*This article contains spoilers*
Disguised as a satirical comedy, the first volume of Dear White People painted the scene of Winchester University, where racism is still very much alive and unfortunately thriving on the alleged post-racial campus. Granted, Dear White People could easily be set on any university. (Seeing as these issues continually impact high schools, universities, workplaces and beyond.)
While Dear White People Vol. 1 focused on exposing the racist blackface party, and thus the even more racist sponsors behind the university itself, the first season of the series also set up an astute narrative about some of the pertinent side effects from racism and racial profiling. From the debris of the could-of-been fatal scene in Vol. 1: Ch. 7, Dear White People used Reggie’s traumatic experience with the campus police to show how police altercations affect people of color in ways beyond racial profiling—which are still equally volatile in their own ways.
After this exacerbated scene (that happens all too often on and off real campuses), the series gave us glimpses of Reggie’s grief from the situation—from the palpable emotion scene, where he broke down in tears to his emotional and physical distance from his support group (i.e. his friends).
Did you finish all of @DearWhitePeople vol 2. this weekend?
— Strong Black Lead (@strongblacklead) May 6, 2018
However, Dear White People didn’t close the chapter on mental health in the first volume. Instead, the show used mental health and trauma as a divisive talking point for imperative issues in volume two. Over the last couple of years alone, there have been incidents of blackface at Xavier University, Oklahoma State University, California Polytechnic State University and University of Arkansas. These racist activities don’t take into account the racist diatribe, the racist threats, the countless racial profiling, or the influx of Nazi propaganda that continue to plague campuses across the world.
Nevertheless, racism can have a lasting impact on POC's mental health, especially after a physically dangerous situation.
Throughout much of volume two, Dear White People follows Reggie (Marque Richardson) as he attempts to heal after the incident in volume one, where he was wrongly targeted by the campus police (who only asked to see his ID, and not the other person involved in the minor pushing match) and inevitably ended with the cop pointing his gun on him.
Dear White People alludes to the fact that Reggie suffers from symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at the end of volume one, and uses his undiagnosed mental health status to show the ways he attempts to cope with this distressing situation.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), black people are 20 percent more likely to experience mental health disorders than people who are members of other communities. Out of the lengthy list of mental health disorders, members of black communities are predisposed to major depressive disorders, ADHD, PTSD, and suicide. However, this troubling statistic about mental health isn’t the only concerning fact about how mental health biasedly targets people of color.
NAMI also notes that people of color are more specifically susceptible to PTSD, and thus suicide, because POC are more likely to be survivors or violent crimes. In 2017 alone, of the 1,129 U.S. people who died from police-related violence, 27 percent of these deaths were people of color, specifically black people.
Vox adds that there is a disparity of how police officers in the U.S. use their force during arrests and detainments. Though the initial statistics in Vox’s survey indicate that white people are more often killed by police, the study indicates clear racism in police-lead murders.
According to the results found by Vox, and extensive analysis by the Guardian, unarmed people of color are more likely to be victimized by police killings than unarmed white people. In general, unarmed implies harmless—especially when compared to a police officer, who are armed with guns and should be trained to diffuse unarmed citizens without extensive force.
Because POC are more vulnerable to death and attacks by police officers, and are also more likely to be racially profiled by the police, the unjustly stressful events can cause people of color to struggle with their mental and emotional well-being.
In Dear White People Vol. 2, the show also implies just how long racist incidents, like the one that Reggie encountered, can impact people of color. As the series uses Reggie’s scenario to demonstrate how, if left untreated, PTSD and depression can lead to drug and alcohol abuse. After confiding in his support group (i.e. his friends and Dean Fairbanks), Reggie recognizes that he might be struggling with his mental health. Over the course of this realization, Dear White People mentions that a school break has passed, which shows how extensive and dangerous these mental health disorders can be.
Although Dear White People uses Reggie’s tribulations with his mental health and coping mechanisms to show that therapy can help individuals with mental health, it hints at a larger recovery process that often impacts POC.
Dear White People Vol. 2 focuses on a plausible interpretation of mental health and how it impacts people of color differently.
In volume two, Dear White People preludes its mental health-enriched themes when, in an early episode, Joelle references 13 Reasons Why, which initially foreshadows how Dear White People will use Vol. 2 to create healthy depictions of mental health.
While Netflix has recently researched the impact of 13 Reasons Why and concluded that it can influence young people to candidly discuss their mental health, 13 Reasons Why focuses its plot on a rather white-washed definition of mental health and subsequent treatments. However, 13 Reasons Why isn’t peerless in how it might adulterate mental health.
Flicks like To The Bone have also received well-rounded criticism, explicitly for how it excludes people of color from media about mental health. Although people of color deal with mental health issues statistically more frequently than white people, there are few Hollywood depictions of people of color treating mental health symptoms. Thankfully, Dear White People Vol. 2 addresses this blatant disparity.
Like mental health houses various disorders, therapies and talking points, Dear White People realizes that people of color handle mental health differently than white people—so the depiction of mental health should reflect these variations.
But Dear White People Vol. 2 doesn’t just focus on one facet of post-racism trauma.
While Reggie’s character development in volume two references one aspect of racism-related PTSD, Dear White People also sets up different racist attacks to show how that can impact POC’s mental health in dissimilar ways.
As Reggie learns to cope with his latent trauma, Sam (Logan Browning) also experiences mental distress from virtual racist attacks, led by the fictional Twitter account AltIvyW. Though Dear White People shows parallelism between Sam and Reggie’s perceived symptoms and how they individually handle these abhorrent attacks, Sam and Reggie manage their situations rather differently.
Instead of detaching from the issues and relevant activism like Reggie appears to do in Vol. 2, Sam uses her radio segment as a way to cope with her mental health during these racist Twitter tirades.
This shows that mental health takes on vastly different forms. Therefore, similar racist attacks—whether they’re in person or online—can affect a person in a variety of ways. These depictions of mental health and how Sam and Reggie continue to handle their mental health works to systemically destigmatize mental health stereotypes, as it shows that there isn’t a homogenous way to confront a person’s trauma.
Aside from the fact that Dear White People volume two shows the diverse range of how mental health impacts people of color, the series uses the differences and similarities between Sam and Reg to subtly reference that POC can have unique approaches to mental health. Likewise, Vol. 2 also illustrates that online racist attacks are a prevalent issue. Furthermore, these online attacks shouldn’t be downplayed or misconstrued as mere trolling or harassment.
Instagram might be working to help eliminate trolling and racist slurs on its app, but racially-driven attacks (whether they’re in person, online, physically or verbally violent, or non-violent at all) are hate crimes.
Beyond the vicious after-effect from hate crimes, which have been on the rise in the U.S. since 2016, namely in regards to hate crimes against Muslim citizens, hate crimes can have everlasting imprints on POC. According to The New York Times, similar news headlines or clips can provoke residual feelings and trauma for people who have suffered hate crimes or any form of racism—which can also lead to vicarious trauma and secondary trauma.
Underneath the overt mental health themes, Dear White People also subtly notes the importance of safe spaces on POC’s mental health.
While volume two shows how Sam and Reggie deal with their mental health, Dear White People uses mental health issues to emphasize why people of color need exclusive spaces for only POC.
After Dear White People introduces its second volume with the temporary integration of white students into the Armstrong Parker (AP) House, which is a historically black residential community, the second volume also establishes some problems that arise when white people invade POC’s safe spaces.
AP’s short-lived assimilation was everything but unifying. While the white students temporary located to the dormitory after an accidental fire in Davis House, they quickly plundered the POC students’ personal time and hobbies. The white students invasively impose themselves on these activities that, typically, help the permanent AP residents escape from everyday stressor (thus promoting self-care and amplifying their overall mental health), which has a notably negative impact on the permanent AP residents' morale.
Obviously, AP is a symbol for safe spaces for people of color. Winchester University is a predominantly white university and the need for activities and spaces that are exclusively meant for people of color is a vital pillar of these students’ mental well-being.
Ultimately, movies and television series seldom explore how mental health and relevant treatments impact POC—because there is little crossover between productions about mental health that also star healthy representations of people of color. While there are a few shows that have helped fight against the mental health stigma in POC communities, including the reboot of One Day at a Time, there is still a deficit between how media portrays mental health and healthy POC characters.
Though Dear White People Vol. 2 doesn’t divulge into all the complexities of how racism-related mental health impacts people of color, it starts a conversation that has been perpetually invisible in the entertainment industry. Although volume two touches on racism-related PTSD, how cyber racism can impact POC’s mental health, identity issues and so much more, Dear White People didn’t have enough space on its tape to investigate these topics further, or to confer mental health can primarily affect POC in the wake of sexual assault or physical violence.
The upcoming volume(s) of the show will likely extend discussions about the topics that are often erased from discussions about race and racism. However, we can’t put all of the pressure to catalog verisimilitude representations of mental health on a single production.
Albeit revolutionary in its own aspects, we can’t expect Dear White People to be the only TV show that redefines mental health and race—nor can we expect Dear White People Vol. 2 to be the almanac on how racism affects POC.
This opens a gateway of opportunity for Dear White People to examine healthy portrayals of a slew of mental health-related issues and how they impact people of color in different ways—from eating disorders to anxiety. However, Dear White People Vol. 2 should inspire other showrunners to not only include these little-discussed topics in their productions, but to continue this extensive discussion. After all, mental health and racism shouldn’t be exclusive to a singular TV show, movie or treatment option.