Dear White People: Cultural Production & Citizenship in the Neoliberal Age

This is our world—rampant affairs of identity engulfed in our political climate, with citizenship and recognition spearheading our historical contestations with democracy. In Western pop culture in our digital age, dissension on racism, cultural appropriation and police brutality emerge across our spectacular media representations. From Kanye West’s recent debacle of supporting President Trump to the cultural production of Black essence in Black Panther to the more recent Childish Gambino music video, This is America, reforging one’s identity hits center stage in the post-Obama era. And culture, like Stuart Hall suggested, remains focal in media and communication circulations that construct and sustain how we come to be (or like to be). From the optic gaze of the white patriarchy to the algorithmic architectures of social media, these representations historically reconstruct culture by outlining the conditions of possible ways of being and thus determining the accessibility to equal recognition as citizens. When we consider the conditions of existence that are determined based on the mechanisms of power (like with media), the production, circulation, distribution, consumption and reproduction of culture sets the stage as a complex structure of power, sustained by the articulation of connected circuits and modalities (Hall 1980). However, our digital age has propelled us farther into a global landscape that disrupts the notions of nation-states and citizenship, calling for new hybrid forms of identity for social equality, activism and change. The disjunctures across our global landscapes open a window to questioning if citizenship is a document of legitimacy to live in a certain region or nation or if it is the social recognition by a civilization that treats you as a free being (Appadurai 1990). Conjuring questions of collective identity, we need to ask if assimilation is a necessary precondition for citizenship (Fanon 1952, Washington-Bā 1973). When we evoke the term citizenship, the debate stirs around democracy, legitimate status and the constitution of membership. Who gets to hold this membership and how is it embodied or recognized? Thus because culture is a powerful mechanism in maneuvering through our politics of society, the search for interventionist work that demonstrates hybridization, relationality and authentic representations across cultural production is crucial to developing an understanding of agency and true freedom. With themes of recognition, finding agency, the self, and authenticity, Dear White People, a television series reboot of the 2014 film with the same name, mediates as a satirical comedy to engage with the disconcerting realities of racism by forcing us to have difficult conversations, but also as an inciting contribution to how we process contemporary rhythmic flows of the Négritude Movement today.

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