Dear White People looks interesting, but just from the trailer, I can pinpoint its fatal flaw. Straight up, this movie is a bourgeois black hipster’s wet dream. For black people who didn’t go to college or who interact with white people at work or in the world at large, this movie will be uppity fluff. There is a reason that Living Single and Chappelle’s Show resonated more than A Different World and The Cosby Show. Not everyone goes (or should go) to college. That is fine.
What is not fine is the fact that this movie doesn’t look self-reflective. That lack of self-reflexivity is what makes A Different World and The Cosby Show so alienating. To view those shows as a black person who is not middle class is to see your experience flattened and neglected. Black people don’t need [more of] that. We need more works like Do the Right Thing, The Wire and Night Catches Us, projects that are rooted in a particular time and place (and space). Despite what fans of these works say, these movies don’t have pretensions of universality. Dear White People does.
I know that I am speaking very matter-of-factly, as if this movie will instantly become a cult classic. Don’t view that as arrogance. I feel this way because I know people who nostalgically praise The Cosby Show. For them, that show embodies “the black experience,” whatever that means. This worries me because that experience doesn’t exist. The only thing all black people have in common is the experience of racism and even that is a diverse experience.
When Dear White People comes out, go see it, but remember that it is not the definitive manifesto on black life. Neither is Black in America. Neither is BET. Neither is The Wire. In fact, that manifesto has never existed and never will. As evidenced by the sales of Toure’s book, for some people this is news. For me, it is obvious. I sincerely hope that you feel the same way.
Black Steve (Yes, I am aware of the irony of signing this with this name.)
P.S. As I stated in my post on Rap Genius, I am working on a series of essays in response to the essays in the book That’s the Joint. I wanted to have written a few essays by now, but I’ve been busy. They’re still on the way though. Don’t fret!