Lena Dunham’s racist remarks about Odell Beckham Jr. illustrates the problem with “white feminism”

Lena Dunham’s racist remarks about Odell Beckham Jr. illustrates the problem with “white feminism” September 6, 2016
Lena Dunham via Wikimedia Commons

Lena Dunham is known for being an outspoken feminist and creator of the television show Girls. Unfortunately, as someone who is prominent in social justice circles, she says some very ignorant things regarding issues that don’t affect white women. Feminism that excludes issues that impact women of color has been defined as “White Feminism” and Dunham is often a shining example of that. Her latest racist remark came after she attended a Gala and sat next to NFL star Odell Beckham Jr. Dunham described the event during an interview with Amy Schumer:

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 fuck 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.”

This definitely seemed problematic to me, but I’d like to share what people of color wrote about her remarks since their perspective is certainly more relevant than mine as a white male. Mara Jacqueline Willaford recently wrote a very insightful article about Dunham and here are a few excerpts:

But, as she says in the interview, there she was at the Met Gala surrounded by some of the most gorgeous and talented people in Hollywood, and rather than just sit with her discomfort around her own mediocrity, she decided to non-consensually include Beckham in her self-deprecating thoughts. In doing so she took away Beckham’s agency by assuming that he didn’t have a legit reason for not talking to her, which is both infantilizing and dehumanizing. He’s a grown man who can decide who to talk to or not talk to — he’s not a dog. But maybe Dunham doesn’t know the difference because there are likely more actual dogs on her show than black men

Willaford continues:

We could also talk about:

How her comments play into the stereotypes of the hyper-sexualization of Black men (especially athletes) and how damaging and historically significant it is that white people continue to project their fears and insecurities onto Black bodies.

Her performance of victimhood and fragility as if she was being harmed by him sitting there next to her and ignoring her. And the way that she and Amy Schumer put on this woe is me performance to play up how “hard and horrible” it is looking homely and plain amongst athletes and super-models at the Met Gala.

White Feminism’s shallow analysis when it comes to body positivity,which basically boils down to “well he was supposed to desire (objectify) me”,and how these two conventionally sized, able-bodied white women have built careers around trying to monetize a body-positive movement that is for and by large-women, women of color, and visibly-disabled women.

Stephen A. Crockett Jr. wrote a list of 10 reasons why Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t speak to Lena Dunham. Here are the last three:

8. Maybe he didn’t want to get to know Dunham.

The most telling part of Dunham’s passage is that she actually believed that Beckham looked her over. The privilege in her passage is breathtaking. Not because he wouldn’t have but that heabsolutely must have. This feeds into a plethora of black male sexual stereotypes and white women as desired objects—even when they are ignored.

9. He’s not some dude from the corner who hollers at every woman under 40 he sees.

I know there is a belief that all black men catcall women, but Beckham isn’t that dude. The sad part is that even with his status and prestige, Dunham objectified him and reduced him to street-corner status.

10. Black male interest in white women (any white woman) is greatly overstated and exaggerated.

Seriously, not all black men want a fat white woman.

Veronica Wells also wrote about the racism towards black men and how her comments represent “everything wrong with white feminists.” Dunham first just dismissed such backlash as part of the “outrage machine” but eventually offered a decent apology. Her apology would mean a lot more if she stopped saying so many racist things and attempted to learn from the people of color calling her out.

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