Hello Spartans! For this issue of the Mosaic blog, I will be discussing Lena Dunham’s actions regarding the 2016 Met Gala and why her words are dangerous and how they encourage the “fatal” sexualization of black men. Even though this story was quite a while ago, I still believe it is important to talk about right now because of all the social implications and microaggressions connected with it.
For those who are unaware of what the Met Gala and Lenny’s Letter are, the Met Gala is an annual fundraising gala for the Metropolitan Museum’s Art Costume Institute in New York City. The Lenny Letter is a weekly online ‘white feminist‘ newspaper created by Lena Dunham with her friend and co-writer for the show Girls. This year, the Met Gala was held on May 2nd, 2016 the annual Met Gala was held in New York City. While at the time, no drama was discussed about this event on September 2nd, 2016 during a Lenny Letter interview, Lena Dunham discussed her feelings below:
“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.”
These comments from Lena Dunham were all completely based off what she thought OBJ was thinking during the Met Gala. Lena Dunham recieved an extreme amount of backlash for her comments regarding the Met Gala, especially on twitter. Dunham later apologized on Instagram stating:
“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,” she wrote. “This felt especially intense with a handsome athlete as my dinner companion.”
The 30-year-old writer and actress added,
“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 toward black men.”
Now it is possible that OBJ may have just not known who she was. Beckham may have just never watched her show Girls before.Or he may have assumed that Dunham doesn’t talk to black people because of the lack of diversity in the TV show. There were many reasons OBJ simply chose not to speak with Dunham, but instead she chose to immediately make it sexual. She was practically upset the Beckham had not sexualized her.
While this can all dismissed as celebrity gossip or drama, there are many social underliers in this entire interaction. Many accused Dunham of participating in the constant oversexualization of black men. Dunham decided to presume that OBJ was immediately concerned about sex, and nothing else. You see, the US has a sad and dangerous history about the over sexualization of black men.
Black men have constantly been stereotyped as being hyper sexualized, lusting after white woman, and being aggressive and predatory. Countless times, white women have falsely accused black men of rape. The Tulsa riot of 1921, started in Oklahoma and destroyed one of the most affluent black communities in the country. This riot was started after a false accusation by a white woman, claiming that she was raped in an elevator by a black man. Another prime example is the Rosewood massacre, a violent and bloody massacre of black Americans and the destuction of a black town on the first week of January in 1923. This all happened because of an accusation by another white woman who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by a black man. Finally the infamous case of 14 year old Emmett Till, who was lynched in Mississippi in for reportedly flirting with a white woman at a convenience store. Although the death of Emmett Till was an informal catalyst that began the civil rights movement, the stereotypes regarding black men and their ‘hypersexuality’ still remain.
Even as a fictional example, in the book To Kill A Mockingbird *spoilers below*,
a white woman named Mayella Ewell accuses a black man named Tom Robinson of raping her. It is later revealed that she was only lying to hide her infatuation for Robinson. We have created a society where it is okay to lust after the black male and objectify his body, calling him well endowed, while simultaneously denying black men of expressing their sexuality by claiming that they’re animalistic predators. *End of Spoilers*
So, yes, this incident can be chalked up to some silly celebrity story- but it has many social implications regarding not only the roles of men and women, but also the roles of black men and white women in the US. Hopefully, the next time you hear someone sexualize a black male, you will be able to recognize the microaggressions that black people face in their daily lives.