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‘Girls’ Gets It Right, But Continues to be Wrong. How’s That Possible?

Girls, all I really want is girls And in the morning, it’s girls ‘Cause in the evening, it’s girls
-Beastie Boys, 1987

Last year, the conclusion of Lena Dunham’s much-discussed Girls debut season sparked rave reviews and one major cloud of critique; while many young women identified with the personal, professional and romantic struggles of the 20-something characters, the show, placed in multi-cultural New York City lacked a single drop of color in its cast, save for a few odd co-workers and one black homeless man. Confident that Dunham would resolve this issue by writing some witty solution into season two I was surprised when her fix brought tackled a new issue, the myth of post-racialism. Let’s unravel how the show has addressed concerns of diversity and whether the Girls writer and star’s moves have been positive.

In the media, Dunham committed to addressing the lack of color in her cast during season two, though we readers weren’t sure of her fix. But like any Girls junkie, I dreamed how this new girl of color would enter the scene. In my mind, she would be a long lost companion of Jessa’s visiting New York with her traveling dance troupe. Complete with natural hair, cool diplomat parents, and quick wit, the new brown girl was bound to be a hit, at least in my world.

However instead of the permanent cast member in my head, the second season of Girls opened with Hannah waist deep with the show’s first central hued man, Sandy, played by Donald Glover. After picking my chin up off the ground, I could not help but think ‘Lena, I thought we were better than this!’ It was beyond me why after getting critique after critique mainly from women of color about the show’s lack of diversity that Dunham would add a man, not a minority woman. Another frustration was that Sandy didn’t seem like a boyfriend at all, but rather an erotic escapade for Hannah. But, somehow Miss Dunham was able to woo me back into her arms with her not-so-proper-but-always-real writing.

First, Hannah has a black or, in the spirits of all things politically correct, an African-American boyfriend. Glover’s Sandy is an articulate law student whose non-stereotypical academic success has positive written all over it. He’s a breath of almost fresh air until I learned of his Republican political identity. Not to cast judgment on my conservative brethren but Sandy is a bit unrealistic considering the large number of African-American voters that supported President Obama in November.

And although I support people adding some swirl to their dating scene, I loved Sandy and Hannah’s breakup in episode two because of the discussion it invoked. In an argument, Sandy went full force saying white girls treat their interracial romantic relationships like bucket list items. Hannah responded by saying, “I don’t live in a world where there are divisions like that,” thereby highlighting the privilege of whites in America and her ignorance of the construct. Sandy simply replied, “But you do.” Those three simple words beautifully challenged the mirage of post-racialism.

Elsewhere, at the end of the first episode, the stereotypical quip by Jessa and Thomas-John while cutting an airport taxi-cab line episode’s end really upset me, “We’re Mexican, we don’t know the rules.” Lena, if you aren’t going to write people of color into the central cast of characters, please do not use us for cheap laughs.

Lastly, sue me but how happy was I when Hannah ended up calling the cops on her white ex-boyfriend and the not black one?

Though Girls definitely needs some cultural estrogen and I was originally frustrated with the black “boyfriend” casting, the genuine commentary of the race argument reminded me why I love the show. Dunham blames the lack of diversity in her writing on her ignorance and in response, writes a show displaying her characters’ cultural insensitivity and ignorance. As the season continues, Girls has returned to its previously snow white New York with one appearance by an Asian assistant, briefly employed by Marni’s new love interest but, again, like the one homeless black man in season one, characters of color are used as point-making props, not for development. I cannot help but want more from Dunham. I think Hannah’s last boss at the indie website had it right when she told the young writer, “This is your comfort zone … and this is where the magic happens.” All I can say is come on Lena, show me the magic.

– Kenyada McLean

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