It's been a little more than a week since Netflix released its trailer for Dear White People, the show based on the popular movie of the same name that's scheduled to premiere April 28. In the days since the trailer's launch, a lot of people – specifically, white people – have responded with a lot of hate, arguing that the trailer is racist and calling for a Netflix boycott.
The angry white people backlash centers on the 30-second spot's portrayal of white people; namely, images of white, cardigan-clad college kids in blackface set against a young black woman's voiceover suggesting this is an inappropriate Halloween costume. But blackface is racist – its practice is rooted in anti-blackness – which is why calling it a racist act cannot be oppressive.
So here's a letter to angry white people from a fellow white person, because, really, what the hell is your problem?
First, I wonder if any of you actually saw the movie on which the show and its trailer are based. If you haven't, please do. "Dear White People" is a thoughtful film that looks at race through myriad lenses, including white ones. It's smart, it's honest and it's a way into the very necessary conversations all of us need to have about race.
Second, one of its key messages is something we could all do better: Listen. Just listen. I know that when it comes to talking about race, listening can be hard, and I also tend to get defensive when I feel misunderstood. But in every situation where I've been defensive, I've lost an opportunity to learn.
I don't mean to preach here or suggest I know better. As far as I can tell, we're all in this $#!+ together, just trying to get along in life: working our asses off to get ahead (or, in most cases, break even); cleaning the house; buying the groceries; cooking the meals; taking care of the kids; showing up for our friends; being a good daughter, wife, brother, sister, aunt; and, generally, aiming to be decent human beings while acknowledging through it all that, on occasion, we will fail in that pursuit because it's our humanity that makes us imperfect.
But we should not use our human shortcomings as excuses for being misinformed and, often as a consequence, racist.
By now, you probably think that I'm some kind of apologist, that maybe I'm ashamed to be white or that I'm writing this as an attempt to deny, both to myself and to you, the implicit bias against non-whites that I'm sure I have. (If you think you're not biased, take this test and prepare to have your understanding of self completely rocked.) You're entitled to believe that, but I don't think it's accurate.
The truth: I don't have white guilt. I understand the atrocities of my ancestors – from wiping out native communities and enslaving Africans to confining Asians and expelling Latinos – and I know that I can best serve the people still impacted by these atrocities by making change, not wallowing in my remorse.
The trouble is that fixing what's wrong requires talking and listening and being really, frighteningly, painfully honest about race, which is a hard thing to do for most white people.
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