Naika Reviews “Dear White People (Season 2)”

dear-white-peopleThe first season of Justin Simien’s amazing Netflix show, “Dear White People,” was one of my personal favorites from Netflix last year, and after binge-watching Season 2 eariler this month, I can safely say that it not only continues the conversations that the first season started, but it expands on them with sadness, mirth, courage and even mystery.  My expectations weren’t only met, but they were, frankly, blown away.  In a lot of ways, Season 1 was kind of like an introduction to each of the key characters of the show, along with their major issues, trials, flaws and motivations.  There’s the brave Samantha White, the creator and host of the Winchester University Radio program, “Dear White People,” the shy school journalist Lionel, the tough-guy comp-sci geek Reggie, Samantha’s smart-yet-second-fiddle pal Joelle, the savvy and ambitious Coco, Sam’s on-and-off white grad student filmmaker BF Gabe and lastly, uber-polished school president Troy Fairbanks.  This is ensemble TV at its finest, and if you thought Season 1 did wonders with these characters, wait until you see Season 2.

However, the cast’s evolution couldn’t have happened without challenging circumstances, and that’s really the heart of what makes this season so special.  Season 2 begins with the aftermath of the Hancock protests where Samantha is forced to confront both a relentless troll named AltIvyRight, and a new conservative student radio show sarcastically named “Dear Right People.”  Little by little, our band of heroes are challenged left and right by trolls straight outta 2016, but the shadow that looms largest for this season is the legacy of Winchester.  While the main episodes focus on each character like last season, each is tied with a lengthy introduction featuring how this Ivy League school  historically supported the institution of slavery in America, with our narrator ending each intro with the two most important words in the show, “Watch Closely.”  This not only gives the show a connective thread to each episode’s separate narratives, but makes our characters’ quest for truth against the burgeoning alt-right forces on campus much more global, with greater mystery and higher stakes.  If anything, the show not only provides sharp social commentary, but a nuanced look at interracial family dynamics, loads of soul-searching, a mysterious hunt for an online racist and even the unraveling of a secret society on campus.  Yes, this is ALL in Season 2.

dear-white-people-season-2-02But that’s not all.  Justin Simien and his list of directors provide each episode with a surreal yet probing cinematic flair that slams us into the lives of everyone at Winchester.  These touches range from the long, winding shots of Sam’s studio, to the lonely shots of Lionel trying to fit into a very white Pride Day mixer (loved his defense of Asian peoples BTW), along with Sam’s talk with Gabe in black and red lights and the gothic spookiness of the bell tower.  And let’s not forget Troy’s Fear and Loathing in Winchester as he truly goes out-of-body all over campus, where the camera just creeps and swerves along his ‘shroom-induced joyride….complete with a talking dog!  With all this in mind, I think it’s safe to say that Season 2 is not only food for thought, but it’s an absolute feast for the eyes.  While we were watching, my wife said that each episode was like watching a movie, and you know what?  She’s right.  Every episode is LITERALLY a love letter to the cinematic tradition.  Furthermore, these lovely visuals are punctuated by an amazing jazz score that’s very hard to miss, where each piece provides a quaint but purposeful drive to the events of each episode.  With sounds and sights like this, who the hell needs network TV?  Especially when it’s too afraid to cover subjects relevant to our generation?

In a world where being Black in America means being kicked out of a coffee shop, a shared dorm space or even your own fucking BBQ, shows like Dear White People couldn’t have come sooner.  With astounding visuals, an amazing score, and a cast of characters who are all seeking to find their place in a world that has harmed, shackled and silenced their existence before they were even born, Season 2 of Dear White People is a triumph of what T.V. could be when diverse individuals are allowed to speak their truths both in front and behind the lens.  The conversation has finally begun folks.  Listen well, and watch closely.

Whose Side Are You On Asian-America?

Seriously Asian-America, whose side are you on?

Are you gonna get with the program and pound your feet on the pavement?  Are you gonna do what’s inconvenient and help call white supremacy out when it has its hands on minority throats?

Or are we gonna play the model minority card?

Or feign indifference?

Or point the finger at ‘those undeserving black people’ because ‘they didn’t work as hard as we do?’

This is the penultimate question that needs to be asked amongst all of us here in America.  After the violence that happened in Charlottesville earlier this month, I began to wonder if this will spur more of us in our community, including myself, to act and fight alongside other people of color when more of these hateful rallies roll into town in the near future.  However, folks like Chris Newman, a Charlottesville farmer and native, remind us that it isn’t always the tiki-torch bearing Alt-Right mongrel that dehumanizes us.  Sometimes, it’s that hipster asshat with his artisanal cookie shop and winery.  Sometimes, it’s that liberal white chick who’s really into exercise:

It isn’t Richard Spencer calling the cops on me for farming while Black. It’s nervous White women in yoga pants with “I’m with Her” and “Coexist” stickers on their German SUVs.

Newman also added that for Black people in general, places like Charlottesville are filled with business that use Blackness for their own gains without employing any Black Americans in the mix.  In addition, Black Americans’ lack of representation in the town pigeonholes them into tropes and symbols stripped of any depth, while its other citizens (da white pipo) occupy a variety of depictions that other POCs would friggin’ die for:

Check out C’Ville Weekly’s Instagram feed when you get a moment, and try not to notice that the few depictions of Black people are limited to sports, singing, criminal justice, or single parenthood. White people, meanwhile, are represented as political activists, chefs, cogs in the gig economy, musicians, dancers, people who get married, visual artists, songwriters, architects, landscapers, thespians, artistic directors, wedge-heel-wearing rugby players, dog lovers, farmers, firefighters, and people who play with their kids in cul de sacs.

Richard Spencer is not the editor of C’Ville Weekly.

Truth is, as a Black dude, I’m far less bothered by the flag wavers in this picture than this town’s progressives assuming its race problem has nothing to do with them. The former is a visual inconvenience. The latter could leave my daughters without a father.

I was shocked and angered about what I saw at Charlottesville.  Hell, I still am.  However, we can’t kid ourselves here and say that this was unprecedented.  We can’t keep acting like ‘Oh dear, this is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.’  What I’m trying to get at is that none of this shit started with the Alt-Right steamroll of Charlottesville.  None of this started with Trump or with ‘Crooked Hilary’ or with the end of the Obama Presidency.

It starts when you give off that suspicious look to somebody darker than you on your Saturday morning jog.

It starts when you touch somebody else’s hair without permission, even though you have blonde hair and you wouldn’t dare let anyone else bump into you, let alone touch your hair.

It starts when you show amazement at how ‘articulate’ your ‘ethnic’ co-worker is when you finally have the gall to say hi after avoiding them in the office kitchen for six months.

It starts when you feel obligated to ‘save’ others, or pretend to want to learn about their ‘interesting’ culture in tone-deaf Facebook posts.

It starts when you follow Black kids around your store all the fucking time for no damn reason.

It starts when you give your darker customers wrinkled, furrowed looks but smile like you just discovered the goddamned sun when a white customer walks in.

It starts when you parade around New York to defend Peter Liang.  That’s right, Peter-fucking-Liang.

It starts when you do stupid shit like this:

Notice that what I wrote seems so interchangeable between white folks and Asians.  We talk about white oppression a LOT in this country but don’t ever fool yourself into thinking that we Asians in America don’t engage in that kind of shit either because these small and seemingly insignificant actions can add up into full-blown beliefs that dehumanize other people of color.  As a result, we are compelled to look at darker people with suspicion and prejudice.  This is why beauty shop patrons can get hurt or killed for nonsense in this country.  This is why our pals from the Old Country make insensitive skits and advertisements that denigrate people of African descent even though they have the resources to better inform themselves.  This is why we crave these Anglo-centric ideals of success that puts us AND other minorities on the backseat.  This is why we just don’t give a shit.  This is why we are silent.  We don’t want any trouble.  We just want to be left alone.  We just want to ‘live in peace.’

In response to this indifference, groups like Asian-Americans Advancing Justice or Letters for Black Lives  have emerged to bridge the chasm.  These groups are important because they realize that the battle against both racism and White Supremacy must begin by looking inward.  They know that the Asian-American community is not monolithic, but diverse.  However, they know all too well that no matter how many well-meaning members of our community show-up and do our part to help speak up or protest, we will still have the specter of Anti-Blackness hanging over us.  We will still be related to the family member that talks bad about Black folks in our restaurants.  We will still be the man that makes money off of Black beauty supplies in Black neighborhoods.  We will still be the assholes that have the nerve to sell you booze all day long while decrying that ‘you should stop being lazy and get a job.’  We still killed Akai Gurley.  We still defended Peter Liang.

Sebastian Whitaker from Affinity put it to us this way:

The idea that just because we are Asian and have our own history of oppression does not justify our anti-blackness. We are still partaking in and perpetuating harmful ideas which still oppress black people today. Depicting black people as “thugs” and “gangsters” is a tired trope which has led to many negative outcomes such as the hyper-incarceration of black men, as they are viewed as inherently being angry and guilty of crimes.

We also need to deprogram this mentality that “we’re not like them”. This model minority myth in which we’re “hard-working” and “successful” as Asian people is harmful in itself, but also should never be used as an attempt to dehumanize black people in order to please white supremacy. “We’re not like them” is saying we’re better than them, and stereotypes black people as being poor criminals while we’re the hard-working and successful Asians who overcame our oppression and essentially assimilated into whiteness. In reality, while we obviously have our differences, we’re not better or worse than each other, just different. We shouldn’t have to bring down black people in order to raise us up, especially to adhere to white supremacy.

So to sum it all up, we need to do more.  We SERIOUSLY need to do more.

I’m not here to stomp on the real progress Asian-American activism is doing.  I’m not an authority on this, and I’ve only started waving my signs this year.  However, I’m here to stomp on myself for not being on the streets sooner.  I’m mad at myself for not walking the beat to yell down bigots and I’m saddened to see us sulk in fear instead of marching with others.  What you saw in Charlottesville might just be the beginning, but for a lot of people in America, this shit ain’t new.  It’s time we call our people out and wake up.  It’s time to quit chasing that whiteness that so many of our people crave.  Put away your uber-hip Matcha cake, burn your collection of ugly-ass Abercrombie shirts and stop selling $14 Pad Thai.  Use that time you spend on Yelp to engage with Black, Muslim, Latino and LGBT people and start the healing process.  Use your ears to listen to others’ concerns about how we prey on other communities of color while rarely giving anything back in return.  Use that money from your oh-so-fly white-collar job to go make a sign so that you too can protest like so many others did before us.  Use that education (y’know, the education that your parents constantly talk to your relatives about?) to talk to your selfish, asshole parents about how racist they can fucking be, and tell them that you’re not okay with that bullshit.

Now, ask yourself one more time.  Whose side are you on?

2016: The Good, The Bad and THE GOD-AWFUL!

giphy

If you thought 2015 was god-awful, then boy do you need a slap in the face.  2016 is full of such madness, such despair and such fuckery that I cannot begin to imagine what 2017 will be like (have I said this before???).  With such an unprecedented turn of events happening at the speed of your stupid Facebook feed, it’s no wonder that we’d all like to just throw the year down a trash bin and burn it.  Where shall we begin everyone?  Who or what shall I discuss first?  What in God’s name were the positives?  Do snow monkeys make snow balls and eat them?  We’ll go over it all as we begin with….

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F*CK SPARTA

this-is-sparta

I kid you not. This is a gym around where I used to work in Tampa. Can you guess what kind of gym it is?

When you watch a film like Zack Snyder’s 300, there’s so much in it that appeals to us in a primitive sense.  There’s this sense that you, the hero (or in this case, Sparta) and his or her way of life is threatened by foreign hordes.  There’s also this inherent love of muscle and military might that borders on the fanatical.  Lastly, there’s this inherent feeling of righteousness in smiting the ‘other’, which is exemplified in the film’s last words from Dillios:

The enemy outnumber us a paltry three to one, good odds for any Greek. This day we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny and usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine.

I remember how twisted my feelings got when I heard those last words in the theater.  Sure I had fun, but I seriously never knew that in the years to come, that “world [of] mysticism and tyranny” meant me…meant us.

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My City Screams

little tyshawn

It’s very hard for me to write coherently at this moment about the violence that has plagued Chicago since I left 9 years ago because frankly, I get choked up.  I really do.

From Tyshawn Lee to Laquan McDonald, the violence that erupts when one pulls the trigger, be it a monstrous criminal or officer, is irrevocable.  When I heard the words “9 year old” or “cover-up,” it gets my blood boiling.  It makes me want to see heads roll.  It makes me despair.  I left my beautiful city 9 years ago, and despite all the faces I see in Facebook living it up as transplants, it distracts me from what’s really happening on the ground level, where bodies are strewn about as they drown in their own blood.  Black bodies of people who should be dreaming, hoping and striving, not dying.

I get angry when I hear the words “Rahm” and “CPD”.  Do I want him out of office?  YES!  Do I want someone to pay?  HELL YES!  But I also want people the city can trust.  People we can still look up to.  People who we know can protect and love us without herding Chicagoans (mind you, BLACK CHICAGOANS SPECIFICALLY) around like sheep behind blue fences because there are wars happening.  Wars that erupt over trifles that cost us our little ones.  Little ones who could one day bring us all out of the darkness.

So to all those out on the streets, I stand with you.  To all those holding signs, I shout with you.  To all those deep in sadness, I weep with you.  And to all of those who are wishing for a more peaceful Chicago, I dream with you.