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Lena Dunham’s Odell Beckham Jr Comments: Readings on Race and Sexual Violence

Okay, I know I’m late on this one, but unfortunately questions of racism, white femininity, and sexual violence remain relevant. Basically, a couple weeks ago the internet exploded over Lena Dunham’s comments (for which she later apologized) that Odell Beckham Jr hadn’t spoken to her at a fancy party because she didn’t fit traditional images of femininity.

Of course, as could be predicted, Random Internet Misogynists gleefully took this as an opportunity to totally ignore any meaningful debate (as they do) and claim that Dunham was not, in fact, pretty enough to be talked to at a party, hahahaha. But more importantly, many women of color rightly questioned the implicit way in which Dunham was positioning Beckham in these comments — her implication that, as a black man, Beckham ought to have flirted with her, relying on the racialized notion of black men as hyper-sexual.

This debate draws on a long history of the racist sexualization of black people in the United States, and the way that white womanhood has often been used to justify violence against black men — and cover up violence against black women. So especially for other white women who may be trying to figure out why, exactly, Dunham’s comments opened up such a debate, here is a very incomplete list of readings. They give some history and context to how racism, and particularly anti-black racism, has actually formed much of the way our society understands sexual violence as an especial affront to white femininity; and conversely, how white femininity has been mobilized in racist violence against black men.

The point here isn’t that men of all races, including black men, don’t sometimes commit sexual violence against women of all races, including white women — they do, it’s always wrong, and we need an intersectional way to understand this. Rather, the point is to understand how (particularly anti-black) racism is fundamental to the American construction of sexual violence; and thus how anti-racism must be fundamental to ending it.

Intersectionality and Violence Against Black Women; Some Seminal Works

Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color by Kimberle Crenshaw

History is a Weapon: The Combahee River Collective Statement by the Combahee River Collective

My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be Bullshit by Flavia Dzodan


White Womanhood and Anti-Black Violence in History

Rape, Racism, and the Myth of the Black Rapist by Angela Davis

The Rape of Black Women by White Men: Systematic Racism Again by Joe at the Racism Review

Trouble with White Feminism: Racial Origins of US Feminism by Jessie Daniels

The Root: How Racism Tainted Women’s Suffrage by Monee Fields-White

I Don’t Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore by Chloe Angyal

The Second Wave: Trouble with White Feminism by Jessie Daniels


Contemporary Issues

Rape, Alton Sterling, and the Complexity of Justice by Marissa Jenae Johnson

Hunting for the Perfect Victim by Nastassja Schmiedt and A. Lea Roth

Women and Black Lives Matter Kaavya Asoka interviewing Marcia Chatelain

When There Isn’t a Case for Debate: Black Women Speak on Sexual Violence and Solidarity, Roundtable


Image credit: David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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