There are a few shows on Netflix that feature people of non-white ethnicities. In Luke Cage, Dear White People, and On My Block, racial identity and multiculturalism are definite themes presented in the shows. In these shows, racial identity is paramount. In Dear White People, the main character, Sam, is shown discussing the struggles black people face on her predominantly white college campus. Being mixed raced, she touches on how asking the question, “What are you?” is not only annoying, but also perpetuates putting people into categories of race instead of viewing individuals as human beings. Another interesting in part in the first episode of Dear White People, is when Sam’s black friends find out that she is hooking up with a white man. This upsets them, as they feel that Sam is being hypocritical and not living up to her “black power” ideals by doing this. While watching the episode, I wasn’t sure how Sam’s white boyfriend was going to tie into the plot as a positive or negative character. I thought the point of his character was to show that interracial relationships are normal or that Sam doesn’t hate white people. However, it seems that his character is to challenge Sam’s thinking about how to include white people in her group. Since I only watched the first episode of Dear White People, I don’t know how Sam’s boyfriend will contribute to the themes, but I think that Netflix could have done a better job of focusing on the racism that Sam and her peers experience, instead of throwing in a white person to undermine that focus.
In the three shows mentioned, I think that racial stereotypes were perpetuated and challenged. I think Netflix did a good job of acknowledging the stereotypes, but also used the characters to challenge them, or at least give some context for empathy. For example, in On My Block, one of the hispanic characters, Cesar, is shown being affiliated with a gang, but his character shows that he is less than happy about it and seems to be in the gang to protect his love interest, Monse, from another gang member. Cesar tells Monse about how deep gang culture is ingrained in his family and that he feels stuck in it.
In Luke Cage, the Luke’s character is shown as a good-guy, super hero amidst a lot of bad guys who are black and portrayed as thugs. I think that in Luke Cage, the thug stereotype is perpetuated and perhaps they could have used other ethnicities as bad guys, but I think that it was a safe move on Netflix’s part to not show white people as the bad guys. This would likely have ended in even more pushback from white Netflix viewers than the show already has received. In Lang’s article, “Luke Cage and the Racial Empathy Gap: ‘Why Do They Talk about Being Black All the Time?,’” he talks about the racial empathy gap and how responses from white people to shows like Luke Cage essentially proves the point that there is still a huge amount of racism among white people. I think that shows like Luke Cage will not change the mindset of bigoted viewers, but will only provide exposure to people who are less stuck in a racist worldview. Hopefully these shows will positively portray ethnic communities and influence a better attitude and more empathy towards these groups.
I thought the most compelling character in these three shows was Sam from Dear White People. She had a big personality and made her struggles blatantly obvious to the audience. I was not able to relate to her struggles, being a white female. I felt I could relate to her boyfriend though. I have found myself in situations where people of other ethnicities have made me feel like I don’t belong or like I don’t have any place to want to care about their struggles.