Tuned In

Girls Watch: White People Problems

Lena Dunham's show addresses complaints about its racial homogeneity with a scene that's funny and perceptive, but feels distractingly contrived.

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HBO

SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, stop cashing in on your sexuality and watch last night’s episode of Girls.
“Oh, I’ve got a fixed-gear bike and I’m gonna date a black guy!”

After the first episode of Girls season 2 aired, I saw some comments about the “tokenism” of casting Donald Glover as Sandy, Hannah’s new boyfriend. I didn’t want to say anything about it at the time, because I didn’t want to spill what I knew from seeing the second episode, “I Get Ideas”: that Sandy wasn’t being used as a token exactly but–as bad or maybe worse, at least from a creative standpoint–as metacommentary.

You probably know Glover from Community, which itself is one of the most meta comedies on TV. But what Girls did with his character was a far more sustained and jarring meta statement than anything Community has done: writing in a character for (seemingly) the purpose of addressing the criticism that the show had no major characters of color.

About that controversy: I believe it would be plausible to have the cast of a show set in Brooklyn, a very diverse borough, include a lot of people of color. I believe it is also (unfortunately) plausible to say that the social circles of these particular four privileged white recent Oberlin graduates do not include any people of color. But what’s not so plausible? Positing that Hannah’s social circle is racially and culturally homogenous–except that she ends up meeting and dating what might very well be the first black Republican to step foot in Williamsburg since the Reconstruction era.

Meta isn’t automatically bad: I could see this kind of device working in, say, 30 Rock, which regularly writes in storylines to address controversies in TV or involving the show itself. (Say, when it gave Tracy Jordan a story to parallel Tracy Morgan’s offensive comments about gays in real life.) In Girls, a very different, naturalistic show, the story felt like a sketch shoehorned in to say: we hear you, we get it, we’re thinking about these issues really hard!

It’s unfortunate, because, simply as a scene, the breakup between Hannah and Sandy works very well. (The episode is actually written not by Lena Dunham but co-executive producer Jenni Konner.) That Sandy wouldn’t love Hannah’s essay, but would try to skirt the issue to avoid a fight makes sense. (His compliment, “It was really well-written!” cuts to the heart of Hannah’s problem as a writer, or maybe as a person: she’s intelligent and talented, but to what end?) As does the fact that Hannah, not exactly open to criticism of her writing, would hit back against his politics. As a point-by-point deconstruction of Hannah’s self-centeredness, and a tour of her defense mechanisms, it’s one of the more insightful things Girls has done.

More important, I liked the realization that this is not the first time Sandy has found himself having this version of this argument. He’s a black guy who’s dated white women, but he’s also a black guy who doesn’t fit certain cultural norms because he’s a conservative. He’s seen things get weird and uncomfortable like this before, and it’s not always clear what portion of it is about his being black and which portion is about his not fitting someone else’s conception of what being black means.

Conversely, the exchange is funny and unsparing about Hannah’s limitations. She is, in fact, a white liberal woman with (apparently) no friends of color who drops Missy Elliott lyrics and reflexively uses stats about black incarceration rates as a trump card. Her theoretical experience of race is hitting up against actual experience, and the scene gets at something real when she claims that she doesn’t see Sandy’s race and he answers, “You should!”

Individually, I believe Sandy as a person, and I believe Hannah; but the circumstances bringing them together simply so they can break up this way are too contrived and distracting. Contrast their fight, say, with any one of Adam and Hannah’s–at the end of last season or at the end of this (otherwise very solid) episode. It’s organic and frightening and funny (especially as the police get involved: “I can’t believe you guys come everytime someone calls, I mean, that seems really alarmist and crazy”). But it feels like an outgrowth of an actual relationship that had time to develop. Hannah and Sandy’s breakup, on the other hand, feels like a set piece, albeit a clever and on-point one.

I guess what I’m saying is, well: It was really well-written! And I mean it sincerely. I leave it to Girls’ makers as to whether to take that as a compliment.

43 comments
aztecian
aztecian

more white racist pollution. 

JimTurner
JimTurner

Racial bean counting is a tricky game

Mrs.Cold
Mrs.Cold

I agree that this was a transparent & shallow move for 'Girls' to make. But you didn't mention the unreality of a guy that good looking dating a girl who looks (and behaves) like Hannah. I couldn't even get into the shows with Glover because my willing suspension of disbelief was stretched unbearably thin.

elegance
elegance

Don't confuse "White" with "Jewish."

SeeClearly
SeeClearly

I didn't read this news & I won't watch the show; however I post this to exhibit a racist title "White People", or so according to the Black community this is racist because many Blacks become upset when White folks say "Black People".

Whatanotion
Whatanotion

Judging from the intricacies of the posts here.  It looks as though we are stuck in a way that pride cannot yield to objective realities.  As always the bigger pride wins.  Hmmph. Notice it's not the N word it's the "igger" word.   AS in "Bigger" ness .    Damn; will we never be able to capitalize on our common goodness?!?  It's a shame to be an adult anymore.  

SarahJohnson
SarahJohnson

I get it Carlos you would rather fight and criticize black people than white people. You would rather fight and criticize black people than to spend time on advocating for more Latinos in the media. Instead of doing it yourself for your self-interests the blacks you criticize so much should advocate for your self-interests not their own - got it!

SarahJohnson
SarahJohnson

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/racial_divide_iIRIyUWwMw2oq7TqTgUoHK

Racial divide‘All white’ Senate chiefs

  • By CARL CAMPANILE in NY and ERIK KRISS in Albany
  • Last Updated: 2:39 AM, December 6, 2012
  • Posted: 1:02 AM, December 6, 2012

Racial tensions are mounting over the state Senate’s new, virtually all-white ruling coalition.

Three black senators — Eric Adams of Brooklyn, Bill Perkins of Harlem, and Ruth Hassell-Thompson of The Bronx — are expected to join the Rev. Al Sharpton Saturday in a campaign to empower 15 black and Hispanic Democrats with key committee chairmanships and more influence, said a source.

New York NAACP leader Hazel Dukes is also expected at Sharpton’s National Action Network House of Justice headquarters in Harlem for the rally.Sharpton claimed the coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats denies black and Latino senators power that should be “rightfully theirs” given that Democrats won a majority of Senate seats last month..

SarahJohnson
SarahJohnson

Fact: black and white IS more diverse and representative of the U.S. than just white. Now if you want Latinos and other people of color in there then start doing the work for it instead of criticizing blacks for being activist for their own exclusion. Women, Latinos, Asians, gays etc. much benefitted from the stuggles of blacks who not only have fougt for themselves but others as well, even Al Sharpton - see below. Blacks have every right to fight for their own self-interests. Many fought/fight very hard to advance civil rights and they deserve to benefit from their sacrifices. That some also are so kind as to fight the battles for others is a bonus that you should appreciate and not have the audacity to even ask them to do while just criticizing them. Looking at the arguments you make and the historical facts, you seem to be the hypocrite and ignorant of the history of activism and race relations in the U.S. Here are blacks activists (w/ Rev. Al Sharpton) fighting for greater representation of black & Hispanics. As I suggested, at least use google before making unfounded claims.

SarahJohnson
SarahJohnson

The reason is that blacks as a group have had somewhat more success in causing conflict for those whites that seemingly do not want to "do diversity" willingly. Whites as a group in the U.S. have had to be forced to do better by the successful strategies of blacks and progressive non-blacks in holding those unwilling to do so on their own accord by force (protests, boycotts, press conferences, lawsuits, and throw in some strong resistence & sacrifice of body & life). Now we all have been hoping those exclusionary whites could come around on their own after the civil rights era and all but looking at the totality of whats going on in the media clearly its not happening (a small number of black media/films does not alter the overall overrepresentation of white in the media). At some point, it seems progressive Latinos... and Asians... and Native Americans.. and everyone else continuously excluded by whites will have to repeat those strategies and take things over again by force/cause conflict (with those willing whites who are also sick of it too). I only just wish white society (generally speaking) would volunteer to do it...WILLINGLY. Do the right thing by people of color in not just token examples but in reality in substantive ways. Show you have learned from the past. What a wish! This is not about one show but the aggregate pattern - get it?

SarahJohnson
SarahJohnson

The point is not that you can find some white girls that only have white friends in Brooklyn. No, it's that the real world of U.S. media-the writes, producers, etc.- historically, incessently create stories about white people with only white people even when it's increasingly less and less plausible given shifting U.S. demographics - go to Brooklyn and let me know if it's just RANDOM to say, hmmm....the story here is really about whites who live homogeneous lives with all whites - not likely. Compare the demographics in the media v. the U.S. reality. The dispairty is not an issue of a random depiction where just by chance all the Latinos, Asians, and most blacks just disappear. U.S. whites need to consciously bring in people of color because at some point in time their fatasy of all white, near all white worlds are becoming harder and harder to defend as being random choices. It's not random, never has been. More and more people are tired and offended by an elite few of whites constantly excluding most other Amerians from their imagination of our USA. Too few get it - do you get it?

sandifjm
sandifjm

I think too much has been made about the fact that 4 upper middle class white women living in Brooklyn don't have (m)any friends of color.  In case no one has noticed, that's life in the United States. Just like I wouldn't expect a show about poor, black inner-city youths to include a token Jewish character just for the sake of making people feel more comfortable.  One thing that I often notice in New York is that while it is very culturally diverse, people do tend to stick with "their own". Outside of workplaces, not a whole lot of mixing goes on between people of different racial or socio-economic backgrounds.

A lot of the criticism this show has faced has centered around racial issues, when the real dynamic at work is class. While it's true that race and class are more closely intertwined in the U.S. than a lot of other places, I do feel people have been focusing on the wrong thing.  If anything, "Girls" is too upper middle class, not "white".  Black, Asian or Hispanic kids from similar backgrounds as the main characters would be able to relate to Hannah and the others' lives far easier than a poor white one would.

Lena Dunham doesn't downplay the privilege enjoyed by Hannah and the others, nor does she shy away from showing them to be at times spoiled, superficial, and even hypocritical. I like "Girls" and think that Dunham is a talented writer with an original voice. But while the show isn't perfect, being "too white" is a silly criticism to level at it.

nina_nais
nina_nais

@RGregoryRowley  People like you amuse me. Always complaining about how people won't let you be racist while others are allowed to be.

kelvinretorter
kelvinretorter

@RGregoryRowleyThat statement "black people" does not upset any black people.  Never has. Its what follows the statement "black people" that causes us to be upset. The term itself is used all the time when describing race.  

carlos3000
carlos3000

@SarahJohnson Sarah, the point is not to criticize "white people", the point is to ask what is fair. And in this particular case, black people are completely exploiting the concept of diversity to create a monopoly of that concept (which by definition is wrong). If whites were the ones using the concept of "diversity" in a very wrong way, then I would call them on that. In fact, white are very guilty of accepting the wrong-understanding of "diversity", but only because they get pressure from the black community to define that concept in the black-only world of the Al Sharptons of the world. Your boys, Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson, and even Obama, keep talking of the "change in demographics", which, if they were honest to that new reality, would mean more Hispanics in power and in the movies etc, but the show GIRLS is a very clear example of how they meant "black only", eventhough their own argument (of the demographics" proves them wrong.  I will mail you a dictionary so you can learn what the concept of "diversity" means, an feel free to check the racial statistics of this country so you will see that, even if we inserted characters into a show based on some warp idea of who "our friends should be", statistically speaking it would not be someone black.  The show Girls should nave NEVER given into the pressure of including a minority, as the show is about those friends, not the city of Brooklyn, and you KNOW IT!

SeeClearly
SeeClearly

@SarahJohnson Sarah displays a basic hatred for Whites as if that's a culture, therefore Sarah is color-centric and missing the beauty in people.  For example there is beauty in mixture.  I have Irish & American Indian blood but I look like what Sarah would call White.  Obama is 50% Irish but Sarah would marginalize the Irish and refer to Obama as Black.  Sarah is racist, and she knows not her racist standing within her ignorance.

carlos3000
carlos3000

@SarahJohnson Words are cheap, actions speak louder than words. The NAACP and the Al Sharptons of the world constantly throw-in "Hispanic/Latino" into the minority-race game to make it seem that they represent "diversity", but only as long as someone black represents the Black-Latino coalition.  Just look at Obama, perfect example of that. Very self-serving.

carlos3000
carlos3000

@SarahJohnson No Sarah, you're wrong. Sharpton is just an opportunist, and a reverse racist (just research the Tawana Bradley case).  Don't confuse the concept of pursuing your own interests vs. the hypocrisy of claiming "Diversity" but only when it satisfies the interests of one specific ethnic group, in this case, black. I invite you to research what Jessie Jackson tried to do to the Atlanta Braves when he noticed that "There were not blacks in the starting lineup", eventhough sports are supposed to be based on merit.  Everyone has the right to fight for their "own interests" (as you sated), but no one has the right to kidnap the concept of diversity to make themselves the ONLY representative of said word. And if blacks really wanted a "true face" of America on TV (for example), they would argue for less blacks and more Asians, Latinos, Arabs, etc, as I only see black faces representing "the true face of America". Fighting for civil rights (something that Hispanics have done as well, just read about Cesar Chavez, for example) does not give one the right to corrupt the concept of "diversity", so you are very wrong, and very blind. And coming back to the show "Girls", look around you, I did not see to many white/Latin/Asian folks in the move "Precious", so again, lots of self-serving hypocrats there hypocrites there.  If you actually opened your eyes, you would see that is very very possible to have a group of friends only be black, or white, or just orthodox Jewish (something you see a lot in parts of Brookly), etc.  FACT: black and white is NOT a represenation AT ALL of the vast diversity of the U.S. 

SeeClearly
SeeClearly

@SarahJohnson Democrats created the KKK and the Democrats fought against Civil Rights up until the 1960's decade.

Also less than 1% of the population of Whites ever owned human property.  Your hateful speach is damning over a 150 million folks who've never behaved racistly on purpose.  Whereas you do know of your racist speach.  You know it very well Sarah, and you continue.

Life is mirror of what you give out Sarah and if you give hatred then you'll have people ignoring you.  Smile and the world smiles back, give love and you get love.  Give your hatred and your heart withers with loneliness.

SarahJohnson
SarahJohnson

Carlos - you are in a bit of a contradiction. You don't like the means of pressuirg media to get more blacks in media but you lament that there are not more Latinos in the media. You don't like blacks activism in the media, but you want their outcomes. Not only that but you think blacks should do it for Latinos or other groups?

Personally, I LIKE that blacks continue to demand that TV be more diverse, even if it is only to pressure that more blacks be on TV. I think it would take someone like you if you are Latino and other Latinos to do the same to get Latinos more so on TV. Now, of course there are blacks (and whites) that generally support more people of color (including Latinos/Asians etc.) being on TV (google for example people of color, rainbow coalition), but come on now... Latinos are going to have to do that themselves.

Plus, to me, gievn the perilousness of black sterotypes (the effect on jobs, housing, etc. inclduing the opportunity to not be unduly arrested or dispropotionately jailed), I find it fitting and quite sensible that blacks would occupy their time with getting a better representation in the media for themsevles. The question is would you do the same for the Latinos you apparently so worry about? Seems like you can't both criticize the means while either wanting the outcomes and/or wanting them to do it for another group.

carlos3000
carlos3000

@SarahJohnson Hmmm, not sure I agree with you. It is blacks that continue to demand that TV be more diverse, but they don't accept an Asian, or a Hispanic, as meaning "diversity". Diversity to the Al Sharptons of the world is black ONLY. Look at the commercials, you would think that in the U.S. only black and white folks live, when in fact, Hispanics are actually the biggest minority, so it would make sense that they would be the most visible on T.V, as T.V is supposed to be a true representation of society.

carlos3000
carlos3000

@SarahJohnson But the story is about four white girls, not about the city of Brooklyn. Did you see a lot Hispanics, or whites in the movie "Precious"? and why does diversity on TV is exclusively reserved to black folks? 90% of the U.S. is NOT black, yet that's the only minority you see on TV. Hispanics, for example, are 14% of the population, but I digress....

jitty015
jitty015

@sandifjm"One thing that I often notice in New York is that while it is very culturally diverse, people do tend to stick with 'their own'."

But what does "stick with their own" actually mean? I think the answer to this is the heart of the critique people make of racial depictions (or lack thereof) in "Girls." I think you make a salient point about socio-economic cliques which is muddled by a point about race. As a black guy living in a major Northeastern city I can tell you this: Your friends and significant others is more a function of the types of people you come in contact with than the color of your skin. So, if you're an upper middle class kid, your girlfriends, friends and acquaintances are more likely to come from that background because you've met them in places your socio-economic group gathers (school, bars, clubs, etc.). If you're a minority that works your way into that world, then it's virtually impossible to have a social group that excludes white people -- they're who you meet, go to school with and work with. However, it is quite possible to be a white person and not have any interaction with people of color within the context of this world (as you can select not to have friends of color, or there just aren't any in the circles in which you run). 

So, while I've been quick to defend the lack of minorities in "Girls" based on my understanding of these types of women (having gone to school with them, dated them and worked with them), I can understand the criticism: There was an equally entertaining show about confused, diverse group of Brooklyn kids in their early 20s on HBO which was canceled and replaced with this. And as a person of color, I can tell you that it gets frustrating that shows featuring minorities rarely get play on television (even networks not necessarily bound by the Nielsen ratings, like HBO). 

carlos3000
carlos3000

@sandifjm I could not agree with you more. The sad thing is that the writers/producers of "Girls" gave in son quickly to such a childish-spoiled request. All we have to do is look-around, and we'll see that is very likely that a group of friends are only black, or only Asian, or only Arab, etc, that is life, it is not racism.  On the other hand, if we're going to include minority characters, for the sake of giving it a "more realistic appearance", why does that minority always have to be black??? why wasn't that token character an Asian boyfriend? or a Hispanic person, etc???  but again, there's nothing wrong with having a show about white Jewish girls with only folks that particular ethnic group, I didn't see too many white, or Arabs, in the movie "Precious"

kelvinretorter
kelvinretorter

@carlos3000 @SarahJohnson So the gist of your argument is the way we use the word diversity.  Because we will continue to promote our self interest when it comes to black people and the black community in america...as well we should.  If you call that racist then so be it. Go lobby for your own latin rights. Fact is you attack Sarah for nothing.  I personally could care less if there are more blacks on girls. Even if I did watch the show. Black people have a different history in America then latins.  You want diversity what about all of latin america? My point being that latin people know their rich history.  Those countries produce and make movies, shows, tv networks with nothing but latins...and thats great.  Blacks on the other hand have had a different plight in america.  And even if we are pursuing our own self interest all minorities benefit.  


CeceDuvall
CeceDuvall

@carlos3000 @SarahJohnson I agree with Carlos. Lena Dunham created a show based on her personal experiences, and quite honestly it is completely plausible that a group of White people living in Brooklyn have entirely White friends. I don't think people should have pressured Dunham to include minorities period. Instead, the question needs to be why there aren't more outlets for minorities to create similar vehicles to showcase their own experiences as well. I don't think Blacks have hijacked the term 'diversity', I think that at least when it comes to the media, they are reactionary. Quick to petition or find fault, but losing sight of the main issue which is that we have no control of the apparatus itself, so we will constantly be subject to pandering to others for inclusion.

SeeClearly
SeeClearly

@carlos3000 @SarahJohnson @ Carlos, your message is very well spoken.  There seems to be a 2-way street for only Blacks & Whites with other cultures marginalized in  the Media.  Additionally I'll add from my earlier post of how the Black community in general have monopolized the dictionary in racial centric capacity.  Regardless of one's color or ethnic background, I believe most Americans see clearly the game of racial centricity.

I didn't read this news & I won't watch the show; however I post this to exhibit a racist title "White People", or so according to the Black community this is racist because many Blacks become upset when White folks say "Black People".

kelvinretorter
kelvinretorter

@RGregoryRowley @SarahJohnson There is beauty in mixture and it is natural and should be welcomed.  Irish is not a race it is a nationality.  Native American is a race of peoples.  You are white or caucasian if you prefer.  Obama is a black man; genetics, and dominant vs recessive genes dictate that. To call him so does not marginalize his irish ancestry.  "you have american indian blood but i look like what sarah would call white" (LOL).  how far down your family tree is your native american ancestry?  far enough down the line to have bred out any physical appearance of it, tho it is in your genetic makeup.  Do you speak native american?  do you know the tribe you hail from or practice any of your ancestors ways? Its kind of self righteous to throw that at people.  "RGregoryRowley is a racist, and he knows not his racist standing with his ignorance."


kelvinretorter
kelvinretorter

@carlos3000 @SarahJohnson You see Obama as self serving.  Thats an opinion.  Sarah gives you a good rebuttle with sources and you say words are cheap? What are you bitter about.  You point of biew is cheap.

kelvinretorter
kelvinretorter

@carlos3000 @SarahJohnson Again, your only argument is the use of the word diversity?! Any word black people use would be attacked by people like you. And by adding more black people you have made it more diverse.  Could we make it even more diverse by adding asians, latins, native americans; sure we can, and im all for that.

kelvinretorter
kelvinretorter

@RGregoryRowley @SarahJohnson 1% of americans owned slaves. 90% of blacks were slaves.  What was the other 99% of white peoples attitude toward blacks.  Your math is useless and proves nothing.

carlos3000
carlos3000

@SarahJohnson My point is that there's a lot of hypocrisy from Hollywood, and the black community, when using the word "diversity". By definition, that word does not mean "black inclusion".  Blacks are not arguing that "blacks should be included", they're arguing that Hollywod, and Govt, should be more diverse because of the demographics, but that we all know they mean someone black. So that's where hypocrisy comes in big time. Gotta call it like it is, they can't be asking for diversity , if that exclusively means "black".  That's my only point, just call it for what it is, a self-serving agenda that has NOTHING to do with the "real face" of America.

nina_nais
nina_nais

@carlos3000 Since when does Al Sharpton = "black people". Oh, the hilarity.

Also, I don't much like the man, but please provide evidential support for your statement that "diversity" to Al Sharpton = Black only.

kelvinretorter
kelvinretorter

@carlos3000 @SarahJohnson Thats false and again strictly your opinion. I enjoy seeing anyone of color being prominent on tv, commercials, movies etc.  I love to see people of any ethnicity included in these all white monopolies. But those are not black people. And I would still lobby for more black representation.  

SeeClearly
SeeClearly

@carlos3000 @SarahJohnson So true Carlos that what we see on TV is over 30% Black participation.  Even Obama fills his news briefings with greater than 14% Black audience.  I see less than 10% Hispanic audiences and less than 1% Asian and no American Indians.  I point this out to show marginalization of other cultures in America.

Lets take the other view of University Grads.  From poor Asian families we see many more Asians entering Universities than we see of Blacks, and I only point this out to show how families with meager means find a way to make it out of poverty.

SeeClearly
SeeClearly

@carlos3000 @sandifjm Good posts here, and I wish to point out that the antagonistic Sarah seems to have emptied her racist arsonal. She's probably reading Al Sharpton's webpage to get more crazy ideas.

nina_nais
nina_nais

@carlos3000,

1) You can't use *Hollywood's* reaction to define what the "black community" (whatever that means) means when they press for more diversity. Simplistic, stereotypical, and sensationalised representations of racial groups in America is what Hollywood does. So when asked to be more diverse, they go for the most "obvious" minority group - black people. That's just Hollywood for you.

2) There is a saying, "The squeaky wheel gets the oil." If Latinos aren't out there lobbying for greater representation in TV and films, you can't get mad when Hollywood doesn't pay attention. You can't expect the spokespersons of other groups to campaign for you. After all, I'm sure that La Raza is not in the habit of including the causes of Asians and Blacks in its campaigns.

kelvinretorter
kelvinretorter

@RGregoryRowley @carlos3000Where are youcollecting these figures? They are wrong.  And if Obama does fill his news briefings with those pecentages then it is more diverse then it has historically been before.  You don not see more asians entering universities than blacks.  site your source because your making up numbers and statistics now sir...

kelvinretorter
kelvinretorter

@RGregoryRowley @carlos3000 @sandifjm While you listen to Rush Limbaugh to fuel your arguments.  Al Sharpton was an activist in the civil rights movement and  has fought for black rights his whole life.  I dont see him as racist.  Nor does his rhetoric reflect intolerance or racism.