Thursday, August 23, 2012

context and Saving the Pearls, a post for Social Justice Warriors

Social justice fandom is in highest dudgeon over a self-published book by a woman who tried to show that racism is evil by inverting the conventions of racism. From googling, it's pretty clear her book uses the old trope of the chimera, the part-animal, part-human creature; both the white female protagonist and the black male love interest become chimeras.

I mentioned the book in on "nigger" and "niggerlover" and "n-word". Greyorm left a couple of comments that inspired me to answer:
I haven't read the novel, nor do I plan to, but the biggest clue that requireshate [aka acrackedmoon] is an idiot is when she calls the book a "white supremacist fantasy." Hint to any would-be hero of anti-racism: white supremacists hate interracial romance so much that they have a pet word for it which you ought to have heard of: miscegenation.

Now, sure, there are racists with weird obsessions about sex with people of other races, but they're not white supremacists.

I also thought the outcry against coals was buying into contemporary concepts of racism. Have you ever looked at coal? Anthracite is especially beautiful. In many countries, it's used for sculpture.

I can't blame Weird Tales for caving. CRT fandom works like Falwell's "Moral Majority" did: they hit hard, so people think they matter more than they do.
Excuse me while I take a minute to try to imagine the Ku Klux Klan marching in favor of interracial romance, or David Duke explaining why he wants his daughter to marry a black man.

Well, that hurt my head. Onward!

The best post I've seen about the brouha, The World in the Satin Bag: The Weird Tales / Save the Pearls Fiasco: Preliminary Reactions, asks these questions:
1. Is it possible to reverse blackface without running into the problem of racist history? In other words, can one take the history of making blacks feel inferior because they are "too dark" and reverse it so whites must now darken in order to "fit in"? I'm thinking of a reversal of George Schuyler's Black No More (a novel I am teaching this semester).

2. What is the narrative context for the use of "pearls" to refer to whites and "coals" to refer to blacks? Since the novel is a dystopia, is it possible these terms actually mean something very different in that world? I wonder if (one, again, coming from not having read the book) perhaps coal has become a scarce, important resource, thus providing an added value to something we traditionally think of as prevalent and cheap (dirty, etc.).

3. Why is it that whenever we have discussions about these very issues, there are a sea of loud-mouthed people proclaiming that there is no such thing as racism against whites, followed by condescending ad hominem attacks against anyone who suggests otherwise? (I'm not referring to anyone named in this post.) Racism is not colorblind. Some white people are targets of racism. The difference, as I see it, is a matter of degree and a matter of institution. That is that whites are rarely targeted by the institutions around them, and only uncommonly the target of racist ideas from other "racial" groups. Perhaps it's a question of power dynamics?

4. How many people coming into this discussion are screaming because they've already been tainted by other reactions? Some folks who have chimed in seem to have read the book after reading or agreeing with people who hate it. Is it possible that some of us are so emotionally driven against racism that we get trapped into knee-jerk-ism whenever something that appears to be racist shows its face?
I'll address those and add one more:
5. Is it possible to describe a black character as "beastly" without implying that black folks are subhuman?
My answers:

1. For race reductionists who have so little interest in context that they make bingo cards to show what's right and wrong, a white person who uses makeup to look anything other than Caucasian is automatically a racist.

But for the rest of us, that's simplistic. I like the definition at Blackface! - The History of Racist Blackface Stereotypes: "It is a style of entertainment based on racist Black stereotypes that began in minstrel shows and continues to this day."

Blackface was meant to mock black folks. So the first question to ask is whether dark make-up is being used to deprecate people who aren't considered "white".

2. If I had been writing a similar story, I wouldn't have used "pearls" or "coal", but the question here isn't about artistic choices; it's about racist ones. Science fiction commonly reverses expectations. In a world where white folks are rare and despised, why shouldn't something beautiful and useful like coal be considered beautiful and something rare and useless be considered ugly or bland?

I pity anyone who thinks this is ugly:
3. Critical Race Theory consists of propositions that must be accepted on faith. The greatest is that only white people can be racist. Reality tends to disagree. Consider hate crimesIn 2010, the races of the 6,008 known hate crime offenders were as follows:
  • 58.6 percent were white.
  • 18.4 percent were black.
  • 8.9 percent were groups made up of individuals of various races (multiple races, group).
  • 1.1 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander. 
  • 1.0 percent were American Indian/Alaskan Native.
  • 12.0 percent were of unknown race.
4. Okay, that's a weighted question. I trust my answer is obvious.

5. There has been an enormous uproar over the description of the male love interest as a "beast-man". Foyt intended to tell a Beauty and the Beast story in which the guy is described as attractive before he's transformed. Sometime later, the heroine becomes a Jaguar Girl. Fom an excerpt: "His gaze raked over her wet, beastly body with all the heat of a solar flare against the leaden sky."

I'll happily criticize the prose—heat, flare, leaden sky?—but if both characters are transformed into half-animal characters who are described as "beastly", where's the racism? Is Foyt being racist against white folks here? Or is "beast" simply a verbotten word for Critical Race Theorists?

The prose doesn't make me want to read the book. If I want to read about racism, I'll reread any of Frederick Douglas's autobiographies, or Malcolm X's, or Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man, or Alice Walker's The Color Purple.

ETA: Victoria Foyt: Save the Pearls criticism - Wikipedia