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Today In Racism: YA Series 'Save The Pearls' Employs Offensive Blackface & Racist Stereotypes 
29th-Jul-2012 02:06 pm
Pulse Rifle, Aliens, Legendary Herione, Terminator, SPN: Brothers

Today In Racism: YA Series “Save The Pearls” Employs Offensive Blackface And Bizarre Racist Stereotypes Plot:
Victoria Foyt is the (white) author of a new young adult book series called Save the Pearls. The book chronicles the adventures of Eden Newman, a white woman, or a “Pearl,” whose entire race has been enslaved by the dominant race of “Coals” — or dark-skinned people. Hoping to capitalize off of the popularity of dystopian young adult novels like The Hunger Games, Foyt constructed a narrative in which, she explains, “Solar radiation has wiped out most of the white race whose lack of melanin causes them to succumb to the Heat. The survivors, called Pearls, suffer from oppression under the new majority of dark-skinned Coals.” In the new world, Eden must rely on Bramford, a Coal. As Foyt describes it, Pearls is “a Beauty and the Beast story in which both parties must find self-acceptance before they can discover true love.”

Say what?

In an essay on Huffington Post, presumably meant to publicize her book, Foyt prides herself on receiving mostly positive reviews for her story. She marvels at the way Pearls‘ “interracial love story” is being so positively received by the audience. She writes:

Her love interest, Bramford, is a Coal. So yeah, this is about an interracial relationship in a post-apocalyptic world. Or more narrowly, if you take out the question of race, a Beauty and the Beast story in which both parties must find self-acceptance (no story spoilers) before they can discover true love.

Not too many years ago, I can imagine that this story might have generated heated comments about the sexualized fantasies about black men. And yeah, there was one. And having checked out that blogger, I strongly suspect that he belongs to a much older generation than young adults. Otherwise, I’m happily surprised to say there has been not a blip of protest. So what does the lack of any racial outrage or puzzlement or fervor amidst the tremendous rain of positive reviews possibly say? Conceivably, if the book had not reached the African-American community of readers, if such a category still exists, perhaps there might be some backlash. The first young African American reader who responded to me loved the book. But then, she’s the kind of free spirit who would eschew limiting herself to a single category.

And while yes, it’s great that an “interracial love story” is received without protest (yay! progress), I’ve got bigger fish to fry with Pearls — and Foyt.

First off, while she may want to pat herself on the back for creating a story that turns on its head stereotypical tropes about the social value of whiteness and blackness, the very names she chooses to use say that Foyt may still hold those tired tropes dear.

“Pearl” as a term for whiteness ascribes high value, rareness, beauty and worth. And Coal as a term for dark-skinned? Low value and dirty. And as blogger Nnamdi Bawse points out, it’s a tried and true racial slur. But even without the shameful history of the slur, choosing such wildly divergent names, holding wildly divergent values, implies a positive value judgement on whiteness and a negative value judgment on blackness.

Then let’s take the “Beauty and the Beast” analogy. To refer to a dark-skinned man as “beastly” carries with it negative notions of blackness that are rooted in a historical portrayal of black men as sexually savage beasts. As Dr. David Pilgrim, professor of Sociology at Ferris State University writes, “During the Radical Reconstruction period (1867-1877), many white writers argued that without slavery — which supposedly suppressed their animalistic tendencies — blacks were reverting to criminal savagery.” So essentially, the construction of black men as “beastly” was used to justify slavery. So, awesome. Yeah, NO.

Finally, witness this video Foyt made to publicize her book, featuring a white woman in blackface. Memo to the world: Blackface is not okay. Like, EVER. Blackface is rooted in bygone minstrel shows, where white actors would play outrageously offensive stereotypes of blackness. As the website Black-Face.com explains, blackface is more than simply the application of dark makeup to a white face. Blackface “originated in the White man’s characterizations of plantation slaves and free blacks during the era of minstrel shows (1830-1890), the caricatures took such a firm hold on the American imagination that audiences expected any person with dark skin, no matter what their background, to conform to one or more of the stereotypes: the coon, the mammy, the Uncle Tom, the buck, the wench, the mulatto and the pickaninny.” These racial stereoytypes are all highly negative and delimiting.

Oh, and also? White people don’t get to decide if blackface is no longer offensive and when it’s acceptable. As historical perpetrators of racial stereotypes against black people, it’s patently ridiculous to say that “black people should just get over it.”

Further, Foyt pats herself on the back because her dystopian novel where whites are the disadvantaged race just mirrors her own teachings at home. “I have endeavored to raise my children with a color-free mentality. My son once mentioned that his color was white while mine was tan. This was said with no more feeling than if he’d been describing the different colors of our bedrooms.” Here’s the thing: Teaching kids not to “see” color, denies the fact that people of different racial identities experience life very differently. Only a person living from a position of racial privilege would ever say that they don’t “see” color.

It’s a way to avoid dealing with the very real truth that people’s skin color does in large part define how they are perceived by the world. It denies a very real part of someone’s life and being, and it also reinforces the construct of Whiteness-As-Norm. Further as SF Gate blogger Bruce Reyes-Chow writes, “When one says ‘I don’t see color,’ then we no longer have to acknowledge the realities of our own prejudice and privilege as well as the real experiences of the others. We stifle conversations that must happen around race in the US and squelch the possibilities of discovering together the one of the greatest gifts of U.S. culture … our diverse racial and ethic backgrounds.”

So it seems that however well-intentioned she might have been, Foyt needs to do a bit (a lot) more research on race politics, and the history of racism before writing a dystopian novel about it.

[SFGate] + [Huffington Post]


30th-Jul-2012 07:20 am (UTC)
Pretty sure the black love interest grows a tail at some point, too. It just gets better and better.
8th-Aug-2012 06:30 pm (UTC)

What? Are you serious?
30th-Jul-2012 09:16 am (UTC)
Wow, you are being much more civil towards Foyt that I would be... to take on a so obviously racial set up to story and yet be so clearly ignorant about racism is beyond ridiculous!
30th-Jul-2012 01:03 pm (UTC)
Omg, wtf?
30th-Jul-2012 01:09 pm (UTC)
I can't even.
30th-Jul-2012 01:49 pm (UTC)
I. I.

"Conceivably, if the book had not reached the African-American community of readers, if such a category still exists, perhaps there might be some backlash."


oh my I

"Pearls" and "Coals" are you

does this woman have NO sense of history did she read anything in college I


30th-Jul-2012 01:51 pm (UTC)
and what PUBLISHER thinks this is okay?

or editor or who let this hit the market

30th-Jul-2012 02:25 pm (UTC)
It's a vanity publisher.

What's more, it looks like this is the only book said publisher has.
30th-Jul-2012 02:42 pm (UTC)
Between this, and the potential for fake boosting reviews mentioned below, I'm wondering how this woman got picked to write something for HuffPost anyway.

Of course I can never tell where exactly the HuffPost falls on the (increasingly blurred anyway) line of Serious Journalistic Publications.
30th-Jul-2012 09:05 pm (UTC)
To be honest the HuffPost has seriously failed in sorts of ways lately. It's not surprising that they let someone like this write an article for them.
31st-Jul-2012 06:03 am (UTC)
The only contact info the publisher has is Victoria Hoyt, leading me to believe it is a company she started just to publish the book.
31st-Jul-2012 09:45 am (UTC)
You read my mind bb, your read my mind. It makes one wonder whether she actually went to college. Or high school. Even kids in the UK learn about the history of slavery in America, so I can't fathom what this woman's excuse is.

Edited at 2012-07-31 09:46 am (UTC)
30th-Jul-2012 02:04 pm (UTC)
Excuse me, I feel something coming up the wrong way.
30th-Jul-2012 02:07 pm (UTC)
Need a bucket?
30th-Jul-2012 02:04 pm (UTC)
How does something like this get published, let alone made?

30th-Jul-2012 07:21 pm (UTC)
Published by the same people who made it.

I just hope people don't become morbidly curious enough about this to make it actually sell.
30th-Jul-2012 02:18 pm (UTC)
I saw this floating around Tumblr last week. There is so much wrong with this novel I'm trying figure out how it could even exist.

I also think its self published? And that she made a bunch of fake reviews to boost the book. I need to find that Tumblr post that shows all that info.
30th-Jul-2012 06:07 pm (UTC)
Something tells me this woman will simply ignore any and all bad press her book is getting and continue to tout it as some kind of literary triumph with all the fabricated reviews she's and a lot of others are suspected to be writing.

Edited at 2012-07-30 06:07 pm (UTC)
30th-Jul-2012 06:10 pm (UTC)
I'm betting that if/when she does find it, she calls the reviewers bullies.
30th-Jul-2012 07:11 pm (UTC)
So childish, too. Yeah, lets pretend like something doesn't exist and that will help stomp it out.
30th-Jul-2012 07:48 pm (UTC)
Where are these "mostly positive reviews"? I'm (thankfully) not finding them.
30th-Jul-2012 09:44 pm (UTC)
She probably wrote them herself.
30th-Jul-2012 10:17 pm (UTC)
seems likely
31st-Jul-2012 01:53 am (UTC)
According to some people who've checked the book's website, most of the positive reviews mentioned don't actually exist. (Warning: Don't check the website. It's apparently suspicious/a virus risk.)
30th-Jul-2012 09:48 pm (UTC)
I... I can't at how awful this is.

Mark Oshiro does an awesome readthrough with commentary of the first chapter over here:

8th-Aug-2012 06:28 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link! :)
31st-Jul-2012 11:07 pm (UTC)
Is this woman rock stupid, or has she just been living in a bubble all her life? Seriously, no one with a functioning brain - who isn't a total asshole, let it be stated - could ever think that something like this was okay.
1st-Aug-2012 01:21 am (UTC)

7th-Aug-2012 06:42 pm (UTC)
All of the other stuff aside, the whole "interracial romance in difficult times" was done much better with Jake and Cassie from Animorphs, in my opinion. And, as a bonus, the writer(s) weren't incompetent hacks who couldn't plot worth crap.
8th-Aug-2012 06:38 pm (UTC)
Let me get this straight.

Dark-skinned people are the ruling class and whites are at the bottom. Yet whites are called “pearls” as a racial insult and dark-skinned people are called “coals?” Why couldn’t they continue the gem imagery by referring to themselves by a precious metal? Like obsidian? Or onyx? Anything other than “coal,” something that is not aesthetically pleasing in the slightest. And pearl - wow, that must be the nicest-sounding slur I've ever heard. How horrible.

Oh, and apparently people with albinism are extinct and their racial epithet is “cotton.” First of all, why would you use that term in a story about black people being the ruling class? Second of all, albinism is not a race! All races can have people with albinism. Black people can have albinism. What the heck?

And to top it all off, the marketing campaign for this book features blackface. Oh, yeah, that will really win people over to the idea that you’re not being racist, you’re just trying to subvert racism with your books. Yeah.

Dear Lord.
11th-Aug-2012 05:55 am (UTC)
I know; people like this should have to wear signs that say "I'm a dumbass, ask me why", I swear.
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