Extending empathy to wannabe Whites

        In School Daze, Lee used the conflict between Da Naturals and the Gamma Rays to engage the subject of color caste within Black communities. Rachel and Da Naturals are dark skinned with natural hair and are portrayed as distinctly working class. In contrast, the Gamma Rays are light-skinned with relaxed and dyed weaves and brightly colored contact lenses. The subordinate “sister” sorority to the Gamma Dogs, the Rays are portrayed as upper-middle class. They look down on Da Naturals, calling them “jigaboos” and mocking their wild kinks. Da Naturals ridicule the Gamma Rays for their affected aesthetic and mannerisms, calling them “wannabe White.”

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                This class conflict inscribed on intra-racial variation seems unambiguous at first. The Gamma Rays look down on Da Naturals for being backward and dark, and Da Naturals resent the Gamma Rays for being uppity and light-skinned, pretending to be something they are not. But this is complicated later on during the scene where Rachel goes to Dap’s dorm room and they hook up. Rachel, fresh from her dance battle with the Gamma Rays, actually criticizes Dap’s stubborn distaste for the Rays. “I know I have my problems with them,” she says, “but with you it’s a crusade. I’m beginning to think you’re color struck; you definitely have a thing against light-skinned Blacks” [41:30].

        I realized at this moment that I had misunderstood Rachel’s issue with the Rays. Beyond resenting their rejection of natural Black physical appearance, Rachel pitied the Rays’ overt insecurity. She recognized that their desire to be better than natural had an external source and could empathize with their pain. Rachel scolded Dap for his inability to recognize this. Rachel’s empathetic observation is complimented by Keith John’s performance of Stevie Wonder’s “I can only be me” in the next sequence. “You can only be you as I can only be me.” Rachel hopes that Dap will eventually extend the same empathy to the Gamma Rays that he extends to the group of townies at the KFC when he tells them that they are not ni**as.

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3 thoughts on “Extending empathy to wannabe Whites”

  1. Hello. Thank you for commenting on this scene in the movie. School Daze is one of my favorite movies released by Spike Lee because it tackles several issues. Besides the physical appearance of the Gamma Rays and Da Naturals, I also found the movement during the dance battle at the beauty shop also emphasized the color caste within the black communities. The Gamma Rays engaged in more “uptight” movements while Da Naturals were not afraid to let it hang loose. I also enjoy your analysis of Rachel and Dap’s conversation after they hook up.

    My question for you is do you see this same empathy of Rachel towards the Gamma Rays when she discusses with Dap and her friends about wanting to join the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, or do you find her want to join a sorority as her own personal choice despite being a senior in college?

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    1. Hm. That’s tricky. I think that Rachel’s desire to join a sorority speaks to her discomfort with the antagonistic, “us against them” mentality that she sees in Dap. I think she feels as if Dap is so caught up in his own afrocentric independent identity that he ends up belonging nowhere at all. Rachel does not want to be like that. She recognizes that she can be both an individual and part of a collective without compromising herself.

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  2. Great blog post. It reminded me of something we touched on briefly in class but never discussed in depth: what do you make of the fact that many of the women in the Wannabe sorority are actually not particularly dark-skinned? The two central women in the film are Rachel and Jane, and thus each woman comes to emblematize the group to which she belongs. Thus Da Naturals seem like the group of dark-skinned women, and the Wannabes seem like the group of lighter-skinned women. However, when you look at the two groups more holistically, the differences between them are not so clear. Do you think Lee intentionally blurs these lines? If so, why do you think he does this?

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