On the afternoon of Friday, April 20, while all the good kids were making plans to cop a sack or were indulging in the haze of their apartments ‘cause they had skipped work, Max Read over at Gawker was apparently traffic-whoring for hits by any means necessary. Thus, he seized upon the latest trend amongst bloggers: complaining about the show Girls.
Undeniably late to the game, Max offers his own spin on the story: Not only is Girls racist, but Lesley Arfin, one of its writers, is also racist. Max claims Lesley is “just as uncomfortable and unthinking about race as most white people in this country,” and accuses her of “dabblings in race jokes and shock slurs.” It all adds up to what Max diagnoses as “ironic racism,” which according to him is the use of words like nigger and faggot not because you’re a bigot or because you believe that censorship is nonsense, but simply to earn cool points. Max also leaves the door open for full-blown accusations of racism when he qualifies his own judgment with: “Arfin may not be ‘racist’ (who knows; I’m not a mindreader).”
Full Disclosure: Lesley Arfin used to be a contributor to Street Carnage, where I was the editor for a couple of years, and the two of us very briefly worked out of the same office. This blog post is as much in defense of her as an acquaintance and former colleague as it is an attempt to deconstruct the manufactured scandal that Max is attempting to pin on her — no doubt for his own benefit and that of Gawker’s pageviews.
Max’s Gawker post advances like an inbred Puritan feeling around a dark room for something, just something to pin on Lesley. He spends some time talking about Gavin McInnes, Vice, Street Carnage and Taki’s Mag, presumably attempting to draw a line from Gavin’s lame conservatism to Lesley’s supposed racism. It’s a stretch, but Max has gotta stretch because unfortunately Lesley’s Grand Wizard garb is nowhere to be found. Instead, Max offers up four pieces of evidence as proof of Lesley’s too-cool-for-school prejudice:
Exhibit A: Lesley’s Precious Tweet
Max would have you believe that this is the tweet that opened Pandora’s box of secret Nazi memorabilia, that it’s Lesley’s way of saying: “Girls is the white people problems show; Precious is the black people problems movie; look, everyone’s been represented.” But I don’t see why anyone who isn’t actively searching for made-up racist undertones would read it like that.
The tweet isn’t a claim that white people have their show about internships and relationships, and black people have their movies about poverty and abuse — you know, things that are respectively white and black. It’s a tweet about being able to appreciate things that aren’t literally about you, to be able to empathize with characters dissimilar to you — not just in terms of their race, but their entire situation — without the need to have everything superficially catered to your perspective. It’s about the ability to criticize on a basis beyond, “Hey, why didn’t you include me in your made-up fantasy world?” Because otherwise you end up watching a foreign film and complaining about how it’s not in English.
Exhibit B: Some Old Tweet
Yet another tweet, but this one with even lamer origins: Max found this through a link on Lesley’s Twitter account to her Favstar.fm profile, where it’s listed as her most retweeted tweet.
First of all: What the fuck is Favstar?
Second of all (and more to the point): How is this racist?
Honestly Max, you were scouring through all her online properties and this was the best you could get? A tweet poking fun at “Girl Power!” slogans and dumb Facebook chain letters? Or is it its connection to this Facebook meme and its criticism of stereotypical black women? Are you also pissed at Tyler Perry’s caricature of black grandmothers — or is your outrage reserved for white women? Doesn’t that make you racist?
Exhibit C: A Poop Joke
Yes, Lesley made a joke about pooping that references our black president. It’s a little tasteless and, for what it’s worth, she didn’t make it up, but honestly, IT’S A JOKE ABOUT POOPING. Being angry about it is like being upset that South Park isn’t more high brow: pointless.
A thought experiment: Let’s make up another tasteless euphemism for a bodily function that involves a presidential figure; let’s say equating George W. Bush with the failure to pull out at the appropriate moment during intercourse, e.g.: “Aw man, Rachel and I were fooling around last night and I totally Dubya’d.”
Still upset? Well then, humor — not racism — might be your problem.
Exhibit D: Some Old Interview
“‘Nigger’ is a great word. It just packs so much punch. The two g’s next to each other are like literal two G’s, broin’ out, tough as nails, them against the world. It gives me chills that a word can hold so much power, it really makes me feel like I chose the right profession.”
Now this is from a Huffington Post interview with Lesley that was conducted by A.J. Daulerio, Max’s current editor. Not only does Max acknowledge that his editor “pushed” Lesley into choosing one of three words Russell Simmons had banned (“ho,” “bitch” and “nigger”) during an interview that had nothing to do with that, but Max yada-yadas past Lesley’s entire explanation of why censoring words is ridiculous:
“Words don’t kill people, not even close. Do words even hurt people’s feelings? No. People hurt people’s feelings. So now people like Russell Simmons and whoever want to make teasing a crime. While we’re at it, let’s ban the word ‘faggot.’ Oh no we can’t because then what would we call a bundle of sticks? Damn. Banning a word is like trying to hold your hand up to the ocean to keep the waves from crashing down on you. Pointless.”
Even without A.J.’s instigation or the quote’s context, what is the problem? Lesley said “nigger” is a powerful word, and it is — if it wasn’t, why would people spend so much time talking about it? And why else would pedantic white kids patter on about how no one should use it?
Because, honestly, those are the only people who’ve ever given me shit about its oft-used variation, “nigga.” I was born and raised in Queens, in a neighborhood so full of minorities that I didn’t have have a white friend until I attended high school in Manhattan. I grew up with black and Hispanic kids saying “nigga” all the time, and said it myself without an issue — until I met white kids like Max Read; you know the type, kids who feel uncomfortable about race, so they enforce a blanket approach in condemning and censoring everything as a means of proving they aren’t racist.
And that’s the problem: the idea that someone is the arbiter of how race should be discussed. That’s what’s fueling this witch hunt against Lesley and the search for lame pieces of evidence to crucify her. The “You can only speak in ways that make me comfortable or else you’re a racist” mentality is what brings us here, to Max digging up two tweets, a poop joke and the response to an off-topic interview question to call Lesley a racist. It’s like race baiting, except that instead of using race to distract from the issue, he’s manufacturing racists in an attempt to fuel controversy.
The theme that runs through all of Max’s inspection is the lens he brings to it, one so hypersensitive and longing to prove that he isn’t uncomfortable or unthinking about race, that race doesn’t make him awkward or that he doesn’t go to all-white dinner parties that it forces him to shout “racist!” just to prove he isn’t one. And what’s left in the wake of that witch hunt is a smear article, pedantry and a smug superiority complex.
Well, that and traffic-whoring duty.
Originally published on Pretty Real.