“Dear White People” Creator Justin Simien: “You Can Date A White Guy And Still Be Black As F*ck”

The acclaimed comedy's out creator talks interracial dating, gay spaces, and creating authentic queer characters of color.

Dear White People is back and queerer than ever.

Based on the acclaimed movie of the same name, Netflix’s satirical dramedy centers on a group of black students attending a predominately white university as they navigate cultural bias, social injustice, muddy politics, and campus activism. In addition to dealing with white classmates who find joy in tying bananas to their dorm room’s door, Season Two also sees newly out character Lionel (DeRon Horton) exploring his sexuality, searching for love, and figuring out just how much lube he needs to be a successful top.

Dear White People/Netflix

“Ultimately, he’s on the hunt for a boo,” Dear White People’s out creator Justin Simien tells NewNowNext. “But he’s new to the gay culture where monogamy is uncommon and it’s more common to hook up.”

Simien talked with us about Lionel, friendships between gay and straight men, and the reality of being a gay person of color in predominately white spaces.

Rich Fury/Getty Images

So, Lionel has really found his way out of the closet this season, huh?

He’s certainly finding his way and stepping out of his shell for sure. Lionel is my alter ego. I remember how scary the first steps out of the closet were and the first time I felt affection for a man. I also remember pining after unavailable men. This season he is exploring his sexuality and the audience will see where that goes.

I also see myself in Lionel, having come out at a predominately white campus. Was your experience similar to his?

There’s a weird quirk being gay and black in the gay community because often times the “gay community” really means the “white community.” Too often black men are the exception, a fetish, an object, and are tokenized. Lionel experiences a bit of that feeling at Winchester [Dear White People’s fictitious university]. Ultimately, he’s on the hunt for a boo, but he’s new to the gay culture where monogamy is uncommon and it’s more common to hook up. He’s also still in college so a lot of guys just want to have fun.

Dear White People/Netflix

Since the show wrestles with race so head-on, with the many horrific issues the students face, I’m surprised Lionel doesn’t encounter more homophobia. Particularly from his roommate, Troy.

Many gay black guys have a misconception that they won’t be accepted by other black men, and that’s not always true. It certainly wasn’t true for me. That’s something new to say and to show an audience. Troy is extremely comfortable in his sexuality. Troy and Reggie [another straight friend] model something not usually seen on TV: it’s possible to have platonic friendships between gay and straight men.

Throughout much of media, black characters were seen through a white gaze, and that brought with it a lot of bad stereotypes. This is also true for gay black characters. I wish we had these images of black men, gay and straight, years ago because it would have helped me build my self-esteem much sooner. It may have even saved many of my friends’ lives by filling the culture with positive images so everyone can have a person [to look up to].

A few of Lionel’s gay white classmates throw around coded language like “all-American” and “rice queen.” He even encounters another black guy who won’t date other black men. What do you hope the audience takes away from that?

This was my experience and I think it’s something most gay men of color experience. I was often one of the only black faces in white spaces. There were times when I’d see another black person at a bar or event and just want to say hello, but they were interested in getting attention from white guys and thought I’d be a threat. Black gay culture is just as awkward. Like, I get a lot of shade for having a white partner.

You get shade for having a white partner? From whom?

It mostly comes from black people. There’s this belief that you aren’t “down” or you don’t understand the struggle if you’re dating someone who isn’t black. I honestly think it’s a symptom of the larger situation. If black people didn’t feel oppressed, it wouldn’t be an issue.

People need to see you can be black as fuck and still date a white guy. Our relationship isn’t based on race and I don’t think anyone should select their partner based on what other people think you should or shouldn’t be doing. Live your best life!

Dear White People Season Two arrives on Netflix on May 4.

Lamar Dawson is a pop culture junkie and pop diva addict living in Manhattan. Follow him on everything @dirrtykingofpop.