Wednesday, August 17, 2005

 

am I racist? (or is it the proper grammar "am I a racist?")

So. This weekend I was on the Cape with Tans, her family, her family friends and Patty. While idling around the cottage, I picked up a book that a 12 year old is reading - the first in a series called something like "The Beacon St. Girls".

On the cover, there was a blond girl in the foreground, with three friends behind her. A short asian girl, a tall black girl, and a girl with long red hair. Clearly this blond girl is an open-minded, culturally aware teen. She has friends of many races!

Well, that's cool. Why the hell not? When I write a book, you can bet that I'll have things in there that I consider my pet issues. That's the awesome thing about being an author - you can do whatever you want.

However, I have a bone to pick with this author. When reading the book, it was hard to tell what race the characters were. In fact, one character appeared a few times until I realized she was black. I didn't realize that "Avery" and the asian girl on the front cover were one and the same until about page 100. That's a pretty darn long time.

And you know what? That really pissed me off. Does that make me racist?

I've given a lot of thought about this issue. No one wants to be a racist - remember Omarosa and her far-fetched comment in the first season of the Apprentice? Someone made an offhand remark - "Well, that's calling the kettle black" and Omarosa flipped out. (I don't even know, is that even racist? I always thought it went back to when kettles were made of that black metal. But maybe O knows stuff we don't...) Calling someone a racist is absolutely positively the worst thing ever. So the thought that I could be one was quite unsettling.

But, no. For me the issue wasn't "Hey! Mrs. Fields is black! If I had known that, I would have lots of assumptions about her as opposed to when I thought she was white." For me, the issue was not knowing what the characters look like. When I read a book, I really get into it. I start to think of the characters as my friends, I picture them going about their lives as the story progresses. I don't know about you, but I know what my friends look like. I know that C-note has dark hair, E (usually!) has blond hair. When they tell me about their various adventures, I picture C-note as I know her, and E as I know her.

What a crappy author to make me think that someone looks one way, but then pulls a little trick and changes it all around in a little game of "gotcha!" Perhaps the author is sitting at home, chuckling to herself, feeling that she's trapped me in one of my many assumptions (okay, I guess my default skin color for characters when they're not described is white. so sue me.).

But if she wants to be a good author, she has to start describing people. If I were a character in a book, I absolutely would not mind if I was described as "Tall, brown haired, blue eyed, white - the product of Irish immigrants from a long long time ago." So why should the author not say about Katani "Tall, black haired, brown eyed, flawless skin the color of mahogany."? It's not insulting Katani. In fact, it's insulting to hide the truth of the matter.

Since when did black or African American become a dirty word? Or Asian? Or Italian?

It's obvious that it was very important that the main blond girl have friends of different ethnicities - so why didn't the author take the concept and run with it, instead of skipping over the description of appearances?

Comments:
hehe! yea this whole subject always feels like a mine field. I don't think i am racist but i guess i wouldent really know if i was.

Nothing i have read in your blog would make me think you where racist.
 
The problem with "African-American" is that everyone who has black skin thinks they are entitled to this monniker. Bad news: there are lots of non-blacks who are African-Americans (for example, Egyptians) and there are lots of blacks who are just Americans (and have only seen Africa on the Discovery Channel).
 
very true. I must confess, I slipped "African American" in there in a frightened attempt to be PC.

Although, American Egyptian black people are African Americans since Egypt is in Africa...
 
Yeah, my Spanish (the language) teacher is from Kenya. So he's an African, right? Or is he African-American, because he's a US citizen? I would certainly never call him "a black", because that seems a lot closer to the edge of racism, or at least non-PCness.
 
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?