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Re: What Price A Black Girl’s Life?

August 19, 2011

I was writing a long-ass comment on this post over at ABW, and decided that it was verging on the self-serving.  So I figured I’d go ALL THE WAY to self-serving and just make a post out of it.

I hated True Blood as a whole (and thereby the past tense; I stopped watching after a season) but I loved quite a lot of its parts, and Tara was a big part of that, uh, part (Lafayette being the other).  Because UNlike Sookie, Tara reacts only to the things that have ACTUALLY happened to her, she’s the only proactive (human) woman with any sort of positive goals, and she is so beautiful and proud and heartbreakingly loyal.  But like Martha (best companion EVER) she is hated by fans for getting in the way of their white romances with things like, oh I dunno, a realistic impression of vampires?  An opinion that isn’t based exclusively on her attraction to a man?  A series of actual Bad Shit that happens to her?

Unlike Martha, though, and what really galls me, is that Tara is also maltreated in-character because of these things.  Sookie treats her only friend like slime because she thinks Bill’s a creep, or warns her of danger, then calls her traitor when she decides to take care of her own shit instead of Sookie’s.  So not only do the writers treat Tara like Sookie’s Lassie (an issue in and of itself) but it’s like if everytime Lassie came to tell the parents that Joey’s fallen down the well they gave her a swift kick.

Viewing all black women as being strong is like viewing all Asian-Americans as being math geniuses.  Even a so-called positive stereotype is still a stereotype, still a box to put others in as a way of separating them out from Us, the White People Who Are Actual Humans.  It’s why only a white woman’s tears illicit the reaction they do–black women crying seems somehow a cheat, a subversion we neither expect nor want.  She should be angry and loud so we don’t have to feel so bad when she’s hurt.  How dare she ask us to feel guilty for our wrongdoing when everybody knows black women don’t have real feelings?

Seeing things like this from the other side of Not Being a Douche makes me try and think back to any positive representations of POC in the media I’ve been exposed to over the years.  I’ve seen plenty of black hard-asses, certainly, but that’s not necessarily positive in a way that, you know, allows people to be people.  I liked what we got to see of Book and Zoe from Firefly, though I was starting to get some bad Whedon Warning Signals even by the end of the first season.  And then Book promptly died in the movie.  But he was a black man (in an overwhelmingly white cast, considering it was supposed to be the US and China whose cultures mostly survived) who got to be both strong and sensitive, spiritual and practical, right and wrong.  Zoe, I think, was definitely a victim of Strong Black Woman, and while I loved her character and her inclusion in soldier culture it was wee white Kaylee whose vulnerabilities were used to make us cry.  And I still feel really weird about the bounty hunter…

CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series is also a bit of an issue for me.  It oscillates wildly between several known problematic tropes and what I feel could be Doing It Right, from chapter to chapter and sometimes from line to line.  The Big Black Aliens are all people, at least by the end of the first book, but they’re still mysterious and stoic (and what says “bizarre and inhuman” like bastardized East Asian culture mishmash?) and the POV character is SO WHITE.  And so the Hero, albeit not in the usual sci-fi ways.  Some POC humans are introduced throughout the nine books but they’re all bit-parts.  I don’t know.  I have a lot of mixed feelings about that series.

I could go on, but not really that long.  It’s hard enough to find genre examples of POC characters and then they’re all just the same stereotypes that we get in more mainstream titles.  Or they’re turned into aliens or elves or Black Council Evil McEvilPantses so we can treat them however we want because now it’s fiction, right?

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