Girls: White Apathy, Privilege and Creation of the Nouveau Bigotry

We've come a long way... or have we?

We’ve come a long way… or have we?

Chris Burchette
Social Networks and Vita Editor
18 June 2012, 21:27 GMT

Racism has existed since man first separated from his original primal group, yet historically American racism has been its own unique brand based on slavery, religion, money and politics. Barely out of the new decade of the new millennium, America has created a new brand of racism that is not volatile nor overt, uncomfortable in its skin and self deprecating. It is Ironic Racism or Nouveau Racism; born and bred out of the hipster culture and now currently seen on the (not really a hit if you have less than a million viewers a week) HBO show Girls.

Girls on HBO

Girls on HBO

Girls is created and directed by Lena Dunham. The story takes place around Hannah (played by the aforementioned Lena Dunham), and her three close friends: Marnie, Shoshanna, and Jessa. It is a Sex and the City for a new generation. Each girl is an incarnation of the four archetypes created in SATC. Hannah is the Carrie. Marnie is the control-success freak Miranda. Jessa is the free-spirited sensual Samantha and Shoshanna is the perfect Charlotte. The Girls are all out of college (or in the case of Shoshanna almost out of college). They are narcissists, who talk obsessively about men.

I find this strange because it is heralded as a feminist show due to its real portrayal of women. Is it considered feminist because the women are not size 2 models and have real breasts? I ask this because most of the action created is based on the Girls reacting to the men, or the lack of men, in their lives. This of course gives it the SATC flavor.

The reason the show is being questioned about racism is because the Girls are all white and orbit a white reality. The only women of color—men of color are never shown—move in the periphery. All of them are caricatures or embodiments of the stereotypes that have been perpetuated by the media for over 30 plus years. In the show we have the street-smart, sassy black woman who works for a grab-assy white man, and the wise Latina doctor who scolds Hannah for trivializing HIV/AIDS. To complete the trifecta race card, we also have the Asian American who out skills Hannah for a paying job at the company Hannah interns. When asked for a reason for being passed over for the job, her white employer says it is because the ‘Asian girl can Photoshop’. These three characters are only shown in one or two episodes. There are other women of color in the show but they are props used in group scenes.

Hipster Racism, or just plain Racist?

Hipster Racism, or just plain Racist?

The irony, which is important to hipster culture, is that each woman is a mirror that shows the utter ridiculousness and short comings of the main character. Because these women of colour are professional and possess skills, this is supposed to excuse the stereotypes that are perpetuated. In other words – Yes we know we’re being racists, but look, they are even better than us, so how is that really racism?

The creator of the series has been mealy mouth about how white her created world is, but so far has not taken any steps to correct this. In fact one of the writers, Lesley Arfin, when being questioned about the lack and misuse of women of color, said “What really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME”. This type of racism is dangerous because it shields itself in comedy. This type of racism disguises itself in the attitude “that not wanting to be racist makes it okay for them to be totally racist.” It is also endemic of a culture that is uncomfortable with otherness.

The problem that Girls has now is this; if it includes a well thought out multi –layered woman of color in its next season (it was picked up by HBO which baffles me because again it gets less than a million viewers a week) will that be out of an organic act of sincerity or will it be akin to the character of Charlie from Friends, another show in New York that was devoid of any representation of ethnic characters until it was pressured to feature the underrated Aisha Tyler. Girls has a lot of other flaws. It is awkward with gay issues and tends to drop some storylines. But there are things that do work. The women are real women with real body types, who are not glamorously dressed. And it understands that friendships are not made of seamless banter and never-ending cosmos. But I do wish it would deal with the white privilege and undercurrents of racism in this hipster generation.

Chris Burchette is a gay white southern writer. He currently resides in Seoul, South Korea. Chris is interested in the convergence of Pop Culture and Social Issues.

 

3 thoughts

  1. Pingback: Why ‘racist’ jokes are no laughing matter | theGrio

  2. Pingback: Interrace Today | Interrace Today

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