In case you missed the memo, racism still exists in our country. The headlines, documentaries, and scripted series about the injustices committed against people of color in the United States paint a pretty vivid picture of what the dynamics are. However, racism is not always an aggressively violent act against another human being. Sometimes it manifests in the way we engage one another on a daily basis. It’s the internal thoughts that people have about groups that are different from their own, and how they talk about those differences with people within our own race or ethnic group. For every act of blatant discrimination against people of color, there are are a hundred microaggressions on the other end of the ‘obviously racist’ spectrum, and thousands of acts that fall somewhere in between. These offenses set the stage for the new Netflix original series Dear White People.
Based on the 2014 movie of the same name by then first-time director Justin Simien, Dear White People holds a mirror up to the complicated politics of identity on a fictional Ivy League campus. Samantha White, the main character, is a biracial student at Winchester University. She struggles with her own identity as a mixed race person while holding white people accountable as a student activist, and on her campus radio show "Dear White People." When a blackface party is thrown on campus, the racial tensions that some folks pretended didn’t exist are suddenly out in the open for everyone to see.
If you’re looking for an easily identifiable villain and saving grace in the form of a “good” protagonist, you’re in the wrong place. This show does not rest it’s laurels on the false notion that only bad people are racist and good people can’t possibly be that way. Dear White People admits that sometimes we all get it wrong, and at other moments it sucks to be right. Ultimately, the series is a reminder that with race — like everything else — there’s levels to this shit.
Episode 1 - Chapter I
A narrator with an “ethnic, but non-threatening voice” describes the social landscape at the prestigious Winchester University. It includes a humor magazine called Pastiche, which hosts a blackface party that is quickly shut down by actual Black students. It’s worth noting that the actual members of Pastiche appear to be pretty confused at the scene unfolding around them, and Samantha White (Logan Browning) is catching the entire ordeal — which involves Black students crashing the party, and cops showing up — on camera.
According to our voiceover narrator, Samantha, a.k.a. Sam, is a junior media studies major and one of the few Black students at Winchester. As such, she is often on the receiving end of racial microaggressions and expresses her frustrations as the host of a weekly campus radio show called “Dear White People.” The all-white members of Pastiche are “butt hurt” about the show and decide to throw a Dear Black People party in protest. Pressure from the administration gets the party cancelled, but an invite is sent out without their knowledge. Whatever was on this mysterious invite is what prompted droves of white students to show up in blackface.
In the immediate aftermath of the controversial party, Sam is back to her “Dear White People” hosting duties, discussing racism on campus all the while getting provocative texts from 'Summer Bae.' Sam receives calls from disgruntled white people on campus who think her radio show is aggressive and divisive. No surprise there. Luckily Sam proves herself to be the queen of clapbacks and keeps the outpouring of white tears to a minimum.
Between snippets of those phone interactions, we also meet Sam’s best friend Joelle (Ashley Baine Featherson), who is also Black. They talk about Forever 21’s cultural appropriation, the internal conflict of still enjoying The Cosby Show in the wake of his sexual assault scandal, and whether or not Sam is refusing to hang out with Joelle because of “dick-related plans.” A really buff classmate by the name of Reggie (Marque Richardson) approaches the friends in the residence hall at that very moment and seductively asks Sam what she’s up to.
Cut to a scene of Sam enjoying what appears to be some pretty good midday sex. It’s confirmed that she did indeed have dick-related plans, but said dick is not attached to Reggie. The true identity of ‘Summer Bae’ is a white guy named Gabe Mitchell (John Patrick Amedori). It’s clear that Sam and Gabe like each other as they cuddle and roll around post-coitus. Gabe even seems a little jealous when Reggie texts Sam about her whereabouts. Gabe offers to accompany Sam to her Black Caucus meeting and she declines. He wants more out of their relationship. She politely curves him.
Sam arrives at the Black Caucus meeting and is met by Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton), a nerdy reporter from the Winchester Independent who has been providing coverage of events surrounding the blackface party. She explains the makeup of the Black Caucus, which conveniently stands in as a primer on the different subsets of Black students at Winchester. Sam runs the Black Student Union. They’re woke AF. The African American Student Union (AASU) “does nothing and takes the credit for the work of the BSU.” They’re basic AF. Spoken word artists make up the Black American Forum (BAF), and they throw good parties. They’re the artsy and lit AF. Coalition of Racial Equality (CORE) is led by the son of the university's dean and the treasurer prefers to go by Coco instead her full name, Colandrea. Their vision for racial empowerment involves suits, ties, and politics. They're respectable and stuck up AF.
As the organizations bicker about the best way to respond to the blackface party, a photo of Sam that Gabe tagged with the hashtag “#hateitwhen bae leaves” circulates around the group. This prompts major side-eyes from Sam's fellow caucus members. If you’re lost, dating a non-Black person is often viewed in conflict with pro-Blackness, especially when a Black person is heavily engaged in racial justice and consciousness, like Sam.
When confronted by Joelle who feels rightfully betrayed that her best friend has a secret lover, Sam tries to use her own mixed race heritage as a defense for dating Gabe. “You’re not Rashida Jones biracial. You’re Tracee Ellis-Ross biracial. The world sees you as Black,” Joelle responds. And she’s right. Remember what I said about levels? Nevertheless, Joelle is still happy for Sam and encourages her to bring Gabe around.
Not quite ready for this openness, Sam confronts Gabe about the photo — she’s completely justified in doing so since he posted it without her permission. But it is ultimately her own embarrassment about his race that is causing her discomfort. And when he reiterates that he wants something serious, she decides to stop hiding and invite him to “Defamation” Wednesday, the weekly viewing party for a political drama with a Black female lead. (Yes. Just like Scandal.) Things don’t go as planned when Reggie and Gabe get into a hostile spat resulting from Gabe’s cluelessness and Reggie’s fragile masculinity. Feeling unsupported, unwelcome, and pissed at Sam for not having his back, Summer Bae storms out.
Obviously, Sam is left in a difficult situation. But before she can deal with it, Higgins reveals that his paper has uncovered evidence that someone hacked into Pastiche’s Facebook account to send out the party invite. Taking advantage of the opportunity to tell her own truth, Sam gets back on the air to admit that she set up the “social experiment” to “wake some folks up” and declares that Winchester has a problem. And in the process, she issues a public apology to Gabe.
Episode 2 - Chapter II
This episode is basically a retelling of the events leading up to the controversial Dear Black People party from Lionel’s perspective. His Black experience at Winchester is defined by his hair; specifically, his inability to get his afro “tamed.” The white barbers look like they’ve seen an alien when Lionel walks in wit a full 'fro. He runs into a familiar dilemma when he goes to a Black barber shop. Assuming Lionel is gay, the barbers are hesitant to serve him. In a flashback scene, we see how the homophobia attached to toxic masculinity has stood in the way of Lionel connecting with other Black people. However, that doesn’t stop him from feeling stirred to action when he gets an invite to the Dear Black People party. The lesson here: Black people experience race differently, but we are all touched by the impact of racism.
However, it’s clear that Lionel is struggling with his sexuality. His roommate is Troy Fairbanks — son of Winchester’s Dean Fairbanks, president of CORE and aspiring student body president, and the person who corralled the campus police for a peaceful raid on the Dear Black People and encouraged Lionel’s article in the Winchester Independent. Lionel often finds himself on the receiving end of knowing glances from the out gay men on campus and has recently resorted to sourcing his masturbation materials from the sound of Troy having sex with women in the next room.
In a staff meeting for the university newspaper, Lionel’s front page story is critiqued for not being well-written or rooted in “hard fact.” After calling Lionel out in front of the rest of the team, his editor Silvio demands that Lionel include more of his interpersonal struggles as a “Black gay man.” Taken aback that his secret seems so obvious, Lionel insists that he doesn’t subscribe to labels. Silvio, who identifies as a “Mexican, Italian, gay, vers’ top, otter pup” says that Lionel can’t arrive at a truth in his writing if he can’t find his own. He invites Lionel to a theater kid party in attempt to help him "find [his] label."
It should be noted that said party looks like it’s happening at a professional, themes S&M den, not on a college campus. There is a password required for entry and a bouncer enforcing it. Silvio never shows up after getting getting a lea on a story, leaving Lionel to navigate these fluid waters (see what I did there?) on his own. He meets a mysterious — evidenced by his leather jacket and slicked back hair, duh — white guy named Connor and his “not exactly” girlfriend Becca. They convince Lionel to go back to their campus apartment, which they both refer to as “the place” because… theater kids.
A few beers and a couple of pulls on a bong later, there is passionate kissing between all three parties and a bird's eye view of Becca's vagina. On the precipice of what was sure to be the most awkward threesome ever, Lionel breaks into a giggle when he realizes that Connor is using Becca as a buffer to cover up his primary interest in men. Becca clearly agrees with Lionel’s assessment and she storms out bottomless, with Connor running after her.
Escaping this drama, Lionel meets Silvio at the office. His editor has gotten access to Dean Fairbank’s computer files. They included transcripts of private interviews that the Dean conducted with people of interest in the Dear Black People party. One of those persons is Sam, and her interview makes it obvious that she was the mastermind.
The next day, after Lionel tipped Sam off that her cover was blown, a shirtless, post-coital Troy agrees to cut his hair. Lionel uses this alone time as an opportunity to come out and Troy is surprisingly supportive. He doesn’t make a big deal about it and Lionel finally gets the haircut he so desperately needed. Being face-to-face with Troy’s chiseled abdomen gives Lionel plenty of new content for his masturbation sessions and that’s where we leave him.
Episode 3 - Chapter III
In yet another retelling of the fateful night that some of Winchester’s white students donned blackface, we get to know Troy. While the Dear Black People party is happening, Troy is attending a university fundraiser event with his father. Using flashbacks, we know that Troy’s father is never satisfied with his son’s choices, however polished and inspired they may be. Oh and plot twist: Troy and Sam used to date.
It is Lionel who informs Troy via text that shit is about to go down at the Dear Black People party, and Troy finally stands up to his father. He insists that the police be sent over to defuse a potentially violent incident. His heroic intervention in combination with his elite university connections make him an ideal candidate for student body president. According to our narrator, Troy appeals to a white student body who would like to assuage their white guilt, and a Black student body in need of an advocate.
On the day that Lionel requests his haircut, Troy is having sex with CoCo who wants to know if she’ll be his Marilyn Monroe or Jackie O. once he’s elected. He gives her a vague answer about being both and heads off to meet with his father.
Outside of his office, Troy overhears Sam being reprimanded by Dean Fairbanks about sending the invite to the Dear Black People party. He’s not happy that the university looks like it has a race problem. He puts Sam on probation and sends her on her way. When Troy replaces her in the seat across from his father, he puts even more pressure on Troy to become Winchester’s first Black student body president. No big deal. So like any completely unstressed college student, Troy retires to his room to smoke a bowl of weed from his well-hidden stash.
Lionel offers to hit the campaign trail with Troy for personal reasons that we have yet to uncover. This trail sees Troy appealing to all of Winchester’s cultural sets: he promises the Black students that Pastiche will be held accountable for continued acts of racial hostility. He speaks Spanish to the Latino students, promises high tech internet access for the computer science majors, and prepares a culinary presentation for his Asian constituents. He tells angry feminists that gender equality is coming to Winchester and he helps the jocks win a game of tug-of-war. He’s the perfect political candidate. And if we know anything about perfect political candidates on TV, it’s that they never are. Our first indication of this with Troy is that he votes for someone else when he steps into the voting booth.
At a stuffy election night party, his father introduces him to Nika Hobbs (Nia Long), an African American studies professor and student-faculty liaison. Professor Hobbs' lover, a beautiful woman named Monique, is also in attendance and they are the queer girl couple I’ve been waiting for on television. Later that night, the university’s president asks Troy to look out for his son Kurt, who runs Pastiche. In the wake of the backlash against them for the blackface party, they’ve made matters worse by running an issue with a lawn jockey in blackface on the cover.
Escaping the ever watchful eye of his father, Troy escapes to another party where he can drink (he’s one year shy of 21). He is also planning to meet an anonymous lover at a boathouse via text when he runs into Kurt, who apparently has a history of being a clueless douchebag. The only reason Kurt didn’t send the invite to the Dear Black People party himself is because his father found out, and he thinks the lawn jockey in blackface that he put on the cover of Pastiche was a safehouse signal during the Underground railroad. His source? Wikipedia. Troy walks away, refusing to guarantee him a pardon.
Sam apparently isn’t the only one with a secret lover. In the boathouse, Troy’s anonymous fling is revealed to be Professor Hobbs who has ditched her cocktail dress for lingerie underneath a trench coat. The two have been having an affair for two years. Troy confides in her that his Black advocacy is heartfelt and after an encouraging word from his older lover, they have hot boathouse sex.
They wake up on the boathouse floor (why they don’t do their thing in an off-campus hotel is beyond me) later than planned to news that Troy has won the election and Thane Lockwood, the campus jock and star football player, died the night before after getting drunk and trying to fly. Another bowl is in order for Troy, but he is interrupted by a text from Kurt that includes video footage of his rendezvous with Hobbs and another plea for a pardon.
Episode 4 - Chapter IV
Once again we are brought back to the night of the Dear Black People party. This time, CoCo is on the spot. She is in attendance at the party not in protest, but because the white friends with whom she spends her time convinced her it would be a good time. She’s uncomfortable with blatant racism at the party, but feels differently about how her peers should respond. She thinks Sam’s version of activism is too militant and tells her so directly when Samantha films her at the party. “This may come as a shock to you. But these people, they don’t give a fuck about no Harriet Motherfucking Tubman. They spend millions of dollars on their lips, their tans, their asses, Kanye tickets... because they wanna be like us. And they got to be for a night.” These words come back to haunt her later.
As a dark skinned Black girl, CoCo grew up feeling inferior — as evidenced in a flashback scene where a classmate calls her Black doll ugly. As an adult in college, her dorm room is filled with expensive clothing, makeup, wigs, and a party invite that was slid under her door. And despite her involvement in CORE, she is the Queen bee of an elite clique of white girls. During lunch, CoCo and her friends discuss the invite to the exclusive Pegasus party.
Their conversation is interrupted by Sam’s radio show (which now comes with a disclaimer), where she is doing a segment called “Woke or Not.” She names Troy as not woke after playing a clip of him exonerating Pastiche. Then she plays autotuned snippets of CoCo’s impassioned speech at the Dear Black People party for all of CoCo’s white friends to hear. CoCo marches to the studio and confronts Sam, accusing her of not being a “real sista” and using light-skinned privilege to become the moral authority on who is woke enough. Her comments seem out of place, but there’s something deeper going on here.
Most of this episode is a flashback. Sam and CoCo’s deep resentment for one another makes sense now, because they used to be friends. They were roommates who bonded over making fun of CoCo’s white friends, and feeling like outsiders. Despite her own keen awareness of their racism, CoCo desperately wanted to be accepted by her white peers — and Troy, whom she has a huge crush on. Meanwhile, Sam is struggling with feeling not “Black enough” to be accepted by the people doing the racial justice work she was interested in. On the night that news breaks that no indictment will follow the killing of an unarmed Black teen, Sam and CoCo react in different ways. Sam feels activated and called to do more work for the cause while CoCo, who already feels disenfranchised and hopeless, chooses to disengage. It is a sign of the chasm that will grow in their friendship.
When Sam speaks up in a BSU meeting and finally gains the approval of her peers, members of a prestigious Black sorority take notice. They admire Sam’s character — in addition to the light skin and long hair that come with her mixed race — and invite her and CoCo to their informational. Sam isn’t interested in joining an organization that she finds to be too elitist. But the air of elitism is what attracts CoCo, who gets a painfully tight weave (which is not realistic) and follows through with a pledging process.
The girls get into a huge fight in their room, airing some of their pent up resentments. Sam thinks CoCo is a sellout. CoCo thinks Sam is overcompensating for the fact that she didn’t know she was Black until later in life and isn’t sure who she is. Both of these things are true and the trench grows wider between the women. Sam gets deeper into her activism and starts dating Troy. CoCo, who dropped out of her pledge process when she heard her big sisters talking about her behind her back, finds herself not woke enough for half of the Black people on campus and not bougie enough for the other.
In the present day, CoCo attends the Pegasus party, hosted by Winchester's children of the 1%. When the sorority girls who once shunned her try to get access to the party, CoCo gets her vengeance by denying them access — making her moment of social acceptance and mobility even more sweet.
Later that night, Sam shows up at her door with a peace offering. And although she still feels compelled to call out the differences in how Troy treats her versus when he dated Sam, CoCo is content with the hand she’d dealt herself.
Episode 5 - Chapter V
Oh hi, Reggie. This episode is all about Sam’s “partner in arms” as the narrator calls him. Feeling like revolution is dying out, Reggie — who is apparently a coding genius — developed a Tinder-like app where users can swipe left or right on whether or not someone is woke or not. The most woke students are ranked by votes. He’s also still jealous that Sam is dating Gabe.
Joelle and James convince Reggie that he needs to stop focusing so much on activism and take some time to enjoy life. They swing by the AASU cook-in but aren’t satisfied with the food selection or crowd. After they provide their Kenyan friend, Rashid, with a way out of an overdone conversation with a Christian missionary, he joins them on their Saturday adventure. While strolling across campus, they open up about their discomfort with Sam’s interracial relationship. We know why Reggie is salty about it. Joelle is supportive of her friend, but disappointed that she indirectly supports the idea that Black men aren’t good enough. And because Dear White People knows that none of us get it all the way right, the group responds to Rashid’s inquiry about American Black men being obsessed with white women with one word: Anal.
The quartet arrives at a football tailgate, where they’re confronted by Troy and Coco. The new leader of their student body is upset that he was rated “not woke” on Reggie’s new app. And they meet Ikumi, who identifies herself as their “catchall Asian friend” and tags along with them for the rest of the day. Their newly-formed group of five becomes six, when they infringe upon Lionel’s solo date to the movies. And after forcing him to watch a trashy urban fiction film, Joelle, Reggie, and James complain about it during a nighttime stroll after the movie. Rashid calls them out for complaining too much.
Joelle finally has enough of Reggie complaining about Sam and Gabe, while subtly revealing that her feelings for him are deeper than they seem. They decide to really loosen Reggie up by going to a party thrown by one of Reggie’s white friends, Addison. Yes, militantly pro-Black Reggie has a white friend… for now. Ironically Troy, CoCo, Sam, and Gabe are all also in attendance.
Reggie and Addison nail tipsy trivia together and celebrate on the dance floor. When I heard the intro to Future’s “Trap N***s,” I felt like it was an important moment for the show and I was right.
A very white Addison raps the words along with Future… all of the words. Reggie tells him not to use the n-word and Addison is deeply offended. He doesn’t like being asked to censor himself and interprets Reggie’s discomfort with him using the word as being called racist. He’s “not some redneck.” Kurt comes along and antagonizes the students of color for being oversensitive rebel rousers. And Addison demands to know why they can’t all just have fun.
This private altercation sends the party spiraling into chaos as heated conversations about race erupt all over. Addison and Reggie end up in a physical scuffle when someone accidentally shoves Reggie. And in a moment of horribly tragic timing, the police show up.
Even after Addison insists that everything is fine, the police zero in on Reggie for reasons I shouldn’t have to explain. The officer asks if Reggie is actually a student. His response is, “Yes. My tuition pays your fucking salary.” The officer demands to see a student ID despite other students confirming his enrollment. When Reggie offers a flippant response instead, the officer pulls a gun on him. Reggie slowly retrieves his ID, the officer hands it back and shuts down the party, sending everyone home pretty shaken.
The episode ends with Reggie crying on his floor with Sam on the other side, calling for action.
Episode 6 - Chapter VI
Sam tackles Reggie’s frightening ordeal on her radio show while Joelle stress eats chicken nuggets in the background. Later, they attend a school wide BSU meeting calling for action. Everyone is riled up, demanding that the officer who did this be held accountable. Reggie is solemnly silent while people toss around ideas for guerilla tactics and shows of force. To the latter point, CoCo speaks up in her most impassioned moment yet. “If we double down on our Blackness, they double down on their bullets.” Her experiences growing up on the South Side of Chicago have caused her to prioritize self-preservation — even if it gets mislabeled as “assimilation” — which is why she isn’t interested in the woke Olympics that the rest of her peers want to play. “Who cares who’s woke if you’re dead?” she asks the group before going to Reggie’s side.
Troy is also in attendance, and assures everyone that Reggie has a one-on-one meeting set up with the Dean Fairbanks. Sam and Joelle immediately offer to accompany him, as does Troy to act as a liaison, James to keep it real, and Gabe to make sure the dean knows that what happened to Reggie is a “student issue, not a Black issue.” It’s a beautiful display of community support. However, everyone except Reggie shows up to meet with the dismissive Dean Fairbanks.
With Reggie M.I.A., Rashid, Joelle, Sam, Gabe, and James devise a plan for a direct action at the pep rally. Afterwards, Gabe asks Sam to meet some of his friends. She meets him, Milo, and Vanessa at a local cafe. They “get it” and spill the tea that Sam’s personal woke bae has rich, conservative parents who support the Bush family. Vanessa also clues Sam in on the effects of being a public victim like Reggie was. They aren’t allowed to grieve because their trauma is immediately politicized.
Afterward, Sam finally tracks Reggie down outside of a class. She tags along with him to a mysterious open mic event. Becca and Connor are still together and Becca performs a weird appropriative dance, while Sam wonders why she never knew that Reggie was into these kind of events. Not only is he into it, but he performs a powerful poem of his own. (I usually hate spoken word, even if it is about valid trauma and pain, but I was impressed.)
Despite Vanessa’s earlier lesson, Sam almost immediately asks Reggie to perform the piece at the pep rally while they walk back to Reggie’s room. He refuses, telling her that his pain isn’t her platform. She says it’s his responsibility to channel that pain into the movement. When he suggests that he just needs time to be a man and not the entire movement, Sam claims that she hasn’t been allowed to be a woman.
Somehow this conversation transitions into a hashing out of Reggie’s personal feelings for Sam, proving how muddled love can get in collective work. Sam insists that she is “here” for Reggie. And it looks like she might mean that in more ways than one.
It’s time for her to head to the direct action, but Sam walks into Reggie’s room instead. Just as they go in for a kiss, Gabe calls. Sam ignores it and looks into the camera before the episode ends.
Episode 7 - Chapter VII
This is the first episode of Dear White People that actually focuses on a white person, Gabe. Our narrator illustrates the love that Gabe has for Sam, even when it’s really hard to bear the brunt of conversations about racial identity when he’s around her friends. He loves talking about music with her, but not more than he loves her. He is naturally alarmed when she doesn’t show up for the pep rally disruption that she planned and refuses to answer calls. So he shows up at her door with ice cream and a couple of questions.
He willingly accepts her excuse Reggie was “a mess” and needed moral support, which caused her to miss the action. And this may be true. We have no physical evidence that Reggie and Sam slept together. But Reggie is suddenly back in the mood to protest as he attends yet another Black Caucus meeting. And when Gabe offers his support, Reggie responds with a smug “I think I got everything I need.” Gabe is getting visuals of Sam and Reggie being very weirdly intimate — in one scene Reggie licks Sam’s hairline.
Gabe and Joelle are stuck together to canvas for a protest of the town hall the school administration has planned. In between finding out a lot of intimate details about their student body — a representative from the school’s Asian American cultural group is using programming to get back at the LGBTQIQ alliance member that she’s having a secret with — Gabe figures out that Joelle has the hots for Reggie, and that Reggie also has the hots for Sam. It’s a moment of bonding between two forlorn lovers. But it takes a turn for the worst when Gabe admits that he’s the one who called the police on the night of Reggie’s ordeal. Joelle, ever the good friend, forbids him from mentioning it to Sam.
Gabe and Sam fight after a dinner party with his friends, which oddly leads them to the conclusion that they’re in love. They iron out the details of their fresh coulpledom — which includes settling on Gam as their couple name — and fall asleep peacefully in the radio studio. They wake up to the news that the leaked 911 audio from the party proves the police officer overreacted by pulling a gun on Reggie. Obviously, Sam recognizes the voice on the call and storms out, heartbroken.
Trying to get her back, Gabe searches her dorm and finds her amidst the Black Caucus members, who have all identified him as the voice on the 911 call. He begs her to talk and apologizes to Reggie, but the damage has been done. He’s fucked.
Episode 8 - Chapter VIII
The eighth installment of Dear White People brings us back to Lionel. The narrator reminds us that Lionel’s introverted nature drew him to journalism. He documents the world around him, but rarely ever participates in it. However, Gabe being demonized as a result of the 911 call that should have incriminated the campus officer has Lionel feeling like neutrality is no longer an option.
So he pitches a story about Troy, hoping to show that not even the campus Golden Boy is exempt from the effects of racism. Silvio likes the idea but assigns the story to Brooke, an overachieving writer on the newspaper staff. He assigns Lionel a drab story about annual parade.
Lionel returns to his room defeated, weirdly sniffs Troy’s underwear, and finds Troy's weed stash. Then with nothing else to do, he signs up for a Grindr-like dating app before Troy returns to his room to invite him to play video games. The two talk about limits of masculinity, the beginning of what looks to be a budding bromance.
At the parade, Lionel is frustrated to find that Brooke is already interviewing Troy. He urges his roommate not to trust Brooke and once again goes silent when Reggie and Sam show up with misspelled flyers for yet another protest. (The pair hasn’t wasted any time getting cozy after her split from Gabe.) Kurt also joins their group on the parade's periphery to patronize the campus activists, and subtly remind Troy about the damning evidence he has against him.
Troy and Lionel decide to ditch the parade and hit up a local bar using fake IDs. “Winchester seems so far away from here,” gushes Troy. Obviously this is his weird safe space. Troy’s old roommate — who recognizes Lionel from the dating app — is the bartender and DJ. The roommates talk over beers about their childhood upbringings, their relationship with their parents, and the pressures of being Black at Winchester. Troy opens up about the pressure he feels from his father, who is clearly trying to shield him from racism by forcing him to be perfect.
What’s more, Troy’s secret lover, Professor Hobbs shows up at the bar with her fiancé, and despite their best efforts to be coy with one another, Lionel definitely picks up on their vibe. He’s both impressed and surprised when Troy confirms that he indeed “hit that.” But that still doesn’t stop Lionel from thinking that a very drunk Troy wants to hook up with him in the bathroom. Lionel is heartbroken to know that Troy actually just needs clean urine for his father-required drug tests.
Still not ready to call it a night, Troy and Lionel leave the bar and sneak into his editor’s office to steal booze and end up getting caught by Silvio. Instead of firing him, Silvio — who has become Lionel’s unofficial gay guide — chides him about stopping Brooke’s scoop on Troy and reminds Lionel that Troy will always be straight. Silvio also fills him in on the latest satirical article from Pastiche, a story that Lionel missed out while holed up in a bar with Troy.
This combination of truths inspires Lionel to write the story he originally pitches, using the personal information he got from Troy during their boy’s day out. I can think of more than a couple people who aren’t going to be happy about this.
Episode 9 - Chapter IX
CoCo is easily my favorite character on Dear White People. Even though she is pinned as the oppositional brat to Sam’s white knighthood, she has a depth and complexity that makes sense to me. She has a solid plan laid out for her life that includes finding a husband. She’s made it a goal at Winchester to secure this man. Her ongoing relationship with Troy makes her feel like she’s on the right track.
Naturally, she’s furious when she reads the article that Lionel wrote about Troy in the school paper. She doesn’t think that it’s a good use of press for Troy. She expects Troy to be just as upset, but he is surprisingly calm. He tells her that after his father read the article, he gifted Troy a watch and invited him to a “donor thing” with the Hancocks, a wealthy funder. He invites CoCo along and the possibility of being this close to such important people launches her on a fantasy ride about their future together.
A midday sex session ends abruptly when Troy accidentally pulls off her wig (which I can tell you is one of the worst things that can happen to a wig wearer during sex) and they share a tender moment where Troy expresses an appreciation for her beauty, sans wig. Feeling inspired, CoCo attends the donor event with her natural curls on display.
Initially CoCo is uncomfortable after witnessing an intimate exchange between Troy and Professor Hobbs, who has set a date for her wedding. Troy and Hobbs aren’t great at pretending like they aren’t fucking and CoCo isn’t stupid.
But always the go getter, CoCo still plans on making some power plays. She is putting her best foot forward with the Hancocks by talking up admissions initiatives and name-dropping her mentor Leonard McCullen. However, the Hancocks are more aware of the campus climate than the dean gave them credit for. Not only are they aware of the Dear Black People party and a gun being pulled on Reggie, they know that students are planning to protest the town hall that Troy has set up with the administration.
The Hancocks have their own ideas about what needs to change on Winchester’s campus: the elimination of traditionally Black housing on campus, which they call “self-segregation.” This housing tradition is one that not even Dean Fairbanks wants to see eradicated at the university; but with a $10 million donation on the line, the pressure is on and CoCo knows it way before Troy does. She suggests that getting Sam to cancel her protest might help make the Hancock’s more comfortable with giving to Winchester.
She confronts Troy about this — and his affair with Professor Hobbs — and is met with general ambivalence. So CoCo takes matters into her own hands and pays Sam a visit at the radio studio the next day. Predictably, Sam is unmoved by CoCo’s urgings to cancel the protests even if the Hancock’s donations could go towards recruiting more students of color. She’s convinced that Troy simply doesn’t want his event ruined, and it doesn’t help that he shows up unannounced, on the same mission before CoCo and Sam can wrap up their conversation.
Troy is pissed at CoCo for speaking to Sam before he had a chance to. He thinks it means that she doesn’t believe in him and breaks things off with her. In a moment that would usually break CoCo, she seems suddenly even more confident of her own strength. She effectively tells Troy that she’s better than him and that he was a waste of weave. She walks out with her head held high, and I believe her.