Confessions of a Black Woman Who Loves HBO’s Girls

Racially homogenous casts are common on TV; shows that honestly and artfully depict the struggles of womanhood are not

  • Share
  • Read Later
Aby Baker / Getty Images

Lena Dunham, Zosia Mamet, Jemima Kirke and Allison Williams of Hbo's 'Girls' filming on the Streets of Manhattan on May 25, 2012 in New York City

I am not ashamed to admit it: I am a black woman who loves the show Girls, HBO’s dramedy about the uncomfortable and sometimes ugly journey of a group of young women learning how to be adults. Since its first episode, critics have scolded Girls for whitewashing New York City, showing only characters of privilege and few of color. But that shouldn’t be a reason to dismiss the show.

No one really “teaches” women how to transition into adulthood; it just happens. I spent my post-college years in New York City and can relate to some (though luckily not all) of the misadventures of Hannah and her friends. I had a diverse group of girlfriends — black and non-black, women with PhDs and GEDs, friends that represented the entire socio-economic spectrum. If I am honest with myself, my discoveries in New York City in those early years often involved selfishness, minor betrayals and friendships lost. Another dose of honesty: it was privilege that allowed me to spend some of my early twenties experimenting with adulthood, reveling and slowly coming to understand that unsure time.

(MORE: Viewpoint: The Problem with Lena Dunham’s Girls)

It’s true that Girls has zero non-white characters — Donald Glover’s two-episode cameo as the black Republican in season two notwithstanding. But this is hardly new in the world of entertainment. Friends, Seinfeld, Entourage, The Sopranos, and just about every Woody Allen movie are monochromatic. And it’s not always unrealistic. There were several times I ventured to a new neighborhood or local hangout only to discover that there were absolutely no people of color to be found. There really are enclaves of New York City that are overwhelmingly white.  Girls has been quite honest about the loneliness and uncertainty of being a twenty-something in a big city. Adding an African American or Asian American character wouldn’t change that, but there is a long list of shows that have clumsily attempted to side step a glaring lack of diversity with a sassy or wise friend of color.

What makes Girls relatable is that it speaks to the universal experience of women struggling to make room in their lives for friendships, relationships, meaningful or meaningless jobs, overbearing or absent family members, and themselves. Girls follows the tradition of shows like Designing Women, The Golden Girls, Living Single, Girlfriends and Sex and the City. Whether black or white, young or old, in the south or not, we see these women argue, battle with their imperfections, exit unhealthy situations, and find courage to stay in positive relationships and be loved. These shows represent the struggle of all girls and women as they try to figure out their own identities. These are the struggles of women who try to find sisterhood, a feeling of kinship and closeness to a group of their peers.

(MORE: The War on Women Begins with Girls)

Girls portrays young women who are trying to figure out what it means to work, to be vulnerable, to be brave, to be generous, to have imperfections, to have deep flaws, and to be strong. Their race doesn’t matter. As I continue to read the harsh critiques of the show, its characters and its actors, I am reminded of something Gloria Steinem said: “Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood.” Even though my life is not a mirror image of Hannah and her friends, I see the women of Girls as my sisters.

MORE: Strong, Female TV Characters Can Negate Violence

3 comments
sinclaireprowse
sinclaireprowse

this article was beautifully written, i admire both your writing style and your point of view. 

DjRoxwell
DjRoxwell

I'm a black man who loves watching Girls since day 1. Just the fact that HBO was premiering a series by this name intrigued me. They had a special screening for it here in the San Francisco Bay Area last spring. To me this show is hilarious! It's amazing to have friends who I can sit down with and talk about the different episodes and get their feedback. I have to admit that initially I had an issue with race and color on the show considering it was shot in New York City which is the cultural center of the world. I believed that people of color can be betrayed on TV without the stereotypes we see in everyday life. Donald Glover's character on the show was pretty much a flash in the pan but a most memorable one. He wasn't your typical black male per se. He was educated, articulate, intelligent AND Republican. This threw me for a loop but I have to remember that guys like him do exist. I've met Republicans both black and white and they're people too. They just have different political views that's all. We all have to learn to agree to disagree. I think it would have been more interesting to have one of the girls, if not Hannah, date a guy of color at some point and focus more on the social issues of interracial dating in a big city like New York. Think outside the box. Get them out of their shells. Some will be successful, some will not. Kinda like Jungle Fever meets Mississippi Masala meets Lakeview Terrace. 

When I was in high school, I had a girlfriend of mixed heritage (father black, mother white). Her parents would not allow me to take her out even if both of our mothers used supervision. The reason being that they had been oppressed for being an interracial couple for many years. Although she was mixed, their daughter had more European features and could literally pass for white. Her mother thought that we would be viewed as a black boy going out with a white girl and we would get bashed at every turn. Another thing is they made her grow up too fast. They were constantly pushing her through the school system and making her graduate way before her time. She was even taking college courses while in 9th & 10th grade. To this day it upsets me because I loved her regardless of her racial heritage and incredibly rough upbringing.

FedericadeMatthias
FedericadeMatthias

I am a black woman living in Italy for a lifetime and I have always lived in the midst of white and I did not feel different. with the arrival of many immigrants, things have changed: the Italians I have begun to tell you and them, you should understand them, are blacks like you ....

but I never had the experience of migration and I had the same childhood of my white peers. now are the black women who stare at me with prejudice because I'm more with whites than with them but for me this is normal. Italian whites I know them better than  black women