For a lot of people, just the mention of Lena Dunham causes them roll their eyes or groan. But up until this point, I hadn’t considered myself to be a part of that group.
From watching a handful of Girls episodes, and even reading a good chunk of her autobiography, I know that she has a talent for telling honest stories in an interesting way. And although her version of feminism hasn’t always been considered inclusive for women of color, we have at least seen her make an effort to uplift and support (some) women in her career. I bring all this up to say that when I read about her recent comments on Odell Beckham Jr, I tried to approach the situation with some objectivity.
But when you weigh her comments against the history of racist desirability politics that we as Black men have had to face, her comments begin to seem more and more inexcusable. In an interview published on Friday, Dunham said this about meeting Beckham,
“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.”
The fact that Dunham makes an assumption on what Beckham’s intentions (or lack thereof) are with her is not only unfair, but dangerous as well. It’s incredibly ironic that just days after the 61st anniversary of Emmett Till’s murder, a Black man is being chastised for NOT flirting or showing interest in a white woman.
Let’s just take the situation at face value for a minute. Beckham might not have been interested in Dunham romantically or platonically, or might not have even known who she was. And Dunham has already said that she thinks that he is handsome. She also said that she felt as if he was thinking this when he looked at her:
“Do I want to f— it? Is it wearing a … yep, it’s wearing a tuxedo. I’m going to go back to my cell phone.”
What is maddening about that statement is that she could have very easily have just said that she was upset that he didn’t seem interested, period. Instead she suggests that he thought of her as less than human because he might not have been attracted to her?? This line of thinking almost suggests that she is demanding that he show interest in her just because of who she is, a white celebrity.
Throughout history Black men have been repeatedly berated, attacked, and even killed for showing romantic interest in white men and women. On the other hand, it isn’t uncommon to be completely ignored when you do show interest. This type of hot/cold relationship isn’t at all atypical when you are a Black man, or any POC, in the dating world. Many of us known that because of negative stereotypes about Black men, many people will automatically ignore us, or fetishize us, right off the bat. If you are a POC, you might be familiar with situations where you are treated as if you should feel lucky that someone outside of your race found you attractive, and therefore MUST reciprocate. This situation feels eerily similar to one of those times, whether intentional or not.
However, It probably wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that Beckham would probably feel comfortable approaching a white woman who showed interest in him, but that doesn’t mean he absolutely has to, even if they are a fellow celebrity. And to demand that type of attention just because you are in Lena Dunham’s position isn’t only absurd, it’s unfair.