At face value, no one in their decolonized mind would consider Colandrea Conners, or to her preference, Coco, “revolutionary.” If Migos’ track Bad and Boujee and respectability politics were to ever cross paths, they would be embodied by Coco. In Dear White People, Coco aspires to find her seat at the table with the bourgeois and obtain acceptance from her affluent, collegiate white peers. She also makes sure to distance herself from the black student organizations who harbor lots of “Black rage.” Coco has an image she wants to make for herself and becoming some sort of Black revolutionary isn’t it.
Her friendship with Dear White People‘s protagonist, Sam, falters when Sam becomes more vocal about issues relating to Black Americans. Sam is what one would consider “revolutionary” or “woke.” She rocks her natural tresses. She is at the forefront of every anti-racism rally or demonstration. She is also a part of the university’s Black Student Union. Assata Shakur is her icon. Although Sam may come off as the more “revolutionary” one out of the two, in actuality, it is Coco who understands the functions of racism more than Sam does.
It is safe to say that being “woke” is the wave now, hence why Netflix would even consider streaming a show like Dear White People. They know that it will succeed commercially because millennials are pressed about social justice issues. With the popularity of social justice also comes the commodification. It goes from being an earnest way to make this world a better place to a competition to see who is smarter or more knowledgable than the other. It has become performative and social capital for many including heavyweight corporations such as Pepsi. Being “woke” has been diluted to a mainstream pop culture “trend” instead of a necessary way of life. The commodification and performative nature of being “woke” is evident in Dear White People.
A couple of moments where that is clear is when Sam and her pro-Black friends say empty things such as “We’re sitting here watching this shit (television) when our people getting killed outside.” Only someone who doesn’t understand that Black people are multifaceted and can focus on more than one thing would say that. Or the moment after Reggie is held at gunpoint, Sam is more concerned with him sharing the poem he wrote, to cope, with the student body to speak out against state violence on campus. She was more concerned about activism than she was about her friend’s mental health and well-being.
Ironically enough, Coco disrupts this performance Sam and her friends put on. She promptly reminds Sam of the reality of Black issues in a convoluted type of way. For example, Coco, a dark skinned Black woman, reminded Sam about her light skin privilege. She acutely tells Sam that because she is fairer, her pro-black thoughts would be perceived a lot differently had it been coming out of Coco’s mouth which is true. Darker skinned women are painted as more aggressive hence people’s response to a dark skinned woman’s outspokenness being way more severe than that of a light skinned woman. She reminds Sam that many Black women opt to assimilate for survival–not convenience.
After the incident with Reggie and the cops, the Black student orgs decided to come together and plan some actions in response. It immediately became them bumping heads on which tactics to take. It was Coco that reminded them that it’s not about who’s more “woke” than the other. It’s about people’s lives. She explains that she’s from the south side of Chicago and she has firsthand seen the violence and how it impacts her community. It is Coco who makes these middle class Black college students realize it’s not just about being “woke.”
Oftentimes with middle class Black millennials, we have the privilege of having access to all these different Black scholars, books, theories, and so on. At most, we usually deal with racist micro aggressions from our white peers but for the most part, our class privilege allows us to live in a bubble of some sort. We can talk about the war on drugs in the Black community and the Prison-Industrial Complex without really having to feel the impact and repercussions of such. When Reggie was held at gunpoint, that is when it became real for him and his pro-black squad of middle class millennials. It went from being a hashtag they could conveniently use to funnel social capital to his own experience. Along with Reggie’s incident, when Coco shares her background and how she has experienced these things firsthand, she pops that bubble as well.
Coco isn’t perfect. She does hold onto problematic views such as her disdain for Black students who don’t fit into what she deems “respectable.” She does pander to the white gaze and hopes to find her place within her white affluent peers but after considering her upbringing as a lower class, dark skinned, Black woman, one could empathize and understand why she rationalizes things the way that she does. For Sam to be the “woke” one, Coco sure does provide more insight into the functions of racism and its symptoms such as colorism. She plays a vital role in Dear White People by bringing necessary substance that would probably be missing if she was not a character on the show. Coco is not your cookie cutter idea of “revolutionary” but for me, in a sense, she is.