The Problem With Dear White People
Before you jump to any conclusions, let me get this out of the way–Dear White People is a great show (sorry white supremacists), and if you haven’t “borrowed” your ex’s Netflix login to watch it yet, I don’t know what to tell you. Despite of the fact that Dear White People is a great show and an obvious improvement on the movie–it is not without its flaws.
One glaring issue that kept on nagging at me as I binged on all of the episodes, was, as many of you have already guessed and even addressed is Rashid Bakr, the sole “African” character. As indicated by the quotation marks around African, while Rashid’s character is written as a Black African immigrant and that is a central element of his character, he is played by Jeremy Tardy–a Black American actor, because clearly there are no talented Black African actors who are looking for work. Other than Rashid falling into tropes of previous “African characters” before him including the trademark terrible accent, the show makes an obvious mistake with making him a character with no depth who offers very little to the plot.
It also makes the weird assertion that Rashid is the sole African student at the school when numbers of African immigrants and first and second generation offspring attending institutions of higher education says otherwise. With a show that addresses diversity within black students as much as it examines racism, it also ignores the reality of African students (both immigrants and 1st/2nd generation Africans) and even students from the islands. Dear White People simply dropped the ball in fully addressing relevant issues like the regularly reoccurring Diaspora wars between Africans and Black Americans, or even friction that may occur between an African exchange student and American born Africans. All of these things are a part of the complicated dynamics that make up the black (collegiate) experience.
While Rashid is clearly not a major character, it would have been interesting to have an episode from his perspective; giving viewers the chance to learn about the trials and tribulations of someone who is attempting to learn and possibly assimilate to a new culture, while going through the typical stress associated with college. Giving us the very rare treat of getting to see an African on our screens portrayed as a full-fledged, multi-dimensional person. Pinocchio’s chance at finally being seen as a real boy.
In an interview with CarterMatt Jeremy Tardy shared that show creator, Justin Simien, wants to give Rashid, along with other characters their own episodes in upcoming seasons. The actor also expressed hopes for more indepth exploration of who is character actually is. So hopefully, in upcoming seasons we’ll get to see actual development of this character, an improved accent (a girl can hope), and the addressing of these issues. In the meantime, we should use this as a reminder of why we should take it upon ourselves, as Africans, to tell our own stories.