I See White People

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?


Gina Torres

5 thoughts on “I See White People”

  1. I’m serious – all the news recently is really getting me down. I hate people sometimes. Ok, a lot of the time, but more so recently.

  2. It is disheartening and discouraging. As a species we can create the technological miracle of the internet. We can envision and release the beauty hidden within a block of marble. We can even bend the lightening bolt of the gods to do our bidding. We cannot however, seem to create compassion within ourselves, imagine and build a world of living beauty or tame our baser fear and ignorance-driven instincts to our will.

    The distance and anonymity of the Internet’s instant communication seems to afford those without empathy and sympathy, the marks of a true human being by the way, an easy platform to call attention to their pathetic and pitiful lives. For these each day is no longer a gift but a curse as their existence goes painfully on and on, their only joy taken in spreading hate and making the world as miserable as their blindness and disconnect has made them: empty shells without hope, beauty or even the slightest chance of living without fear.

    And then there are people like you, and me, and all those who are horrified at such remarks. We’re here too and with every public objection, every observation that the “emperor is naked,” every condemnation of such stupidity, we stand in opposition to the truly rising tide of despair driven hatred. I’m not a “the-glass-is-half-full” kinda guy, but I truly feel we make a difference.

    P.S. I agree, Zoe is mondo hot and yummy.

  3. This issue (for me, anyway) relates to the current political situation in the States. For an entire raft of candidates to run on platforms basically based on a hatred of women and hatred of gays means that they know they have enough support for that to be a viable proposition, rather than political suicide. There are so many haters out there.

    That isn’t the country that I grew up in, and we’re supposed to be better than that. If you’re not, at the very least you should be a bit afraid to fly your particular crazy flag in public. But people aren’t, as if their bigotry and hatred are totally acceptable. And that depresses the hell out of me.

  4. Up is the new down and right is the new left…I gottcha. I fight this in my classroom every day wherein students come to me believing that mediocrity is the new “A” and excellence is for losers. What we once viewed as shameful…a lack of true effort or cheating for example, is now touted in the media as ‘survival skills’ or simply the scaled down and inevitable outcome of a society wherein big banks/industry are given a bail-out and almost immediately return to former business practices without censer. Meanwhile mom and dad, too small and insignificant to help, suffer foreclosure for lack of a set and manageable interest rate. Anger is the by-word of the day, and you know what Yoda says about that, which is one reason why, IMHO, all this hidden prejudice is surfacing. Without hope, peeps lash out at anyone/thing they consider different than themselves…me vs them…’survival skills’ and with its silence our government seems to condone it. It’s cyclical, sick and a head shaker for sure. Not to be a Daisy downer but I fear it’s going to get much worse. I’ll fight with my vote on election day and try to show my charges a better way as long as they let me teach, but you’re right…it is discouraging.

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