For a very long time, minorities have been under-represented in the literary world and the media. Most of our authors, for whatever reason, ignore people of color in their books, so I tend to applaud any attempts to transcend our Anglo-centric literary culture. However, sometimes these attempts can go a bit awry. Blackface-on-the-cover awry.
That last statement isn’t without its context. Victoria Foyt, author of new series Save the Pearls, said herself that the novel is set in a dystopian world where most of the world’s white population has succumbed to heat radiation and, now called“Pearls,” are being oppressed by the black “Coals,” who are the new majority. The blackface is primarily so the female protagonist can look more attractive, though presumably it also should block out the effects of the sun that killed most of her ancestors. Foyt calls her novel a “Beauty and the Beast” love story in which the Man of Interest, Bramford, is black, and the Lady of the Hour, Eden, is white. The author says herself that she’s “happily surprised” that there hasn’t been any uprising against her for writing about an interracial couple, and I’m inclined to agree with her there. However, with this progress comes a few glaring issues.
Foyt is very proud to say that she is turning racial stereotypes “upside-down.” This is an admirable goal, but the opposite of racism against blacks is not racism against whites, because blacks and whites are not innately opposite. The opposite of racism against blacks is not racism against whites. What she’s doing by making a world where whites are oppressed is portraying the black men and women in her book as the enemy. She’s saying that being racist is something innate in all of us, which, whether or not one personally believes it to be true, should not be said. Foyt is showing racism as something natural, if arbitrary.
Then there are the labels. “Pearls” are white. Ambers are Asian. Hispanics are called (not kidding) Tiger’s-eyes. And Coals are blacks. I’m not even going to go into the fact that “coal” is actually a racial slur.
Despite all of this, the Beauty and the Beast angle is the one that irritates me the most, if only because it simply does not make sense within the context of the story. Foyt quite obviously casts Bramford as the Beast in this story, but Eden is the one that is genetically disadvantaged, pale, and, according to the standards set in the book, ugly. Meanwhile, Bramford is portrayed in the book as the most attractive available man around. But Bramford is the man, and he is black, so why bother staying accurate to the world you created when you can enforce an inaccurate, socially harmful stereotype instead? Someone is not a beast until they are disgusting either in their looks or in who they are, and in the parameters of the book Bramford is neither, so his classification in this relationship as the ‘Beast’ has absolutely no sensible reasoning behind it, just as Eden is under no circumstances the Beauty.
Even with all of this, I’m not trying to say that Victoria Foyt is a terrible person or a bad writer. She had an interesting idea and she wrote about it, and she did show that interracial relationships can be prominently featured in YA novels without outrage. However, she also shows that if any author believes that putting her protagonist in blackface on the cover of her book makes a statement against racism, she should rethink what she’s doing.