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Lions Roar : September 2017
about who I was and what I was trying to say.” In a blog post about the experience, he quoted social critic James Baldwin: “One of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” Simien doesn’t pretend his pain is gone. While he has worked through his depression, he still feels the acute pain of oppres- sion and the legacy of racism. He occasionally finds himself weeping for those whose stories were never told. In practice, Simien’s instruction to himself is “from this day forward.” Even with all of the pain and struggle, he reminds himself that he can always start again. “The misconception is that Dear White People is trying to blame white people. I’m not interested in blame, and I don’t think it’s productive. If we’re gonna fix racism in America, we all have to—from this day forward—say, ‘The past was really fucked up, but I’m willing to take responsibility for the present.’” That’s what Simien’s practice is all about: taking responsi- bility. Even for his opponents. “If you refuse to see yourself in the people who are supposedly against you, it’s very difficult to change,” says Simien. I N THE DRAMATIC ENDING of episode one of the Dear White People series, the protagonist Samantha White says on her radio show, “Cops everywhere staring down the barrel of a gun at a Black man don’t see a human being. They see a caricature.” “My primary job as an artist is to get people to see them- selves in my characters,” Simien said in one interview. “That is political, because a lot of times, Black people are not really seen as human beings. The first goal I have is to create characters that feel like human beings, so anybody can see themselves in their lives. I think that is a political thing.” Simien makes his characters human through investigation. Buddhism helps him understand himself, so he can reject ste- reotypes and uncover his genuine self. Simien also empathizes with his attackers, creating characters that they can see them- selves in, allowing them to see their own humanity in the very people they want to alienate. He doesn’t use his show to assign blame. He uses it to explore a universal experience: the suffering of wanting to fit in. When asked what message he hopes white Americans will take from Dear White People, Justin Simien says simply, “That we’re all having the same human experience.” ♦