Let me state this simply, black people do not have to be everywhere. Yet, some people truly believe that the absence of black people from mainstream TV shows (or movies) is always indicative of racism or racial insensitivity by the creators, producers, and in some cases, the very viewers of the shows. To be fair, more and more frequently, this indictment is raised every time a TV show and/or movie has the “audacity” not to represent every demographic class that can be represented. In these instances, all who are not represented, under represented, or unfairly represented assume the maker(s) of the show is racist, insensitive, biased, or some derogatory combination of all three or worse.
The most recent show to receive this reputation is HBO’s hit series and Emmy nominated show, GIRLS. Many critics wondered why the show did not have sufficient minority representation. If you’re unfamiliar with the show and need a quick summary, read this post. If you think only black people were offended by the lack of cultural, social, and economic diversity on the show, you would be mistaken. Just check out the titles: The Huffington Post: New HBO Show And Lena Dunham Face Backlash On Racism And More; and The NY Times: Broadcasting a World of Whiteness. You know we’re living in crazy times when even white people are offended by the antics of other white people, especially when the latter white people believe the former white people’s antics should be offensive to people extending beyond white people. Judging by the number of headlines this story has grabbed, I must logically assume that like black on black crime, white on white criticism is only slightly less devastating to the overall demographic it predominately affects. However, not to be outdone in the self-loathing caused by the racially un-diverse atmosphere that is GIRLS, Lauren McEwen of the Washington Post, a black woman, concludes, “A show called ‘Girls’ needs women of color to truly live up to its name.”
Of the many complaints I’ve heard about GIRLS – and there are many – I must say McEwen’s is honestly one of the most impressively misplaced. If I’m being completely honest with you, I do not even find it particularly logical. By McEwen’s logic, shows like Two and a Half Men do not have enough little people represented and Two Broke Girls does not have enough broke people represented and is likely sexist considering men can be broke, too. Of course, GIRLS is only one of a long list of shows accused, accurately or inaccurately, of not fairly representing America’s diverse inhabitants. Let us review a Tweet posed by Touré to the creator of GIRLS on why the lack of diversity on the show poses such a threat to our collective, if not imaginative, view of America.
.@lenadunham Lena, I love Girls but how come there’s no Black people (except a bum)? Could a young NYer have no Black or brown friends?
— Touré (@Toure) April 16, 2012
The uncomfortable answer – although it should not be – to this question is, “Yes.” Is it so difficult to imagine a world where everyone’s group of friends is not a United Nations representation of all races, ethnicities, cultures, backgrounds and sexual orientations? You need look no further than your own group of friends (real friends, not social media “friends”).
How representative are your friends compared to the racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity of America as a whole? I will not presume to know, so I’ll analyze myself. Despite the fact that my family inhabited the suburbs for most of my formidable years, many of my close friends have and continue to look like and resemble me. Have my daily interactions been filled with racial and cultural diversity? Yes. Nevertheless, when I’m heading out to a social function or a serious issue arises in my life, I find the faces I choose to surround me for support are often monochromatic and homogeneous in representation. Does this lack of diversity and representation in our social group make my friends and I inherently racist? Excuse me if I have my doubts.
The Absence of Black People is not the Evidence of Racism
In my opinion, not only it is possible for a young NYer of most any racial background not to have any “black or brown friends,” many NYers already exist that do not have any black or brown friends. Frankly, the people most likely to have “black or brown friends” are black and brown people themselves. Despite this fact, I have yet to see a Caucasian “cultural critic” challenge a black or brown person for not demonstrating what they view as enough diversification in their social circle by having a sufficient amount of white friends.
Lena Dunham does not need to answer Touré’s (I assume, purposefully ignorant) question, because it is not a hypothetical question that needs addressing. It is already a reality for many people. Although I imagine Touré surrounds himself with people representing a wide array of racial, cultural, and sexual orientations, this is not the reality of most people in America. It’s not even really an accurate representation for most people in New York. Honestly, with 223 million white people in America and only 38 million blacks, there are simply not enough black people to go around to befriend. In case you were wondering, even if we added in all the “browns,” there still would not be enough. This is one of many reasons why the majority of people have a minority of diversity represented in their direct social peer groups. Therefore, is it crazier to assume this is the reality Lena might have faced living in New York in her early 20s or is it more likely that she decided to take her pent up racism to the big stage by developing a show devoid of an arbitrarily sufficient amount of black and brown characters?
You can draw your own conclusions, but to understand the hype, I watched the first season of GIRLS for myself. I thought it was a legitimately funny show with talented writing and interesting characters, but I have no concrete plans to watch Season 2. I did not stop watching because there was not enough black representation on the show – honestly, I did not even notice. I will not watch the show because I cannot relate to the struggles, trials, and tribulations of young, 20-something, white women. In other words, while I found the show enjoyable, I concluded that the central premise of the show was not for me. Rather than start a crusade to make the show mold around my expectations, I simply stopped watching. Back in the day, this is what people did when they did not like a TV show, movie, or song. They demonstrated their dislike by not watching or listening. If enough people demonstrated similar disinterest, the show/movie/song went away. This is far too benign a conclusion for today’s society. Today, a news story, blog, #hashtag or petition must develop every time people do not like a person, place, or thing they are perfectly capable of avoiding.
What happens when everyone, not limited to black people, must be fairly and equally represented in every show/movie and every show/movie must please everyone who views/listens? There is only one obvious conclusion…read more.