Sunday, July 3, 2011

The particular race fail of urban fantasy is not so particular

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake has been sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read for a year. The book concerns a girl who, when she eats, can taste the emotions of the food's preparer. Lemon Cake is not urban fantasy but magical realism. Now, around here, we give urban fantasy a lot of grief, but it's important to remember that one needn't read fantasy to uncover racial "fails." For instance, the tendency of authors to identify only the race of non-white characters spans many literary genres. Check out this positive review of Lemon Cake by Jennifer at Mixed Race America, where she calls out the author Aimee Bender for exactly that writing error:
But even if Rose and her family live in a very white neighborhood (which seems to be the case), the fact that whiteness is the default setting--the universally taken-for-granted identity--the identity that need not be named--remains a point of annoyance for me. Rose's best friend--her neighbors--her class mates and teachers--are not racially marked and thus I think most readers assume that they must be white--a point emphasized through the way that Bender has clearly marked George as mixed-race within the first 6 chapters of the book. The fact that she goes to the trouble to mark the nurse as black, even though her blackness seems to do nothing for the narrative, again highlights the seeming racelessness of all other characters--a racelessness we are to see as synonymous with being white.
Which is a problem. To believe that whiteness is a universal--that it is a form of racelessness--is a HUGE problem in our day and age when trying to understand the ways in which people of color are racialized and the ways in which racism operates--because this IS one of the very subtle ways that racism operates--as a form of normalizing certain races (white) and emphasizing difference for all others (the non-white). Read more...

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