This week, on the internet, we are talking about 25-year-old prodigy Lena Dunham's new HBO show Girls and race. (Girls and gender was last week's topic. Keep up.) On Monday, after the show's premiere, Jenna Wortham wrote on the Hairpin about her disappointment in the show's overwhelming whiteness: "[T]hese girls... are beautiful, they are ballsy, they are trying to figure it out... I just wish I saw a little more of myself on screen, right alongside them."
On Wednesday, Girls writer Lesley Arfin seemingly responded to Wortham's and similar criticisms in a tweet. "What really bothered me most about Precious," she wrote, "was that there was no representation of ME."
Was there ever a chance that Girls would get race right? (Or even get it at all?) The young urbanites that Dunham depicts are more diverse than they're often given credit for. A show set in that milieu — the post-college-publishing-internship-Greenpoint-apartment scene — featuring a nonwhite main character (or two! Or three!) wouldn't feel unrealistic in the way that a black ad executive might feel on Mad Men. It would be nice to see a show that that acknowledged the existence of young people of color as privileged and narcissistic (albeit relatable, to some of us) as Dunham's characters.
But a nonwhite friend at your opium-tea dinner party doesn't make you John Brown, and the young white people who write and are depicted by the show are just as uncomfortable and unthinking about race as most white people in this country. There's been a lot of pressure on Girls to be the voice of a generation — or "a voice of a generation," as Dunham's character Hannah puts it in the first episode. Its writers certainly seem to have captured my generation's awkwardness about race.