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.

8 responses

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

  2. 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’…

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