Nothing like being punched in the face by White Privilege.

Recently I have been talking a lot about White privilege in my other blog. If you’re not familiar with or misunderstand the term before you read this post, please read what I’ve said here and here.

Today via tumblr this seriously award winning YA fantasy/romance book was brought to my attention.

For a taste let’s go over some things that even before I read the synopsis made me angry.

  • Heavy use of Blackface as both the cover art AND as a plot device.
  • Playing on the atavistic White fear of not being in charge of everything.
  • This book is for fucking children.

Now a part of the synopsis as printed at Goodreads.

Eden Newman must mate before her 18th birthday in six months or she’ll be left outside to die in a burning world. But who will pick up her mate-option when she’s cursed with white skin and a tragically low mate-rate of 15%? In a post-apocalyptic, totalitarian, underground world where class and beauty are defined by resistance to an overheated environment, Eden’s coloring brands her as a member of the lowest class, a weak and ugly Pearl. If only she can mate with a dark-skinned Coal from the ruling class, she’ll be safe.

Further to quote from the book website itself. From a blog post by the author titled:

Blackface or Cautionary Tale?

A bit from that entry:

In the novel I aimed to turn racism on its head, hoping to portray its horrors and its inevitable road to violence. The dust jacket photo shows Eden’s face half white and half dark. She is shedding a false cover, and learning to accept herself—a journey we all must take, regardless of race.


First of all. Let’s have a look at the language of this book.

The protagonist is a young White woman, young White women in almost every instance are the saveable heroines who must be protected but are also always incredibly heroic and beautiful. Now this young White saveable woman is part of the minority in this dystopia called Pearls.

What is a Pearl?

If one is an accomplished acclaimed author I would imagine the author knew god damn well what the connotation is. Pearls are smooth, white, and precious delicate things.

The People of Color or as the author calls them Coals. They are the ruling class. Let’s think about the word Coal. Coal is dirty, coal is dangerous.

So we get the set up of oh poor white people.

At some point on the website (which I can’t palate anymore) there is something about Eden’s Father being the last hope for “humanity” and yet through the website it is the “Pearls” who need saving. Is it hard to make the conclusion that Coals are then inhuman?

Now let’s be real.

This color blind White bullshit is damaging and awful. Pretending that because you didn’t intend for something to be racist doesn’t make it okay to be rampantly racist and rewarded for your blind racism by winning book awards.

This is what White Privilege in baseball bat form looks like.

The language across the websites involved with this book go from Pearls and Coals, to Pearls (Eden the protagonist) needing to save “humanity” that does not apparently involve the Coals. To a “man beast” she is attracted to and by the rules of the world this author created this beast is a Coal.

What galls me is not only have a lot of the well reasoned crituqie gone unheard because the author “didn’t mean it” or POC are being “too sensitive and playing the race card” is that the fact is when people of color encounter this, most White people are silent. And this is a problem because as I have experienced time and again for the last 30 years of my life, when it comes to race and racism most White people believe the word of another White person over what a person of color says.

Yes. That is how it is.

In an era when an author of color has to battle with fans at their back to get a person on the cover of their book who is a person of color (google it I still can’t deal with what happened), to Racefail 09 , to things like having to deal with the fact that if you write  a story about or heavily featuring people of color you stand a good chance at being shunted into some microcosm of literature when it’s not appropriate and there’s not a lot you can do about it. White authors “flipping” racism are rewarded by:

2012 Eric Hoffer Award

Los Angeles Book Festival

What the fuck are we actually supposed to do?

Prior to this book hitting tumblr, it looks like most of the White reviewers said nothing about being at all uncomfortable with it.

Not. One. Question.

Rave reviews. SO refreshing, so new, so original.

Are you fucking serious?

This is what privilege is. You get lauded and cookies and raves for “flipping” something that quite literally millions of people are talking and writing about every single day.

Dear White People who have some handle on privilege,

This is a moment when you need to collect your people. Grab them by the hand, by the back of the pants or whatever and tell them that they are hurting us.

I honestly literally wanted to throw up after reading the glowing commentary and rave reviews. Yes, POC voices are loud and strong but we all know, our voices are not enough. They never have been. When the “voice” that puts racism in a spotlight says things like:

I’m white, and except for our housekeeper, everyone I knew in my hometown in the Southeast was white. 

What the fuck are we supposed to do?

This is why I have no plans ever to fuck with mainstream literature. Things like this are why sometimes being a writer of color or a reader of color hurts.

I won’t even go into the Mandingo archetype and how problematic that is nor the “someday we’ll all be beige” bullshit. I can’t even.

Right now, even if I was still interested in mainstream publication or genre lit I’d still say fuck you lit world. Fuck you in your racist fucking eye.


14 thoughts on “Nothing like being punched in the face by White Privilege.

  1. Reblogged this on Tapati S. McDaniels and commented:
    I hate that my white voice is somehow taken more seriously or given more weight but here it is, I endorse everything said here by Shannon Barber. It makes me sad that someone who might have had some positive intentions didn’t do her homework, didn’t consult any people of color (as near as I can tell) and didn’t learn the lessons from the huge racefail debate in the sci fi/fantasy community a few years ago. I urge her to google racefail and sci fi and see what comes up in her browser and to put her feelings aside and really try hard to listen to the critiques. This is book one which makes me fear for what is to come. It’s too late to undo the racist foundation of her world-building though.

  2. lexiedi

    Just reading that synopsis made my stomach churn. “She’s cursed with white skin….” Uhm… I understand that all fiction is placed in another world but… c’mon. The author didn’t grow up in this fictional world. The author knows or should have some idea of what she’s doing!

    The character’s name is Eden for pity’s sake… as in the perfect, beautiful garden made by god.

    *slams head against the wall*

  3. I really like octavia butler as far as sci/fi writers go. She is a a black woman and the best writer I can thin of for that genre. I haven’t read this book but I feel so sad when I read about authors who are making bad choices as far as racism goes. I think to myself why use the word coal? Why not onyx?
    Thanks for calling bull shit.

  4. This is appalling, and that’s not a word I throw around too often. How can someone, even as privileged as she is, be that damned oblivious to other people? As a writer, its our job to make sure all people have a voice, not just people who wear our same shade of skin tone. The empty-headed thoughtlessness of this is just mind-boggling. I’d expect (not condone, mind you, but expect) this from some angsty teenage rebel-wannabe writing something to piss off his sociology professor, but to be a grown woman, in this day and time, with more access to the thoughts and feelings of people of all races and genders than any other time in history, and still be this insensitive? It makes me want to cry. Writing about racism is difficult, its such a volatile topic, and that’s exactly why it needs to be addressed head on, not with this inside-out reversal of roles bullshit. People are still being marginalized by skin color and sexuality and its stupid. People have the right to be who they are, to not suffer from someone else’s biases. We all have voices and we all need to be heard and understood.

  5. I’m white. I find it shocking that the author could possibly think “look at the poor white people being oppressed by blacks” is a great setting that would somehow not be terribly racist. It would have to written nuanced as hell to work, and instead it sounds like the work of someone who has never really thought about privilege. 😦

    I’m new to learning about the intersection of race & sci fi — off to read about Racefail and look at your other blog. Looks like I have a lot to learn!

  6. RJ

    Shannon, you know me pretty well. We get along famously, and hardly disagree on anything. I can see you point about this book, and agree with you.

    However;. Read it. That’s right, I said read it. I don’t care if you buy it, or pirate it. I haven’t read this book, but I intend on finding some copy of it so I can have a more informed opinion about it. Too often have I voiced my opinion about something without knowing precisely everything about the subject.

    Please understand, I’m not arguing with you or defending the author in any way. From what I can tell about the reviews and the synopsis, you are dead on about this.

    All I’m saying is that there are way too many people who “judge a book by it’s cover”, so to speak.

    1. If I was doing a book review I would. I based my judgments entirely on information freely made available by the author herself, things she has said herself and what I know about racism and privilege.

      A book review is a different thing and I have a copy of the book and might do a straight up review I might not. Based on the available information and promotional material I’m not particularly interested. In the context of what I’m talking about here this book could be amazingly well written but my problems with the premise and treatment of it would stand.

    2. Lisa

      If it helps, I was given a link to a .pdf of the first few pages. The writing is stilted and confusing. I have a master’s degree and can usually do a YA novel in an evening, but there were pages that I found myself having to re-read 2 or 3 times because it was written so badly.

      Plot mechanics aside…

      There are also a few self made ‘commercials’ on the goodreads site for the book. Which I’m also scared to watch.

  7. “Rave reviews. SO refreshing, so new, so original.”

    …for something that reads for all the world like the plot of a ‘Forced to be a Sultan’s love slave!’ romance novel. Excuse me, one that’s been ‘turned on its head’ so the protagonist has to go off in search of her subhuman mate instead of being vigorously kidnapped.

  8. BSH

    If it helps at all, her awards were all purchased, she self-published and the positive reviews were almost all from herself and her publicist. There are incredibly few REAL reviews that are positive.

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