‘I’m a White Girl’: Why ‘Girls’ Won’t Ever Overcome Its Racial Problem

Lena Dunham’s latest well-intentioned disappointment suggests a cultural impasse over white writers portraying characters of color. lena dunham girls donald glover.jpg

Responding last year to viewers who denounced the lack of racial diversity on HBO’s Girls, its creator and star, Lena Dunham, told NPR, “I take that criticism very seriously… As much as I can say [writing four white main characters] was an accident, it was only later as the criticism came out, I thought, ‘I hear this and I want to respond to it.” She did just that in Sunday night’s episode, choosing not only to cast African-American Community star Donald Glover as her character Hannah Horvath’s new boyfriend, but also to address the issue of race as it manifests itself in their relationship.

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3 thoughts on “‘I’m a White Girl’: Why ‘Girls’ Won’t Ever Overcome Its Racial Problem

  1. Kat Martinez

    I anticipated the second season of Girls after reading the criticism of Lena Dunham becoming a figure of feminism. Lena has quickly gained fame as a go-getter and a role model of some sorts for struggling white girls. My twitter was loaded with my white girl friends ecstatic over her win at the Golden Globes because she really modeled a good ‘representation our lives as women in our young twenties.’ I watched Tiny Furniture and the first season of Girls, and was ready to see what was going to happen next in Lena’s career after she claimed that writing in and casting all white cast was an ‘accident.’ I really enjoyed the first season of the show, and while it’s hilarious, it is of course problematic. As is all mainstream television. The problems of Girls’ first season are echoed from the problems of white feminism. White feminism, to me, represents liberation for all women when any woman is given upward mobility. This obviously fails to liberate women of color when a white woman gains recognition for any work. I really enjoyed Judy Berman’s article because it stated that while renovation of white work is necessary, what really needs to happen is the creation of space and recognition for all the amazing work that people of color are doing.

    Reply
  2. Kat Martinez

    This is a great poem by Chrystos which really makes me think about white feminism:

    THOSE TEARS

    of a white woman who came to the group for Women of Color
    only
    her grief cut us into guilt while we clutched the straw
    of this tiny square inch we have which we need
    so desperately when we need so much more
    We talked her into leaving
    which took 10 minutes of our precious 60
    Those legion white Lesbians whose feelings are hurt
    because we have a Lesbians of Color Potluck
    once a month for 2 hours
    without them
    Those tears of the straight woman
    because we kicked out her boyfriend at the Lesbians only
    poetry reading where no microphone was provided
    & the room was much too small for all of us
    shouting that we were imperialists
    though I had spent 8 minutes trying to explain
    to her that an oppressed people
    cannot oppress their oppressor
    She ignored me
    charged into the room weeping & storming
    taking up 9 minutes of our precious tiny square inch
    Ah those tears
    which could be jails, graves, rapists, thieves, thugs
    those tears which are so puffed up with inappropriate grief
    Those women who are used to having their tears work
    rage at us
    when they don’t
    We are not real Feminists they say
    We do not love women
    I yell back with a wet face
    _Where are our jobs? Our apartments?_
    _Our voices in parliament or congress?_
    _Where is our safety from beatings, from murder?_
    _You cannot even respect us to allow us_
    _60 uninterrupted minutes for ourselves_

    Your tears are chains
    Feminism is the right of each woman
    to claim her own life her own time
    her own interrupted 60 hours
    60 days
    60 years
    No matter how sensitive you are
    if you are white
    you are
    No matter how sensitive you are
    if you are a man
    you are
    We who are not allowed to speak have the right
    to define our terms our turf
    These facts are not debatable
    Give us our inch
    & we’ll hand you a hanky

    -Chrystos

    Reply
  3. Kat Martinez

    Here is a great quote by Andrea Smith that also speaks to white feminism:
    “The feminist movement is generally periodized into the so-called first, second and third waves of feminism. In the United States, the first wave is characterized by the suffragette movement; the second wave is characterized by the formation of the National Organization for Women, abortion rights politics, and the fight for the Equal Rights Amendments. Suddenly, during the third wave of feminism, women of colour make an appearance to transform feminism into a multicultural movement. This periodization situates white middle-class women as the central historical agents to which women of colour attach themselves. However, if we were to recognize the agency of indigenous women in an account of feminist history, we might begin with 1492 when Native women collectively resisted colonization. This would allow us to see that there are multiple feminist histories emerging from multiple communities of colour which intersect at points and diverge in others. This would not negate the contributions made by white feminists, but would de-center them from our historicizing and analysis. Indigenous feminism thus centers anti-colonial practice within its organizing. This is critical today when you have mainstream feminist groups supporting, for example, the US bombing of Afghanistan with the claim that this bombing will free women from the Taliban (apparently bombing women somehow liberates them).”

    While I don’t believe that Lena Dunham is truly intending to work for feminism, nor have I heard her claim to be a feminist, I think it is important to recognize the power and privilege we can wield as white women to support the women of color that have been working for women’s rights for hundreds of years.

    Reply

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