In the past few weeks, mass critical discussion of a YA novel by Victoria Foyt – titled Revealing Eden: Save the Pearls – has sprung up online after various people noticed that the book was, shall we say, extremely problematic vis-a-vis racism. And by ‘extremely problematic’, I mean the white female protagonist wears blackface (complete with extra-red lips), black people are called ‘coals’, the black male love interest is literally described as animalistic and bestial, the dystopian elements come in large part from black people being in charge while whites are a demonised minority, Aztec characters speak Spanish for no readily discernable reason, and the title literally translates to ‘save the white people’ – ‘pearls’ being an (apparently) derogatory term for whites, though as various other commenters have pointed out, the coals/pearls contrast is itself offensive: after all, coal is dirty and cheap, whereas pearls are beautiful and valuable.

Things might have died down had Foyt herself not waded in, angrily denying all assertions that either the book or her attitudes were racist while simultaneously speculating that African-American readers might not even exist as a category. It was at this point that an awful possibility occurred to me: what if the Stop the GR Bullies site were to start defending Foyt on the grounds that calling her racist constituted bullying? It was a cynical thought, and one I was prepared to categorise as uncharitable even as I tweeted about the possibility on Wednesday; surely, even STGRB could recognise that in this instance, the accusations of racism were both legitimate and extremely relevant to any discussion of the novel, given Foyt’s claim that the story was meant to “turn racism on its head” – after all, how can you assess whether a book has succeeded at its stated goals without analysing the author’s efforts at achieving them? How can you discuss the presence of blatant racism in a novel without asking why the author included it, and whether they even realised it was there, let alone offensive?

But as it turns out, my cynical predictions proved accurate: this morning, STGRB has come out in defence of Foyt, asserting that:

“…calling the author racist (when she has clearly stated that she is not) or calling her ignorant, disgusting, terrible, sexist, etc., or saying that she and her agent, editor, and publisher should be sued – that is bullying.”

Which is, apart from anything else, monumentally hypocritical given that the site’s entire purpose is to label as bullies people who actively state that they aren’t. If Foyt can be deemed definitely non-racist simply by virtue of asserting that she isn’t, then how can STGRB accuse anyone of bullying who doesn’t openly identify as a bully without contradicting their own logic? Regardless of whether you agree with their judgements or practices, the primary assertion of STGRB is that sometimes it’s necessary to bestow negative labels on people who deny their applicability – but in this respect as in so many others, the site is determined to enforce a double-standard: one for them, and one for anyone who disagrees. Site manager Athena’s assertion that “someone’s intentions do define them” is fundamentally flawed: she assumes that someone with good intentions can’t cause actual harm, or that if they do, they shouldn’t be held responsible for it. I’ve written before about intentionality versus interpretation in YA, but what it all metaphorically boils down to is this: if a driver accidentally hits a pedestrian, the fact that they didn’t mean to is immaterial. The pedestrian is still injured, the driver is still negligent, and if, despite these facts, the driver continues to assert that they’re actually very good behind the wheel of a car, we are right to question them. If it really was an accident, a genuinely responsible driver will nonetheless acknowledge their error and take every precaution to ensure they never replicate it; but if it turns out that the driver has been drastically overconfident in their assessment of their abilities, their entire approach to driving needs to change.

Victoria Foyt is being called a racist because the number and severity of the problems present in Revealing Eden are such that the novel ultimately serves to reinforce the very same toxic behaviour it sets out to debunk. The assertion isn’t that Foyt is being consciously racist, in the sense of actively believing black people to be inferior, but rather that, despite her apparently good intentions, she has nonetheless subconsciously absorbed and then actively replicated certain impressions and stereotypes about black people without realising that they’re offensive – and when the extent of her cognitive dissonance was pointed out to her by myriad readers, both white and POC, she responded by asserting that their accusations were “exactly what creates racism”. She has well and truly hit the pedestrian, and has responded by declaring herself to be an excellent driver.

I’ve said before that STGRB is not a subtle site, and now more than ever, I stand by that. In many instances – perhaps even a majority of instances – reviewing the author rather than the book is a bad thing to do; but it would be both impossible and irresponsible to try and fully separate a writer from their words, particularly in instances where they’ve chosen to openly discuss their inspiration or intentions. Foyt is being critiqued as much for the tenor and content of her blogged responses to criticism as for the book itself, and however strongly you might object to references to her as a person cropping up in reviews of the latter, attempting to outlaw commentary on the former is utterly unreasonable. Authors exist in the world, not a vacuum; we are influenced by everything around us, and when that influence transfers itself to our work – whether intentionally or unintentionally – it isn’t unreasonable for critics to take notice, and to comment accordingly.

But let’s take a moment to consider what racism actually means, as both the STGRB crew and several of their commenters appear to be confused about the issue. Contrary to the stated opinions of the STGRB site owners, racism isn’t exclusively an active, conscious phenomenon – by which I mean, the terminology doesn’t only apply to people in KKK hoods who openly assert that black people are inferior. In a cultural context where discrimination is still a daily fact of life for an overwhelming number of people, but where openly stating disdain for POC is socially frowned upon, racism has become primarily a subconscious affair. But this by no means blunts its effect; in fact, it makes it even more insidious, because it breeds in people a problematic belief that hating racism is identical to not actually being racist.

When Trayvon Martin was killed, a grass roots smear campaign sprang up to defend his killer and paint the unarmed, teenage Martin as a thug; some people even started selling shooting targets printed with his face. One newscaster blamed Martin’s death on the fact that he was wearing a hoodie, saying that “black and Latino youngsters particularly” shouldn’t wear them to avoid looking suspicious. Meanwhile, George Zimmerman, Martin’s killer, defended himself using Florida’s Stand Your Ground law: his exoneration was instantly contrasted with the prominent case of a black woman, Marissa Alexander, who’d fired a gun while being physically assaulted by a violent partner. Alexander was told that Stand Your Ground didn’t apply in her case; subsequent journalistic investigation found that “defendants claiming ‘stand your ground’ are more likely to prevail if the victim is black”which prompted an investigation into racism’s influence on the law by federal and state officials. By contrast, the extrajudicial killing of black people by law enforcement in America was recently recorded to have reached the rate of one every forty hours, while just last Friday, a member of the GOP stated that members of the Republican party in Florida had actively sought to suppress black votes.

Outside the courtroom, men and women of colour still earn significantly less than their white counterparts. A white Baptist church recently refused to marry a black couple, despite both parties being regular attendees. A poll conducted in March this year showed that 29% of Republicans in Missisippi think that interracial marriage should be illegal, while a recent study of college students showed that“white students and those who rated highly in color-blind racial attitudes were more likely not to be offended by images from racially themed parties at which attendees dressed and acted as caricatures of racial stereotypes” – a result which showed a strong correlation between colour-blind attitudes and a tacit acceptance/non-recognition of racism. Similarly, implicit association tests (IATs) have frequently shown that the cultural effects of racial bias are widespread, while the shaming of and self-loathing among black girls who’ve been culturally conditioned to view their own natural hair and skin as disgusting is utterly heartbreaking. I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea: racism is everywhere, it is frequently subtle or subconscious, and its effects can be utterly devastating.

So when, to return to the case of STGRB and Victoria Foyt, I see site manager Athena responding to the suggestion that “Accusations of racism are no different than 17th. C. accusations of witchcraft” by praising the commenter’s “understanding and intelligence,” it doesn’t seem unreasonable to conclude that Foyt isn’t the only party to lack a meaningful understanding of racism. I cannot overstate this enough: calling someone out for racism is not worse than actually being racist. If you care more about being called racist than about the possibility that you actually might be racist, then you have a serious problem, because what you’ve just done, right there? Is concluded that it’s more important to appear to support equality than to actually support equality.

Distressingly, this isn’t the first time that race has become a prominent factor in discussions of YA novels. Negative fan reactions to the casting of POC actors in the respective film adaptations of two successful YA series – first to Amandla Stenberg as Rue in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, and now to Godfrey Gao as Magnus Bane in Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments – serve to highlight how toxic the assumption of ‘whiteness as normative’ can be. Even in instances where characters are explicitly stated to be POC, as was the case in both Clare’s and Collins’s work, many readers assume otherwise – not necessarily due to conscious racism, but because they unconsciously edit out information that contradicts the culturally learned assumption that whiteness is the default setting.

Intentions are meaningless if contradicted by our actions, and doubly so if we refuse to even acknowledge the possibility of dissonance between them. Victoria Foyt is not being bullied; she is being called out for having written a horrendously racist book in the first instance and then for completely dismissing her critics in the second. Trying to turn the existing conversation about the negative themes of Revealing Eden, the reactions of POC readers, Foyt’s behaviour and the general problem of race in YA into a discussion about the appropriateness of various reviewing techniques is, ultimately, a form of derailing: however important the issue might be otherwise, it’s a separate topic to the one at hand, and the STGRB site managers have done themselves even less credit than usual by so hamfistedly conflating the two. Subconscious racism is a real problem – but so is the refusal of would-be allies to acknowledge that, despite all their active efforts and intentions, it can still affect them, too.

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Comments
  1. May I just say that this is an excellent article and I am impressed by your excellent research. I am going to be posting this link up on my writer’s blog and sending it to add to an article from a media analysis site that friends edit for. This is just so much, right there, with backing up with direct links how insidious racism is and how just images like “scary black and latino men” has led to death and wrongful incarceration. Thank you for writing this and for standing up/talking against the bullies and cyberstalkers at that awful site!

  2. sonomalass says:

    Thanks for, once again, making the important points so well. The idea of racism requiring intent is ludicrous, and the hypocrisy of that site continues in the realm of the unbelievable.

  3. Sophie says:

    Here via Twitter, and I just wanted to applaud this post for articulating so well both why Foyt’s behaviour is a relevant topic when discussing ‘Save the Pearls’, and why her feelings are not more important than talking about this stuff.

    (Unsurprisingly, STGRB are actively disallowing any comments that explain why pretending that the problems with ‘Save the Pearls’ exist independently of the problems with its author is both wrong and disingenuous. As well as seeing a few other mentions on Twitter in re. people’s comments not being published, I myself left one to much the same tune as this post – although far briefer and less eloquent – and it was rejected from the moderation queue. Twice. )

  4. My only quibble with this post is that the STGRB owners are clearly injecting themselves into every controversial topic to get attention – as they did with the unspeakable Carroll Bryant. But the point in your post is too important for this quibble to be allowed.

    Most people will deny being racist because they know what horrifying things have been done in racism’s name (funny that most won’t deny being Christian when the same thing applies). But Foyt is racist and so is her book. And so are her ‘defences’, on which she, like the STGRB people, won’t allow comments or only favourable comments. In her heart she must now know she’s wrong, but she’s going to double down because admitting she was wrong, will mean admitting the racism charge, and Nice White Ladies can’t be racist. They just can’t be.

    I think anyone who uses a STGRB position to shore up their own must be assumed to be malicious or simple-minded from now on. They have adopted the exact opposite of logic, decency and truth in every post and every case. There can not be any “I deplore them, *but*…” statements which are acceptable.

    I would also urge people to stop giving them links and attention. Same with Foyt. They crave it. Deny them their power.

    • Did someone mention my name? LOL Hello :)

      I myself do not consider name calling bullying. Nor bad ratings or reviews. What constitutes bullying to me is when an author and reviewer have words between each other and then the reviewer goes running off to their dozens of friends and then brings them into it and they all gang up on the author. (Gangbang style) Then … (yes, there is more) … they start giving fake ratings and reviews AND creating adolescent “book shelfs” to further “punish” the so called “bad author”.

      That is bullying!

      Any dispute between an author and a reviewer (or any two people for that matter) is strictly between those two people. All others need to STAY OUT OF IT!

      Failure to do so is BULLYING!

      Later failures. LOL

      *** LOLing until my dick falls off. *** (Thanks for the new motto, Somerloon.) LMAO :)

  5. mezzak says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughtful analysis of this horrible story and the complete madness that is STGRB with us. I especially appreciate your discussion of why we need to consider and talk about the author in relation to both her book and her behaviour.

  6. Lyn says:

    They would rally against breathing if people on GR endorsed it.

  7. Abby Forth says:

    WOW. This is an excellent response to all of the commentary that’s sprung up around Save your Pearls recently. I was horrified by Foyt’s book, and went online to find what people were saying about it, only to be further horrified by STGRB’s article. I honestly can’t believe how they view it as bullying to call someone racist–even if they are actively promoting racism with their actions. Thank you for this article and for articulating this side of the argument so clearly.

  8. hierath says:

    Excellent points, well said. The naivety / ignorance of Foyt, and the hypocrisy of STGB are both quite staggering.

  9. [...] Foz meadows has also offered some sharp insights on dealing with accusations of racism as opposed to bullying. [...]

  10. “I cannot overstate this enough: calling someone out for racism is not worse than actually being racist. If you care more about being called racist than about the possibility that you actually might be racist, then you have a serious problem, because what you’ve just done, right there? Is concluded that it’s more important to appear to support equality than to actually support equality.”

    Well said. It seems we can shout this to rooftops and still people don’t hear. They still think having discussions about race representation in media is just a points game, its playing “the race card.”

    Nonetheless, I can’t helped but see STGRB’s involvement with this as a bunch of toddlers flailing in the deep end of the pool. They have no idea at all what they’re dealing with, but clearly they don’t care. They’re just fishing for attention and using controversy to get it. Naturally they’ll make horrible implications in the process.

  11. A few of the latest comments on that blog (they’ve since shut the thread because “the discussion wasn’t productive) seem to indicate/more clearly hint that Foyt *is* aware of them and tie her more concretely to having *sought them out* herself. I mean not smoking gun but it’s suspicious as all get out:

    http://www.jbridgerwriting.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-few-choice-quotes-from-good-reads.html

  12. noone9999 says:

    Comment deleted because this person seems to think that posting Victoria Foyt’s personal details on the internet is something I’d like to enable. Dear anonymous commenter from Oakville, Canada: you can fuck right the hell off. However much I disagree with Foyt’s writing and her attitude, posting her private information is inappropriate, creepy, aggressive and outright fucking dangerous. DO NOT DO THIS. EVER.

    • Brian Williams says:

      Thank you. Much as I dislike her writing, I’m even more upset with the people that think it’s OK to tell the world “here’s the address/phone number/whatever of our current target of outrage, have at!”. To all of them, please stop trying to help. It isn’t working, at all.

  13. The only good thing about this ridiculous mess is that I discovered Foz Meadows. :-)

    Keep up the good work.

  14. [...] “controversy” over author Victoria Foyt’s self-published novel Revealing Eden, here’s a good analysis of it with links to others. I put air quotes around controversy in this case because there really [...]

  15. [...] concerning  themes of race and racism addressed by the author in the text of the novel and in subsequent criticism of that text. But that is still not how I came to be aware of this book’s existence. Marvin Kaye, the new [...]

  16. [...] the oddest places. Then, I read N. K. Jemisin’s thoughts on the matter.  After that, I read Foz Meadows’ analysis of why the book itself is so problematic. I followed the Twitter meltdown and I sat and thought and wondered and [...]

  17. [...] should really read the rest of Racism, Revealing Eden and STGRB as it gathers together more than enough food for thought on why Revealing Eden fails so [...]

  18. JM says:

    STGRB is saying: On GR, always review the book, not the author.

    You are saying: Review the book, not the author, unless the author is really bad.

    Solution: Let GR limit themselves to reviews that are solely about the book, and everyone can post reviews about the author elsewhere (as you have done with this post).

    Not sure why anybody would be unhappy with that arrangement.

    • fozmeadows says:

      That’s not what I’m saying; I’m saying only mention the author if it’s relevant to the review, and that sometimes it will be.

      • JM says:

        Fair enough. Sorry for misrepresenting you.

        Still, I can’t see why one site having a don’t-review-the-author rule is a big deal. Let GR limit their reviews as they see fit, and let every other site post/host reviews as each site sees fit. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

  19. גיא says:

    i can’t say that i necessarily agree with you , since in a so called futuristic world, it’s possible that thing will turn to the social description in the book, and just as now under white majority the non white people are complaining of racism, it could be the opposite.
    but i wonder why the author would even need to insert this issue in a scifi/fantasy book to begin with.

  20. Dana says:

    I have only recently begun to learn about the racial issues in contemporary America, and there is one point that often strikes me. “the culturally learned assumption that whiteness is the default setting”: this is wrong in America, since apart from the minority of Natives, no-one can say what the ‘typical American’ is supposed to be like – it is the one nation where race is not more or less equivalent to nationality.

    In other settings, this is different. In China, it’s normal to expect that the average Chinese will have typically Chinese traits. In Italy, the average Italian will be white (A particular kind of white; as a European, I can roughly tell white people coming from France, or Albania, or Germany, or Spain, and so on, since here after thousands of years of wars, nationality causes much more acrimony than race. ) The average Japanese will have typically Japanese traits. No one would be surprised or find racist if the protagonist of a Japanese book or movie looked (or was assumed to look) typically Japanese, if the protagonist of a Norwegian book was assumed to be white, if the protagonist of a Chinese movie looked stereotypically Chinese… things will probably change over the future generations, as migrations continue and the national identities become less divided, and of course there’s a percentage of the population that doesn’t follow this canon, but for now nationality and appearance/race are still vastly coincident.

    But my point is that America is in a very unique position in these fields (I don’t know about similar situations like NZ or Australia; someone else will have to give an input), which is something that I don’t think many people realize when talking in general terms about whites and POCs and minorities and majority like the American situation applies to the entire world. It might have something to do with the fact that while American books and movies always reach the rest of the world, seldom will a Thai movie or Italian book reach America in the same measure. It’s an interesting thing to think about in terms of cultural influence.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Whiteness as a default setting is a point about cultural dissonance: as you say, the average Westerner could look like anyone, and yet stories told in the West – movies, books, TV shows – tend overwhelmingly to have white protagonists. That’s what I mean by whiteness as default: people assume that characters in books are white, not because they’re unaware of diversity in the real world, but because we’re so used to seeing whiteness in stories that we don’t stop to question it’s ubiquity.

  21. [...] actually been pretty consistently slammed for its racism by numerous bloggers. Here’s one of the reactions that sums up a lot of the objections. The Internet, as is its way, spoke its mind on the subject. But beyond the slew of comments, [...]

  22. claudiacv says:

    And this is a YA novel?? Wow! Scary to say the least. I can see it now… two white southern kids commenting after reading this book…Man, blacks are evil, scary demons. Let´s do away with them. Who the hell endorsed this?

  23. [...] it contains (and misogyny, but that’s another post), here are a few blog posts about it: from Foz Meadows, from NK Jemisin, from Inverarity, from acrackedmoon. Note: potentially triggering imagery in the [...]

  24. [...] plans with your financial backer and publisher to republish the first chapter of a novel with definite racist undertones, overtones, and all tones in-between. Double points if the novel doesn’t even count as weird fiction in the first [...]

  25. [...] which has links to some other blog posts you absolutely should read, like Foz Meadows’ “Racism, Revealing Eden and STGRB“, and a whole host of related links (trackbacks) at the base of Jemisin’s post; Jemisin [...]

  26. [...] said magazine, and against the editorial advice of said former editor. Get the whole sordid story here (background on said racist claptrap), here (author N.K. Jemisin reacts to the news), [...]

  27. [...] The Guardian also offer a summary of the latest racism uproar in the SFF community, involving a dystopian YA novel that sounds like a spectacularly bad idea, Weird Tales and the Vandermeers among others. For more about why Save the Pearls is offensive, see this post on Foz Meadows’ blog. [...]

  28. [...] and N. K. Jemisin has a post worth reading about it.”  I was particularly taken with the Shattersnipe recap as [...]

  29. [...] overlords (“coals”). If that sounds severely screwed up, it’s because it is. Foz Meadows talks about why racism in the context of YA matters.+ Weird Tales is a long-running highly respected fantasy magazine that…decided to publish the [...]

  30. [...] a look at the outcry around Victoria Foyt’s Saving the Pearls. From reading the first chapter and looking at the [...]

  31. [...] privilege.  A self-published novella entitled Save the Pearls: Revealing Eden by Victoria Foyt ignited an internet sh!t-storm this summer, and that turned into a sh!t-blizzard last month, when the once-venerable fantasy [...]

  32. [...] give a bunch of other blogs to read. We’ll start with one really big example recently – http://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/racism-revealing-eden-and-stgrb/ Even though the racism in that book is practically screaming, I’m going to give the author [...]

  33. [...] Racism, Revealing Eden and STGRB, 3 August 2012: An examination of the fallout surrounding the overt-yet-apparently-unintentional [...]

  34. [...] sexist, exploitative tropes it ostensibly meant to subvert. Similarly, in August last year, I weighed in on the controversy surrounding Victoria Foyt’s Save the Pearls: Revealing Eden, a [...]

  35. [...] PSA: Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical, Politics, YA and Narrative, Racism, Revealing Eden and STGRB, Rape Culture in [...]

  36. [...] került ide, nem hisztiből. Köszönjük Dworkyllnak az érdekes linkeket (ezt is meg ezt is), figyelem, adásban el nem hangzott [...]

  37. […] race is something that YA dystopias has mostly left alone, except when it’s majorly stumbled. Alex London writes race and class into the world of Proxy and it’s much appreciated. […]

  38. […] került ide, nem hisztiből. Köszönjük Dworkyllnak az érdekes linkeket (ezt is meg ezt is), figyelem, adásban el nem hangzott […]

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