The brouhaha kicked up by the actress Lena Dunham complaining that New York Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. failed to somehow objectify her is interesting to me because of American history.
The issue of black-male interaction with white females in American history has always been historically problematic—Emmett Till, may God rest his soul, paid for this offense with his life, as have many uppity black men who had to temerity to look at white women and sometimes even talked to them.
Dunham’s apology was as extraordinarily contrite as her initial reaction to Beckham’s apparent inattention to her was obtuse.
Dunham had published on her website Lenny Letter newsletter an interview with comedian Amy Schumer about an encounter with Beckham that did not go the way she would have wished.
The occasion was the 2016 Met Gala and Dunham and Schumer talked about feeling out of place there. Beckham, too, was there and it seemed that he ignored Dunham. This is how Dunham related the experience to Schumer:
You and I were literally sitting across from each other at the Met Ball, and it was so surreal to get to do that.
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.’
Following a torrent of backlash, Dunham, to her credit, issued a full and contrite apology:
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
Is it a sign of how far our nation has come that Dunham not only made her initial complaint about Beckham not seeing her as someone sexual, but that in her extraordinary apology, she acknowledged that all this rose from a narcissism borne out of her deep insecurity?
Once upon a time in America, Odell Beckham Jr. would have been lynched for this woman’s insecurity.