If you haven't heard of the new Netflix original series that chronicles the very real racist system that exists on an elite college campus or the white backlash that has come with it, I suggest you take five hours to binge watch the entire first season, as I already have—twice. Based on the 2014 satirical film, Dear White People, the 2017 series of the same name unashamedly reuses the film’s actors and overuses millennial terms like “bae” and “woke,” but it is relevant to my experience as a Boston College student and should be seriously discussed and thought about.
Yes, I am a white person writing about racial issues in a dominantly white community. Yes, I understand that I can never truly articulate the real societal, systemic issues that people of color face. But I am attempting to understand the white person’s role in perpetuating the racist system, while aiming to break apart from this norm by giving voice to what I have learned about racism as a white person. And, though it is a troubling statement, my white peers are more likely to read an article about racism with my authorship because they identify with me.
Moving beyond my racial disclaimer, we can align the students of the esteemed, fictional Winchester University with our very own Boston College. Essentially, the black students of Winchester feel a racial pressure and a sense of otherness, but whenever they attempt to discuss or fight this they are accused of “crying wolf,” because many white students believe they live in a post-racial society—with Barack Obama and their one black friend as proof. Students like the radio-host of Dear White People and student activist Samantha White are deemed as troublemakers who simply stir the pot for personal attention. But when a fraternity-like association, Pastiche, (a student publication), has a “black face” themed Halloween party and Sam White captures the pure definition of privileged cultural appropriation on camera, racial tensions on campus become heightened and impossible to ignore.
Despite the fact that outright racism and hatred in our country make it difficult for “woke” students to believe that we live in a post-racial society, at Boston College we are living in a pre-black-face-party society. Because Boston College is an elite community founded on Jesuit ideals and discriminatory rejection of Irish Catholics from Harvard, students who rally behind equality are accused of “crying wolf,” just as fictional Sam and Reggie are. Racism is alive and well on our campus, but many students of racial privilege fail to understand this and still say things like, “But all lives do matter” and “I can’t believe something like this would happen in 2017” when the news is constantly broadcasting the latest racially driven horror.
In this pre-black-face-party society, it is difficult for many white students to understand the layers of racism that exist at BC, and as Sam White says on her radio show in a response to an accusation of reverse racism, “My jokes don’t incarcerate your youth at alarming rates or make it unsafe to walk around your own neighborhoods, but yours do. When you mock or belittle us you enforce an existing system.”
We may not be throwing black face parties on Foster Street, but there are far too many Mods packed with white students jumping up and down and repeating offensive words and lyrics that reinforce an existing racist system; far too many jokes told behind closed doors; and far too many glances at the one student of color in class when the professor mentions slavery, Martin Luther King Jr., or James Baldwin. Without even mentioning the many cases of systemic inequality, there are far too many situations that enforce the racial divide on our campus.
To generalize, our mostly white campus is not yet conscious of this unfairness, because we do not have to be. But the hatred and unrest that has been plaguing our country may soon creep into our community in a way that is too strong to ignore. All it will take is one offensive Halloween costume or a racist Facebook event invitation, and we will soon be forced to recognize, as Sam White says, that our “ivory tower” is not “immune to this type of shit.”
Sam White is not an anarchist, and I am not exaggerating. This Netflix series helps us to understand that not all people who enforce racism are bad people who burn crosses. Watch Dear White People and recognize its relevance to our lives as college students. Racism is real, but many students of racial privilege fail to understand this, regardless of color. Are you a Sam or a Reggie who is focused on the movement? Are you a Gabe who wants to understand and support? Are you a member of a racist organization like the humor magazine Pastiche or a black-face partygoer? I know where I stand and I strive to live by this identity every day. Do you?