There are some things that are so synonymous with and ingrained in Black Culture that as a Black person, you are just supposed to know them, understand them and like them. For instance, I HATE rice. I have tried rice every which way possible-fried, sweet, savory and still, I just do not like it. I believe it is the texture that makes me refuse rice at every turn. Whatever it is, I just do not like rice. Never have and never will. Once I told this to a friend, he said he was revoking my, “Black Card.”
Oh yes. The Black Card. That infamous card in every Black person’s wallet. The Black Card allows you access to any Black cookout worldwide, any Black, Solo red cup, house party event, makes you a prodigy at Spades and Dominos, and an expert on Beyoncé theology. The Black card is sacred. Black people hold their Black card near and dear knowing that it can and will be revoked at any moment by having a differing opinion than the masses. Not “Kanye slavery is a choice type of different” because that was just ignorant as fuck but more like I don’t watch Empire, Scandal or like white rice type of different. God, forbid you have a different opinion than the masses because trust and believe Black Twitter is waiting to drag you within an inch of your life.
So, I am ready for the dragging.
I had high hopes for Dear White People. It could have been a striking commentary on being Black in America in the age of Making America Great Again. In a period where just being Black and breathing is cause for a full police manhunt, Dear Black People had the opportunity to speak and speak loudly. Yet watching it, I was silenced. It is rare that Black people, writers, and artists are given a platform especially as one as far-reaching as Netflix, and unfortunately, Dear Black People did not seize the moment. I watched Dear Black People feeling as if it was a caricature and cliché of all things Black Twitter. Every Black phrase or idea tweeted within the past two years was used on the show- woke, shade, salty, anything fill in the blank __________ AF (as fuck), Lemonade, read, Beyoncé, Shonda Rhimes, Real Housewives, any ________ship (relationship, situationship) safe space, a minority that sides with racist ideology, capitalism, grits with salt or sugar, White people realizing racism is actually “a thing”, police brutality, White guilt, faux shows of Empire, Love and Hip Hop, Fix My Life. There were characters mentioned or based on people we all know in “real life” Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates, Ann Coulter, Candace Owens, and Iyanla Vanzant. Dear White People also included every buzzword we have heard in the last two years – inclusion, diversity, triggered, intersectionality, feminist, fake news, and safe space.
It was Woke Black Character Overload.
Is this what being Black in America and relatively conscious has become? Surely James Baldwin didn’t mean this.
A caricature? A cliché? A series of Twitter hashtags, Facebook post and Medium think pieces?
Is this what our struggle and fight were reduced to?
I felt like I was watching the Blackface, shuck and jive minstrel show of everything that I have been fighting for, add shea butter, natural hair, yassssss gurl, African American Vernacular English and stir. Watching Dear Black People, I felt like my struggle, my pain, my mission was all a farce. It felt like everything I have been fighting for was a caricature of reality, a show that trivialized our issues.
There were a few shining moments of Dear White People. Reggie and Dean Fairbanks speaking about Reggie dealing with the impact of being assaulted by the police. Joelle and Trevor dining in the campus test kitchen. Coco contemplating an abortion, weighing her options, second-guessing her decision. The argument between Gabe and Samantha dealing with her being biracial and the conflict of being pro-Black with a White father. Those were the moments that grabbed me. That left me wanting more. That dealt with real issues beyond the stereotypes and clichés of Black Twitter. For a moment, those characters were real. Beyond the social media façade, those characters were me. I was Coco crying in tears as I drove to the abortion clinic contemplating having an abortion. Samantha was me as I deal with having a stepfather that is White, and one of the most phenomenal men I have ever known that has been in my life since I was 15 years old. I was Reggie, struggling with therapy and the pain and hurt of racism. I was Joelle, stepping into her beauty, dating a man that saw her in her splendor. I caught a glimpse of me in those moments not overshadowed by everything that Black is supposed to be. Because Black is bigger than a Facebook post or Twitter characters or hashtags. Black is all things. And we can be and are all things. Not just catchy phrases and yassss girl, and buzzwords. We are bigger than cliches and caricatures. We are people, full and rich with stories screaming to be told.
I found those stories in a song, played in the background as Coco walked through the doors of doctor’s office. It was a voice of Ruth B. A voice that was simultaneously beautiful and haunting as she sing about living a facade masked in vices.
Pour yourself another drink
Light a cigarette
And let the smoke hide you
Medicate the pain away
Live to see another day
Sleep the whole night through
Just feed it
God knows how much you need it
Why you gotta hide?
Why you gotta hide?
Why you gotta run?
What you got to lose?
What you got to lose
When all is said and done?
Why you gotta pray?
What’s it gonna take for you to be someone?
Your shadows all go
When the light goes…
Those lyrics captured me. They opened themselves and swallowed me whole. Because that is what my life has been as a Black woman in America. A Black woman that is relatively conscious. Finding a way to medicate the pain away, hiding, praying and still running from shadows that I can never seem to outpace.
That is the story I wanted to hear. That is the story I wanted to be told showing the world how somehow we manage to come out on the other side in spite of it all.