Netflix’s New Season Of ‘Dear White People’ Reveals An Afro-Latino Character And You’ve Already Met Him
There is a lot to be celebrated when any audience hears Latino storylines, but it is especially important to see Afro-Latinidad begin to take up space in Netflix’s celebrated “Dear White People” (DWP). The show’s leading characters are almost all Black actors, and, at first, it seems like the commentary is pointing inward toward differences within the Black community. Viewers get to see a group of educated, young Black characters express nuances in a conversation on race that America so desperately needs.
As Latinos watch this show, some of us identify as Afro-Latino and can relate on a deeper level. Others acknowledge the privilege we have as non-Black people of color. The only Latino we knew of on the show ended up being the villain in Season 2–a closeted MAGA supporter, even though he was a gay, brown man. This season, we witnessed one of DWP’s most lovable characters wrestle with his identity as an Afro-Latino.
In Season 1, he was the guy that kidnapped Kelsey’s therapy dog, Sorbet, but after growing to love her, he didn’t want to give her back. When Jemar Michael was the first cast as Al, Deadline described his character as “an exuberant, ethnically ambiguous student leader of the Black American Forum (Black AF) — a more radical rival to Winchester’s Black Student Union.”
That said, Jemar Michael doesn’t identify as Latino.
In a tweet from February 2015, Michael said, “Being mixed has its perks, I get called in for pacific islander, middle eastern, black, and Hispanic roles!! Shout out to the parents!!! Lol.” As far as we know, Michael identifies as a queer Black man, but his character, Al, has a different story.
At the outset of Season 3, we see Al chasing petition signatures around campus to ensure the campus would be protected as a sanctuary from ICE.
When it seems like everyone around him is feeling burned out from activism, Al is asking all of his friends for signatures. Even Sam refuses to sign asking him why he still doesn’t understand that petitions don’t do anything. Meanwhile, Al is frustrated to know that students are in fear of deportation even while on campus.
Finally, our Latinx villain, Silvio, asks Al, “When are you going to start telling your BSU friends that ‘Al’ is short for ‘Alberto’?”
Al is there to sell weed, but the two certainly get into it on what a race traitor looks like. Al accuses Silvio of being a traitor to their people, and Silvio tells Alberto that he hasn’t “chosen” who he is yet. Que que?
A conversation about Afro-Latinidad is erupting in the community all over again.
It’s like someone keeps pressing the pause button and we never get to the next part. Yes, you can be Black and Latino. One is a race. Another is an ethnicity, a culture. That’s how our community is diverse in skin color and hair textures and heritage.
There was even one scene when Al was being referred to as a “Black man in America,” and someone else gestures that he’s not so sure.
Guy in the blue hat starts making the “iffy” hand gesture after a friend validates Al’s Blackness. It was a great example of the types of colorism experienced in likely every non-white community. Of course, being white-passing or even just a lighter skin shade comes with a whole separate set of privileges, but it doesn’t take away your culture or identity.
So many people responded to Al’s Latinidad as an outing that he was “faking” being Black.
Clearly, this is a conversation that needs to continue to happen in Season 4 of DWP. The Afro-Latino community is often told that they are not Black enough or Latino enough, as if they can’t be who they are. It is something both the Latino and Black communities need to overcome because the moment they speak Spanish in public, they are susceptible to the same anti-Latino hate gripping the country and their skin color makes them a target of police violence. To invalidate the complex experience of being Afro-Latino is to tell members of our community that they are not welcome. That close-minded sentiment only exposes the hypocrisy and bigotry in those claiming they know better about dual identity than those living the experience.
That said, having non-Latinos speak Spanish together might be the wrong move.
Some folks think the Spanish is terrible because it sounds like it was Google translated, and just sounded awkward. Others are calling for Latinos to be played by actual Latinos on a show that prides itself in representation. But, guess what, some Latinos don’t have strong Spanish-speaking skills because that is just part of life for some people.
In the end, Al remains confident in who he is, no matter what other people think.
Mind you, this all happens in the first episode with seemingly no other commentary on Afro-Latinidad until the scene after the credits in the season finale.
Finally, we see Al taking a seat at the Latinx Alliance at Winchester Club.
La gente are having their feelings about this post-credit scene, during which we see Al walking down a hall to a room where someone is saying, “Dear White People, that taco you’re eating was made by immigrants.”
One fan tweeted, “ur meaning to tell me Dear White People teased an afro-latinx character in the beginning of s3, completely ignored the sl until the very end for a potential afro/latinx alliance club next season?”