Dear White People
“Chapter VI” identifies itself as a Sam-based episode, but it’s mostly concerned with the fallout from the party at Addison’s house. Those events — which culminated in a campus police officer pulling a gun on Reggie — were so shocking that even our usually snarky narrator was left fumbling for words. “Yeah, I got nothin’,” he said with resignation.
Suddenly, we’re on the Sam side of Reggie’s door. In “Chapter V,” we saw that Reggie was sitting on the floor of his dorm room, openly weeping about having faced his own mortality just a few hours prior. After repeating her “we need to clap back hard” dialogue to Reggie’s door, Sam takes to the airwaves for a very special episode of her show.
“Dear white people,” she begins. “Our skin color is not a weapon. You don’t have to be afraid of it. And heads up to campus security: Nowhere in the curriculum did any of us sign up for ‘Get a Gun Pulled on You and Have Your Humanity Stripped Away 101.’”
Sitting next to Sam is her usual in-house audience, Joelle. As Sam plays the record you’d expect her to play as commentary for the overzealous campus police, Joelle stuffs her face with chicken nuggets; she’s a stress eater. It’s an apt choice, since “Chapter VI” is an episode about the various ways folks cope with stress. Some of these ways stimulate the palate; others stimulate the soul. I’ll leave it up to you to determine to which of these Chicken McNuggets belong.
“How you holdin’ up, girl?” asks Joelle. “Gabe has been amazing,” Sam replies, “but is it weird that, all night, I wanted to be with Reggie?” Joelle deflects the intent of the question — she knows what Sam was implying about “being with Reggie” — and Sam punishes that deflection by throwing away Joelle’s nuggets. Using the five-second rule, Joelle starts eating them out of the trash.
Sam takes a caller. The caller blames Reggie for almost getting his head blown off. “Being a rowdy college student doesn’t mean staring down the barrel of a gun!” Sam yells. “When are you gonna check your white privilege?!”
But the caller is black! “Sorry, brother!” Sam says. “You’re still wrong! Fight the power!” Sam informs this confused brother that there’s a meeting at Armstrong-Parker to discuss the next protest. The meeting is attended not only by the usual suspects, but also by several white students who, under normal circumstances, would never step foot in Armstrong-Parker.
“I wanna know who called the cops,” Al asks angrily at the meeting. “Bring that fool to me right now!” Anger builds until Coco stands up and shares her heretofore unknown experiences. She may be aligned with Troy and the Buppies, but she’s had a harder existence than they know. This may explain why she was sobbing inconsolably as she left Addison’s house.
Addressing the anger in the room, Coco says, “As soon as you double down on your blackness, they will double down on their bullshit.” She reveals that she’s from the South Side of Chicago. In tears, she continues, “I’ve actually seen friends and family members shot, and I wish there were something they could have done about it.” And then she twists the knife: “Some of you, with your liberal purity deciding who’s black enough! Who cares if you’re woke or not if you’re dead?”
The bigger question is why the campus police had guns at all: They didn’t have them before, so perhaps it has something to do with the “Make Campus Safe Again” poster Reggie pointed out in “Chapter V.” (Not for nothing, the show makes a timely plotline out of the issue: A black man named Samuel DuBose was killed by University of Cincinnati police in 2015, the same year these characters would have entered Winchester University.) This episode’s writer, Leann Bowen, puts an almost equal amount of concern into the mouths of white characters, proving that Dear White People isn’t willing to make this simply a black issue.
The great crime writer Chester Himes once wrote that “realism and absurdity are so similar in the lives of American blacks one cannot tell the difference.” When Steven Boone and I wrote about the film version of Dear White People, I asked Boone if he thought that, during the invasion of the blackface party by Lionel and others, someone would get shot by the cops. For all intents and purposes, that film was a comedy — and a funny, snarky one at that — yet my brain remained calibrated for the possibility of sudden tragedy. It put me on edge, much as Reggie’s own run-in did in “Chapter V.” You never know, in real life or fiction, how this particular worm can turn. I’ve been in Reggie’s situation, and the way he handles his trauma is the way I handled mine. At least until the next time.
But I digress.
It’s no surprise that the only newspaper covering the Reggie incident is the one run by “a Mexican-Italian, gay, vers, top, otter pup.” Sam tells reporter Lionel that his version of the story is the one that will change hearts and minds. “No pressure,” Lionel says before heading off to file his article. Perhaps this time, he’ll please his editor Silvio enough to earn some well-deserved praise.
It’s also no surprise that Dean Fairbanks is apathetic toward the supporters of Reggie who showed up at his office for Reggie’s meeting. These supporters include the dean’s son, Troy, who uselessly folds at the first sign of his father’s displeasure. Since Reggie is a no-show, the dean throws everyone out. Before leaving, Sam asks, “How would you feel if this happened to Troy?” It certainly could have, as Troy was standing 10 feet away from Reggie. “Troy would never find himself in this situation,” Dean Fairbanks says in his most haughty voice.
“How can you be so sure?” asks Sam. “Because I raised him,” he replies. This man is clearly delusional, but I tell you what: I’d buy me an Obba Babatundé “I RAISED YOU” bulletproof shield if he were selling them. Hell, I’d even pay the shipping and handling.
“I am not about to let this get swept under the rug like Brandy’s vehicular manslaughter!” says Sam, in yet another of the show’s patented “oh no they didn’t!” lines. Sam needs to find Reggie, but first she has to humor Gabe by meeting his friends Milo and Veronica. They are a rather cringeworthy hipster couple, but Veronica does provide some insight into how Reggie might be feeling and why his disappearance isn’t a surprise. She speaks of the psychological concept of the public victim — people who don’t have time to breathe because their trauma immediately winds up on social media and the 24-hour news cycle. “It’s a lot,” she tells Sam. Veronica also reveals that Gabe’s parents were Bush supporters “up to Jeb,” but that’s a story for another time.
Eventually Sam finds Reggie, who admits he received all 19 of her phone messages. “I’m fine,” he tells her, but Sam isn’t so sure. She tags along with him to a very weird though very familiar type of open-mic night. This one features a dancing white woman who appropriates “at least eight different cultures” while using her “pain to heal Winchester.” It’s at this open mic where Reggie finally deals with his stress, reading a slam poem he wrote about his experience at Addison’s party. It’s a haunting piece, superbly delivered by Marque Richardson. In it, he lists other public victims, including himself. The difference is, he’s still alive. So the revolution continues through him.
Sam tries to commandeer Reggie’s piece for the pep-rally-slash-blockade protest she and Gabe planned, but Reggie tells her the piece was for him, not for the world. This leads to a beautifully written come-to-Jesus meeting between the two biggest revolutionaries on campus. “Ever since freshman year, you have done nothing but look to me to be the leader of the movement,” Sam complains. “You’ve put it on me every single day.”
“You’re Huey Newton, runnin’ up on the steps of the state capital with a bunch of guns. But you do it better with a mic,” says Reggie. “I root for you. I believe in you. I see a leader.”
“I wish sometimes you would just see me,” Sam replies.
“So why you choose him?” asks Reggie, referring to White Bae Gabe. “You’ve strung me along since the first day I met you.”
“This is better than Defamation!” I thought. Reggie plans to hate-watch that show while Sam goes to the rally alone, but she finds she can’t leave. As Sam and Reggie lean in for a kiss, her phone rings. It’s Gabe. She looks at the phone, then at us in the final shot. “What would you do?” her eyes ask. I don’t know, gurl.