Dear White People Episode 5 Review (Definitely Spoilers Ahead)

A few weeks ago, when I was working on my finals for my master’s program, I decided the best place for me to write was in my work office on Mizzou’s campus. My apartment building is mainly populated with frat dudes and sorority girls, making it a very noisy and chaotic environment near the end of the school year. The walls are paper thin, and I can feel the music and euphoric screams from their partying pumping through my floor. The school library was too crowded with anxious, Adderall-fueled procrastinators, so my work office was the only place where I could have privacy and silence.

On one particular night, as I sat in my office, I noticed myself getting too hungry to concentrate any further. I have a bag of plain, roasted almonds on my desk for just this purpose, but they just weren’t doing the trick. I needed some sweets for a quick dose of energy. So I decided to exit the office and walk to the other side of the building to the vending machine. It’s filled with some of my favorite snacks: Cheez Its, Mike & Ikes, Cliff Bars, and Garden Salsa Sun Chips. After I purchased my assortment of sugary and artificially flavored items, I headed back to my office. As I rounded the corner of a stairwell, I ran into a night custodian. He yelped then immediately questioned me on who I was and why I was in the building after hours. I explained to him that I was a grad student and worked in the office. His expression remained skeptical as I spoke, so I told him I would retrieve my Mizzou ID to show him proof that I wasn’t breaking into the building. After he looked my card over, he visibly relaxed and said, “Alright brother. I didn’t mean to react like that but you just never know sometimes. Stay safe.”

The custodian also explained that he actually saw me walk out of the building to get to the other side and called out to me. I didn’t hear him since I’m hearing impaired, and even with my hearing aids I don’t hear as well as someone with normal hearing. He thought I was ignoring him which made him more guarded on seeing a lone black man roaming around the building. It’s fortunate that he didn’t call the campus police or arm himself with some improvised weapon, which could have easily happened. But I wasn’t the least bit nervous when he approached me because he, like me, was a black man. That alone made me a lot more relaxed than if he had been a cop. If he was a cop, I’m not sure if I would be writing this. And that thought sends shivers down my spine.

I shared that anecdote because the main factor that defused the situation was me showing the custodian my ID. Even though he wasn’t a cop, he could have reacted in a way that might have caused me bodily harm. He could have tried to restrain me or remove me from the premises. He could have used any of the number of harmful chemicals that the average custodian carries on their person. I don’t know what might have happened. But I do know my ID kept the situation from escalating. When I was first given “The Talk” on how to behave around cops and other authority figures, it was drilled in me: never leave home without ID.

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In that moment Reggie couldn’t muster up the strength to be a force of nature…He had to let himself be human and process how he almost lost his life.

When I watched episode five of Dear White People, I couldn’t help but think of that situation. Episode Five featured Reggie, whom out of all the characters I probably feel the most commonality. Reggie spends a good portion of the episode brooding over Sam and her relationship with Gabe, which while annoying, I couldn’t hate on him for it. I’ve been there. Sam’s best friend, Joelle, does her best to distract Reggie, and it’s obvious that she has feelings for him. In the first episode, after Sam’s and Gabe’s relationship became public, Joelle questioned Sam on why she would choose Gabe when Reggie, “who’s basically Rakim from School Daze,” is crazy over her. Reggie and Joelle’s tension grows throughout the episode as it becomes more apparent that they’re a good match for one another. I honestly wish Reggie would just forget Sam and pursue Joelle but that’s not the focus of this review.

The focus is on the party scene and all of the layered elements it included about the experience of being black while you’re just trying to have fun. I was already prepared for the white dude to be rapping the n-word to a song. Because I don’t live under a rock, I had come across Tumblr gifs and articles shared on Facebook about that scene. I was not prepared for the fight that broke out over Reggie’s insistence that the white bro not use the n-word, and I definitely wasn’t prepared (but also wasn’t surprised) when the cops showed up. What caught me completely off guard was when one of the cops pulled out his gun and aimed it towards Reggie, demanding that he show his student ID. And the cop did this in front of the full view of the party-goers, many of whom had their phones out to record the scene. I felt in the pit of my stomach Reggie’s fear as he instantly transformed from a brash, sharp-tongued revolutionary into a terrified young man, staring down the barrel of a gun.

As I watched the scene, it occurred to me that this did not feel like satire. This scene did not strike me as being an exaggeration of reality, but a mirror. For non-black viewers, the sudden acceleration of the cops arriving on scene to Reggie having his hands up in the air might strike them as ridiculous. It might seem absolutely ludicrous that Reggie could have lost his life. But it wasn’t. The awful truth is that a variation of this scene has already played out too many times. In fact, Jordan Edwards lost his life because a cop felt spooked by a car full of black teenagers. And if you think about it, the factors that led to that cop killing Jordan are much more absurd than the party scene.

This episode feels like a pivotal moment for the series. Just as the blackface party in the movie created the main source of conflict, the cop pulling his gun on Reggie is a moment where everything stops being amusing. It’s one of those scenes where it’s too true to be funny. And that’s what makes the scene so powerful. After Reggie shows his ID, the cop tells him that if he had just shown his ID in the first place the situation would have never happened. Reggie is completely shattered. And the people around him are just as affected. Joelle, Sam, and the other black students exit the party shellshocked. There isn’t a hint of comic mischief or dissident humor. It’s just raw trauma. And the ending scene, with Reggie slumped against his dorm room door, sobbing as Sam tries to convince him to do some sort of protest, that got me. Because in that moment Reggie couldn’t muster up the strength to be a force of nature. He couldn’t immediately go back to being a rebel, calling out the system’s injustice. He had to let himself be human and process how he almost lost his life.

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