One scene that struck me in particular was at the 17 minute mark of Episode 4 during which the choices of Sam and Coco are contrasted to one another. This entire episode follows the relationship of Coco and Sam and how their differing views on the social issues that they face drive them apart. Coco had decided to pursue membership in a sorority, while Sam decided that she would focus her energy into the Black Student Union and the fight for racial equality on their campus. Sam had criticized the sorority as she saw it as superficial and sexist in its adherence to gender roles, whereas Coco saw it as a good way to get involved in the community and make herself more accepted by her white peers. One part of this scene in particular that stuck out to me was the stark contrast between Coco when she was being chastised for having reserved the wrong room for her sorority’s event, and Sam who is sitting comfortably among her peers who are in the BSU. The camera shifts to give close angles of each of the character’s faces in order to show the large difference in the facial expression of these two characters, with Sam looking concerned after having witnessed a stressed Coco being berated for a small mistake. Even though this scene juxtaposes the experiences and choices of these students, it speaks to the idea that they are more similar than they believe themselves to be. When they then have their infamous argument in their dorm room, their similarities are highlighted even more strongly as Coco angrily claims that Sam is “trying to be Miss Blackety black black” and that she herself is merely trying to make herself more “palatable” to white people by assimilating into their culture, as she does not share this same privilege as Sam. Although they choose different paths, they are struggling to fit neatly into certain roles or identity groups despite the fact that they both are straddling the line between being white and black in their own ways. Because Sam is biracial and tries to almost hide this part of her identity, and Coco tries to integrate into white culture, they are both representing the idea of being caught between two identity groups.
A dream that includes the envision of a deep ocean encompassing both land and sea makes one realize that Samantha is not so sure of her identity as she makes it seem like. In the midst of a brain-wave test the narrator finds herself pondering upon how she can avoid answering as if her twin sister would. Dazed and unsure of what path to take, Samantha comes to the conclusion that she will never be the original that she hopes to encompass. This rather out of body experience that occurs following her questioning in the examination room occurs towards the end of the story Twin Study by Stacey Richter. Samantha and her sister Amanda are spending their one weekend a year together at a conference for the study of twiness and the aspects that make them so connected. Ironically Samantha and her sister want little to do with the lifestyle that the other lives, and in response we see her attempting to prove this to the doctors who believe that they’re “special”. After giving on her attempt to diversify, Samantha states “ Almost immediately I begin to have the dream: … then the entire shoreline is swallowed up horses, cars, cliffs, umbrellas — they’re all washed away and all that’s left is a great expanse of blue water: nothing. Everything” (32, Richter). Although it seems that envisioning being washed away might seem like a cry for help, for Samantha it appears that she finds comfort in giving up and resorting to this known place. It seems that by all the things she lists as being swept away that was is really being taken is the stability of her life with a family, but what is being given is the piece of identity she is trying to avoid: Amanda. This reasoning is clarified by the fact that Samantha has had this dream many times before, insinuating that for all the times she finds herself running away she is forcefully brought to return to her roots.
Sam White is constantly trying to fit the mold of being “black enough”. As a biracial radio personality at the prestigious, mostly white Winchester University which had just faced a racist black face party, Sam White is a campus activist who is dedicated to for fighting for justice for students of color. Being biracial however, seems to be a conflicting characteristic for Sam. This conflict is especially apparent in a scene from episode 1 (28:01), in which Sam upset and is walking by herself with headphones in, listening to what one might describe as “white people music”. As a group of other black students approach, Sam quickly changes the song to one with the lyrics, “I’m black and I’m proud”. It becomes apparent that this conflict is internalized by Sam. Since no one else can hear the music in her headphones, it is clear that she is trying to prove to herself that she is “black enough” despite her light skin. Because Sam’s skin borders between black and white, if she acts like a white person, by listening to white music, for instance, she will not be seen as black. I think this scene is an effort to show that Sam is trying to prove to herself that she is “black enough” to fight for this cause.
“See you at football practice tomorrow, Marcus.” Without the context of this situation it may not seem as though these seven words are offensive. However, the football coach was saying this to Reggie, a student of color who is highly involved in social advocacy and considered “woke” amongst his fellow intellectuals, not “Marcus.” Episode five beings with this scene. Reggie is walking to class and he is approached by the football coach, who confuses Reggie for another colored student on campus. This is only one of many scenes in which Reggie experiences there “micro aggressions”. Winchester is a predominantly white university where the students of color feel as though they need to take a political stand in order to be noticed. Reggie’s motives are driven by his social relationships, personal image, desire for attention and approval, and his romantic interests. As this episode of Dear White People progresses, Reggie ends up in an altercation with his white friend at a party. His friend stated a racial slur in which Reggie was offended. As one thing leads to another the two end up in a fight, which concludes in Reggie being held at gunpoint. The viewer is thus left to question, Would Reggie continue to act as this martyr and social activist if it were not for the pressure of the school community and Sam?
In Dear White People, Coco’s past made her feel as though she didn’t have a positive role to play in society, which is why she ends up trying to change the person she really is when she gets to Winchester University, a highly prestigious Ivy league school. In episode four of the show, which centers around Coco’s point of view, at time 1:10 we see Coco as a young child in preschool. Her teacher announces playtime, and all of the little girls run to go choose which doll they’d like to play with. When Coco chooses a white-skinned doll, her friend rips it from her hands and says “No, you take the ugly one.” As it turns out, the “ugly one” was a black doll with voluminous, curly hair. Then the scene cuts to the blackface party, where the white kids at school came dressed up as famous black figures. Sam, a character with a fiery attitude and affinity for revolution at Winchester, points a camera in Coco’s face. Coco, outraged at the crashing of the party, tells Sam that the white people weren’t throwing the party in an offensive way, but because they actually want to be like the black students. These scenes are very significant to the audience’s overall understanding of Coco as a character, because they show the environment that she was raised in, and how she is affected by that upbringing in her young adult life. Within the doll scene we see how Coco was shown that society, as a general whole, thinks that black people aren’t good enough in terms of looks, and are consequently deemed “ugly” just because they are different than the widely accepted version of beauty. Her acceptance of what her classmate said shows how impressionable she was at such a young age, and how this strong impression has lasted her into adulthood. When we see her defending her white peers at the party, it shows how she has come to believe what she was taught as a child. This is because, when the white students dress as black people, Coco sees it as a shift in society’s mentality of beauty in her favor, and she is happy to accept that as the reason for the party. She doesn’t want her appearance to continue defining the role she plays in society the way it did as a child.
As a species, humanity has a tenuous relationship with the sea. Stories of catastrophic floods are some of the oldest legends we have discovered, mythology relegates the most horrifying of its monsters to dwell in the ocean, and to this day unexplained shipwrecks still terrify our imaginations every time we set out from the shore. Yet, humanity oftentimes seems drawn to the water; rivers were and continue to be the lifeblood of civilization, and despite its dangers the song of the sea still holds allure for mariners today. Given this close but relationship, it is no surprise that an archetypal idea of water has sprung up in literature around the world. Richter brings this idea into her own work in several places, most notably in Amanda’s description of an often reoccurring dream she has. In many works, the water represents rebirth, and the ocean in particular often signals something cyclical thanks to the steady rhythm of the tides. In Amanda’s dream, a hauntingly beautiful wave with a “sparkle in the sun” before wreaking havoc on the coast. From her description, the totality of the destruction is evident; the “entire shoreline is swallowed up”, leaving behind only a “great expanse of blue water” (Richter 28). This dream itself is cyclical in nature. She has it over and over, and each time the shoreline is back in place, all the “houses, cars, cliffs, umbrellas” (Richter 28), before being washed away all over again. Parallel to this is Amanda’s own experiences with her twin, Samantha. Each year, Samatha’s presence crashes over life like a wave, washing away the delicate sense of normalcy she built up over the previous twelve months. All of the uniqueness and personality that Amanda has cultivated, her very own cute little “umbrellas” of individuality, are swept aside and replaced by the overwhelming sense of sameness she feels when forced to confront her ‘twin-ness’. The ocean of her waking world, Samantha, is all she can think of and all that exists for that brief moment of flooding; she is “everything” and Amanda’s so desperately held individuality is “nothing” (Richter 28). Eventually, the water recedes, her feelings subside, and Amanda is free to make of herself what she will; rebuild her houses, plant her umbrellas back in the sand, even though she is well aware that this will happen again. Next year, as regularly as the tides of the ocean, she will have to confront Samantha once more, and the cyclical, archetypal dream will become a reality once more.
“What’s up hipster 8 mile?” Al said to Gabe. Gabe looks down at his shoes and tries not to take offence to the racist comment. Although Gabe tries to cover up his emotions on the outside, he feels sad and hurt on the inside. Gabe Mitchell did not always enjoy being the only white face in a mostly black group. Because Gabe was dating Sam, Gabe hung out with many of her friends in the BSU. When he was around them, he constantly checked his privilege and was sensitive from making his voice seem more important than any of her friends. Although Gabe was sensitive towards racial identity, many characters in the BSU were not. They would constantly pick on Gabe because of his race and made him feel less important than anyone in the group. In the following scene, Gabe gets interrupted from his conversation to be called “Disney Channel Obama” by Joelle. These scenes introduce the new theme of reverse racism in “Dear White People.” Although many of the black students are being discriminated against at Winchester, they treat Gabe with the same discrimination when he hangs out with BSU. I believe that Justin Simien carefully crafts this theme into the series to show that it is hypocritical to be racist when you are a victim of racism. Simien ultimately shows that racism is wrong regardless of which way it is directed.
Roughly 9:29 seconds into the sixth episode of Dear White People, Sam questions Dean Fairbanks about how Troy would apparently never find himself in the same situation as Reggie did. The dean’s reasoning for defending this thought is due to the fact that he raised his son rather than someone else doing so. Furthermore, Troy has been relentlessly molded by his father his whole life to suit his old man’s perfect vision of him. This pressure has been building inside of Troy for a while and he visibly explains his anger at the end of the tenth episode when he broke the town hall’s fragile glass door with a shovel. The incident symbolizes his personal rebellion against his father. By using a shovel to break one of the glass doors that led into the town hall where Dean Fairbanks, some of the most influential donors for Winchester, and tons of students gathered to speak their minds. Prior to the door shattering, Coco locked the door to prevent anyone, including Troy, from coming back inside. Prior to breaking the town hall’s door, Coco locking it made Troy feel insignificant to his father’s grand plan for the campus and fully became aware of how he is constantly being blocked out from being who he wishes to be. I think that the drama surmounting from this incident will have a huge impact on Troy’s relationship with his father in the episodes to come.
From the moment they met, Sam and Coco had an instant connection. “Black person!” Sam exclaimed as she laid eyes on Coco at Winchester freshman orientation in Episode 4. The girls conversed about Armstrong-Parker house and starting their college experiences, and ended up as roommates. After Coco brings white friends to their room, she and Sam bond over the microaggressions laced into the white girls’ comments. They speak to each other ironically, as if they’re addressing all white people. Sam quips, “Dear white people, no, you cannot take me home to meet your parents for Thanksgiving. If you need to prove how cultured you’ve become, get a handbag.” Coco and Sam’s mutual experiences as black students at this fictional Ivy League institution quickly bring them together. In addition to the experiences they relate on, the girls share many personality traits that become highlighted as their story develops. They’re both hardworking, confident, stubborn, driven, and intelligent. However, these similarities cause Sam and Coco to clash, leading them to grow apart.
Throughout the show Dear White People, Lionel is struggling to find his identity in the difficult social climate at Winchester. An interesting contradiction exists in the identity of Lionel because he is constantly trying to establish who he truly is, and when he gets the opportunity to do so he chooses to help Sam instead. Specifically, towards the end of Episode 2, when Lionel finds out that Sam was the one who sent the invite for the “Dear Black People” Party, he goes and tells her so she can break the news instead of him publishing it in his newspaper. Here, Lionel has the opportunity to get his “big break” in journalism, but instead gives Sam the chance to give the news herself. Often timid and shy, this is an interesting move on Lionel’s part. He is struggling with accepting his place at Winchester, and he ultimately chooses helping Sam instead of working for his own benefit. This suggests that perhaps Lionel isn’t as confused about his identity as he believes he is. Instead, Lionel is afraid to express who he is because of the atmosphere and expectation on the campus of Winchester. Deep down, Lionel knows what he wants to do and who he is, but fears the reaction of those around him. He seems to feel intimidated by the events around him, and believes that silence is the only way he can get by. However, since he is working with, instead of against Sam, to share the news in hopes of diminishing racism on campus, Lionel proves that he is not as lost in himself as the audience may believe. He does not take the easy way out, but challenges his surroundings to work for change.
As Lionel struggles to claim his identity, he is quick to dismiss the idea of social labels. During the beginning of episode 2, at 8:07 the president of Lionel’s journalist organization, Sylvio, critiques his writing on the lack of intersections on his assumptions of Lionel’s identity as a gay black man. Lionel neither denies nor confirms that he is gay, but replies that he “doesn’t subscribe to those kinds of labels.” Sylvio is quick to respond to his own opinion that “labels keep people in Florida from drinking Windex.” Sylvio has a clear sense of self. And although the episode is not set up from his perspective, it is clear he is not struggling with his identity as Lionel is. His subscription to labels sums up his identity as a “Mexican-Italian gay verse top otter pup.” Sylvio has such a clear sense of his own identity and other that he even spots out that Lionel is going through a phase of having a crush on his straight roommate. Lionel denial of using labels leaves him wandering into the world confused. He has a relatively low sense of self and results to searching Google for his answers. It is clear that Lionel identifies as a gay man. His rejection of using labels affects his ability to come to terms with it.
Troy Fairbanks. To many at Winchester University, the fictional Ivy League university where the Netflix show Dear White People takes place, Troy Fairbanks is an exceptional role model. As son of the Dean, Troy follows in his father’s footsteps in making an impact at Winchester. Early on Troy became the head of the Coalition of Racial Equality, and in the first season Troy began campaigning for student body president. While he was campaigning, many students spoke to the sharply dressed well spoken Troy about their problems on campus, receiving a reassuring “Number one on my agenda” right back. Troy’s smile and charisma complete the feeling of respect many people have in Troy, which is why he won the presidency. However, is that the real Troy Fairbanks? Would the Troy Fairbanks Winchester loves have an affair with an engaged teacher? Or have ziplocked bag of weed under the tub waiting for when he needs to decompress? There is much more to Troy Fairbanks that Dear White People portrays, and his character is a prime example of the long term negative effects of imposing, and opens many questions in the show, including role of authority and living up to expectations.
In Justin Simien’s Dear White People, the fictional Ivy-league school of Winchester often struggles with it’s race relations. There is often tension between students of color and white students. However, the black school President Troy is viewed by many as a solution to Winchester’s racial riddles. We see how Troy has been conditioned by his father (the dean) his entire life. In the final episode of the series, race relations are at a fever pitch with black students protesting a town hall for students to vent their grievances with the administration. After another character, Lionel, publishes an article exposing the school for accepting bribery, Troy begins to realize the extent of his father’s brainwashing. He flashes through various times where his father brainwashed him, and then comes to a point where he frees himself from his fathers rule through an act of defiance. Troy uses a shovel to break through the glass door of where the town hall is being held. In this moment, Troy finally begins to develop an identity beyond what his father wants.
“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. For some of us maybe. There’s nothing self-evident about it.” The closing lines of a poem meant to help heal an individual held at gunpoint due to social stereotypes. A poem that urged these stereotypes to be diminished in the minds of those who listened. The most shocking part about this poem, however, was neither the reason behind its penmanship or the content. It was instead the person who read it: Reggie Green, the face of the anti-racism movement and a black student at a predominantly white Ivy League university. As the leader of this powerful movement, Reggie preaches self-expression and self-determination of one’s identity. He riots against the social stereotypes that black students are defined as. However, Reggie himself makes himself appear as hard as a rock. To both the viewers of this series and the other students at Winchester, Reggie is nothing more than this intense figure. Even after Reggie was held at gunpoint by a white police officer, quite noticeably due to his race, Reggie maintained his emotionless demeanor. It is not until this surprise performance at an open mic that the viewers are able to see that Reggie is a highly intelligent and emotional individual who copes with his pain in a variety of ways. Being the face of a movement that emphasizes individuality and rising against social stereotypes, Reggie’s actions can seem almost hypocritical. Instead of using his pain to fuel the movement he leads, he decides to remain silent and even skips an important meeting that could change the outward racism at Winchester. Through this hypocritical action, viewers are left to question what identity can truly be defined as. Is it, as Reggie wants to make others believe, our own self-expression? Or is it instead the social standards that we are held to, which appear to bind Reggie as well?
Never getting the chance to be a real boy, Troy Fairbanks finally cuts the strings from his father’s ventriloquy with a revelation, shovel, and a broken glass door in episode 10 in Justin Simen’s Dear White People. Being a molded product to reflect his father’s success within prestigious WASP culture,Troy, the Dean of Student’s son at Winchester University, a predominately white, ivy-league school, had been oblivious to the real meaning of his role and purpose that had been mandated by his father his whole life. From the ignorance of a blackface party to the threat of a black student getting a gun pulled on him by campus police at Winchester, in the season finale, the black student community organizes a protest at the school’s town hall that plans on discussing the prominent issues of race and gun violence on campus. However, administrators are complacent to instill change for the benefit of its underrepresented and marginalized students as their interests are focused towards its large private donor, the Hancocks, of 10 million dollars to the school. To avoid addressing and being held accountable to fix these issues, the administration looks to Troy to silence his peers and ask they comply with the order of the structure that disadvantages and potentially harms them. When the news of the 10 million dollar donation is released to the public, the audience can see that by Troy’s struck face that he was unaware of these events too despite his close proximity to these people. Following that shot of his countenance, Troy has a flashback that demonstrates the realization that he has been made to be a front for the administration’s ignorant and illegal actions by his father. With “neither hand unshaken or baby unkissed” was meant to show that unlike his peers who demand affirmative change, he’s there to show “that not all black students want to burn this place down,” but it is then learned that Troy too is a victim of lost, unknown identities and a system that piggybacks off their success.
The longing and confusion Amanda feels climaxes at the conclusion of the piece, once the twins have completed all of the testing. Both Samantha, Amanda, and the dog that Samantha had stolen are driving in Samantha’s Impala. The dialogue between the two begins as Samantha comments on the fact that Ivan is not that decent of a person, and Amanda only goes on to highlight the mere positive qualities of his aftershave.
It isn’t until Amanda takes her dress off that she “changes everything” (34). Samantha then does the same, and it becomes clear that the two are swapping roles in every sense imaginable. Both women are physically and metaphorically stripping themselves. Amanda and Samantha taking off their clothes shows their identity, or the mask that they have worn to others, as coming off. The twins want to embrace the other life that they had the potential to lead.
Once Amanda drops Samantha off, she “drive[s] off crying into the sea of vegetables” (35). Amanda had previously commented that “life is ordinary,” and her sentiments about her life with her husband seem to be very bland and dull (32). This is especially considering the aforementioned points about the lackluster relationship she has with Jason and the fact that Ivan is usually so wrapped up with work. This final line to the piece is showing the true emotions that she has kept bottled inside of her. Amanda is crying, and the motif that is presented about water throughout the piece is, once again, being mentioned. This time, however, the water is representative of a cleanse, in a sense; Amanda is being cleansed of her previous identity and continues to drive amongst the nondescript “sea” (35). Amanda has both a literal and figurative destination when driving in the car; however, she is not quite certain where that is at the conclusion of the piece. Amanda, for once in her life, feels free and unique. She has finally begun to make decisions for herself, and this final scene is creating a sense of hope and prosperity that Amanda will, hopefully, obtain.
Lionel’s decision to come out as gay to his roommate is a major stepping stone into the progression of him coming to terms with his personal identity. Troy’s reaction provides Lionel with immediate reassurance that he needed to continue on this positive path to revealing his identity to himself and others in the community at Winchester. Episode 2 of Dear White People is centered around a shy journalist named Lionel and his identity. The episode opens with flashbacks of Lionel feeling judged and isolated from other black males. Towards the end of the episode, Lionel exposes his sexuality to his straight roommate, Troy. While sitting in the bathroom preparing to get his hair cut by Troy, Lionel blurts out that he is gay. Troy responds in a nonchalant fashion, ultimately easing Lionel’s tensions about his new label as a gay man. Troy moves on from the topic without any judgement or uproar about his declaration. His hair being shaved off could be a metaphor for his new identity as a black gay man. The fro is shaved off and Lionel feels like a new, freer man. By removing his hair, a literal and figurative weight is lifted off of Lionel. While pieces of his hair hit the floor, soul music plays in the background as Lionel begins to accept his gay tendencies towards Troy. Up until this point, Lionel has been unsure about what his label is. “Troy, I’m gay.” This brief remark unheard by Troy at first marks a turn point towards the progression of Lionel’s identity. Prior to this pivotal scene, Lionel is seen worrying about publishing a controversial article in the school newspaper The Independent with fear of people hating him. These hesitations and pressures from society at Winchester have caused Lionel to hold back and reveal his true self.
In George Bernard Shaw’s film “Pygmalion”, after Professor Higgins’ ‘experiment’ is done, Eliza realizes that she has nowhere to go, no one to rely on, and nothing familiar with her new piece of identity that she’s been working for the past months to acquire. When her mask became unnecessary, she feels so distant from her ‘original’ identity–that of a flower girl–that she blams Higgins for creating her unwanted new identity and tries to imitate her old/real accent. This scene conveys that she clearly misses her past identity. Because everything except her social identity remains constant, it is rather obvious that she feels distant and longs her past social identity. Both of her personal identity(what makes her her) and ego identity(who she thinks she is) remains the same throughout the movie, and it is only her social identity(how others view her) that changes as she learns to speak proper English from Professor Higgins. Her anger towards Higgins suggests us not only to feel sympathy for her, but also to question the importance of social identity in our life compared to the other two types of identity. Does social identity matter more to us than our personal and ego identity? If we truly live our life as “ourselves” being the protagonist of it, why should we care so much about social identity?
In Dear White People, Lionel’s hair transformation signals his coming to terms with his identity as a gay man. Lionel is Troy’s shy, nerdy roommate, who writes for The Independent, one of Winchester University’s papers. Lionel’s hair is worn in a puffy afro, which some of the characters indicate fits his newfound identity as a member of the resistance to racism on campus, a label that he received after notifying the Black Students Union about a black face party that was hosted by students from Winchester’s magazine, Pastiche. Lionel informs the viewers, however, that his hair is not a political statement, rather he has not had a haircut because he did not believe that he fit in at the predominantly black barbershop near Winchester. Lionel accepts Troy’s offer to cut his hair in their shared bathroom (Episode 2, 25:00). As he is about to begin the transformation, Lionel comes out to Troy, shedding a weight off his shoulders before Troy removes the mass of hair from Lionel’s head. As Lionel receives his haircut, the music intensifies to a romantic, jazzy song, representing his acceptance of his feelings for Troy, as well as the shedding of his fear about his identity as a gay black man. This scene eludes to the power that one’s hair holds in helping to define one’s identity. I believe that Lionel’s haircut symbolizes a new beginning in his journey towards self-acceptance.
In Dear White People, the viewer primarily uses the character interactions and the story to build an understanding of a specific character. However, characterization occurs subtly in how certain scenes are shot to show how each character views themselves in the world. Examples of this kind of characterization happen as early as the first episode. In this episode the viewer is introduced to Winchester, a predominantly white school, the main characters, and the black face party incident. This episode serves to orient the viewers while exploring Sam’s character. In the first 16 minutes of the episode, Sam is shown to be a confident and combative individual who stands up for injustice on the campus. For most of this episode the viewer builds Sam as a strong person who wants to call others out for their wrongs. However, one scene in particular illustrates Sam’s inner conflict and her desire to be accepted. At 16:14 of the episode, most of the shot is of the surrounding area and arches with Sam underneath. This shot happens right after Gabe posts a picture of Sam, revealing their relationship to everyone in the dorm. While Sam was surrounded by people in the previous scenes and leading them, here she’s alone. She is small compared to the arches and the rest of the hall that take up most of this scene. The shot show that Sam is overwhelmed by everything and sees herself as an outsider; while she makes herself look strong by leading the discussion on how to react to the black face party in reality she feels insecure. The arches show that she cannot conquer all of her problems, like the arches the fact that she is biracial is above her and cannot be changed. Despite the episode showing how she intends to lead her peers, this shot highlights how she feels like she does not belong. I came to this conclusion because this scene is different from the rest of the episode; it jumps out to the viewer and doesn’t fit in with how the rest of the episode is shot. Additionally, this image of Sam in the middle of the arches appears in other episodes, where Sam is shown as unsure or insecure. Scenes like this subtly characterizes the protagonists of the series.
Coco discovers her independence because of the black rights movement at Winchester. Coco’s spiritual transformation begins after her split with Troy. In the episodes leading up to the finale, Troy seems to drag around Coco as his subordinate sidekick. In most scenes, they are specifically situated side by side, yet is it Troy, ultimately, who makes the major decisions for both of them. The last thing she says to him when they break up is, “I can’t believe I gave up my hair, for you,” and slams the door behind her. Her hair transformation makes her embrace her true identity as black, leading to changes in her later behavior. Troy and Coco next meet at the Town Hall. Troy enters the Hancock House late and alone, which emphasizes his distance from Coco and their fellow students. The camera displays Coco in the center of a parted crowd of black students, all facing Troy. This camera angle isolates Troy once again, illustrating the distance Coco is putting between herself and Troy. Coco has her head held high and while addressing Troy, she reiterates that she no longer “has any fucks to give,” about Troy, while the students around her stand in solidarity. For the first time in the season, Coco does not limit herself by Troy and his actions; she did not wait for him to start the meeting, but instead started it herself. This drastic change in behavior is paralleled with her change in hair style; Coco stops wearing wigs and wears her natural hair with pride. Later in the episode, when she tells Troy’s father, the dean, that he tried and failed once again to follow his orders. Following this, Coco locks Troy out of the Hancock House and replaces Troy as mediator of the Town Hall meeting, all in the name of saving Armstrong Parker. She usurps Troy at the meeting in order to push her own political agenda in the school. For the first time in the season, she finally stands up for what she believes in and doesn’t let anyone stand in her way. Ultimately, Coco’s physical and emotional transformation was triggered by her call to action originating from Sam’s movement.
The pressures of society and the expectations placed on one’s shoulders can burden a man, couple that with crushing pressure from your own father and one will feel as though the world is collapsing. Troy Fairbanks is the frontrunner for class president at Winchester University, an elite Ivy League institution, and is the son of the Dean, not to mention he is black. While campaigning for class president there is a lot of pressure on him to win from the black community, other minority groups, and even many white organizations. But the most pressure comes from his father, the dean. In one scene from episode three, Troy is told by his father that he is Odysseus, on his journey to the Presidency. He then says “Look *****, you’re going to hit these ivy line streets and leave no baby unkissed, or hand unshaken.” Troy reluctantly, almost defeated says “Yes sir” (13:00). After the meeting, we see Troy smoking in the shower to alleviate stress. It is very clear from how he reacted in the meeting about his campaign, how he smoked weed, and the mask he puts on only scenes later as he campaigns, that he is stressed and unhappy. The argument can be made that his father is choosing his mask for him. He tells him what he is to do, and how he is to do it. There are high expectations that Troy, as a young college student, feels weighing heavy on his shoulders and he wears a mask he did not choose, one his father chose.
Dean Fairbanks’ conversation with his son Troy in Episode 103 of “Dear White People” exemplifies a passive resistance towards racism with significant historical precedent. Sitting down with Troy, Fairbanks begins the conversation by (in no uncertain terms) admonishing the behavior of Samantha White, another student with a flair for chaotic justice in the face of racism. Immediately, the viewers understand that Fairbanks is either apathetic towards racism, or has a subtler approach to dealing with it. He urges his son to work harder to secure votes and become Winchester’s first black student body president; in doing so, he orders that Troy leave “no hand unshaken or baby unkissed.” Fairbanks’ insisting that Troy gain respect as a hard-working and influential member of his community is a form of resistance, while not as explosive as Samantha’s but not without historical precedence. Fairbanks’ attitude echoes the thoughts of the Reconstruction-era Black activist Booker T. Washington. Washington, the founder of the Tuskegee Institute, thought one path to ending racism was found in encouraging young Black men to pursue higher learning. Fairbanks’ character no doubt takes some influence from Washington’s ideas; as the dean of Winchester, he is constantly shown to push his son academically and politically. Like Washington, Fairbanks’ activism is mainly behind the scenes; while Washington participated in civil rights lawsuits covertly, Fairbanks continually attempts to subvert racial tensions without conflict, such as his investigation into an on-campus Black Face party.
Sam’s racial rebelliousness and leadership creates a ripple effect that allows for personal growth for many of the characters in “Dear White People.” In episode 10 (20:55), Kurt Fletcher, a white student at Winchester University and leading head to the white-run satire magazine Pastiche, approaches Samantha White, a leading activist and speaker for the Black Student Union, during the active protests and asks, “Has anything that you’ve done actually made things better?” Kurt poses this question during the town hall protests, just before Lionel makes his statement about the Hancock family and Troy smashes the Hancock Hall window, which is just one example of a character showing personal growth. Other examples in close proximity to this scene include CoCo taking the front seat over Troy, Lionel coming to terms with his homosexuality, and the Dean realizing that bad things are happening. Overall, these characters manifest personal growth because the way in which they carry themselves has drastically changed as a result of Sam’s actions.
Throughout the series, Dean Fairbanks is portrayed as a very protective and strict father; he doesn’t ever consider Troy’s thoughts. During the donor event, Troy gets a text from one of his friends about the blackface party. When Troy tries to warn his dad about what is happening, his dad dismisses Troy’s concern, saying, “Not now, Son, You’re being rude” and goes back to his conversation with donors (ep. 3, 1:10-1:12). The narrator begins to voice over: “Perpetually in the shadow of his father, Troy’s never had success standing up to him” (ep. 3, 1:12-1:19). A flashback follows of two times during Troy’s past he was dismissed and disregarded by his father. After Troy had sealed donors for the new student center, his dad treats him in this manner even when it comes to an issue of racism.
In the beginning of Chapter I Sam and Joelle, one of Sam’s black friends, are seen talking about their days later plans. Joelle asks Sam, “We chillin’ before Black Caucus?” Sam hesitates to tell Joelle she has plans. The camera then pans to another one of Sam’s black peers Reggie. Reggie approaches Sam to ask her what she’s up to. The two seemed to have some sexual tension, indicating Reggie was Sam’s “plan” for the day. Immediately following, the scene changes to a sex scene of Sam and unknown partner. The camera only focuses on details of the room and Sam, leaving viewers left wondering who Sam is with. After roughly 30 seconds, it is revealed Gabe, a caucasian friend of Sam’s, is the mystery man. A photo of Sam’s naked back is leaked, implying she was seeing someone. Joelle confronted Sam on the issue saying, “Sam we met in the common section of that medium article you wrote. Don’t fall in love with your oppressor: a black girl’s guide to love at Winchester” (Chapter I 17:45). Sam tries to justify to Joelle that she is biracial and thought she knew who she was, yet Gabe still manages to make her happy.
Though Joelle eventually lightens up to the idea, such conversations shed light on the conflict of identity the show hopes to prevail. This scene reveals how Sam and Joelle perceive their social roles at Winchester. Based on the article Joelle mentions that Sam wrote, black girls at Winchester are not supposed to fall in love with their oppressor, otherwise known as a white male. In following her own article, Sam should not be seeing a white male. This said, it is clear she has genuine interest in seeing Gabe. There is not happy medium in trying to fulfill both of these identities. It is, literally, black and white. Common stereotypes and expectations in the show lead her to be expected to have a partner of the same race, while her heart tells her otherwise. She struggles expressing this in rather uncomfortable and defensive responses, which display the unease she can have in being herself.
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