Lena Dunham, please have a seat

I’m totally fine with Lena Dunham re-creating her white Brooklyn for HBO’s “Girls.” She has received criticism for the lack of melanin on the show and for her frequent naked and semi-naked scenes, but I take no issue with that. Her Brooklyn world is made up mostly of people who are demographically similar to her, and that’s what her show represents. Cool. As far as Dunham displaying her body, it’s literally not possible for me to care less. She doesn’t have a size two figure, and she’s comfortable showing her wobbly bits. Cool.

What’s not cool is her thrusting insulting, tired assumptions onto a black man who was doing nothing but minding his own business. And that’s exactly what Dunham did during a conversation she had with Amy Schumer that was published on Dunham’s website, “Lenny.”  Dunham talked about a non-encounter she had with NFL player Odell Beckham Jr. at the Met Ball.

“I was sitting next to Odell Beckham Jr., and it was so amazing because it was like he looked at me and he determined I was not the shape of a woman by his standards. He was like, ‘That’s a marshmallow. That’s a child. That’s a dog.’ It wasn’t mean — he just seemed confused.

“The vibe was very much like, “Do I want to f**k it? Is it wearing a … yep, it’s wearing a tuxedo. I’m going to go back to my cell phone.” It was like we were forced to be together, and he literally was scrolling Instagram rather than have to look at a woman in a bow tie. I was like, “This should be called the Metropolitan Museum of Getting Rejected by Athletes.”

So basically, Odell Beckham Jr. and Lena Dunham were sitting near each other at an event and Beckham was looking at his phone. That is the actual rundown of their non-interaction, yet Dunham decided to assign these knuckle-dragging thoughts to someone she does not know.

The statement reeks of privilege and baseless assumptions. Dunham wears many hats, but I’m pretty sure mind-reader is not a credit on her IMDB page. She does not know Beckham, so sans the mind-reading option, there is no way for her to know what “standards” Beckham has or why he happened to be on his phone as humans are wont to do.

There Dunham is, a powerful young white woman in the entertainment industry (creating and starring in a popular HBO series is quite an accomplishment), accusing a young, black male athlete of sexual, misogynistic thoughts about her. This is the 21st century and not 1955 Mississippi when such allegations could end with a lynching, but that sexualized black buck/trophy white woman narrative is very much alive and just as culturally toxic.

Dunham is not a doe-eyed kid. She’s a 30-year-old entertainment industry shot-caller with a massive public platform. She has over 4 million followers on Twitter alone. Her words carry more weight than the average 30-something. For all of her talk about empowering women (that is the mission of Lenny) and smashing gender stereotypes, Dunham seems unable to expand the notion of empowerment beyond people who look like her. For every stereotype she feels burdened with, there is another for other people who don’t share her demographic characteristics, and this seems to be her gigantic blind spot.

After Twitter read her for her life, Dunham tweeted a lazy apology to Beckham that was basically “You guuuuuys, you don’t get my humor.”

 

 

 

Yes, that’s what it is. We just don’t get her brand of “humor.” It’s not that people are tired of privileged navel-gazing or the musings of someone who seems completely oblivious to the fact that other people’s actions can sometimes have not a single thing to do with her. Not long after her lazy apology tweets, Dunham issued a much better and thoughtful apology on Instagram.

“I owe Odell Beckham Jr an apology. Despite my moments of bravado, I struggle at industry events (and in life) with the sense that I don’t rep a certain standard of beauty and so when I show up to the Met Ball surrounded by models and swan-like actresses it’s hard not to feel like a sack of flaming garbage. This felt especially intense with a handsome athlete as my dinner companion and a bunch of women I was sure he’d rather be seated with. But I went ahead and projected these insecurities and made totally narcissistic assumptions about what he was thinking, then presented those assumptions as facts. I feel terrible about it. Because after listening to lots of valid criticism, I see how unfair it is to ascribe misogynistic thoughts to someone I don’t know AT ALL. Like, we have never met, I have no idea the kind of day he’s having or what his truth is. But most importantly, I would never intentionally contribute to a long and often violent history of the over-sexualization of black male bodies- as well as false accusations by white women towards black men. I’m so sorry, particularly to OBJ, who has every right to be on his cell phone. The fact is I don’t know about his state of mind (I don’t know a lot of things) and I shouldn’t have acted like I did. Much love and thanks, Lena”

 

 

I’m glad she feels terrible about her comments, and I’m also pleasantly surprised that she mentioned the over-sexualization of black men. Perhaps she looked up from her navel for a moment. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, and for celebrities, part of the price of fame is making those mistakes for the world to see. However, at some point, certain actions should no longer be an issue. Making ridiculous, disparaging comments about a black man Dunham does not know is one of those things. She’s a writer, she knows the power of words and she knows that she has a uniquely amplified voice. Plus, she’s a grown up and should know how to use discretion.

I’m glad Lena Dunham exists, and I commend her for her creative contributions, but if the topic is not privileged white women, she should keep quiet, listen, take notes and nod her head.


Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter at @Love_Is_Dope and connect with her on Facebook.