I See White People
By Ravven on March 28th, 2012
We’ve all seen the racist Hunger Games tweets and been appalled by their stupidity and casual hatred of others. Many of the accounts which posted things like the one in the quote to the right have locked their accounts and taken them down, shocked and frightened by the amount of censure which came their way- as an article in Jezebel said “…because it’s totally cool to be racist in front of your friends, but the rest of America can be a real drag, bro.” Sorry, I’ve got zero sympathy for you racist morons.
I’ve read a lot of thoughful posts on the issue of whitewashing in books. If someone isn’t specifically described as black, latino, asian, etc., the reader tends to automatically assume that the character is white. That’s natural, I suppose. We see white people all the time, unless a character needs a specific ethnicity. Ask any non-white actor how easy it is to get cast in non-race-specific roles, especially lead roles.
The project that I am working on right now has mixed-race characters. Partially it was a spur-of-the-moment decision because I’d planned it as an illustrated book, and I just think that mixed-race characters can be more interesting visually. My list of the people that I think are physically truly beautiful would have top spots taken by actors such as Lenny Kravitz, Halle Berry and Gina Torres. (Ah, Zoe, my warrior woman and longtime crush!)
Mixed-race families can also have an interesting range of inherited features: my daughter’s godmother, my old roommate Stevie, was from a family with one very dark brother, one brother who looked like a whiter-than-white Jewish guy, and Stevie kind of in the middle. I love that. Another old friend, who is Japanese married to a white husband, has a blue-eyed, white-blonde son with very Japanese features. I’d love to see him today all grown up! Genetics are fun.
Since the book is a fairytale retelling of an old story, I had certain plot elements that I needed to keep. In the original, the main characters were separated or set aside due to poverty. Real poverty tends to be both sad and boring, so I had my characters isolated by the fact that they were a wealthy mixed race family in Victorian Britain: they went to the right schools, and would be invited to the right parties, but never truly accepted.
Novels with black characters on the cover sell less well than those with white characters. Liar by Justine Larbalestier was originally published with a white girl on the cover, against the author’s wishes and the fact that the character wasn’t white. This is a problem.
How boring to have a world where everyone looks the same. How small and sad to not be able to relate to characters that don’t have your skin colour. There has been so much hatred, bigotry and racism lately in the news that it’s beginning to depress me. Trayvon Martin’s killer is still free, for instance. Are we all that hateful? Or is it just more acceptable to show it openly now…and how did that happen?