Girls In White Dresses (or a quick note on many of the post-college/uni novels I have read)

I just finished Girls In White Dresses.

It could easily have been called ‘White Girls In White Dresses’ or even ‘Lena Dunham’s White Girls’ or ‘HBO’s White Girls In Dresses’… I think you get the point here.

It’s a very readable book, and I really enjoyed it. There were situations I recognised and felt so keenly I had to pause a little bit to gather my thoughts. But there were also situations that stumped me – unimagined scenarios, ‘odd’ reactions, alien behaviour. A lot of those feelings came about because a) I’m not American or b) I didn’t attend a super-swanky Ivy League college on the East Coast or c) my family doesn’t have quite the same amount of money these girls’ did or d) I’m teetotal and often introverted. But it was never because I am black where these girls were white. Never, ever. Not once. And that made me feel a little sad. Because I am more like these girls than not. My problems are more like these girls’ than not.

It’s not Jennifer Close’s fault that she wrote a book populated exclusively by white people. But this book (good as it is) is emblematic of the wider culture, where white people’s stories are universal and the stories of people of colour are peripheral, marginal, ‘Other’. The poverty of imagination that exists in the minds of the powers that be (in publishing and elsewhere) is staggering. I am not strange. I am a(n almost life-long) Londoner. I have lived in Lagos and in California. I went to (a great) university. I am a writer and work in the media. I have kissed inappropriate boys, and made questionable choices. I have struggled through life decisions – jobs, money, moving back home, life in the city, all that good stuff. And yes, I am black. In reading Girls In White Dresses, I was reminded of something Cord Jefferson wrote in the aftermath of hipster racism and Dunham’s Girls (which I liked – despite myself):

“After a while, the disparity between our affinity for these shows and their lack of affinity towards us puts reality into stark relief: When we look at Lena Dunham and Jerry Seinfeld, we see people with whom we have a lot in common. When they look at us, they see strangers.”

Listen. Cord ain’t never lied.

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6 Comments

  1. JazzFest
    Posted September 1, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t heard of any of the books mentioned in the posts. I ‘ll have to look into it.

  2. Margo
    Posted September 1, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    This is very sage, and very sad.

  3. Posted September 2, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    This post has put into words how I feel about some parts of the wedding industry and that quote sums it up perfectly. Such a shame but so very true.

  4. Amusan
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Well, you can always write your portrayal of white dresses. Only don’t call it black little dress or something weird like that.

  5. Posted September 3, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Yes, I know I can, Amusan. But my point in this piece is not about people of colour writing stories like this book. It’s about the general landscape of publishing and what stories are deemed ‘black’ and therefore ‘Other’…

  6. Posted September 6, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    That quote from Jefferson just hit the nail on the head. And it hurts.

2 Trackbacks

  • By Nostalgia, Recognition and Americanah on August 22, 2013 at 9:45 am

    […] interview; a series of YouTube interviews with Chinua Achebe; this Ava DuVernay quote; and something I wrote about the book Girls In White Dresses last […]

  • By Unsolicited Book Report: Rowell and Jones on October 18, 2013 at 9:45 am

    […] Reading this book reminded me of this, but manifested on an emotional level. Also, I’m always here for any narrative with black girls at their core. I think you should read this […]

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