White female privilege has long been documented when it comes to accusations of sexual assault, particularly those waged against black men. Often, discussions surrounding such incidents center on the racism that allows the accusations to be believed — and the foreknowledge of that outcome that led these women to bring the charges about in the first place. But Lena Dunham has exposed a far less discussed element of white female privilege when it comes to black men: the assumption of sexual interest, one that no doubt rests on deeply seated stereotypes about black male sexuality.
In the latest article of The Lenny Interview series, Lena is interviewed by her friend Amy Schumer — two women who have made millions off the premise of being awkward white girls (meanwhile Issa Rae… wait that’s a discussion for another day). Eventually, the conversation turns to the Met Gala and their experience sitting at the same table, to which Lena says:
I was sitting next to Odell Beckham Jr., and it was so amazing because it was like he looked at me and he determined I was not the shape of a woman by his standards. He was like, “That’s a marshmallow. That’s a child. That’s a dog.” It wasn’t mean — he just seemed confused.
The vibe was very much like, “Do I want to fuck it? Is it wearing a … yep, it’s wearing a tuxedo. I’m going to go back to my cell phone.” It was like we were forced to be together, and he literally was scrolling Instagram rather than have to look at a woman in a bow tie. I was like, “This should be called the Metropolitan Museum of Getting Rejected by Athletes.”
Interestingly, Lenny has removed the first sentence of Lena’s initial response to Amy asking when she left the gala, which read, “I attempted to grind my ass on Michael B. Jordan for an additional twenty minutes and then left right after you.” A detail that’s significant given the story that followed. But being the enabling, privileged white woman she is, Amy simply responded: “You were dressed like a boy, and you looked sexy, and I really appreciated you showing me your tits several times.”
Don’t you love (read:hate) how white women can make themselves victims in any situation? Had Odell hit on Lena, we’d be having an entirely different discussion. One about the sexual lasciviousness of black men or how these two white women couldn’t even enjoy a nice dinner without being harassed by a hypersexual black man. Instead, a woman is saying she didn’t have to endure the sexual innuendo, the cat calling, the flirtatiousness that a lot of us begrudgingly have to put up with every time we leave the house simply because we have reproductive organs that interest our male counterparts, and that, too, is a problem? Somehow that turns into woe is (awkward white) me? Newsflash Lena (and all other white women), you are not entitled to the black male gaze. And further, not all black men want to sexually accost you — a point Lena appears to have borne witness to twice in one night when Michael B. Jordan and Odell Beckham Jr. failed to return the sexual interest she assumed would naturally be bestowed upon her.
After being thoroughly criticized for her comments, Lena offered up this apology on Instagram which barely scratches the surface of her many projections.
I owe Odell Beckham Jr an apology. Despite my moments of bravado, I struggle at industry events (and in life) with the sense that I don’t rep a certain standard of beauty and so when I show up to the Met Ball surrounded by models and swan-like actresses it’s hard not to feel like a sack of flaming garbage. This felt especially intense with a handsome athlete as my dinner companion and a bunch of women I was sure he’d rather be seated with. But I went ahead and projected these insecurities and made totally narcissistic assumptions about what he was thinking, then presented those assumptions as facts. I feel terrible about it. Because after listening to lots of valid criticism, I see how unfair it is to ascribe misogynistic thoughts to someone I don’t know AT ALL. Like, we have never met, I have no idea the kind of day he’s having or what his truth is. But most importantly, I 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. I’m so sorry, particularly to OBJ, who has every right to be on his cell phone. The fact is I don’t know about his state of mind (I don’t know a lot of things) and I shouldn’t have acted like I did. Much love and thanks, Lena
Sure, Lena was most definitely projecting her own insecurities of being perceived as asexual. But she needs to acknowledge the underlying perceptions of black male sexuality that led her to believe her Met gala experience would be different from what it was. It’s not enough to say she would never intentionally contribute to that “long and often violent history of the over-sexualization of black male bodies,” the point is that she has. And she needs to get real clear about why she has, allegedly unintentionally.
Most racists don’t think they’re racist; they believe they are simply superior, speaking out for what’s right, and protecting themselves from threats conjured up in their minds after digesting centuries-old racist propaganda and anti-tolerant rhetoric. Lena doesn’t believe she’s a predator because she’s been given a pass time and time again, but this latest stint simply proves she’s a privileged predator of many kinds.
When Lena described how she “leaned down between her (1-year-old sister’s) legs and carefully spread open her vagina at 7, her behavior was passed off as sexual exploration. When she admitted she dreamed of molesting an “African American rodent” in 2010, no one batted an eye.
Just found my "creativity journal" from 2005. It begins: "I dreamed I was a prostitute and that I molested a little African American rodent"
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) March 7, 2010
And, initially, when she described her version of rejection by Odell, Lena’s words were described as “cringeworthy” and “embarrassing,” rather than damning, irresponsible, and a tale of deception. Lena has a history of being a physical and emotional predator who’s never been given or made to adhere to appropriate boundaries simply because she’s quirky — and white; it’s time she stopped getting a pass.