The Nice — and Black — Guy Gets the Girl

In the second season of HBO's Girls, creator Lena Dunham nails a new interracial dating subplot.

Lena Dunham, creator of HBO's Girls (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images); Donald Glover (Chris McKay/Getty Images)
Lena Dunham, creator of HBO's Girls (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images); Donald Glover (Chris McKay/Getty Images)

So therein lies the choice with which every young woman is presented at some point (if not multiple points) in her dating career: the nice guy or the bad boy? For Hannah it’s pretty black and white — literally.

By this season’s second episode Hannah, who appears to have matured considerably since season one, has at least ostensibly made the right choice. She’s broken things off with Adam for good (for now).

“This opens up space in my life for the kind, sexy, responsible boyfriend who I always wanted but never had,” says Hannah, who has even given Sandy one of her “voice of a generation” essays to read. You know things are getting serious when an artist wants her lover’s “honest opinion.”

And that’s when things take a turn for the worse. I won’t spoil it for those of you wondering whether or not the perpetually questioning-herself Hannah is ready to settle down with the uncomplicated nice guy for real, so let’s just say she isn’t. But in a genius move Dunham manages to expose Hannah’s penchant for self-sabotage and her inherent naiveté when it comes to not only relationships, but also race.

Hannah and Sandy eventually get into one of those fights couples have when they’re trying that brutal-honesty thing. Someone’s feelings will almost certainly be hurt. The trick is to be mature enough to get past that. Hannah, we know, is not. So instead of accepting Sandy’s criticism of her “work,” she goes on the defensive and attacks his political beliefs. And a political discussion between two interracial hipsters who’ve sort of been blissfully ignoring their disparate races thus far can only go so well.

“The joke’s on you because, you want to know what, I never thought about the fact that you were black once,” Hannah blurts out at the height of the fight. “I don’t live in a world where there are divisions like that.”

It’s not hard to imagine what happens next, and that’s the great part about the conversation. As I watched Hannah’s implosion in amused horror, my boyfriend, only half-listening before, spoke up from his side of the couch. “I can see those people having that exact conversation,” he said. “It makes total sense.” And in rushed my pride in Lena Dunham and my relief as a fan of her work.

What seemed to be Dunham’s genuine surprise at the criticism regarding her show’s diversity initially disappointed me. Really? Did she really not see that the main characters that she’d created — two WASPs and two Jews, as she herself put it — were almost offensively mainstream? Then once the pile-on reached a tipping point, I felt sympathy for a young woman who, in the end, was just trying to tell her story. She told NPR, “I really wrote the show from a gut-level place, and each character was a piece of me or based on someone close to me.” So for me what’s great about this season of Girls is that Dunham has recognized that people who don’t look exactly like her could help tell her story.

Sandy doesn’t have to be black. He just has to be the nice guy for whom Hannah isn’t ready — a necessary point in the narrative of her self discovery. A stepping-stone. But the fact that he is black is a step in the right direction.

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.