‘Dear White People’ Vol. 4 absolutely wrecked me

Watching Sam White enter senior year as I count down the days to graduation

Dear White People didn’t give me the ending I wanted, but it gave me the one I needed.

I’ve been obsessed with Dear White People (DWP) ever since the Netflix series’ controversial premiere. This show about how Black students and other students of colour navigate a predominantly white institution has lined up perfectly with my time at Queen’s.

When the final season premiered last week, detailing the protagonists’ senior year as I head into my own, I was once again glued to my screen.

Season after season of DWP has been visually stunning. Some of the character development will beautifully wreck your soul, and some—particularly in the third season—will disappoint you. While the show offers a solid introduction to American race relations, it does so by catering to non-Black audiences.

But despite the technical aspects of the show, the only things running through my mind as I binged this season were feelings of guilt and shame that dissolved and were reborn as an overwhelming feeling of hope. This is the show’s trademark.

Vol. 4 of DWP moves between the present and the future. Main characters Sam White and Lionel Higgins begin co-producing a show based on their senior year, following Lionel’s successful release of the first three volumes as a book series.

Sam and Lionel look back on their senior year as the last time they created art without the pretense of satisfying a publisher or studio exec—the time they were happiest.

However, in flashbacks, we see that even in their senior year, Sam, Lionel, and their peers were grappling with the same self-doubt they’re experiencing in scenes of the future.

Having been put through the wringer by their white peers and a powerful white supremacist university administration, the seniors are more jaded in their activism. They’re making compromises on their demands and are less willing to speak up for their beliefs.

As someone who now holds a position at The Journal I constantly criticized just a year ago, I can’t put into words how deeply those feelings resonated with me.

What was even more compelling was this volume’s development of interpersonal relationships. Established couples like Sam and Gabe and Joelle and Reggie were challenged by differences in perspective they were more willing to see past at the beginning of their romances. 

Sam is especially challenged by a first-year student who is disappointed by how pro-establishment she’s become. As a result, she begins questioning her privileged white boyfriend—dubbed “problematic Pete” by that same first-year.

I’ve always believed that you’re a reflection of the people you choose to surround yourself with, the same belief Sam held in early volumes of the series when she was hesitant to go public about her relationship with Gabe—an occasionally aware but ultimately performative white grad student.

But as we see with Sam, and as I’ve seen in my life, when you attend a predominantly white institution, you’re very limited in your options for friendships and romance.

You can stick to your convictions and spend most Friday nights alone, or you can learn to let some conversations and political beliefs slide, so you have the energy to keep fighting the good fight.

Ultimately, we see our beloved characters in Vol. 4 question everything they’ve become—twice. Once in their senior year, and again an unspecified amount of time later after they’ve truly sold out.

The volume doesn’t exactly resolve any of these feelings, but it does end on a positive note.

In the final episode, the characters are reunited as adults when it’s revealed the studio funding for Sam and Lionel’s project has been revoked. Though Sam continues to pay her rent making commercials and Lionel struggles to greenlight his more artistic projects, the two agree to continue making DWP for themselves and not the studios.

At the series’ end, we see the characters embrace their romantic partners, show gratitude for their friends, and welcome uncertainty.

Maybe I would’ve preferred if DWP gave me the ending I wanted—if it either showed me it was okay to be dating a problematic Pete or that it was possible to get back to my first-year self, who channeled Sam White best. But Dear White People gave me the ending I needed. The one that, ironically, made it clear that none of this is black and white. And that all any of us can do is our best.

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