Dear White People’s Lionel & I

Dear White People,  Every time a new season of this show comes out, people shouldn’t have to explain why the title of this show isn’t racist. Partially because if you took a half hour and just watched the show, you’d know why it was called that and maybe you’d even like it.

Dear White People is an incredible show with an ever-growing cast of characters who really capture what it means to be black in a predominately white college. Everything doesn’t have to be about race, but this is. It is a masterclass on some of the different race-related things that astonish and impact black people every day. However, above all else, it also invites you to look at these characters as people . In this blog post, I’m going to examine Lionel, because he is a carbon copy of me and the closest I will ever get to full representation before my biopic. 

Lionel is the resident writer at Armstrong-Parker, the historically Black dorm on the campus of Winchester University. When we meet him, he’s nervous and unsure of himself. He stares often at the search box asking questions about his sexuality that he’s pretty sure he knows the answer to, and listening in on conversations to find scoops for his newspaper. By the time the next season starts, he’s accepted who he is and he’s ready to stick his neck out to find the truth. Lionel is trying to find love, but he has more misses than hits. He’s had a rough semester with a lot of self-discovery, but he’s still the naive guy who spends more time in old books than living life with the people around him. 

Season 3, which was released in August, starts in a new spring semester where a lot has changed in campus. All the characters have shifted focus, including our dear Lionel. He’s left the hard hitting journalism aside for a while and is trying to figure out where he fits in among the rather expansive LGBT+ community at Winchester. He’s also got a Black queer crew to help him swim through it all, even though “he’s still got his li’l floaties on”. Lionel is trying all sorts of new things in the sake of finding his own story, and it’s going all sorts of places he never would have seen coming.

Lionel is a good guy who just wants to write a story worth telling. He’s working on trading his innocence for experience much like many other people. Lionel landing at the intersection of gay and Black doesn’t change the fact that he’s still a geek who doesn’t get other people’s references. Actually, it means he gets neither reference, so ha! Lionel’s representation of being Black and gay is refreshing because you get to see that in a different way than normal. Gay media has always shown Black gay men as being either wannabe thugs or drag queens. Black media rarely shows us at all. Getting to see a Black gay man assert himself as who he is, outside of how people normally try to see us, is borderline revolutionary. At the end of the day, this is the story of Lionel as who he always has been- a person.

I could write think-pieces on each of these characters for just about any one of the characters that make up the incredible ensemble that stars in Dear White People. Every character on this show gets a chance to be complex, funny, and the hero of their own story. If you need an articulate argument about racism, timely drama, or just a good laugh, try Dear White People, available now on Netflix.

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About the Author

Andrew Walker Watson is a junior International Studies Major. He loves Brazilian rap music, discovering useless facts, and, naturally, writing. If he could ever stop staring out into space, he would like to start a global movement to change the world and guest host Saturday Night Live.
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