Dear White People makes up for the lack of exploring Lionel’s sexuality in the movie version in this episode.
I Don’t Prescribe to Labels: Lionel [DeRon Horton], Troy [Brandon P Bell], Silvio [D.J. Blickenstaff]
When you are the Black sheep among the Black American race, it can be damaging. For Lionel, he wasn’t into urban culture but stuff like Star Trek and didn’t find his tribe in high school. Yet, at Winchester, being that the school seemingly segregates their dorms, he found himself surrounded by the people he really didn’t have much of a connection with before.
Yet, thanks to the “Dear Black People” party, things change. With his article and him alerting the Black student population, he becomes one of them. However, while he finds acceptance, he doesn’t live in his truth. The truth that he is a gay black man. Something the newspaper editor Silvio clocks, but Lionel doesn’t want to come out with.
But, just to give Lionel the opportunity to explore, he gives him the passcode to the speakeasy the theater kids are having. Leading to him meeting Conner [Luke O’Sullivan] and Becca [Taylor Foster]. Conner is someone who Lionel takes quite a bit of interest in and Becca is the assumed girlfriend. However, it becomes clear that Conner is actually very much gay but using Becca to perhaps maintain some sort of sexual ambiguity. Something Lionel learns as there is some attempt to initiate a threesome.
In the end, however, it is to Troy who Lionel comes out to. His roommate, crush, and perhaps one of the few Black men who might have taken an interest in Lionel. Not sexual, but like a mentor. For while it isn’t clear who raised Lionel, it is clear that many parts of the Black experience have been foreign to him and not just in terms of the media sect.
If each episode focuses on one character, I think this show could honestly maintain its positive rating. For one of the things which made people so hyped about the original Dear White People was its diverse representation. You had preppy Black folk, around the way girls, and everything in between all in one movie. All the while, the majority were “woke.”
Now, speaking on Lionel specifically, one of the things you rarely get to see is young gay Black men. On top of that, there is a serious problem with media dealing with gay men of color, if not LGBT media in general, in which there is a focus on the struggle to display their humanity. Between abuse and violence, their coming out stories are often met with very little joy and a whole lot of mental scars. Yet, with Lionel, we don’t get that.
For Lionel, he is just a young man who never got to really explore his sexuality for there was no one to explore with. So, because of that, while he had a pretty good idea of what he was, he had no means of confirming it. Yet through Becca showing her trimmed bush and seeing a vagina up close and personal, he finds his confirmation.
Making him coming out to Troy and Troy not making a big deal out of it so important. For while it is shown how there is homophobia in the Black community, it is made clear that you can’t make a blanket generalization that every Black person is homophobic. Even if they themselves aren’t queer. Though what really hits home is that Troy doesn’t change on Lionel with this information. He doesn’t suddenly put a shirt on, gets weird about being so close and intimate [note]I find another person cutting your hair to be intimate[/note], but simply jokes how he knows how picky gay men are as he buzzes the hair away. And I should note that he doesn’t say it in a way which can be considered insulting, but just to acknowledge he heard what was said and to pick with his friend a little bit. Show him he is cool with it and it doesn’t necessarily change anything.
Black Loyalty Over Everything (Lionel, Sam, Silvio)
Silvio is about making his paper the premier one on campus. So exposing Sam, who is a very polarizing figure, that would make him one of the greatest editors and be a good look for Lionel. However, over the past few days or weeks, Lionel has grown close to his community and with it being exposed that Sam is hiding how she is different, it perhaps makes Lionel feel like he has found his kindred spirit. So, because of that, as seen in episode 1, he gives Sam the scoop so she can get ahead of the story.
A Black man looking out for a Black woman. To me, that isn’t something seen often enough, especially if said Black man isn’t in the pursuit of getting into the woman’s pants. For on top of the need for more healthy Black romantic relationships, healthy platonic relationships are necessary too. Especially between genders since, at least in popular media, that is a rare thing.
Thus showing Simien may finally be getting to show his true vision of what Dear White People maybe. Not just addressing them in terms of “Stop being racist,” but also realizing that Black people are more than what popular depictions often show us as. We can be accepting of queer individuals without some sort of “No homo” suffix. Black men and women can get along and look out for each other, whether in a romantic situation or not, and even if we perhaps appreciate some white entertainers or white partners, it doesn’t mean we are any less Black. It just means we are rooted enough in our own identity to explore. [note]No one saw this picture and didn’t ask if they were being setup? [/note]