Jeffrey Dahmer Netflix series a reminder of society’s failure to recognize gay Black men as humans

Screenshot of "Dahmer - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" on Netflix. (Source: Netflix/YouTube)
Screenshot of “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” on Netflix. (Source: Netflix/YouTube)

Netflix’s new “docu-series” titled “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” which centers around the unthinkable murders committed by Jeffrey Dahmer, has been an unexpected, albeit controversial, hit for the streaming service. Reportedly, following its release, the series became the most-watched series during week 1 in the history of Netflix. I haven’t contributed to those ratings because of my reservations about the release of this series and don’t intend to. I am one of those people who empathizes with victims and couldn’t imagine living with being retraumatized if I were one of the family members of the men Dahmer killed. Maybe it’s another signal I’m aging, but this series seemed unnecessary — there have been many Jeffrey Dahmer biographies, I didn’t see the point in the making of this series. That isn’t to say there isn’t perhaps one silver lining to this “new” series.

In the age of growing consciousness about American injustices, we have all been exposed to more conversations about the failures of law enforcement — and the Dahmer cases are full of them. Sadly, these mistakes mirror the same issues we see today, as Associate Editor Falisha (who has watched the series) pointed out to me this week. Many of those affected by these failures were Black men, who represented more than half of Dahmer’s victims. In an interview with Inside Edition, Dahmer claimed he didn’t have a (racial) preference, but I harbor doubts about that.

As I discussed with Falisha, I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t very difficult for Dahmer to lure Black men into his dangerous abode, fully aware of his advantage because of an under-discussed racial dynamic. I hypothesized, based on stories friends have shared and my own experiences, that when you engage in casual sex with someone outside of your race, there can be a disarming comfort in assuming your personal lives will never intersect afterward.

That isn’t to say there aren’t other dynamics to consider. Maybe Dahmer had a fetish. Maybe it was calculated. If the latter is true, he was on to something. After all, Dahmer was quite the astute person. If the victims were White men who wound up missing, it’s hard to believe police wouldn’t have been alerted to a glaring pattern and been more proactive. But many of these victims were gay Black men, who still today are largely overlooked, even within gay society, as I’ve discussed before. Gay White men often speak to and for the mainstream gay culture — and until problems affect them, gay Black men take a backseat.

Unfortunately, in my 25+ years of being “out,” it’s been this way — and of course, prior. Change is glacially slow. I’ve seen progress, but it’s mostly for the community as a whole as long as White men are a part of the equation. I’m not blaming White men for being who they are, but I’ve had an issue with their lack of involvement… to use their agency in society to build on inclusivity within the community, as much they say it is important externally. In other words, walk the talk. I have gay White friends, but even they admit not enough of them are involved in bridging divisions with gay Black men — outside of the bedroom. Which leads me back to Dahmer.

Falisha and I spoke with a class at Cal State San Bernardino on Friday and the topic of the Netflix series somehow took center stage, particularly how Black victims were not taken seriously by police — and, as a result, how many Dahmer was responsible for killing. Many of the students were young and knew nothing about the Dahmer murders, or how outrageously incompetent law enforcement can be.

If there is one glimmer of good that can come out of this series through exposure to the masses, especially younger audiences, it’s looking past the grotesque and sensationalized drama, and seeing the disparities between Black victims and everyone else with clarity.

Dahmer’s terror spree might be in the past, but his quiet rampage spanned years — and police overlooked the clues. Who knows what’s happening at this moment, and to whom. We have to remember that the people with less visibility in society deserve to be seen — not just for our collective safety from a demented murderer, but their own. Recalling the victim impact statements, the fallout of the Dahmer murders were gut wrenching to watch. I’d like to believe I’m not the only empathetic person left on the planet.

For those who watched the series, I would implore them to take the Dahmer murders as a lesson, not just Halloween season “entertainment.” This was — and still is —  real life. Let’s spare families and friends grief and suffering in the future by taking count of all of humanity, which comes in many shades of color.