What’s Race Got to Do With It?: Addressing White Supremacy Through the Use of the N-WordIn Season 1, Episode 5 of the The Netflix Original Series: Dear White People released on April 28, 2017, Reggie, a black college student and the leader of Winchester University’s Black Student Union is seen at a fraternity party surrounded by mostly white students.
All is well until Reggie’s white friend, Addison, repeatedly utters the N-word while singing along to a hip-hop song. Reggie asks him not to say it anymore however, Addison questions him and attempts to justify his use of the word which leads to a debate. The creator of Dear White People uses characterization and setting to convey how non-Black people-especially white people- who use the N-word regardless of whether or not they understand its historical context, reinforce the notion that Black people are inferior which helps to maintain white supremacy.Addison’s internalized white privilege is shown when Reggie first asks Addison to no longer say the N-word.
When Addison questions, “Wait, so it’s bad if I’m just repeating what’s in the song?” it becomes clear that Addison is portrayed as unsympathetic in the text because he is unaware of the dehumanizing power the term has on Black people in America. Since the N-word is more commonly used as slang now in our society, he believes that it is acceptable for him to say, however, what he does not realize is that violence will always be present in the word when used by non-Black people even if it is said without malicious intent. Due to the fact that the N-word has been used by Whites to torment African Americans for generations, the word should not be used by anyone who is not Black or who is unaffected by the sufferings pertaining to the word. Addison’s unawareness of the negative connotations linked to N-word unconsciously reinforces the belief that Blacks are inferior which helps to uphold white supremacy. In addition, when Addison says, “But, it’s not like I’m a racist.” he implies that since he is not discriminatory towards Blacks, he should be allowed to use the term, although, due to his white privilege, he still does not understand the oppressive history behind it.
That being said, he unconsciously helps to maintain white supremacy by using a word that it is inextricably connected to the institutionalized violence and inherited generational trauma Black people endure. Lastly, Reggie is portrayed as the character the audience should feel sympathy towards since he is emotionally conflicted in the situation. He attemps to prove to Addison that racial slurs are hurtful and offensive when he asks him, “I mean how would you feel if I started rapping to songs, you know, that say ‘honky’ and ‘cracker’?”. As previously stated, due to Addison’s inherent white privilege, he cannot comprehend why his use of the N-word offends Reggie therefore, he cannot empathize with him. Reggie compares “honky” and “cracker” to the N-word but Addison claims that these terms do not bother him.
“Honky” and “cracker” are colloquial terms and can be used out of spite but, unlike those terms, the N-word is deeply rooted in racist ideology that rids Black people of their humanity and individuality. Addison’s use of the N-word strengthens the belief that Blacks are inferior to Whites which again helps to uphold white supremacy. In addition, the setting is a key element in the text which establishes the social environment allowing the audience to perceive how this may influence Reggie and Addison’s attitudes and behaviors. In the very beginning scene, the hip hop song “Trap N***as” by Future is played and every person is hyped up and singing along to it. This song is a sensuous quality in the text which the creator includes to make the setting appear more realistic.
The setting is extremely significant because oftentimes debates about racial issues occur in real public places so, this helps to develop the creator’s claim. Furthermore, almost every character displayed in the video is holding a plastic red cup which signifies that there is an underage consumption of alcoholic beverages and makes it apparent that the setting takes place at a college fraternity party. As most people know, fraternity parties are rowdy and disastrous and people usually become drunk at these events which may lead to heated arguments so, this foreshadows the racial debate that occurs between the characters. In addition, I noticed that there was not very much diversity in the room, although, there were some Asian and Black people, the majority of students were predominantly white. Even though the people in the background are not the main focus, by displaying mainly white people and a small amount of minorities, the creator of Dear White People attempts to set the scene by establishing a suitable place for the argument between Reggie and Addison to occur. Also, by displaying more white people than minorities, this helps the creator further develop his claim that any non-Black person who uses the N-word reinforces the belief that Whites are the dominant race and everyone else is the Other which helps to uphold white supremacy.
By using the college social scene of a fraternity party, the creator of the show foreshadows the debate between the characters which serves to develop their dialogue throughout the text. Perhaps if the creator had used a different setting, the reactions from the characters and their dialogue may not have been as effective in supporting his claim.White people in America are conditioned to believe that they are entitled to everything including using a term that they have been repeatedly told they should not use.
The creator of the Dear White People uses characterization and setting to reveal that any white or non-Black person who uses the N-word regardless of whether or not they fully understand the historical context behind it, strengthens the belief that black people are subservient which helps to maintain white supremacy.