shortcomings, his strengths. Thane is simply a placeholder for how we imagine white people to be. Even the name is ridiculous—the white equivalent of calling a black character “Shaneequa Jackson-Motombo.” Indeed, the closest we come to a white person with depth is Samantha’s boyfriend, who calls her out as a fraud who is “more Banksy than Barack” (an admittedly good line) but who nevertheless has been “co-opted as some sort of revolutionary leader or something.”

All this makes the title of the show—Dear White People—something of a lie, since it suggests good-faith outreach to white people who, according to the show’s implicit message, don’t seem capable of much depth or self-reflection. One cannot get a political abstraction to change. Stereotypes do not change. Objects do not change.

In this way, the show acts as something of a stand-in for the larger incompatibility between high-end pop culture with intersectionality—the faddish critical framework now commonly used by progressives to describe how racism, sexism, homophobia etc. act upon people in interconnected ways. Intersectionalists tend to make bold, doctrinaire claims about society, which, when drawn to their logical conclusions, result in essentialism: the rote ascribing of human behaviors, thoughts and reflexes to people according to their demographic categories.

For example, anyone can feel a sense of “entitlement”—which, in intersectional jargon, often acts as a fancy word for jealousy. If I’m feeling envious of my neighbor’s new iPod X, I might exhibit a sense of “entitlement.” Yet a reading of intersectionalist texts would suggest that entitlement is the exclusive reserve of old white men, or white women, or whites more generally (in which case, it often is lumped in with the equally vague concept of “white fragility”). This level of analysis is as useful as claiming there’s such a thing as “blonde-haired-women entitlement” or “taller-than-6-feet-tall-men entitlement.” It’s a rhetorical game that allows anyone to take a person they don’t like, pick out something related to their physical appearance, and then confidently assert that it correlates with some negative behavior that, in fact, every human being has felt or experienced at one time or another since the dawn of our species.

This reductionist aspect of intersectionality doesn’t have a label yet. “Caricaturism” might come close. But it also might be seen as a subset of demagoguery: presenting someone, or even an entire community, as purely malevolent. The truth is, of course, that we are all imperfect—which is why, as a society, we usually sneer whenever human nature is presented by pop culture in a superficial way.

The best examples of pop culture —whether in the form of books, film, TV or music—typically are lauded when they provide depth. If the show Dear White People had been written about stale, one-dimensional, superficial Black characters, cultural critics would have (rightly) called it out for this flaw. The show wouldn’t have gone into a second season, let alone a third, and Netflix would have been called out for its insensitivity.

We gravitate toward art that has layers because that art tends to teach us things about ourselves. When Pulitzer Prize winning artist Kendrick Lamar says, “I got power, poison, pain, and joy, inside my DNA,” he is rapping about himself. But he also is rapping about every single one of us. We all have these contradictory, imperfect emotions, vulnerabilities, and capacities pulsating through our veins—black and white, rich and poor, young and old—for good and for evil. Recognizing this depth within oneself enables us to acknowledge depth within each other, paving the way for empathy, which is the seed of true human connection.

These truths lie outside the simplistic rhetoric we hear in the political arena—which allows no room for shades of gray. So we must find it in art, which finds its inspiration in human flaws and nuance. The true artist eschews caricature, at pain of announcing herself as a mere hack (or even bigot). We rightly acclaim the artist who probes the paradoxes of life, who goes beneath the surface, who works tirelessly to reveal hidden truths.

One catches glimpses of this artistic quality even in those pop-cultural productions that may not qualify as true art, but borrow enough from the artist’s soul to inspire the viewer, listener or reader. We cheer Disney’s Aladdin in part because we believe the words in the opening scene uttered by the street merchant: Do not be fooled by its commonplace appearance. Like so many things, it is not what is outside but what it is inside that counts.” Likewise did the 1996 film version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame instruct, “Here is a riddle to guess if you can sing the bells of Notre Dame. What makes a monster and what makes a man?” Similar lessons may be found embedded in Shrek, Frozen and a hundred other popular stories.

The point is to remind the viewer that it is impossible to answer moral questions about a person simply by judging someone’s physical appearance—a lesson that has as much aptness for schoolchildren who tease a kid because he’s fat, to Ivy League gender-studies postgrads who make breezy statements about “entitled white men.” You cannot tell the sum of a man’s experiences by how he looks. You cannot tell a person’s worth based on the colour of their skin any more than you can tell if Quasimodo is bad, good, generous, entitled, poor or rich, based on the shape of his spine.

This is a heavy sort of knowledge—because navigating the world without seeing each other as caricature is hard. It is easier—indeed, instinctive—to dismiss, scoff and condescend based on tribal identity. And it is especially easy to do this when we encounter someone who is acting badly toward us. It is easy to assume that everyone who looks like this person is that person, and are locked into that state, with no capacity for change. But of course even children are taught that this is wrong: One of the main lessons from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, captured in a popular song from the film, was the that you can “find you can change.”

Media Mogul Jay Z touched upon this in a 2017 interview with New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet. He spoke about how after going through therapy, he realized that some of the racist people he encountered were likely being racist because of something that had nothing to do with him per se: “You know, you realize that if someone’s racist toward you, it ain’t about you. It’s about their upbringing and what happened to them, and how that led them to this point. You know, most bullies bully. It just happen. Oh, you got bullied as a kid so you trying to bully me. I understand…And once I understand that, instead of reacting to that with anger, I can provide a softer landing.”

Award-winning filmmaker Deeyah Khan, who’s spent time speaking with members of American white-nationalist groups, discovered a similar truth. In a 2018 interview with comedian Russell Brand, she spoke at length about how her realization that “prejudices cannot survive in an environment of human contact,” and that “extremism is neither exotic nor monstrous…that in fact most of those who join extremist groups are operating out of basic human needs—like a feeling of significance, purpose, and meaning—that are not being met by family or by society.” If this is true for members of the most extremist communities in our society, how much more must it be true for the rest of us?

Pop culture has something to teach us about ourselves, something we cannot get in a post-structuralist textbook about intersectionality. If we want to empower our communities, uplift each other as we navigate hardships in life, and greet each other in a spirit of generosity—the same way we’d want to be greeted even in our worst moments—we must lead with love and empathy. We must remember that as human beings we are layered, multifaceted, complex and contradictory. And we must remember that we are all equally capable of both good and evil. That would be a fitting message for a television show to send not only to white people, but to all people.

 

Writer Chloé Valdary is the founder of Theory of Enchantment, a company that uses pop culture and mass media to build connection within and between previously polarized communities. You can follow her on Twitter @cvaldary

76 Comments

  1. Marshall Mason says

    There’s a genre of religious movies specifically targeting Christian viewers, films like God’s Not Dead and War Room. My impression from the Dear White People trailer is that it is of a similar religious genre, that religion being Intersectionality.

    There’s a confessional quality to the religious impulse. Adherents like to attend sermons that remind them that they’re sinners. They feel ashamed, but they also feel uplifted by their own unique piety by comparison to all the heathens who stayed home on Sunday morning.

    Dear White People is appropriately titled. It is not for black people. It is a gift to pious whites who want to be sermonized about their white privilege (the intersectionalist version of sin).

    Joe Rogan recently made fun of whites who are bothered by Black Panther because it’s all black people. I have no problem with black shows and movies. My problem with Black Panther is that it is reviewed and marketed primarily as a racial sermon, not as a quality movie. Make a really good movie and I’ll watch it. I don’t care about skin color as long as the movie doesn’t either.

    Black shows and movies are nothing new. My favorite was In Living Color from the 90’s. It was primarily black and overtly political, but it was first and foremost a damn good comedy show. I was a teenager when I watched it and learned a lot about black culture from it, but that’s not why I watched it. I watched it because it was funny as hell.

    I hate how the intersectional religion is increasingly hijacking popular culture. Can’t I just relax and enjoy a fun show without being preached to? I watch TV and movies to escape from politics, not to immerse myself in it even more.

    • codadmin says

      Calling intersectionality a religion overcomplicates it. Intersectionality is black supremacy. Blacks, conveniently for them, sit at the top of the intersectional hierarchy, unchallenged and beyond reproach.

      A homeless-lesbian-mute-disabled-trans-muslim who, worst of all, happens to be white, is below a hetro-black-multi-millionaire on the hierarchy, and therefore must defer.

      Even brown people must defer to blacks if there’s a conflict of interests on the ‘intersectional’ hierarchy.

      • ANTONIO BENEDETTO says

        Can you tell me about an essay or a book that explains exactly the concept of intersectionality? I read from Italy and the concept is still not perfectly clear to me.

        • Sydney says

          @ANTONIO BENEDETTO

          I’ll take a stab at a reply:

          It’s not perfectly clear to ANYONE. It’s a zero-sum, race-to-the-bottom game of shifting victim-identity. Whoever has the LEAST ‘power’ according to the rules of the game (which changes according to who and what the players are), WINS the game. Intersectionality is the parlour game of the dim-witted SJW.

          Telling someone to read a BOOK about intersectionality should be a crime, such as maybe a second-degree assault. Can you imagine the writer and the writing? It would tough to recover from that.

          To pick up from Valdary’s essay here, intersectionalism depends entirely on caricature, and it collapses under the weight of genuine, three-dimensional human relationship and communication.

        • stevengregg says

          Find an English dictionary and look under “manure.” That should explain.

          Intersectionality means that the more marginalized groups you belong to, the more discriminated against you are. If you are black you are less discriminated against than if you were gay black, which is less discriminated against than gay black Muslim, which is less discriminated against than gay black Muslim socialist, and so on and so on.

          • ANTONIO BENEDETTO says

            The fact is that to explain to someone why intersectionalism is dung, I have to be able to explain what is meant by intersectionalism and, despite all the readings I have done, I really can not do it in simple terms. Jordan Petersen, for example, has clearly clarified the definition and danger of postmodernism, but I do not think he has ever spoken extensively about intersectionality. Many people give the basis for this “manure”, but I continue to find it difficult to frame the concept in simple terms.

          • Sydney says

            @stevengregg Though how on earth Muslims get to play the game of Oppression Olympics is beyond me. How does being a part of an identity group whose global population is 2.14 billion make you an oppressed minority? They’ve played the victim card better than anyone, ever. There should be an award for that given out by the UN. Perhaps the UNHRC Joseph Goebbels Annual Propaganda Award.

        • James A says

          Hi. Antonio Benedetto

          This is a reply to your comment that you can’t frame Intersectionality in a few words.

          In order to understand Intersectionality, it pays to remember the context in which Crenshaw used the word. She used the word as a way to criticize American feminist activists and American Black Civil Rights activists. She was describing a set of difficulties that many Black women experience that neither movement seemed to care about at the time she was writing (1989-90).

          On one hand, feminists up until that time seemed not to have noticed that their efforts to get Federal and State governments to pass laws to allow women to vote, and to allow for financial and labour reforms( such as requiring employers to pay women the same wage as men doing the same job) had not addressed all the problems that Black women face, but White women don’t. For example, “equal pay for equal work” doesn’t mean much for a Black woman if she can’t get a job in the first place (because everyone who is hiring is racist and won’t hire her because she is Black). For such a female person, who lives at the “intersection” of misogyny and racism, American feminism was insufficient as a social movement.

          On the other hand, Black Civil Rights activists were either not addressing or trivialising the effects on Black women when they experience misogynist attitudes/practices coming from Black men. As proof, Crenshaw referred to the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill controversy( ie when it was announced that Clarence Thomas, a Black man, was to be appointed to a position on the US Supreme Court. Anita Hill, a Black woman, claimed that he was not fit for the job because he had sexually harassed her. In response, many Black Americans called her anti-Black ). In this instance, Hill, a Black person living at the “intersection” of misogyny and racism, was let down by the Black Civil Rights movement.

          She was making a useful critique that people who engage in Identity Politics ( ie engage in political activity intended to promote the interests of people in a particular social group) can be too narrowly focused if they forget that people in their social group can be categorised in other ways ( ie that each person lives at the “intersection” of overlapping identities and prejudices).

          Unfortunately, her warning hasn’t been heeded.

        • Joe Lammers says

          I agree, it isn’t, but it is nonsense, at least as I understand it. As it played out in the Kavanaugh hearings, we were supposed to “believe her” because she (Blasely Ford) was female, and thus more of a victim than Brett Kavanaugh, an “entitled white male”. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax should normally be given a pass, because he is a black male and thus even more of a victim than either a white male or a white female, although oops. his accusers are black females, so in the intersectionality sweepstakes they’re even more victims, so ultimately he’ll probably have to go. So it’s nonsense, but it’s very convoluted nonsense, with ever more sub-groups who can claim the mantle of “most victimized”.

      • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

        @codadmin

        I think it is a religion, but I agree that its idea of heaven is black supremacy. But I’m not sure if the albedo scale has been inverted yet, tho of course it must happen eventually. We still see lighter skinned negros holding higher status than the darker skinned, mostly, do we not? Mind, of course any negro outranks any East Indian regardless of albedo.

        • codadmin says

          @Ray Andrews

          Intersectionality has one logical conclusion…black supremacy. The logic is simple. Blacks are, literally, beyond reproach. If you are beyond reproach then you are perfect, therefore, you are supreme.

          • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

            @codadmin

            That’s the necessary conclusion of the input assumptions, but then again the input assumptions are wrong, and that is logically provable. GIGO, as the saying goes.

      • The FBI released a report on hate crimes showing that LGBT people were twice as likely to be targets as African Americans, this is before the Orlando massacre at a gay club. I think it was statistics from 2014.

        The FBI now separates crimes against LGBT people into two categories, LGB and T. Allowing African Americans to have a more persecuted status. You’d think that lower hate crime numbers would be a positive thing!

        After the 2016 FBI report, it showed that the two groups with the highest increase in hate crimes directed at them was Muslims and white people. In that order.

        I saw a meme produced by the NAACP pointing out an increase in hate crimes, they used these statistics to suggest that it was all white people committing hate crimes against POC. Cherry picking the facts, using statistics for crimes against white people to suggest the opposite.

    • Berry says

      In Living Color was indeed an overtly political black comedy show. It relied heavily on stereotypes of gay people and foreigners – things that black people do in normal conversation all the time ( at least in NYC they do). Making fun of immigrants and gays is unacceptable today on TV.

    • I loved Black Panther. Yes, it had an undeniable political bent, but it did so thoughtfully and is still entertaining in all the ways a blockbuster movie should be. The villain was a crazy radical, but he ended up that way because of a key mistake the heroes made long ago. Therefore, he becomes a monster of their own making. It’s a really fascinating dynamic. Highly recommended.

    • My only problem with Black Panther was the double standard. Asgard, a place of Notdic myth, suddenly has to have a diverse population even though it is a small group that all live in the same eco system. Meanwhile, a place that only ever existed in comic books is all black but that somehow isn’t a problem because “reasons”.

      Plus I got tired of them going off about Black Panther when Blade brought the first black star of the Marvel universe to the big screen over two decades before.

  2. E. Olson says

    Sounds like the show’s scripts need sensitivity readers for the white characters to avoid those black/Leftist held stereotypes of white privilege. On the other hand, it is interesting that “black shows” have seemingly regressed over the decades. Bill Cosby’s roles in 3 major TV series from the 1960s to the 1980s were all strong and successful black men who interacted and got along well with white characters without regular and constant discussions of racism, privilege, and stereotypes. In his 1980s Cosby show he was also surrounded by strong and successful family members who spoke well and valued education and hard work. Yes I remember an occasional episode where some sort of racism related issue might pop up, but the black characters always overcame bigotry with intelligence and humor and never dwelled on their “victimhood”.

    In contrast to how such a show is viewed by the Left today, it is very interesting that Civil Rights activists at the time generally commended the Cosby show for showing the black family in such a positive light. By focusing on entertaining story lines and positive role models, the Cosby show became a huge rating success because its appeal went across all demographics, not just angry blacks and Leftists. I also strongly suspect that as an “educational or cultural influence” on racial relations and black economic and social progress, the Cosby show had a much stronger and more positive effect than shows such as Dear White People.

    • D.B. Cooper says

      In contrast to how such a show is viewed by the Left today, it is very interesting that Civil Rights activists at the time generally commended the Cosby show for showing the black family in such a positive light.

      I agree, it is interesting. It also raises the question of why the Left has become so entrenched in the idea that racism – or white supremacy, more specifically – has caused every problem facing the black underclass today. My guess?

      At the time of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there was a belief by most on the Left that once the social conditions were met that would allow for equal opportunities in every domain, for everyone – blacks, whites, men, women, and all other minorities – then it would only be a matter of time before socioeconomic parity would be realized across the board. Obviously this never happened, but when the Cosby’s were on during the 80s, it had only been a few decades since the Civil Rights, and so it’s likely most were still thinking this parity would eventually manifest.

      But now, after tasting the frustrations of their denied utopia for some 50+ years, the Left finds the failure of their hypothesis, so utterly maddening that they’ve essentially doubled back to their original assertion: racism

      Unfortunately, for the Left the failure of their original hypothesis never led them to consider that one of their premises might be wrong: the Blank Slate. You see, even if the environment allows for equal opportunity, it only follows that equal outcomes will be realized, if and only if, the actors within those environments are themselves equal. But we know that’s not the case, or at least the data tells us that this isn’t the case. Data shows that there are subtle differences in central tendencies across both groups and genders. And since the Left would rather self-immolate than admit there are differences between groups, much less that these differences are the cause of so many of these social disparites, they reach for the only thing they can: racism.

      • E. Olson says

        DB – good analysis. One other cause of the reversal towards racism might be the cognitive dissonance caused by all the public policies and welfare programs that were designed to help the underclass achieve economic and social parity have decimated family structures, created a culture of dependence, and only increased class and racial disparities. It is very difficult to accept that most of the trillions of dollars spent to achieve utopia have been wasted, and much easier to believe that the “racism” and “sexism” problems are so persistent that only trillions more will slay them.

        • ms100 says

          There is also the massive issue of “problems” never being fixed. As long as there are SJWs, we will never be rid of “racism” because that’s how they make their coin and get their power.

  3. codadmin says

    “For the most part, the white people in the show are just stale cookie-cutter political abstractions who fulfill the expectations of their peers of color. In other words, they’re just caricatures…”

    In other words, the show is deeply, irredemably, inexcusably, racist. Netflix is racist. The left is racist. Blacks, most of them leftists, are racist.

    Nazis made the same racist, genocidal propaganda when they were in power. In their version of ‘Dear Jews’, all the Jewish people had hook noses and were depicted as money leeching parasites. And everyone knows what that led to.

    • I mean… I wouldn’t go that far. I think you can level a fair amount of criticism at the show while still being able to appreciate the fact that their treatment of white caricatures is basically the same way black characters are treated the vast majority of cases. They spent decades being caricatures. I’m not defending either case… I’m just saying there is insight to be gained out of it.

      With that being said, I don’t think any of that is intentional. Just negligent. I wouldn’t equate it with genocidal propaganda just yet…

      • And I’m wondering if that wasn’t entirely intentional and the point… to paint the white characters as caricatures as some kind of retribution for how black characters have been portrayed throughout most of TV history.

      • codadmin says

        @Are

        Give me one example of where American media has depicted blacks as KKK style caricatures?

        Good luck.

      • ms100 says

        Are you that naive and gullible? You haven’t been paying attention to FBI interracial crime statistics. Look at NYC crime stats by race. The MSM has mainstreamed anti-white hate and discrimination and progressives are decriminalizing some crimes because they disproportionately affect POC. It’s not too early to be concerned about future genocide because whites still have voting power now. It’s stupid to wait until we don’t.

    • “In other words, the show is deeply, irredemably, inexcusably, racist. Netflix is racist. The left is racist. Blacks, most of them leftists, are racist”

      We need to be careful throwing out negative generalisations. The show and the attitude to and treatment of white men is racist. All blacks are not racist, not even all American blacks are racist. The ‘left’ is not homogeneously racist. Even those that are will generally forget their racism and treat people as individuals once they spend enough time to get to know them.

      There is something deeply ironic in that almost all overtly sexist remarks in the mainstream media are made by feminists purportedly campaigning against sexism and in a similar way overt racist comments are almost exclusively the preserve of ‘anti-racist’ campaigners. There is a seductive lure to being part of an oppressed virtuous few, our achievements are all the greater, our failures can be excused as not our responsibility and there is a sense of belonging within the community of the virtuous.

      • codadmin says

        @AJ

        All leftists are racist, in the same way all nazis are anti-Semitic. Leftists, like Nazis, believe one particular group is responsible for all of the worlds problems.

        Anti-white racism is intrinsic to the left…not liberals, the left.

        • “All leftists are racist”
          No total nonsense.

          The categories of left and right wing are ridiculously broad. Broadly left wing politicians belief society can and should be improved through interventions generally by the state. Right wing politicians tend to be more conservative and belief state interventions should be minimised. The average position varies enormously. Margaret Thatchers policies on health for example would be considered radically left wing in the US.

          There is nothing intrinsically racist in the left or right wing positions but there are racists in both.

          • codadmin says

            @AJ

            Ok, I agree with that. BUT, you are speaking about a ‘left’ which no longer exists.

            The left is now a zombie. The body is walking around, but the mind is completely given to a hate filled parasite. That parasite is multi-tiered. The first layer is Marxism, the second is post-modernism, and the third, most recent layer, is the blatant anti-white racism of non-whites.

            The ‘left’ is no longer a legitimate part of the moderate, sometimes heated, back and forth between liberals and conservatives.

            It has become an ideology separate from civilisation, akin to ISIS, Nazis, Bolsheviks or the inquisition.

            It is rigid, unbending, pre-defined, circular, and more and more, a manifestation of the unbridled, and unchallenged hatred of non-whites.

            It needs a new name, but I don’t know what to call it, so I go with leftism even though, technically, it’s not the left.

          • codadmin says

            @AJ

            As a caveat to my comment, when I say ‘non-whites’, Ilm not suggesting all non-whites are racist. It’s just that the the ‘left’ now gives expression to non-white racism.

        • Dazza says

          Codadmin

          Fair point. It has its uses. But all that bluster will wear you out, and eventually everyone rolls their eyes and stops listening.

  4. Definitely agree that popular culture can make an enormous contribution. Two examples:

    The TV sketch show Goodness Gracious Me was hugely popular and IMHO contributed more to race relations in Britain than any political tract. This was because the people (british asians) that made it understood that you can take the piss out of us (white britons) as much as you like, provided you take the piss out of yourself as well. Mind you, they were hindus, sikhs and parsees, so even they avoided taking the piss out of islam.

    Similarly, anybody going through any sort of crisis of self esteem should remember the lyrics

    “Compare the best of how they look, to the worst of how you are, of course you won’t win”
    – Morrissey

    Says it all, really.

  5. pardoner says

    Any approach to character that flattens the nuance and complexity of identity and experience for “moral” points loses me. Conversely, any moral tale that doesn’t speak to the universality of human experience is immediately suspect in my eyes.

    Great article, and good luck with your work.

  6. “This reductionist aspect of intersectionality doesn’t have a label yet”
    The fact that the author of this article, who is obviously thoughtful and insightful, does not recognise that the appropriate labels are racism and sexism is perhaps even more interesting than the article itself.

    It is not a new thought that in fighting something immoral there is a danger of becoming just as immoral. “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.” Why is it so difficult to recognise the racism and sexism openly displayed in patriarchy theory or discussions of white privilege, entitlement and fragility.

    As soon as people are criticised, scorned, their views ignored or discounted simply because of their sex or colour, that is sexism or racism.

  7. Wentworth Horton says

    Wow, the show Dear White People is racist. Frankly, I’m shocked. But at least it’s the acceptable kind of racism, so it has that going for it. Which is nice.

  8. Morgan Foster says

    Thane Lockwood, a popular white student-athlete on campus is a doofus drunk

    “Stupid white male jock” has been stock character in American film and literature for many, many years.

    Take away the “jock” aspect, and the “stupid white male” has a long history, as well, stretching back before the advent of television comedy to early 20th Century advertising; i.e., dim, but lovable husband / smart and canny wife.

    Neither of these stock characters is a recent creation.

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

      @Morgan Foster

      It would be interesting to see some research done on the history of the caricature of the dumb male. I myself know it going back to my childhood watching Ralph Kramden on “The Honeymooners” and after school there was Fred Flintstone. When did it start?

  9. Farris says

    The nature of this critique is not surprising. Typically in the U.S. black themed shows have one commonality; the white characters are either goofy, racially insensitive or racist. Additionally the purpose of the show is to preach not entertain. However this does not extend to just whites. Asians are generally depicted as brainy, nerdy, over achievers and socially awkward. The dichotomy is somewhat amusing. On the one hand these are characters so the fact that they’re caricatures should not be surprising but on the other the hand the producers are claiming it as a depiction of real life. So the end result in caricatures preaching to caricatures.

    I thought this was an excellent article and fair critique. I would note that initially program characters start out flat. Perhaps the writers can develop the characters beyond the card board cut outs they appear to be. However first they will have to get people to watch in order to earn that opportunity.

  10. This sounds like a Dave Chappelle skit except instead of an over the top parody of all the racial stereotypes involved, only white people get the honor.

    Although I can no longer continue to not know this exists…I will move on with my life actively ignoring this unsolicited advice from a tv show.

    To be fair, White tv productions in the recent past have pilloried blacks as unfunny caricatures of criminality and aggression. Some get back may be in order.

    Quick question for discussion. Was, or is, anybody offended by the overtly ridiculous racial stereotyping of whites (blacks, Hispanics,Asians) that were portrayed on the Chappelle show?

    My take is that when the humor is equally distributed the message is much more palatable, and the truth to some of the stereotypes is easier to swallow.

    • Sparkles and Rainbows says

      @Ike

      It’s the South Park Rule – when everyone gets pilloried, the people who take offense that their particular identity gets skewered are a further butt of the original joke.

  11. david of Kirkland says

    Now when a white young person dresses up like the stars they loved (Bob Marley, Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson, Curtis Blow back in my day!) and use makeup to darken their skin, he is a racist, not an adoring fan. But if a black person uses skin lightening, straightens their hair, speaks English or wears a suit, they are victims of racism.

  12. @Chloé Valdary, Do you have a reading list? Or more particularly, a list related to this particular article you might recommend?

    Please and thank you.

  13. Ok, I have no idea who you are but this has been maybe the best article I have ever read.

    All of the depth, difference, competition, and cooperation between us is what makes life so fun and extravagant!

  14. Hard Pass says

    I saw the movie, so I’ll pass on the show. The movie was as condescending as the title suggests, but beyond that it did a great job of illustrating what socially progressive politics look like when completely divorced from considerations of class. For instance, I doubt most black Americans would agree that the biggest problems facing their community are insensitive Halloween costumes and white people wanting to touch their hair. But according to the affluent, hyper-woke characters in DWP, they are.

  15. Psmith says

    A male high school debate team recently lost a regional debate on immigration because the other team (females) stated that they shouldn’t have to debate the topic because of the boys’ “privilege” and “caucasity”. Instead of facts, the girls recited a slam poem. According to the Washington Times, the judge abruptly ended the debate, citing the students’ safety and claiming “actual psychological violence” against the girls”. He awarded the W to the girls.
    Perhaps the way to win debate trophies in the future is just to send in a black, disabled, transgendered muslim for your team. Hard to beat that.
    https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/feb/5/jordan-peterson-ben-shapiro-are-white-supremacists/

  16. ganjagym says

    Great to read Ms. Valdary’s work here. I am a great admirerer of her Theory of Enchantment. Please keep up the amazing job!

  17. D.B. Cooper says

    Do not be fooled by its commonplace appearance. Like so many things, it is not what is outside but what it is inside that counts.

    Uh, no…

    Let’s be reasonable, we’re all sophisticated men and women here. The popular myth being expressed in this passage (above) and throughout the article more generally, goes well beyond what I would describe as a sentiment of reasonable stupidity.

    It must be said that while my sympathies would like to lie with those who deny the utility, or in many cases, the reality of different central tendencies between group behavior; the truth is, I’ve become increasingly annoyed at the incessant pearl-clutching of otherwise intelligent people who seem aghast at the idea that a heuristic can have value even when applied to well-established patterns of group behavior/interaction – never mind the copious amounts of empirical data showing strong correlations between specific behaviors/outcomes of different groups. One need not be the leading troglodyte of our age to stumble upon the inference that maybe, just maybe, sometimes, in some circumstances, you can in fact judge a book by its cover.

    I understand how provincial this may sound, but at this point we need to get over treating our slavish belief in ‘Blank Slatism’ as the apotheosis of our time. To be frank, the idea was disproven back even before Siri uttered her first salutation, and yet, for reasons that are not entirely clear (much less rational), it still persists. I think, it’s time to give it up.

    But, if the Left is going to insist mooring us in these disease waters with the continued assurances that it is ONLY EVER circumstances, and not people, that create these differences; then the more reasonable among us need to be willing to call these deftly parried ideals for what they are: The paternalistic belief that society would somehow be better off with a lie!

    Of course, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t treat people as individuals, when possible, and if given the opportunity to do so. But it’s not only unreasonable, but foolish, to deny that a majority of our decisions are, necessarily, made with incomplete information. Which is why, for example, stereotypes are so useful. They are probabilistic (not deterministic), i.e., have predictive power. That is to say, they are more likely to be accurate than inaccurate; and if they’re more likely to accurate than not, then they’re more likely to be useful than not. People rationally discriminate every day, precisely, because there is utility in doing so. EVERYONE.

    Ask yourself the rhetorical question, if you needed a babysitter for your 3-year-old daughter and your only options were an 18-year-old guy and an 18-year-old girl – neither of which you knew anything else about – who would you choose? Everyone is choosing the girl and I would too. I would discriminate against that guy every single time b/c I know that guys are more likely than girls to exhibit physical/sexual violence. Maybe this 18-year-old guy is the nicest person in the world. Maybe he’d never in a million years do anything to my daughter. But I’m not taking that chance. Are you? Do you think Chloe Valdary (the author) is taking that chance?

    I’m betting not. I’m betting Ms. Valdary would in fact make her choice based on what’s on the outside (in this case a person’s sex). The irony is thick on the grounds here.

      • D.B. Cooper says

        @M. Bowes

        No, I think the rhetorical device actually holds. The problem, I believe, is with your reasoning. While the link does direct you to a summary of national child abuse statistics, showing that women were more likely to be perpetrators (of child abuse/neglect) than men, 54.1% to 45.0% respectively; what the summary doesn’t tell you – nor, unfortunately, the study itself (I looked) – is whether women or men are more likely to commit child abuse/neglect when they are caring for children, i.e., exposure measurement.

        It appears you’ve mistakenly assumed that since there are more women perpetrators than man as a percent of the total number of incidents of abuse, then it would reason that women are more likely than men to abuse children in any given circumstance; in which case, you would be right in suggesting I reconsider my rhetorical device.

        The problem with this reasoning is that it doesn’t take into account that not only are women more likely to care for children than men are (greater frequency), when women do care for children, they are more likely to care for more children in total than men are to care for in total (greater intensity). In other words, simply because women account for a larger percent of the total number of incidents of abuse, it does not follow from this that women are necessarily more likely than men to commit abuse. In fact, it’s almost certainly not the case, since measures of exposure (contact with children) would suggest overmatching with respect women.

        If this reasoning still isn’t clear, another way to understand this would be to consider the total rates of abuse, per state. So, for example, the top three states in 2017 (according to the data you linked to) with highest total number of child abuse perpetrators were New York (56,260), California (52,707), and Texas (48,380); while the bottom three states with lowest total number of child abuse perpetrators were Wyoming (721), Vermont (724), and South Dakota (941). The question then becomes, does this data suggest that people living in the top three states are more likely to abuse children than people living in the bottom three states, or does the data simply reflect the difference in population figures between the top and bottom three states? Obviously, the latter.

        As to who, in fact, is more likely to commit abuse when caring for children, men or women; to the extent that you’re interested, you may find relevant data from The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect.

        • D.B. Cooper says

          @M. Bowes

          My apologies. I just noticed how snarky – specifically, the opening paragraph – this comment appears to be. I can assure you, it was not my intent to convey such a tone. I think the main problem is I’m not proof reading these comments before I post them. I need to make it a point to start doing that.

  18. Asenath Waite says

    I know when I collapse on the couch after a hard day’s work and am looking for something enjoyable to watch on the television that will help me unwind and take my mind off of my toils and troubles, I always seek out shows that lecture me about how I’m a bad person because of my race. No surprise that Dear White People has been picked up by Netflix for a third season with a solid gold formula like that.

    • Sydney says

      @AsenathWaite

      Just heard that Netflix paid someone $10M to make a follow-around documentary of U.S. socialist idiot Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes. There’s some great entertainment to look forward to. I’d have to be paid to click on ‘Dear White People’ or the forthcoming AOC doc. Rather watch paint dry.

    • D.B. Cooper says

      @ X. Citoyen

      Thoughtful? Really?

      Come on Citizen X! This piece is thoughtful in the same way a mother is thoughtful when she lies tells her unathletic son – who’s overweight and a foot short for his age – that he can be anything he wants to be if he just works hard enough; despite knowing full well the likelihood of her son playing center for the Lakers is about the same as her chances are. In other words, none.

      And, of course, like many here I appreciate the author’s willingness to gore the Left’s sacred cow of intersectionality, but the process of doing so, I would argue, need not also set a new high-water-mark for naïve optimism. Case in point, consider this ineffectual cri de coeur:

      And we must remember that we are all equally capable of both good and evil.

      The article is filled with quixotic nonsense of this nature. These pedestrian platitudes are nice for a BBC special or whatever, but let’s be honest for a moment, no thinking person really believes this stuff, do they? It’s insufferable, really.

      In any case, let me be clear on what I’m complaining about saying. No one is suggesting we should vacate the moral high ground by questioning the inherent worth of others – b/c it’s both morally wrong & logically indefensible – but unburdening ourselves from displeasing facts of reality (e.g. falsity of the blank slate) shouldn’t be a prerequisite for keeping it, either.

      To be sure, I’ve generally known you to be right on all the important questions, which leads me to believe, if anything, you’ve merely given this nonsense a pass. Maybe you’re simply thinking that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. The only problem with this is, discretion isn’t the better part of valor. Valor is the better part of valor, and it’s getting late in the game. We need nailers, not hangers.

      At this point, I think there’s enough evidence to suggest that the idea of suspending reality for the sake of reconciliation is on par with the idea that health can save the sick. In other words, it’s useless advice.

      So, let’s be blunt about the situation we’re in – we’re inching toward the 11th hour and a substantial portion (if not half) of Western society believes some portion of the following: (1) it’s okay if people of your gender and race are discriminated against; (2) people of your gender and/or race are morally depraved, e.g., misogynist, white supremacist; (3) People of your gender are likely suffering from mental health deficiencies (toxic masculinity), which are themselves dangerous to society. I could go on, but you get the idea.

      • X. Citoyen says

        Our different takes come down to different assumptions about the audience: You assumed people like us were the audience, and I did not. I wouldn’t watch this show, and I have no idea of who most of the people referred to in this piece are. I wouldn’t recognize “Jay Z” if I ran over him with my lawnmower. The movers and shakers and goings on in pop culture are, for the most part, as foreign to me as the lands beyond the Pyrenees.

        What you (and I) call a platitude is a simple humanist version of Original Sin. The author invoked it to expose the ugly racialized truth at the heart of identity politics, where certain races have a monopoly on virtue and others on vice. This is well-suited to the generation the author is speaking too.

        Like I said, I can’t fault a peacemaker.

        • D.B. Cooper says

          Our different takes come down to different assumptions about the audience

          I take your point. At times, I can certainly fall victim to a false consensus effect – tendency to overestimate one’s values/beliefs as normative, i.e., having a consensus. Thanks for pointing it out.

  19. I remember the movie

    I thought the two scenes that encapsulated the dangers of the identity politics was the scene where all the college blactivists were harassing the minimum wage high school ticket taker as though he by virtue of being white ran Hollywood from that small cramped cube

    The second one was were all the black people eating assaulted the white boyfriend of the main character and she did nothing because her loyalty to the group was more important than common decency or the feeling of some one she purported to love

    You really that surprised that years later the same premise in the even more PC culture we have now is gauche and insipidly insensitive

  20. IainC of The Ponds says

    Martin Luther King’s philosophy of “judge on content of character, not color of skin” seems further away than ever. Not because white people are preventing it, but because black people don’t want it. The atomization of culture into innumerable macro- and micro-demographic divisions, each with its assigned victimhood or oppressor status on a barely comprehensible ladder of worthiness, has done more for racial disharmony in the last 20 years than any other factor. Surely its possible for anyone to go through life these days simply as an American, rather than an ideological category.

  21. Dazza says

    IainC

    Something that has always intrigued me is how many American groups name themselves with a race or origin demographical prefix.
    I know that in England, Wales or Scotland, if you ask someone who was born there to describe their nationality. They would reply with “English, Welsh or Scottish”.

    • When I lived in the US I always thought it bizarre to say African American, Irish American or whatever when the person concerned had an ancestry of many generations born within the US. African American is of course a euphemism for black pity the white south African immigrant who described himself as ‘African American’.

  22. James says

    I am so tired of the navel-gazing, hand-wringing and angst about race – and in particular the lecturing about “white privilege”. What a laugh. I grew up in the “head of the holler” in rural West Virginia – and throughout grade school, high school, college, and medical school never got a single leg-up because of who I was.

    My advice to everybody: stop whinging and hump and get it. Most of all, have the gumption to lay the blame for your failures – and the credit for your successes – squarely where they belong: on your own shoulders.

  23. Hubert Leigh Smith says

    Efforts like this are only possible because white people with the levers of power in their hands adore turning out their “mascots” to prance, preen, and crack wise.

  24. Constantin says

    This article deserves much attention and is very well written. It is part of a larger focus on turning the ship of history and giving inter-racial conversation another real chance before it is completely and irremediably hijacked by post-modern zealots hell-bent to either amass power or satisfy bizarre religious yearning by silencing and belittling others and worsening race relations that have improved steadily for a very long time.
    I salute Quillette for supporting efforts to restore the normal and positive course of history and subvert the extremist agenda of the intersectional zealots! If you meet a shrill intersectional zealot screaming that you are not entitled to have an opinion and that your previously unknown racist and sexist bias destroys your ability to think, understand that he or she is disqualifying you as a human being and tells you that your thinking does not matter and should not be even considered by anyone. When you hear that the validity of an argument stems from suffering, understand that the person making the argument is advocating against reason and also against the very idea that experiences can be communicated through language and do not need to be re-enacted and personally lived to be fully appreciated. When you hear that suffering is the foundation of moral high ground, remember that this is going against reason and it is an attack on the very foundations of the Enlightenment. The Nazis claimed that the suffering imposed on Germany by the Allied powers at the end of WWII gave Germany the moral high ground for seeking expansion and domination over other nations. Suffering and morality have nothing in common. It is likely immoral to cause unjust suffering, but being at the receiving end leaves you the same vulnerable and flawed human being or animal you always were. Reject all this nonsense, recognize that much of the moral foundations of our civilization has come from people who read and think and not from people who have been abused in some form or another. Remember that with good intentions is paved the road to Hell and ask these shrill zealots to crawl back under the rock of anonymity where they belong.

  25. Casey Preston says

    Most of the comments here seem to be from people who haven’t seen the show. I’ve seen both seasons and I thought it was generally more interesting than it is being credited. The show has a very large number of characters and it takes pains to flesh out all of the characters, including giving each character the focus of specific episodes and character arcs. The show is actively trying to create complicated characters and show how complicated and contradictory identity politics can be. But the show is doing it entirely from the perspective of the Black characters. Nobody else matters. All of the other characters are caricatures or archetypes because that is the way TV works. The characters that don’t matter are not fleshed out because they don’t matter. Frankly, I would rather just watch an honest perspective about “the conversation about race”, rather than the fake cliches and pandering to identity politics that currently substitutes for the “conversation about race” that we normally get on TV.

  26. Paul Nathanson says

    This is a very insightful essay. I have only one problem with it. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is not a fitting example of popular culture at its best. Gaston, one of the two major male characters, is a classic example of “toxic masculinity” and therefore a negative stereotype of masculinity. (Notwithstanding the American Psychological Association’s new guidelines on treating male patients, that is not traditional masculinity but a grotesque perversion of it.). The Beast, moreover, is another inadequate male character. He has caused his own fate, been punished for being bad. It takes a woman to save him. He represents vice, she represents virtue. In the earlier version by Jean Cocteau and the original story by Charles Perrault, he has always been good and suffers only because of an undeserved curse. He and Beauty are equals. That’s the version we need now in this polarized world of identity politics.

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