Dear White People

Dear White People
Courtesy of Lionsgate.
Justin Simien’s “Dear White People” examines personal identity among black students as they navigate a predominantly white university.


“Dear White People.”

That title grabs your attention, doesn’t it? A racial majority addressed with audacity. It implores you to sit down and listen, to reprogram your perceptions of the world starting with the most basic concept of otherness.

The university’s Center for Political Communication aims to inspire open discussion about race with the creation of its semester-long series titled “Race in America,” featuring speakers and films that address our country’s ongoing conversation (or lack thereof) about race.

The Center’s mission statement explains that the Millennial generation is the most diverse in the United States’ history. In a post-Civil Rights era, contention between races remains a staple of society, an issue that is exacerbated by a succession of black Americans’ deaths while at odds with white authorities.

While it is true that the Millennial generation as a whole represents unprecedented diversity, the university does not reflect this. A 2014 chart published by the Office of Equity and Inclusion shows that 76 percent of undergraduates enrolled at the university are white. Black students represent roughly 5 percent and Hispanics approximately 3 percent. All other racial and ethnic groups only collectively amount to about 8 percent.

Our institution more closely resembles the fictional Winchester University in Justin Simien’s “Dear White People” than it does the wider world.

Chuck Singleton, a member of the Delaware Coalition to Dismantle the New Jim Crow, was interested to see what the film was about. He also wanted to learn how it related to his organization’s examination of poverty, equal opportunity and discrimination, with the hopes that it will develop a collaboration of all people to help solve the problems at hand.

In order to turn discussions inspired by the film into actions, Singleton believes that people should get involved with organizations that are active in that regard, and that openly and freely discuss the issues brought up by the film.

“There is a fear that people in general have, both black and white, talking about race,” Singleton said. “It’s really a discomfort. There should be an effort to try to get past that discomfort.”

Gretchen Bauer, political science professor, was interested to see the film for similar reasons, and was pleased to see the university was opening up the topic for discussion with its series.

“Historically, we’ve had a problem in attracting students of color to the UD campus,” Bauer says. “It wasn’t until the 1950s that we started integrating the campus in terms of admitting black students. Our number of non-white students remains around 25 percent, and we haven’t been able to move past that despite talk to the contrary.”

However, the obvious correlations between Winchester and our university extend further than race. Senior Jeremy Mathis drew attention to other details that are problematic with the university’s attitudes toward race and the black community.

Mathis explained the correlation between Armstrong and Parker, a historically black residence hall in the film, and the university’s Center for Black Culture, which he says acts as a home for minority students.

“There’s contention around that, whether it be Blue Hen Ambassadors or our tour guides on campus not talking about the Center for Black Culture because they have no idea why it exists or they don’t care about it.”

The film’s climax, a blackface-themed party that calls for students to dress up and imitate the most stereotypical and derogatory aspects of black culture, is the disturbing convergence of each character’s narrative.

As a satire, the film addresses the interactions between black and white students with bursts of dark comedy, but the underlying context and outcome of the movie’s events deeply disrupt the way we understand racial tension.

“Dear White People” succeeds in opening a discussion. Whether or not that discussion turns into action remains to be seen, but for now, students have the opportunity to challenge themselves on what race really means.

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