The issue of race in Lena Dunham's Girls has been viciously debated over the past few weeks, both on this website and elsewhere. Where are the black girls? Why aren't there any black girls? Should there be black girls? The New Yorker's Hilton Als, who is black, weighs in from the "no" camp, but his reasoning makes absolutely no sense and is pretty fucked up: he believes Dunham's "fleshy" body and "complicated" style implies she admires black women and therefore isn't racist (and to be clear, we don't believe she is). Come again?
Okay, let's try to follow this logic. "John Lennon once said if you want your kids to stay white, don't have them listen to black music. And I think it's crazy to assume Dunham hasn't," Als writes. Yes! I'm with you; Lena has definitely listened to the radio before. But then there's the kicker:
She grew up in New York, and you can see it in her clothes and body: no white girl allows herself to look like that if she didn't admire the rounder shapes, and more complicated stylings, that women of color tend to pursue as their idea of beauty.
Um, what? No white girl would ever allow herself to look "like that," even if she — God forbid — likes looking that way, has a naturally "round" body type or, as Dunham's character in Girls said in a recent episode, decided "to have some other concerns in my life" other than losing weight? That's insane.
It's disappointing that Als would get into bizarre body politics in his otherwise solid defense of how "Dunham is accurately describing the ways in which, once things get sexual in her world, and girls become women, the universe gets polarized, segregated — her female characters are looking for white male validation, which is their right." And it bothers me that I saw the article tweeted and linked to by journalists I respect who cited Als' "fresh take" on the topic.
As a white girl with a non-model-esque body who actually owns the same dress Dunham wears in the preview for Tiny Furniture (Full disclosure: it's from Urban Outfitters, too. I know, I know), I was blown away by that justification. Arguing that Dunham's body and style are indicative of her non-racism isn't only a backhanded compliment; it trivializes the original, substantive issue.
Lena Dunham: Attacked for No Good Reason [New Yorker]