On October 24 UWT’s Black Student Union members attended a group screening of the film Dear White People, directed by Justin Simien. It pries at what many could initially deem offensive— possibly even “reverse racism”—with its very title. The film is set at a fictitious Ivy League university and follows the story of black students experiencing racism both externally and internally. The students in attendance were eager for the film because it was very helpful in providing a catalyst for discussing issues of race in American Culture today.
Amongst our university’s attendees were as Shaquita Humphrey-Pressley, an Ethnic, Gender, and Labor Studies student. Most enjoyed the film for its “spot on” critiques on the mechanisms of racism ingrained in our culture, emphasizing our need as a society to discuss these issues in order to work past them. Even what seemed to be highly exaggerated to some was proven to be true, at least for Alum Rolando Sierra, “At first it seemed like the blackface party might’ve been an exaggeration. Then the credits rolled, and many real life parties were shown that actually had such crude themes.“ Sierra is referring to a scene in the film in which a group of white students throw a party that is themed after black stereotypes.
The satirical nature of the film may be detracting for some; for other viewers it actually enhanced the experience of viewing the film because it featured some of the injustices. Some student attendees noted the realism of the film and the many microaggressions (negative racial slights and insults toward people of color) that are experienced and internalized by people of color. Humphrey-Pressley, explained “So many young people have internalized racist ideas about themselves, communities; I’ve seen it replicated in media, music videos, reality television. Young People see these and they see people acting out of these stereotypical ideas of what it means to be black, what it means to be Hispanic.”
From internalized racism we also see the expression of the concept of colorism which we can discern from the film and students alike that it is not an exaggerated concept.
Colorism in this context equates to someone (an African-American) being seen as more valuable in society based on the lightness of their skin; the lighter the better. In the film, this was represented by a character that wore straight haired wigs and wore blue colored eye contacts to appear more white because she had internalized many racist ideas and in effect devalued herself.
In the movie, white people are presented as a group that stereotypically oppress black people through incidents that seem minor but are actually larger issues of racism.
One question that many viewers asked themselves going into viewing this film was “will this be offensive to white people?” After viewing, one student said no. “If a white person does see this film as offensive, that is probably because they believe that they do not participate in those forms of racism and should not be included in ‘not all white people…’ they are trying to shake off the responsibility of changing cultural views by stating that they do not share those views.”
What many students agreed upon is that this film should be offensive, because racism is offensive. Harmon added “We should all be disgusted by racism, it is a toxic system in our culture that oppresses minorities; no person should have to endure its torture.”
Dear White People has been received by this group of students as a means of creating a dialogue about racism, as it exists today, for the purpose of ending what many see as an unrelenting cycle that harms all parts of a society.