There’s been an overall shift in the gang since last semester.
Dear White People Volume 3 picks up right up where volume two left off, with black Winchester students Sam White and Lionel Higgins being approached by the narrator who turns out to be a long time member of the Order Of The X, a secret organization at Winchester formed by members of the black student body in order to advance the agenda of black liberation by means of covert operations. Sam and Lionel sought out the Order Of The X after their attempts at pushing back against their racist school institution hadn’t been getting them the results that they needed. However, when the narrator tells them that The Order has all but disappeared, they drop the effort altogether and go their separate ways.
Months later, the main characters of the show are seen in a more relaxed state. Seasons one and two showed the students dealing with the micro and macroaggressions of their non-black peers. They’ve dealt with a blackface party, anti-black student media outlets as well as the protest following the brutal attack on Reggie. The radio show for which the series is named was a way for the black students to get their collective voices heard through a non-filtered medium. However, many black students have decided to quietly put down their activism hats to focus on their personal lives which the show does in an earnest way that shapes the students into much more rounded characters than the box-checking archetypes they clung to in season 1.
Sam, the creator of Dear White People, is taking a break from the show to focus on her film project that’s meant to capture the human condition creatively. Coco is still fighting for her place in a white male-dominated institution and is focusing on receiving a prestigious internship, while also dealing with the family she tries relentlessly to distance herself from. Lionel is exploring his sexuality, but this time he has a queer black friend in D’Unte, played by the fiery Griffin Matthews. It’s great to see him connecting with a community of black queer people after spending his freshman year being fetishized. Troy finally achieved his dream of being on the satirical student paper Pastiche, but still faces scrutiny as the only black writer in the room, and after being chewed up and spit out by the machine decides to spearhead his own satirical magazine. Troy and his father are no longer at each other’s throats, and he has newfound confidence to combine his passion for social justice with his love of comedy.
The only two main people still holding down the black caucus and the radio show are Joelle and Reggie, but their romantic relationship threatens to put both in jeopardy. Reggie used to be one of the loudest voices in the group, but now he plays video games all day, only going out to spend time with Joelle. He gets wrapped up under the wing of a Winchester alum, whose app prototype helps to organize his life and manage his PTSD. However, his admiration for this man becomes problematic after he defends him after a serious sexual assault allegation by a young female student, much to the ire of Joelle. This leads to a much-needed discussion about how black people are often programmed to take up for straight black men even though they may have done something morally wrong to protect them from the system of whiteness, bringing to mind the current trial of R&B singer R. Kelly. This arc ends with a much needed coming to terms with Reggie’s internalized misogyny and becomes a great example of what accountability looks like.
And Al, the all-around hype man can’t get anyone to sign his petition but still gets hit up for weed. After feeling ignored by his black friends, he decides to dip into his Latinx roots and seeks out students that share his ethnicity.
The gang is in a transitional period, one that many black students who become conscious during the age of Black Lives Matter deal with. Many become enraged, frustrated and saddened when their eyes are opened to the racial injustices they see not only on television but in their immediate communities. Many young black people feel inspired to come together and organize to protect themselves from the constant attack of anti-blackness that seeps into every aspect of their lives. However, several factors come into play that makes it harder for them to push a clear and concise agenda.
In the 2008 book Encyclopedia of Race Ethnicity & Society, author William Smith coined the term Racial Battle Fatigue. Racial Battle Fatigue or RBF is described as “a theory attributed to the psychological attrition that People of Color experience from the daily battle of deflecting racialized insults, stereotypes, and discrimination. RBF is the cumulative effect of being “on guard” and having to finesse responses to insults, both subtle and covert.” Black people face many of the same injustices but are not a monolith, and with that comes a clash of ideas from within. Sam and Coco were always at each other’s throats for wanting to obtain black liberation from different angles. There’s a frustration that comes with progress not happening as quickly as desired, which can cause many young black people to reassess their place in the movement.
Black activism has been shown to be very taxing on the body and the mind, and with prominent activists/organizers such as Edward Crawford and other men connected to the Ferguson protests shockingly passing away, it is perfectly normal for black people to step back from the marches and protest signs and fight for their people in their ways. Sometimes black liberation can be as simple as living one’s life as they want to live it.
Dear White People Season Three is a season of self-care. Most of the characters we’ve known since the beginning have been given satisfying arcs this season, all of them stemming from the fatigue all of them feel from fighting the good fight. Unfortunately, Rashid, the stand-in character for the African immigrant perspective, was written out of the greater narrative as a failed love interest for Joelle. He was given two friends that exchanged critiques about African culture, but all of them had the same stereotypical African accent they are mocked continuously for. It’s like Winchester existed in a vacuum outside of the cultural phenomenon of Black Panther. It would have been unusual for an African-American character to have an Americanized accent, as many children of immigrants have been born in the states, and then have them slip into their colloquial English when talking to their families. Showing how African-Americans have to code-switch just like their Black American counterparts would have exciting to see play out. It was also frustrating to see Joelle have to take on the work of Sam and Reggie while they took a (much needed) break. As a dark-skinned black woman, Joelle deserved a break too.
The students of Winchester are figuring themselves out this season, and that’s a good thing. The students reflect how black people fight for their place in this world in their own ways every day. I do hope Justin Simien’s got another season in him. The revolution isn’t over; the warriors just need to rest.