Tag Archives: books

Protecting White Kids From History

By Guest Contributor T.F. Charlton; originally published at Are Women Human?

Content Notes: racist violence, slavery, infanticide, Japanese internment.

So, this is a thing: a white parent has spent 6 months trying to get the Fairfax County,Virginia school system to ban Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved from its schools. Why? She feels its content isn’t suitable for children – where “children” here means older teenagers in an Advanced Placement class intended to provide college-level instruction – and is upset that reading the book gave her then 18 year old son nightmares.

Laura Murphy, the book-banning mom in question, has apparently also tried to get Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Joy Kogawa’s Obasan, a novel about the Canadian government’s internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II, removed from the county curriculum. I have no idea what her objection to Obasan is, but there appears to be a pattern here, and it looks an awful lot like whiteness.

There’s so much one could say about this.

Firstly: Yes, Beloved is a deeply disturbing book, no doubt about that. It’s the story of a mother who would rather kill her children than be forced to have them grow up as slaves. Morrison doesn’t spare feelings or constitutions in her descriptions of all kinds of horrific violence.

Kimberly Elise, Oprah Winfrey, and Thandie Newton in "Beloved."

Kimberly Elise, Oprah Winfrey, and Thandie Newton inBeloved. Still from The Ascension Blog

I’ve read a good portion of Beloved, but have never finished it, because I was strongly advised that it wasn’t a book I wanted to read while I was pregnant (I believe my friend’s exact words were “STOP READING IT RIGHT NOW”). So, I get it. It’s an unsettling read.

It’s a bit sad that this needs saying, but many books that are worth reading can be profoundly unsettling and scary, even traumatic to read. And this is in part because many unsettling, scary, traumatic things are part of the human experience.

It’s hard for me to imagine there aren’t several books on Fairfax County’s AP English curriculum that are potentially as disturbing as Beloved or Obasan. Say, for example, Lord of the Flies, which gave me nightmares when I read it in 10th grade. Kids going feral after being stranded on a desert island and hunting and killing each other is pretty nightmarish stuff, no? Or how about Hamlet? Dude pretty much slaughters everyone at the end [eta: hyperbole alert :-p]. Let’s ban, that, too.

But no, those books are part of the awfully white male “Western canon,” and not so vulnerable to these sorts of crusades. Their literary merit is established, so the violent and disturbing aspects are more easily taken for granted.  Despite Murphy’s claim that her objection to Beloved is purely about protecting kids and has nothing to do with her assessment of its literary merit, it’s quite obvious that her concerns about literary violence don’t apply equally to all books or all authors.

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Who’s Allowed to Tell the Tale? (And Which Tales Should They Tell?)

by Guest Contributor Belleisa, originally published at PostBourgie

There’s a game I like to play when I walk into a bookstore. Based on the the title, cover and store placement I can always interpret the marketing intention for a book meant for a black American audience. The best part of this game is that the books will, typically, fit into the following categories (they are, in no particular order):

1. Black Pathology or “What’s wrong with Black people?”
2. The literature of “sistah gurl”
3. Christian-oriented fiction/inspirational
4. Street-Lit or Hip-Hop fiction
5. The Slave Novel
6. The Civil Rights Book (This also includes Black Nationalism)
7. The extraordinary rise from street life/poverty/welfare into the middle class.
8. Poorly styled celebrity memoir, or well researched and documented hagiography
9. Black Queens and Kings
10. Hip-Hop analysis
11. AFRICA
12. The “Black” version of some mainstream topic (For example: “Black Girl’s Guide to Fashion; “Black Families’ Guide to Wealth;”) Guides will include slang, bright colors, and inevitably the phrase “the legacy of slavery.”
13. The Classics: Harlem Renaissance 101 and/or The Black Arts Movement. Toni Morrison.
14. Contemporary Classics or Literary Fiction (Mostly woman, mostly diaspora authors)
15. Non-black author writes really compelling story about black person(s); story gets awards accolades, lots of press and movie deal.

These topics produce wonderful books and poorly written books. They often represent a compendium of the black American experience, and just as often, they are simply a reflection of what publishing thinks black people read.

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Why My Protags Aren’t White

By Guest Contributor Justine Larbalestier, originally published at justinelarbalestier.com

magic

I’ve been asked a few times why none of my protags are white given that I am white. (So far that question has only come from white people.) I thought I’d answer the question at length so next time I get that particular email I can direct them here.

I don’t remember deciding that Reason, the protagonist of the Magic or Madness trilogy, would have a white Australian mother and an Indigenous Australian father. I don’t remember deciding that Tom would be white Australian or Jay-Tee Hispanic USian. But I made a conscious decision that none of the characters in How To Ditch Your Fairy would be white and that Liar would have a mixed race cast. Why?

Because a young Hispanic girl I met at a signing thanked me for writing an Hispanic character. Because when I did an appearance in Queens the entirely black and Hispanic teenage audience responded so warmly to my book with two non-white main characters. Because teens, both here and in Australia, have written thanking me for writing characters they could relate to. “Most books are so white,” one girl wrote me.

Because no white teen has ever complained about their lack of representation in those books. Or asked me why Reason and Jay-Tee aren’t white. They read and enjoyed the trilogy anyway. Despite the acres and acres of white books available to them.

Because I don’t live in an all-white world. Why on earth would I write books that are?

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Lying on the Cover

by Guest Contributor Neesha Meminger

There’s been a great firestorm of controversy over Justine Larbalestier’s cover for her recently released novel, Liar. Ms. Larbalestier is the Australian-born author of How to Ditch Your Fairy and other fantasy/sci-fi titles. She has a wide fan base. She is married to Scott Westerfeld, best-selling author of the Uglies series. Together, they are a veritable, YA fantasy/sci-fi powerhouse.

The frukkus around Liar is because, in the book, the character describes herself as “black with nappy hair” which she wears short and natural. The cover image is of a white girl with long, straight hair.

Some have argued that the model could be of mixed race, or just a light-skinned black woman. The fact of the matter is that regardless of what she could be, within a racist context, most people looking at that cover would assume the model was white. Besides which, she clearly does not have short, nappy hair.

On her blog, Larbalestier has a picture of WNBA star, Alana Beard, who she thinks is more like what her character should look like. According to a report on Mediabistro’s Galleycat blog, Larbalestier was initially thrilled with her cover. They state that, back in April, she put this up on her blog:

“This cover was so well received by sales and marketing at Bloomsbury that for the first time in my career a cover for one of my books became the image used for the front of the catalogue . . . Apparently all the big booksellers went crazy for it. My agent says it was a huge hit in Bologna. And at TLA many librarians and teenagers told me they adore this cover.”

If this is true (I haven’t gone through her backposts), as an author I can relate to the excitement she must’ve felt at all the hoopla surrounding her book (okay, not really relate, because I haven’t ever experienced that, but it must’ve been awesome). But as an author of color, I’m saddened that the first thing to occur to her wasn’t how inaccurately her main character was depicted and what the implications of this could be. Continue reading

Reflections on Lola [The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao] (Part 1 of 2)

by Latoya Peterson

*Note – Spoilers and lengthy.*


My mother would never win any awards, believe me. You could call her an absentee parent: if she wasn’t at work she was sleeping and when she was around it seemed all she did was scream and hit. As kids, me and Oscar were more scared of our mother than we were of the dark or el cuco. She would hit us anywhere, in front of anyone, always free with the chanclas and the correa, but now with her cancer there’s not much she can do anymore. The last time she tried to whale on me it was because of my hair, but instead of cringing or running I punched her hand. It was a reflex more than anything, but once it happened, I knew I couldn’t take it back, not ever, and so I just kept my fist clenched, waiting for whatever came next, for her to attack me with her teeth like she did to this one lady in the Pathmark. But she just stood there shaking, in her stupid wig and her stupid bata, with two large foam prostheses in her bra, the smell of burning wig all around us. I almost felt sorry for her. This is how you treat your mother? she cried.

And if I could have I would have broken the entire length of my life across her face, but instead I screamed back, And this is how you treat your daughter?

Things had been bad between us all year. How could they not have been? She was my Old World Dominican mother and I was her only daughter, the one she had raised up herself with the help of nobody, which meant it was her duty to keep me crushed under her heel. I was fourteen and desperate for my own patch of world that had nothing to do with her. I wanted the life that I used to see when I watched Big Blue Marble as a kid, the life that drove me to make pen pals and to take atlases home from school. The life that existed beyond Paterson, beyond my family, beyond Spanish. As soon as she became sick I saw my chance, and I’m not going to pretend or apologize; I saw my chance and eventually, I took it.

If you didn’t grow up like I did then you don’t know, and if you don’t know then it’s probably better you don’t judge.

You don’t know the hold our mothers have on us, even the ones that are never around – especially the ones that are never around. What it’s like to be the perfect Dominican daughter, which is just a nice way of saying a perfect Dominican slave. You don’t know what it’s like to grow up with a mother who never said a positive thing in her life, not about her children or the world, who was always suspicious, always tearing you down and splitting your dreams straight down the seams. When my first pen pal, Tomoko, stopped writing me after three letters, she was the one who laughed: You think someone’s going to lose life writing to you? Of course, I cried; I was eight and I had already planned that Tomoko and her family would adopt me. My mother of course saw clean into the marrow of those dreams and laughed. I wouldn’t write to you either, she said. She was that kind of mother: who makes you doubt yourself, who would wipe you out if you let her. But I’m not going to pretend either. For a long time I believed her. I was a fea, and I was worthless, I was an idiota.

The Wildwood, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

My eyes drank in every word of Wildwood, the second chapter in Junot Díaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. On the plane from Baltimore to Austin, the narrative gripped me solidly by the throat, turning a casual curiosity about Oscar into a desperate longing to hear more from his sister Lola.

When the plane touched down, my sweatshirt was crunchy with the salt from shed tears and I had run through six napkins while the story unfolded. I grabbed my bags, and called my boyfriend who had been badgering me about reading the novel for some months now.

“Why didn’t you mention Lola?” I asked.

“Who? Oscar’s sister? Why is that…oh.” His voice suddenly bloomed with recognition and we sat in silence for a few seconds. Continue reading

The Politics of Wizards and Vampires

by Guest Contributor Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, originally published at Write.Live.Repeat

Twilight, the movie, comes out this week. It is based upon the bestselling novel by Stephenie Meyer, and, like the book, is said by many to be the “next Harry Potter,” meaning it is the first young-reader book series to come close to the astronomical sales of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Meyer still has a lot of catching up to do, having sold “just” 17 million books worldwide, compared to Rowling’s 400 million.

While both sets of books deal with children and their adventures with the supernatural, that is where the similarities end. Potter is aimed at a slightly younger demographic (9 to 12) and is loved by boys and girls alike; Twilight appeals mostly to older girls (14 to 19) and their sexually frustrated mothers.

The most startling difference between Twilight and Potter, however, is not demographical; it is ideological.

Put simply, Rowling and Potter live on the left; Meyer and Edward dwell on the right. Continue reading

On Race and YA Lit

by Guest Contributor Neesha Meminger

Young Adult (YA) literature has exploded in recent years with the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter books, the Chronicles of Narnia, Tuck Everlasting, Lord of the Rings, the Gossip Girl series, The Princess Diaries, and the more recent Twilight series to name a few right off the top of my head. There are some who look down their noses at YA lit and don’t consider it real literature. But, given the success of the aforementioned novels and series, I blow a big, fat raspberry in those people’s general direction.

Kidding. But, seriously. My guess is that the reason all those titles, and many, many others in the YA or MG (middle grade) categories have been so successful is that they reach across age barriers. If you look at the audiences for Harry Potter, Gossip Girl, Lord of the Rings and Twilight – books and movies – you’ll find fans ranging from nine-year-olds all the way through to the middle-aged, paunch set. The same cannot be said for high literary novels, or children’s books. YA and upper MG novels are right smack in the middle and appeal to that vast swath of almost-adult to inching-out-of-adulthood readers. There are often subtle, mature themes, and usually no gratuitous violence or sex.

I write YA because that is a time that ideals were still strong and fresh.

When I write, it is as if I was on the cusp of adulthood where things were still simple: good and bad were easy to define, as were right and wrong. It was a time when my inner life was more vivid than my outer and there were constant, brutal clashes between the two. It was a time where creativity was wild, unencumbered by the expectations and restrictions of adulthood. Anger, pain, joy – all were raw, enormous forces. It is still the place I go when I am seeking unrefined, unfiltered Truth.

My first novel, a YA release, comes out in March, 2009, and the road to getting it published has been full of surprises. I belong to a group of first time authors with Young Adult (YA) and Middle Grade (MG) novels coming out in 2009. We are all working together to promote our first novels. We share resources, commiserate about bumps and bruises along the way, and rejoice in one another’s accomplishments. It is completely voluntary, and no one is obligated to do anything they don’t want to, except participate in whatever capacity they can. The group is a wonderful social and networking space with some amazingly talented authors and many future stars.

And yet, something about the group caught my notice.

I don’t have any hard data or statistics in front of me, but several weeks ago as I was answering questions for my first online author interview, I was startled to realize that I was one of three YA authors of Color debuting in 2009. Continue reading

Casting Out: Exploring the Racialization of Muslims

by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

I just finished reading Sherene H. Razack’s Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law & Politics (2008). And I gotta say, it blew me onto my ass.

Razack is the author of several books, including Looking White People in the Eye: Gender, Race, and Culture in Courtrooms and Classrooms, and her work in race theory definitely shows in Casting Out. She uses plenty of theory and excellent cross-racial examples to illustrate that what’s currently happening to Muslims in the West (racialization that results in “the expulsion of Muslims from the political community, a process that takes the form of stigmatization, surveillance, incarceration, torture, and bombing”) has happened to other groups before.

She first argues that Muslims are racialized through “race thinking”, which “divides up the world between the deserving and the undeserving, according to descent.” The racialization of Islam and Muslims is something the editors and I have been wanting to address on Racialicious for awhile, but I haven’t quite known how to begin; Razack’s book provides the perfect springboard.

Islam is represented in mainstream media as South/West Asian brown-skinned people who are bearded and turbaned or veiled and hidden: this racializes Islam.

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