It’s not so sad now I know she’s black…

You’d want to have been living under a rock made of cotton wool with your headphones stuck in your ears not to know what the title of this post refers to. But just in case… it refers to the shock and horror showed by some so called fans of the Hunger Games when they discovered that certain characters were people of colour.

I can actually understand folks reading a book and then projecting themselves onto the characters ( no matter how clearly the writer may have outlined those characters’ race in the text) It just happens. We all make mind-movies when reading. No one will ever match the pictures you have in your head – and this was evidenced quite clearly when I held a fantasy casting call for the Moorehawke trilogy and had to gently remind folks that ‘ahem’ Razi is a very dark skinned Arab. Those white boys you’re casting in the role really aren’t going to cut it. I took this as harmless projecting of the readers’ internal pictures – despite my having gone to great pains to make it clear in the text what Razi looked like. and I gave it no more thought than that.

What I didn’t make publicly known at the time, or in fact ever really, was the very real difficulty I had had persuading one of my editors that this kind of racial detailing was important( I have many editors – I am not going to say which house this was with and I don’t think its important) It was to my great shock that I found almost every single reference to Razi’s dark skin, curly hair and dark eyes had been removed from the Moorehawke manuscripts, and I found myself in a very real and at the time very intimidating battle to have them replaced ( after all I was a brand new author – not at all sure of myself, very uncertain of how far I should or could go when objecting to editorial decisions) I wouldn’t so much have minded if this had reflected an aversion to physical details in general, and if the references to EVERYONE’S race had been removed – but no, it was just Razi. All the other references to ‘pale skin’ ‘sandy hair’ ‘pale hands’ ‘blue eyes’ ‘green eyes’ ‘red hair’ ‘freckles’ etc etc were left totally untouched. I can only assume they were considered a legitimate description of character – while Razi’s physical characteristics were seen as a problematic description of race.

At the time, my editor’s argument was – if you aren’t making an issue of his race here you shouldn’t point it out BECAUSE IT’S RACIEST TO DO SO. Mine was, if I don’t constantly remind folks he’s black they’ll default to him as white – also why aren’t you bothered when I describe the white characters ad nauseum, but freak out when I describe the POC with the same attention to detail?

Please note: I do not think my editor at the time was being consciously raciest. Indeed, I feel they thought they were being the complete opposite. BUT the whole idea that we can describe one race with as much loving detail as wanted while neglecting to describe anyone else IS RACIEST. The fact that I have since heard this same complaint repeated again and again from fellow writers is proof that the publishing industry is not yet as comfortable with characters who are also POC as they are with  those who are white.

BUT THIS HAS VERY LITTLE TO DO WITH A READER DECIDING THEY NO LONGER LOVE A CHARACTER ONCE IT’S REVEALED THAT CHARACTER IS NOT WHITE. Because, let’s face it, that’s what this furore is all about. There is nothing else to it.

When you read the book you loved the character.

When you saw their skin you didn’t.

The end. No need to explain further. That’s the bottom line. You Raciest.

****

 I actually can’t bring myself to type much more than that. I’m too upset. I’ll instead link to this wonderful article which details just how radically fucked up peoples’ reactions have been to what is possibly one of the most thoughtfully cast movie adaptations ever and leave you with this wonderful quote from the associated tumblr site which I think sums everything up far better than I ever could have:

Here’s what scares me…

All these… people… read the Hunger Games. Clearly, they all fell in love with and cared about Rue. Though what they really fell in love with was an image of Rue that they’d created in their minds. A girl that they knew they could love and adore and mourn at the thought of knowing that she’s been brutally killed.

And then the casting is revealed (or they go see the movie) and they’re shocked to see that Rue is black. Now… this is so much more than, “Oh, she’s bigger than I thought”. The reactions are all based on feelings of disgust.

These people are MAD that the girl that they cried over while reading the book was “some black girl” all along. So now they’re angry. Wasted tears, wasted emotions. It’s sad to think that had they known that she was black all along, there would have been [no] sorrow or sadness over her death.

There are MAJOR TIE-INS to these reactions and the injustices that we see around the world today. I don’t even need to spell it out because I know that you’re all a smart bunch.

This is a BIG problem. Think of all the murdered children. Think of all the missing children that get NO SCREEN TIME on the news.

It is NOT a coincidence.

THIS is the purpose of my blog… and to also point out shitty reading comprehension. LOL.

****

Many thanks, btw to The Skiffy and Fanty Show for their discussion of this issue, which was where I first heard the above quote. 

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9 Responses to It’s not so sad now I know she’s black…

  1. People are unbelievable. This is the first that I’ve heard of this. Did these haters not read the book? Also, for the record, Jian Ghomeshi plays my Razi. Yes, I know he’s not an actor.

  2. Loretta Sharbono says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It is frustrating even as a reader just talking about books with people and listening to their “alternate” description of what you amazingly talented storytellers have creatively dreamed up to share with us. I commend you for fighting to stay true to your characters… both as individuals and those that are poured into the very fabric of the books you grace us with.

    • Thank you so much, Loretta.

      Like I said, I don’t so much mind folks having their own ‘picture’ of the characters, or even their own interpretation of them (it’s amazing to me the range of reactions folks have to the characters and their actions. It’s very true I think, that as readers we bring ourselves into the text and so the reading experience can be vastly different from one reader to the next – despite the fact that the words we are reading are all the exact same!)

      What I simply cannot tolerate is the insistence that we (as writers) deny a character who is also a POC the same type of descriptive treatment that we are allowed to give another. (again, I emphasis, this is not a discussion as to whether or not characters should or should not be described physically. I know that many readers/editors/writers have a problem with physical description or the over use of such. Let’s lay that aside as a different matter entirely)

      And, of course, what shocks and sickens me is the fact that for a small but vocal minority of readers/viewers the colour of a character’s skin seems a deciding factor in whether or not they can like or empathise with that character. I can’t help but fear that this revelation will set us back once again to the point where marketing departments are uneasy about showing POC on the covers of books.

  3. Pingback: Tripping ourselves up with the best of intentions | All Things Moorehawke and Otherwise

  4. melissamyworldinwordsandpages says:

    Oh I’m sorry! It’s a shame that race and skin color is looked upon as such in books. I know several authors how have a terrible time with covers as well. Needing a character of different color or culture, and can’t get it. Sad.

    And with Rue in Hunger Games, I guess I’m just blind. I would never have thought of her skin color. People are different, so why aren’t characters allowed to be? I would think many characters in that story should be darker skined from working in the sun like they do. Or even paler than they should have been with being in mines, or… there are so many different ways to go.

    Um, to me that shows diversity in the world you write, not racism.

    I don’t get why everyone has to make a big deal out of it. Yes we project something different, but that is a mind trick. Just a shame to make such a deal out of something so little.

  5. Leonie says:

    It’s probably a little odd, but I had actually envisaged her pretty close to how she turned out. Although I did picture her a little more “possum faced” as a I like to put it, but only because of her fantastic tree skills *lol*

    I was however, disgusted with the response of “but she’s black!” or “Rue shouldn’t be black” or even people saying Gale was “too black” wtf!?

    Perhaps it’s an adult thing, I remember my first week of primary school other kids never played with this other girl I enjoyed spending time with. I asked my grandmother why and she said “it’s unfortunate but people are a little racist because she’s black”
    “She’s what? What’s black?” I genuinely had no concept of skin colour and what that meant, she was either my friend or she wasn’t, I couldn’t have cared less.

    People should try thinking half as fondly of real people as they do of characters, it’d make for a positive change.

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