Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Very Sticky Wicket

There's an internet controversy going on -when isn't there?

This time about a YA novel, Save the Pearls.  I haven't read the book, and it's not on my list to read, but it has lead to a cautionary story.

The author in this case has written a book which supposedly will help young adults understand racism. Wonderful. We need to have greater awareness if we are to create a better world.

Unfortunately, in the process of tackling this important topic the author, Victoria Foyt, may have reinforced racial stereotypes.

So the question is how does one write about racism without falling into this trap?
One writer who I follow wrote about this saying that he has wanted to do a similar book but was unsure if it wouldn't be misinterpreted. This guy is a terrific writer, if anyone could write a great novel using this topic, it's him.

So I wonder. Are we all stuck writing within our own little fishbowls of culture, race or religion due to fear that by commenting on racism we will somehow make it worse? How do you approach writing characters that are of different  backgrounds from your own?

Do we comment on racism or perpetuate it?


  1. An interesting and touchy subject. Harper Lee managed with To Kill a Mockingbird. Of course, she used the POV of an enlightened white person, which she no doubt was.

  2. Yes, Ms. Lee did a fantastic job. In Pearls we have a dystopia where lack of melatonin in the skin is a liability leading to a power reversal. I just wonder how it could have been handled without reinforcing stereotypes as it's been claimed.

    Thanks so much, Alice.

  3. This is indeed a sticky area. And another question, too, how do we approach characters who are racist in their viewpoints without alienating any Readers and, still, teach tolerance? The earth was created with many races and each race has its own unique contributions that should be appreciated by all. But we were not all raised to be racially and socially tolerant and I believe we can teach that through our characters prejudices & flaws as well. We can try, anyway. :) Feel free to comment/follow my blogs at http://nowmotivated.blogspot.com and http://funwithmrwrong.wordpress.com.

  4. Hi Celia,

    Yes, indeed. I think the author of Save the Pearls was thinking in those terms of showing prejudice through writing such character and yet was tripped up.

    I don't write outside of own background very often and when I do I sweat, expecting someone to call me on it. Pascal Guzman from Chasing the Trickster, male, part Cajun and part Latino, but I found a commonality in Catholicism. That was my safety harness. I think with main characters we have to be especially careful. The reader will accept supporting roles filled with bigots (what better antogonist?) but if we wish to have a character go from bigot to tolerance we risk alienation of the reader.

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.

  5. Yeah, I can't stand her!She hides in every piece of dirt staring at me from the floor, in every dust ball lingering in the corner peaking at me as I walk by and especially calls out from the ever-full laundry basket. Yeah, I know her, but she doesn't always win.
    Stop by my blog http://nowmotivated.blogspot.com and http://funwithmrwrong.wordpress.com. You might just find the inspiration you need to keep on keeping on ...writing that is! :)

  6. Thanks, Celia. I missed you down here. I will certainly check out your blogs. They sound great.