I don’t watch a lot of television, but if it’s one show I WILL watch religiously, it’s the show A Different World. This show is a spin off from The Cosby Show and because it is my absolute favorite, I have deemed it as one of the greatest shows of the 90’s.
Set at a fictional HBCU in Virginia called Hillman College, for six seasons the show followed the colorful lives of Whitley Gilbert, Dwayne Wayne, Ron Johnson, Kim, Julissa and so many more. We watched as the characters navigated life, love and everything that in between that concerned being young and Black in America.
Incredibly ground breaking during its time, A Different World tackled tough subjects such as colorism, domestic violence, and even living with HIV.
Much of the show’s content matter is still relevant today, so it was no surprise to me that clips of Season 5, Episode 14 were appearing on my Twitter timeline in response to all the racial and other acts of social injustice happening all over the world, but particularly college campuses.
In this episode, we see that Hillman has a huge football game against their rival, a PWI called Virginia A&M. Ron ends up sitting outside his car during the game, and has a few words with some white guys.
One of the white guys tries to spray paint the word N*GGER on Ron’s car, but is busted by Dwayne before he gets a chance to spell out the entire word. Ron and Dwayne and the three white guys start fighting one another until they are busted by campus police and hauled off to jail.
I apologize if you have no idea what I am talking about, but if you have Hulu or Netflix, you can watch this episode and all the other seasons there, but here is a quick snippet (the one that is circulating all over Twitter) I found on Youtube:
Two versions of what happened were told while they were held in the jail cell. Ron and Dwayne’s side of the story implies that they were just minding their own business when the white guys got hostile with them, while the white guys said that Ron & Dwayne antagonized them from the beginning and THAT’s why the altercation broke out.
To Black people:
There are many parts of our identities that are oppressed living in the United States. Racism is constantly reinforced in various systems, such as access to education, quality healthcare, and even grocery stores in our neighborhood.
But even though being Black in America is oppressive, there are parts of our identities that privilege us as well. If you are a heterosexual, able-bodied, absent of physical and mental health illnesses, speak English and able to attend college, then in many ways you are privileged.
I don’t believe Black people can be racist, but we are capable of being prejudice and we have the ability to stereotype people.
For example, we can look at Ron’s interaction with the Native American who sold him the football ticket in this episode. Ron assumed that this man grew up on a reservation, among other things. He called him a “scalper” which is offensive to Native Americans. Ron also reinforced the stereotype that all Black men are capable of doing is playing a sport exceptionally well and being more endowed in the sexual organ department when he taunted the white guys.
On the contrary, the Native American presenting character assumed that Ron grew up in the “projects”, or a housing development usually found in large urban cities that have inadequate living conditions for predominantly Black people.
Though Ron’s interaction with that character was humorous, I want us to think about the language we use to prejudge other persons of color and even ourselves.
I think stereotypes and prejudice comes from a lack of exposure to different groups and sometimes diversity isn’t the problem, but being inclusive of one another’s identities is.
To White people:
I plan to officially address this in another post, but you must understand what your privileges are. Regardless of the parts of your identity that are oppressed, (such as coming from a poor background) as a white person you still are more likely to have access to education, adequate healthcare, the criminal justice system usually rules in your favor (for crimes between you and a Black person), the list goes on.
There were three different types of white guys in this episode plus a bonus one in the officer that I will describe to you.
Guy #1 – The overtly racist one who blames his shortcomings on Black people’s accomplishments. I’m really not sure where his source of anger comes from, but this type of person was obviously taught from a young age about who was inferior. Then he grew up to become a man and feels that things like “Affirmative Action and Quota filling” has hindered his chances on being successful. Chances are, he’s probably mediocre and doesn’t even realize WHY things like affirmative action and even HBCU’s were created in the first place.
Guy #2 – The one who pulls the “my grandparents were immigrants!” card. Contrary to popular belief, all white people who immigrated to the United States did not automatically receive the benefits of white privilege, such as the Irish and Italian. Some had to gradually work their way into being seen as an “acceptable” white person, whether it was through indentured servitude, the owning of Black slaves, and acquiring land.
HOWEVER, as Dwayne Wayne eloquently pointed out: “Your grandfather was an immigrant and gained respect. My grandfather built this country, fought wars for it, etc and still couldn’t go to certain places and get a cup of coffee. ”
What white guy #2 was trying to do was spew the “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality like his grandfather did, which is a hardly applicable to Black people who are/were purposely disenfranchised in America.
Guy #3 – He’s the guy who would rather see no color and love everybody. He may not understand his privilege as a white male, but he benefits from it; but he HATES blatant acts of racism. Being known as a racist is probably the last thing he wants to be known as, but when you hang out with bigots, I can imagine how easy it is to be influenced.
Bonus White Guy/ Mr. Officer – This white guy is particularly interesting to me. He represents the “Down with the struggle” white guy, you know the type you’ll likely see out protesting with us and he reminds us every chance he gets. Though he means well, I don’t think we should be so quick to give him praise. You can march with whomever you like, but even white abolitionists thought black people were inferior and not fit to lead our own movements. Make sure you are including us in your power structures and believe we are on the same level as you before you start trying to “humble” us, which I think the white officer did to Dwayne and Ron.
Though only about 30 minutes long, this episode fuels some very interesting thoughts on race and racism in America.
The officer describes his time marching with Dr. Martin Luther King and says:
“Maybe you should look at me as an individual, and NOT as a color.”
Now that the cat’s out of the cradle, let’s talk!
- Do you think as Black people, we judge others (specifically white people) too much? Are we wrong to do so?
- As a white person, do you understand what white privilege is?
- In lieu of everything going on at college campuses such as Mizzou, Yale and U of I, do you think the reactions of fellow persons of color are justified or an over-reaction?
- Black people, what do you need white people to understand about you?
- White people, what do you need Black people to understand about you?
- What did you think about this episode of A Different World?