Saturday, August 25, 2012

Discussion: Bring Out Your Anger, tracking the Victoria Foyt Debacle

Anybody who's been on twitter, goodreads, author blogs or saw Wednesday's Dear Author News Post, which incidentally is always fabulously informative, would have read about the Victoria Foyt Debacle.  Long story short: traditionally published author (through HarperTeen in 2007) decided to self-pub a 'dystopian YA fantasy romance' about a minority seeking to overturn societal beliefs about her race.

Not so bad right?

The minority being 'oppressed' are Caucasians ('Pearls'), the oppressors are African-Americans ('Coals') and the author manages to pack almost every single Race Trope (listed here: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RaceTropes) into the novel and abuse them until the reader feels sick to their stomach.

From the AICL (American Indians in Children’s Literature) article from August 5th, an explanation of the races in Saving the Pearls:
“Midnight Luster" allows Pearls to pass as Coals. Lowest in class are "Cottons" (Albinos). Between the Coals and the Pearls are the Ambers (Asians) and just above them are the Latinos who I think are "Tigers Eye.”
Even if there wasn't a controversy attached to it, Foyt's marketing materials are offensive, her very public decrying of her critics has been shameful and the very few defenders she has include the 'Stop the GR Bullies' folks and (until his post was taken down) Marvin Kaye (who's been known to support bigoted works before).

Not what you would call upstanding character references right there.

Background:

Marvin Kaye defended the fact Weird Tales (which he and John Harlacher bought several months ago) was publishing the first chapter in an upcoming issue and claimed its use of racism was ironic:
“Racism is an atrocity, and that is the backbone of this book. That is very clear to anyone with an appreciation for irony who reads it.”
The post has since been taken down, but hey it’s the internet so there's a cache of it (linkage)

John then defended Marvin (and his own involvement) by kind of sort of tossing Marvin under the bus, while making it clear he was an innocent party.  THEN in the comments section, when folks were making some pretty poignant remarks, he made an ass of himself by making jokes (that no one found funny or smart thinking).  John also said Marvin agreed with him and would be making his own comments shortly (that was 8/20*).

At some point as early as June, Ann VanderMeer, the former editor in chief of Weird Tales (who by all accounts is fabulous), told John and Marvin to back that train up and not have anything to do with Foyt’s book:
“But ever since a meeting with Kaye and Harlacher in New York in June, it had become obvious that she would be extremely uncomfortable working with them. … they did mention during that encounter that they planned to publish an excerpt from a YA novel written by the wife of a film director about “the last white person on the planet trying to survive in a world of black people.” This seemed deeply problematic on the face of it, and Ann was kind—perhaps too kind—but adamant and firm in saying that they shouldn’t do this. Ever.” (from her husband Jeff’s blog here)
The book itself was published back in January 2012, and looking at Goodreads the earliest review seems to be from November 2011 (full disclosure, the review in question gave this a 4 star rating and doesn't mention racism as a primary offensive problem...it also doesn't mention the huge editing gaffes either so take it as you like) and a lot of the early reviews don't mention it either (except in context of 'reverse racism!'). 

The biggest negatives cite the main characters (especially Eden) as being the main dragging point, the romance being icky or the confusing not quite science the author employs to justify some contextual things (like people being inject with animal DNA).  I should point out that a lot of the 1-3 stars mentioned the fact the main character, Eden, has a borderline bestiality romance with the love interest Bramford after he becomes a jaguar man. 

Another full disclaimer--an author who's book I liked (Trisha Wolfe) gave this a 5 star rating and also doesn't mention the racism.

The first instance of someone mentioning the racism (or racefail, I do hail from the Avatar fandom after all) was a 2-star review from Jan 18th, 2012 and the reviewer clearly says that she expected it given the premise...however other problems simply overtook her problems with the racefail.  That's the first instance I can find, please correct me if I'm wrong.

The next instance came in February and the reviewer elaborated upon it a bit more.

For a rather well thought and well-written 1-star review I suggest reading Jenny Wren's here.

Foyt meanwhile discussed the matter of interracial relationships in her novel via her HuffPost Blogger status back on Leap Day of this year.

And I think the first non-review blog post about the racism issue was posted at The Frisky (as part of their "Today in Racism" posts) back on July 27th.

This article at XO Jane breaks it down much more elaborately, also from July http://www.xojane.com/issues/save-the-pearls-revealing-eden-ya-novel-racist

And then this article from Legendary Women  discusses the racist issues and links to some more fun articles

Originally Foyt's original mistakes and racefail seemed to stem from her misunderstanding of the people she was trying to 'help' not from some deep-rooted racism.  And we all make mistakes, especially when we don’t do our research or ask the right questions and make assumptions (recently I made the mistake of believing somebody was Iraqi when they were in fact Pakistani.  I didn’t do it maliciously; I did it out of ignorance of their respective language and customs). 

If instead of continually hammering home ‘MY BOOK IS NOT RACIST’ or ‘THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND IT’ Foyt could have taken the time to say ‘Yes I didn’t do my research properly, I’m sorry if I offended anyone I will correct this’ and then taken down the book in question, this would have been dusted off to a mild problem and an author who listened.  She probably would have gained readers, as once the revised edition came out those who didn’t read the original would read it to see how it fared.

But we’ll labor under the belief that for whatever reason Foyt truly believes that she wrote a book with no imperfections (at least not of that nature, I haven’t seen her speak out about the quasi-bestiality, editing problems or consistently tstl main character).

I then urge you to check out these two blog posts in which the authors took the time to quote sections that are problematic:  Inverarity (a blog that often shares my opinions about some of the more popular books) and Requires Only That You Hate (a blog dedicated to racism of any nature in popular media)

And because Foz always has awesome coverage, check out her blog post about the Stop the GR Bullies entry (from early August).

I'm of the opinion that its one thing to attack a book--with evidence to support why you are attacking something so majorly.  Its something else to attack the author--good or bad, again support your argument.  And then there's ATTACKING an author.  The lady isn't Hitler or Stalin incarnate--she's an idiot who doesn't know when to stop. Much like folks were back in the day during slavery who honestly didn't see a problem with having slaves as long as they treated them nicely.

Here have a musical number about it from one of my favorite musicals (that I have yet to see):





Casual Racism is a large part of any society, but its amplified today because the world is so connected.  How many of us grew up with the saying "Indian-Giver" and didn't think any of it?  Hell my brother called me it the other day and he is by far the most un-racist person I know (he'll be friends with just about anyone as long as they aren't murderers, rapists or child molesters). Its not a great thing, but its something that everyone has to work on.

So chillax folks (especially you Foyt).

(*) According to this blog the blogger wrote to WT and got a response from Marvin Kaye (8-22) that was counter to what John was claiming.  Won-de-ful.