What Dear White People Got Right About Hoteps

Dear White People, the Netflix original series based on Justin Simien’s eponymous 2014 film, returned for its second season on Friday, plopping us right back into the lives of the Black students at the fictional Winchester University. Following a moment of heightened racial tensions, an illusive alt-right troll is the newest threat to Black joy on campus. But despite what is implied by the show’s title, Dear White People has always been committed to the personal relationships, histories, and identities of the Black people who’ve walked its campus. This season delivered on that promise by exploring all kinds of Blackness, for better and for worse. An example of the worst came when Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson) met Trevor (Shamier Anderson) in her anatomy lab.
Initially, Joelle and Trevor hit it off and things seem to be going well between them. Unlike the other men on campus who overlook Joelle in favor of her light-skinned friend Sam (Logan Browning), Trevor seems to be enamored with her intellect, beauty, and Blackness. He, tall and bearded, is also a sight for sore eyes. And he manages to sweep Joelle off her feet by showing her hidden culinary gems and history on the Winchester campus that she didn’t know about. He has a flare for the dramatic when talking about meta theories like the plight of Black folks, secret societies, and world domination, but it’s cute at first. Their budding romance is a long time coming for Joelle, who spent the first season as Sam’s sidekick. She knows it and so do we. We were rooting for them. We were all rooting for them.
Joelle realizes that all is not what it seems when she decides to bring Trevor back to AP House, her dorm, and piece by piece, the proof that he is problematic comes together. First, he is a little too overbearing when meeting Joelle’s friends. He speaks over her and assumes himself better than both Reggie (Marque Richardson) and Troy (Brandon P. Bell). Then he claims that Prince O’ Pal-ities is propaganda setup to destroy the Black family because it features gay characters. He casually uses a derogatory, homophobic slur to reference said gay characters. Things only get worse when he calls biracial Sam a mutt and a bitch, and suggests that Joelle isn’t good enough for him because she isn’t acting like the Nubian queen she is. Their confrontation only ends when Reggie punches him in the face.
You see, Trevor is what most Black folks would call a "hotep." Writing eloquently for The Root, Damon Young defined a hotep as “a person who’s either a clueless parody of Afrocentricity” or “loudly, conspicuously and obnoxiously pro-black but anti-progress.” These are Black people who believe that sexist responsibility, politics, and gender roles are pillars of honor and tools to overthrow racism. As such, they consider gay and feminist “agendas” to be strategic attacks against the fight for Black liberation. They over-indulge in conspiracy theories about everything from aliens to the illuminati and tend to lean towards faux-African motifs and accoutrements in their day-to-day lives.
A hotep is often deployed comically in Black communities, especially on social media in response to certain eye-roll-worthy content. In fact, I was surprised that no character had been assigned this identity in the first season of Dear White People. I almost expected for one of Sam and Joelle’s gang to be the adamant lover of the motherland who suddenly grows uncomfortable when gay Lionel (DeRon Horton) is around. After all, the show has done such a great job of incorporating different kinds of Black identity and expressions. It would have been easy to have Trevor as a regular recurring character, using his toxicity as an entry point to dark humor. Instead, Dear White People took a more serious route, and I thank them for it.
Despite the fact that hotep perspectives are often laughable, their politics are very harmful to Black women and LGBTQ identified people. They help perpetuate rape culture with their insistence on policing female sexuality and blindly siding with predatory Black men. Dick Gregory’s insistence that the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby were orchestrated attempts to punish him for trying to buy NBC in the 90s, is a great example of this. Hoteps contribute to the transphobia and homophobia that create an environment ripe for Black trans women to be disproportionately affected by violence and they encourage the baneful masculinity that results in intimate partner violence.
That Trevor entered Dear White People as a threat and not a joke did a service to us all.

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