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Thoroughly Nonracist Nonsense

Synopsis: Weird Tales was planning to publish the first chapter of Victoria Foyt’s Saving the Pearls: Revealing Eden, a novel which editor Marvin Kaye described as a “Thoroughly Non-racist book,” calling it:

…a compelling view of a world that didn’t listen to the warnings of ecologists, and a world that has developed a reverse racism: blacks dominating and detesting not just whites, but latinos and albinos, the few that still survive of the latter are hunted down and slaughtered.1

Revealing Eden is a science fiction novel, which is not what Weird Tales usually published. I.e., Kaye was going out of his way to promote this book, which is totally not racist.

Kaye condemned those who criticized the book as lacking in “wit, wisdom and depth of literary analysis to understand what they read.” I like to think of myself as someone who rolled reasonably well on those stats, so I figured I’d download the sample to my phone and give it a read.

Excerpts from the first chapter are indented. My thoughts are italicized.

EDEN JUMPED at the sound of approaching steps. They must not see.

Black people are “them.” There’s totally nothing racist about setting up a racial us vs. them dichotomy in the very first line of your book.

Eden shot to her feet, her heart racing, as a plump, dark-skinned lab assistant appeared on the other side of the partition. It was only Peach, who wasn’t as cruel as the rest of them.

From the fourth paragraph. Our heroine is named after the garden of paradise, while our heavy and not-quite-as-bad-as-the-rest black woman is named Peach. Totally not racist!

Had Peach forgotten that Eden’s skin only had a dark coating? Maybe she was passing, after all. Wouldn’t that be nice. Eden almost enjoyed pointing out the truth.

Eden wears totally-not-blackface both to protect her from the sun’s radiation and to make herself look beautiful. Also, Peach is apparently an idiot, despite being Eden’s supervisor.

In that quiet, treasured space, [Eden] allowed herself one small but true thought: I hate them.

To sum up so far, we have a white protagonist in a world where black people are cruel, idiot overlords, and she hates them. But maybe the author is going to do some clever and totally-not-racist inversion.

That bitch Ashina was now fifteen minutes late and Eden wanted to take her break. She glanced around the lab, hoping for a sign of the haughty Coal.

Black people are Coals. White people are Pearls. Also, the second Coal we meet is a haughty (uppity?) bitch.

Eden flinched. One of them was touching her. White-hot light exploded in her head. Before she knew it, she blurted out an incendiary racial slur.

“Get your hands off of me, you damn Coal!”

“Coal” is an incendiary racial slur … which our protagonist is constantly using in her narrative. Also, I’m a little curious why the author uses and defends the term in interviews. I’m sure there’s a totally-not-racist reason, though!

###

I only read the sample, so it’s possible that Foyt manages to use the reversal of traditional U.S. racial dynamics to produce an insightful and important work that goes beyond nasty, bullying, caricatured Coals and the brilliant-but-persecuted Pearls. But the first chapter that I read doesn’t move beyond these simplistic dynamics and one-dimensional portrayals of a heroic white girl in a world dominated by nasty, dull-witted blacks.

And that first chapter is what Marvin Kaye was going out of his way to showcase in Weird Tales, a magazine which had earned a place on the 2010 Hugo ballot under the leadership of former editor Ann VanderMeer. That is what Kaye defended as a Thoroughly Non-racist book.

I’m more than willing to grant that the author probably did not deliberately and intentionally set out to write a book based on racial caricatures and stereotypes, that she intended no offense when she hypersexualized black men or described Eden’s black love interest as a “beast man,” that her premise, which relies on Eden and her white father being smarter than all of the evil blacks, was not meant to be hurtful. I accept that she didn’t try to write a story which takes place in a world almost identical to the paranoid fear-rantings of a lifelong KKK loyalist. (“This is what will happen if you let them darkies take over!”)

If you choose an incredibly narrow definition of racism as intentional, deliberate, fully conscious harm, then an argument could be made for Kaye’s defense of the book.

It would be a very poor argument. And it’s yet another incredibly problematic example of a white man in a position of power standing up and lecturing people of color, in a most condescending fashion, about how they don’t understand what racism is, and that he is declaring this book officially Not Racist.

I see now that Kaye’s piece has been pulled, and the magazine is apologizing for any pain and offense it caused. Kaye is traveling and hasn’t responded yet. While I appreciate the apology from the higher-ups at Weird Tales, I remain highly disturbed that the editor ever thought this was in any way a good idea, that he was so supportive of this novel that he was going out of his way to defend  and support it … up until the Internet landed on his head.

I’m sure Marvin Kaye, like Victoria Foyt, had absolutely no intention of causing harm. But lack of intent doesn’t undo or negate the harm caused by ignorance, and Kaye’s actions have been harmful indeed.

ETA: And it sounds like Kaye and the publisher were told months ago that this was a bad idea. (From Jeff VanderMeer - also includes a screenshot of Kaye’s post.)

ETA x 2: N. K. Jemisin - This is how you destroy something beautiful

  1. Kaye’s original post has since been yanked from the Weird Tales site.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Comments

( 63 comments — Leave a comment )
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(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Aug. 21st, 2012 01:47 am (UTC)
Oh, I have no doubt there are screenshots a plenty, too. (See the link I just added at the end.)

This week is doing very bad things to my faith in humanity.
swan_tower
Aug. 21st, 2012 01:49 am (UTC)
Kaye's complete lack of judgment in this entire mess has guaranteed I will have nothing to do with WT so long as he's involved with it in any way.
deborahblakehps
Aug. 21st, 2012 01:49 am (UTC)
I’m more than willing to grant that the author probably did not deliberately and intentionally set out to write a book based on racial caricatures and stereotypes, that she intended no offense when she hypersexualized black men or described Eden’s black love interest as a “beast man,” that her premise, which relies on Eden and her white father being smarter than all of the evil blacks, was not meant to be hurtful.

Really? Than you are a lot more forgiving than I would be. At the very least, I'd say the author has some issues...but they should be worked out in counseling, not in an otherwise stellar publication.
jimhines
Aug. 21st, 2012 02:00 am (UTC)
Oh, I think the author has some serious issues, and the book is racist as hell. But deliberate and intentionally? I couldn't say one way or the other.

And it doesn't really matter. A lot of the racism in the U.S. strikes me as unconscious and unintentional, from people who absolutely believe they're not racist. None of which changes the harm and damage they do...
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Aug. 21st, 2012 02:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Aug. 21st, 2012 02:26 am (UTC) - Expand
mtlawson
Aug. 21st, 2012 01:53 am (UTC)
I swear I think the Stupid is multiplying by leaps and bounds almost daily.
jimhines
Aug. 21st, 2012 02:01 am (UTC)
It's like Tribbles - the Stupid is born pregnant, and soon will shower down on us all like they did on William Shatner.

Sorry. It's late and I think I'm too tired to make that metaphor really work.
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Aug. 21st, 2012 02:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mtlawson - Aug. 21st, 2012 02:17 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - idancewithlife - Aug. 21st, 2012 04:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Aug. 21st, 2012 02:04 am (UTC)
It's a self-published title, and while I don't know for sure, it's possible that back in April, the book had been seen by so few people -- presumably friends and family of the author, and bloggers she knew personally -- that there hadn't been much of a backlash. It looks like it was another month or two before the larger world really started to notice. Before that, the book was a tiny blip nobody had heard of.

I could be wrong, of course.
(no subject) - legendarytobes - Aug. 21st, 2012 04:03 am (UTC) - Expand
kk1raven
Aug. 21st, 2012 02:02 am (UTC)
I fail in imagining how any book with those lines in it could be considered non-racist.
jimhines
Aug. 21st, 2012 02:05 am (UTC)
Anything's possible, I suppose, but yeah ... my imagination is failing right alongside yours.
(no subject) - cissa - Aug. 21st, 2012 04:20 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tsubaki_ny - Aug. 21st, 2012 07:19 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sihaya09 - Aug. 21st, 2012 08:39 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kk1raven - Aug. 21st, 2012 12:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
ethereal_lad
Aug. 21st, 2012 02:06 am (UTC)
Bad stuff all around--from Kaye's post, to the (duplicitous) backpedaling, and finally, the novel itself, which sounds like MANDINGO for the tween set.

Edited at 2012-08-21 02:29 am (UTC)
oneminutemonkey
Aug. 21st, 2012 02:51 am (UTC)
I think I got whiplash from how quickly Weird Tales backed away from this nonsense.
cofax7
Aug. 21st, 2012 03:07 am (UTC)
There is not enough ::facepalm:: in the world.

And people think RaceFail was unjustified.
northernwalker
Aug. 21st, 2012 04:14 am (UTC)
Wow. We have epic stupidity, reeking racism and lousy writing. A trifecta of fail.
(no subject) - Jessica Strider - Aug. 21st, 2012 04:19 am (UTC) - Expand
cissa
Aug. 21st, 2012 04:21 am (UTC)
Re: Wow. Just wow.
Or Kim Stanley Robinson's "Years of Rice and Salt".
Re: Wow. Just wow. - twilight2000 - Aug. 21st, 2012 06:45 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Wow. Just wow. - fjm - Aug. 21st, 2012 09:58 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Wow. Just wow. - ethelmay - Aug. 22nd, 2012 03:20 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Wow. Just wow. - twilight2000 - Aug. 22nd, 2012 03:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nipernaadiagain - Aug. 21st, 2012 02:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - Jessica Strider - Aug. 21st, 2012 04:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lenora_rose - Aug. 30th, 2012 09:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
paksenarrion2
Aug. 21st, 2012 04:38 am (UTC)
There was this lovely blog post she wrote for HuffPo back in February. About 6 weeks after the self publication of her book.

Then there is the whole idea of whites being called Pearls, Asians are called Ambers, Latina/Latinos are called Tiger Eyes and Blacks are called Coals. Way to show some real racism there Foyt.

And don't EVEN get me started on the trailer for this with the black face.

I've know about this for over a month and I'm still extremely angry at this woman. There is being blind to the fact that you are racist (and maybe you don't realize you hold some racist thoughts and beliefs but really? When it is pointed out you go, OMG you are right, I am sorry) and then there is this. Willfully, and knowingly when it is being pointed out by thousands of people and clinging to your no, I'm not racist, I have black friends and therefore am colorblind lala BS.
swan_tower
Aug. 21st, 2012 04:48 am (UTC)
Totally aside from the topic at hand, that icon is fantastic. May I steal it?
(no subject) - paksenarrion2 - Aug. 21st, 2012 04:58 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - twilight2000 - Aug. 21st, 2012 06:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - starcat_jewel - Aug. 21st, 2012 07:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - twilight2000 - Aug. 21st, 2012 05:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
georgmi
Aug. 21st, 2012 04:57 am (UTC)
Jim, for all you seem like a nice, thoughtful, intelligent guy who would be great fun to hang out and talk with (though I can only imagine that the drooling hero-worship would begin to wear on you after a while), you do post more things that infuriate me than anybody else I read on the Internet*.

I keep hoping that someday, I'll be so overwhelmed by the stupidity of people that I'll stop caring (because hoping for the opposite, that people will collectively get a clue, is so clearly a fool's bet), but so far, it isn't working. TEH_DUM, it still burns, and it still horrifies me how many people I personally know who subscribe to the attitudes on display by Ms. Foyt and those who support her.

(I had a co-worker once tell me that we were the "first post-racist generation", and I fear it may have hurt his feelings when I involuntarily laughed in his face.)

*That came across the way I intended it, right?
jimhines
Aug. 21st, 2012 11:26 am (UTC)
*It did when I read it the second time, but I admit I stumbled a little the first time I glanced at the email notification :-)

"first post-racist generation"

Right...
teriegarrison
Aug. 21st, 2012 07:13 am (UTC)
While I agree with the gist of your post, I can't help but point out that your first example doesn't really support your contention of racism.

"(CHARACTER) JUMPED at the sound of approaching steps. They must not see."

This line, while badly written (sounds can't see), in and of itself carries no racism whatsoever. 'They' could be, oh, say, magicians, or orcs, or Nazis, or dragons, or school bullies, or parents, or...well pretty much anything.

The third-person personal pronoun just isn't an indicator of racism, and I think picking out that one line, especially as your first example, weakens your otherwise strong argument.

I do appreciate your overall point, that this author (whose name I choose not to use) has written a deeply racist book, rife with the distasteful concept of 'them = Other = fear', but I think it's important to focus on the real instances of racism, and not to use perfectly normal sentence constructions to make the point.

Edited at 2012-08-21 07:14 am (UTC)
starcat_jewel
Aug. 21st, 2012 07:59 am (UTC)
I will bet you a steak dinner that the equivalence of "THEM" and black people occurs in the very next sentence, and Jim merely failed to quote the entire sequence.
(no subject) - teriegarrison - Aug. 21st, 2012 09:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - swan_tower - Aug. 21st, 2012 05:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Aug. 21st, 2012 11:29 am (UTC) - Expand
la_marquise_de_
Aug. 21st, 2012 11:13 am (UTC)
I'm glad they're pulled it.
But that original decision? No. Not a good idea at all.
jimhines
Aug. 21st, 2012 11:24 am (UTC)
It becomes even more painful knowing that they were warned back in June that this was a bad idea...
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Aug. 21st, 2012 12:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Aug. 21st, 2012 12:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Aug. 21st, 2012 12:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Aug. 21st, 2012 12:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Aug. 21st, 2012 12:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - evewithanapple - Aug. 21st, 2012 12:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
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