Here is a disclaimer that I must throw out there: I don’t have cable, so I’ve never seen HBO’s new show “Girls.”
While that may be, I have seen and heard Lena Dunham be interviewed about the show and address the criticism that the show lacks diversity. In some ways, I don’t think the criticism is fair because Dunham isn’t unlike most white women her age who had classes with people of color and now work with people of color, but still don’t really see people of color. Maybe that’s why Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man should be standard high school reading.
What makes many people, especially white people, uncomfortable with the lack of diversity is the belief people cling to that younger people don’t see color and welcome the world with open arms. Unfortunately, no matter how many Lil Wayne albums you own or Basketball Wives episodes you watch that doesn’t really constitute knowing black people. This is only an openness to a sliver of another community’s culture (did I really just equate Lil Wayne and a reality show to “culture?”). It’s sort of like someone loving all things Bollywood and never talking to the new Indian lady at work when you see her in the break room.
The only issue I have with the explanation Dunham gave on NPR’s “Fresh Air” is that if you want diversity on screen, you need diversity off screen in the writing room. Now, if for the first season, HBO didn’t want to provide the funding for more writers, Dunham could have done research and interviews.
If she asked random women of color about themselves, they would be so flattered and surely answer her questions. In my experience, women of different races and ethnic backgrounds desperately want to share their culture and background, but no one simply asks. Instead, we pass by people as if they truly are invisible.
Finally, the reason it’s important to represent women of color is because their experiences are so colored by their communities’ expectations of them. And these expectations are often drastically different from those that white women face.
A show like “Girls” could greatly benefit from the interplay of diverse women reacting to the different cultural expectations each woman must deal with while trying to live a life she values. And just adding a woman of color that is just like the current characters isn’t the answer, but adding a woman with her own story would be.