Earlier this month, Lena Dunham received an enormous amount of backlash -- rightfully so -- for posting her interview with Amy Schumer. Dunham accused Odell Beckham Jr. of misogyny for not talking to her at the New York Met Ball.
In her mind, him being on his phone instead was dismissive and rude. All of this, according to Dunham, was happening because she's a woman who doesn’t physically ascribe to the beauty standards of the models in the room (never mind that Dunham is white, rich, straight, able-bodied, etc), some of which were sitting at the table with her, and with whom she assumed Beckham would rather be talking to.
Of course, she had no evidence of this. But according to her, what she felt in that moment was enough to tweet out to her nearly five million followers.
Shortly afterwards, Dunham apologized, for what she realized were really “narcissistic assumptions.” She went on to claim that she 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.” She went on to apologize to her fans and to OBJ himself.
Before apologizing, she claimed in a tweet that, “My story about him was clearly (to me) about my own insecurities as an average-bodied woman at a table of supermodels and athletes.” At some point, she also tagged her friend, Amy Schumer, with, “Glad the outrage machine roars on though, right @amyschumer?”
Schumer herself is no stranger to racist comments about black men. When Twitter user Paulo L dos Santos tweeted “Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, et. al. refuse 2C that misogyny among men of color, while hideously prevalent, is no more so than among white men.” Schumer responded by asking, “how would you know? Statistically who is hollerin at you in the street more pa?”
Both Schumer and Dunham (along with many other white feminist celebrities, some of which I have written about before) are all too representative of how white women are willing to make gross, blanket statements about not just black men (though in particular), but about any man of color. Schumer especially has had some very racist jokes made in her stand up shows about Latino men.
Their behavior and their justification for it is one of the core problems with mainstream white feminism. As part of their bravado and their supposed “confidence,” they take it upon themselves to “defend” their insecurities (just as Dunham has done) in a way that perpetuates racism. Because they don’t necessarily see color, and are only affected by sexism, they don’t see the race of the men they are being critical of.
Their insecurities end up manifesting themselves in a vacuum, where they think they can approach issues of body positivity and sexuality without acknowledging their positionality as white women first. In today’s world, their viciousness may tarnish a black man’s image, get him fired or land him in jail. But in earlier periods of this country’s bleak history -- such as the Jim Crow Era -- the ignorance and blatant racism of the likes of Dunham and Schumer would have gotten a black man lynched.
Their self-victimization, their racist deductive reasoning and the confidence with which they participate in said actions are crucial characteristics of white womanhood and how it was constructed, particularly from the years 1882-1930, after slavery had supposedly ended, but before the Civil Rights Era (a point at which many want to believe that racism came to an end). In fact, the construction of white womanhood as an inherently pure racial entity allowed white women to not only victimize themselves without repercussions, but to participate in the lynching of black men, which reached its peak in 1919 (today known as the “Red Summer”) as either spectators, or the supposed “victim” watching her “rapist” meet his fate.
When Dunham victimized herself as an “average-bodied” woman, she forgot to mention that she was an average-bodied white woman. When Schumer claimed it is statistically men of color “hollerin” at her, she had no idea that her thoughts were in line with the white women who, less than a century ago, felt that it was only black and brown men who were prone to misogyny against white women and who therefore deserved the gruesome deaths they were met with.
Maybe in today’s world, black men aren’t being lynched as a spectacle (even though they are jailed and brutalized disproportionately), but what people fail to realize is that white women, such as Dunham and Schumer, are only two examples of how white woman have harnessed and perpetuated racism, only to be saved by the same exclusive feminism they promote.