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Race!fail in The Hunger Games

With fandom in an uproar over the SPN big bang race wank, my roommate and I got into a discussion about race in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books. I have always been uncomfortable with the way race is treated in the books, and the SPN discussions have encouraged me to speak up. I'd post this to a community, but I don't really know any appropriate THG ones.


Here are my main points:

1. Diversity. I can think of only 3 named people of color in the books, even though Panem is built out of a country that is at least 35% POC. Now, given that the coasts of North America were supposedly wiped out, I could buy that as a potential rationale for the dearth of colored people. However, given the complete lack of any POC in Collins’ Gregor books, I’m not inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. To me, this indicates that she’s just not interested in POC.

2. Rue. Rue is the POC who gets the most page-time. She is smart and sweet and has a great personality, and when Katniss looks at her, she sees her little sister. But Rue is also the only person in the games, besides the love interest, that Katniss makes an emotional connection with. And then, of course, she dies. Ever heard of fridging?

Or how about Black Dude Dies First? As Liz Lemon says, “if the will says you need to spend the night in a haunted house you better hope everybody else there is black guys and sluts."

Rue is the only character who is introduced by Suzanne Collins with the express purpose of making a connection with Katniss and then dying. She serves no other role in the story, and her fate is a given. The rules of the Hunger Games are not bent in order to save her life, no. That’s a privilege only meant for the two white protagonists.

ETA: Rue's first physical description: "She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that, she's very like Prim in size and demeanor." (p. 45 THG)

3. Thresh. Thresh is your typical dehumanized black male. Enormous, scary, silent. He hides out of sight in a field of tall crops that everyone is too terrified to approach, as if some wild, beastly animal lives there. When he finally appears in a scene, he bashes in Clove’s head with a rock--a rock--after—oh, hell, let me just quote the whole damn passage to show how failtastic it is:

I let out a gasp, seeing him like that, towering over me, holding Clove like a rag doll. I remember him as big, but he seems more massive, more powerful than I even recall. If anything, he seems to have gained weight in the arena. He flips Clove around and flings her onto the ground.

When he shouts, I jump, never having heard him speak above a mutter. “What’d you do to that little girl? You kill her?... You cut her up like you were going to cut up this girl here?”

After Thresh kills Clove and turns to Katniss, she gives up and asks him to kill her quickly. It’s the only time we ever see Katniss give up. Because obviously there’s no use in fighting such a monstrous brute.

Some other choice dialogue from Thresh?

”Just this one time, I let you go. For the little girl…. You better run now, Fire Girl.”

There is so much wrong here I don’t even know where to begin. The horribly stereotyped image of the enormous black man “towering” over the girls, holding the delicate white girl up in the air “like a rag doll.” The fact that Katniss was surprised he could talk. The fact that, for some reason, he is the only character in the books who doesn’t speak in grammatically correct sentences. The way he, alone, has gotten healthier in the savage environment of the hunger games. And it’s even weird that he gets so up-in-arms about Rue’s death, as if he doesn’t understand that this is the hunger games and everyone dies.


ETA: Thresh's first physical description: "The boy from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue, but the resemblance stops there. He's one of the giants, probably six and a half feet tall and built like an ox....Instead he's been very solitary, speaking to no one, showing little interest in training. Even so, he scored a ten and it's not hard to imagine he impressed the Gamemakers. He ignores Caesar's attempts at banter and answers with a yes or no or just remains silent." (p. 126, THG) (I included more than his physical description because it's relevant to this discussion.) 

4. Chaff. Chaff is the only POC introduced in Catching Fire. We got like 30 new characters, and only one of them is brown. And yes, in case you don’t remember, Chaff dies. Like Thresh, he dies off-screen.

Chaff is presented as Haymitch’s best friend among the victors. But does Haymitch set up an alliance between Chaff and Katniss? Nope. Haymitch gets the street cred of having a black friend without any of the bother of us actually having to read about him.

Chaff’s only interaction with Katniss, in fact, is sexually violating her.

Chaff throws his good arm around me and gives me a big kiss right on the mouth.

Other victors mess with Katniss: Johanna strips naked in front of her and Finnick flirts with her outrageously. But the only black character in the book is the one who physically molests her.

ETA: Chaff's first physical description: "He's dark skinned, about six feet tall, and one of his arms ends in a stump because he lost his hand in the Games he won thirty years ago." (CF, p. 213)

As my roommate put it, Collins really just ran through a list of black stereotypes. Sympathetic sidekick character who dies to play on our emotions? Check. Black man as violent, subhuman, and terrifying? Check. Black man as sexual aggressor? Check.

I love The Hunger Games. Intensely. But then, I’m used to tolerating crap like this, due to my love for classic movies and Victorian literature.

That said, this is contemporary writing from a woman who has lived or does live in NYC, so it pisses me off. She should know better.



( 38 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 18th, 2010 03:17 am (UTC)
You could post this to good_hunting_hq if you wanted!

You raise really great points. I'm looking forward to learning more about the actual geography of Panem in Book 3. Katniss having a Southern accent and District 12 being the mining district might indicate West Virginian descent, but who knows. The descriptions of Kat and Gale are both as having darker complections, grey eyes and olive skin I think? And some people were wondering if they might be non-white, perhaps of American Indian or Mexican heritage.

I admit that I'm terrible at paying attention to physical descriptions in books so I think I knew (maybe) that Rue was POC but not about the others.
Jun. 18th, 2010 11:32 pm (UTC)
I will, thank you! I was hesitant to post it there because it’s a shippy comm, but I’d be happy to, as it’s a thoughtful group of people.

I’m going to go back and edit this post to include the physical descriptions of the 3 characters mentioned, since many people missed them. Katniss and Gale are pretty clearly described as “olive”-skinned, which generally means white. I will be annoyed if our bow-and-arrow hunters turn out to be of de-cultured Amerindian background. Mexican would be awesome, though! :-P

I’m dying to know the geography of Panem, too, and wonder if she will include a map…. I’m sure she has one!
Jun. 18th, 2010 11:39 pm (UTC)
It's actually not so much a shippy comm. It's more a general comm for the Hunger Games series, as seen through the eyes of BSG fans. But not every post needs to be about BSG. We post, or I post anyway, a lot of just straight Hunger Games news/discussion points.

The Southern accent Collins recently read her excerpt in seems like a good indicator that Katniss at least will indeed be white. But only a few months and hopefully we'll find out!

Am trying to recall if there were any POC in her Gregor the Overlander series, but half the characters in it were anthropomorphized (sp?) animals.
Jun. 19th, 2010 12:11 am (UTC)
Lol, nah, there were no POC in Gregor. Half the characters were animals, the other half were of an underground race that had gone completely pale over the centuries (millennia?).
Jun. 18th, 2010 03:18 am (UTC)
Never read these books, but good post. Reading #3, I'm not surprised the SPN thing prompted you to address this! D: That fic author certainly didn't pull her constant "inhumanly large black man" descriptions out of thin air... it's a pretty common cliche.
Jun. 18th, 2010 11:34 pm (UTC)
Yeah, there’s no need to go inventing stereotypes. We have plenty, well-entrenched in our minds thanks to a long history of white-gaze and cultural objectification. In fact, one of my favorite posts about the SPN controversy was this one (http://facetofcathy.dreamwidth.org/151733.html) called “How could they? How could anyone?” which is just what the title says-—a brief exploration of what kind of society would lead to a mentality that allows someone to conceive of a story in post-earthquake Haiti and populate it with 1-D, stereotypical black characters that serve as background decoration for the white romance.

(PS…um, the THG books really are great, though!)
Jun. 18th, 2010 03:25 am (UTC)
I am ashamed to admit that I did not even realize that Rue and Thresh were not white. (I'm not sure if that is SC's fault or mine; I was reading pretty quickly, so I'm inclined to blame myself.) I do remember feeling uncomfortable reading about Chaff. I remember that I was almost expecting her to overcompensate and make him a wise, benevolent older black man, especially since he was Haymitch's BFF. But then he ended up being creepy and I couldn't figure out which was worse. :/

Thanks for posting this. I haven't thought about the books very deeply, and this is good food for thought.
Jun. 19th, 2010 12:12 am (UTC)
You are not alone. Many people, including my roommate who is very conscious of race issues, missed the physical descriptions. I think that Collins tends to skim quickly over skin color. I like that she doesn’t make a big deal about it, but it does mean that people miss it.

Thank you for your comment! I’ve gone back to edit my post to include the characters’ descriptors.
Jun. 18th, 2010 11:08 am (UTC)
I loved the book
Are we talking book or film (which I haven't seen yet) Being white & always having lived in a basically white community, I recognised stereotypical PEOPLE - who i imagined as white, because that's what I'm used to. I remember it was set in the US, but it was dystopian and wasn't real.
I'll re-read the physical descriptions, but I'm not used to thinking of bad people as POC or typified by their colour/race/religion at all, so i saw them as white. And, PS, people kept on dying because that's the point. If Rue had lasted any longer, would it have been fair? why should she last longer just because she's a POC - you can go round in circles on that one.
Are the people in power in the Capitol all white? Should I not take offence that they, stereotypically, are, then? Do we know? If the kids are different colours anyway, they obviously aren't bothered by the race of who they kill.
And are you asking authors to write books which are all politically correct? - the right mix of colour, the 'correct' stereotypes? I'm not stupid - I've seen 'the black man dies first' -as well as the blonde bimbos. Ginger-haired/redheaded people seem to be the butt of jokes around here - and I don't like that. It would seem some people need to pick on others.
People who write books are not all of one 'type' either. They have their own experiences in life, prejudices, leanings, preferences, education. They have various reasons for writing.
Whilst I don't live in your shoes & abhor racial prejudice, because it makes no sense (it's cultural prejudice - the values & lifestyles & beliefs - that I think we can 'legitimately' dislike in each other) there's a big imperfect world out there. If just looking at a story in terms of black & white is your thing - well, fine, but be open & accepting too.
There's plenty of discussion starting up on the deeper meaning of the Hunger Games - try 'Hunger games meaning' in google. Sometimes I think too much dissection of a book spoils the total impression. But the more knowledge we have, the more we can appreciate and understand the world - and some writers intentions.
I'm looking forward to reading the next one, anyway. I'll try looking at it in b&w terms too - so you've made me think too! :) Janet
Jun. 19th, 2010 12:13 am (UTC)
Re: I loved the book
Lol. You were polite, so forgive me for my rudeness (or don’t). But your comment is nonsense. I understand where you’re coming from, though. If “not racist” to you means nothing more than “politically correct,” I can see why you wouldn’t care.

Jun. 19th, 2010 02:41 pm (UTC)
Re: I loved the book
OK. You asked me to engage in reasonable discussion, so I will. (Btw, I deleted your last comment below, because it was totally inappropriate)

So, here's why I found your comment to be nonsense:

1) I recognised stereotypical PEOPLE - who i imagined as white, because that's what I'm used to. I remember it was set in the US, but it was dystopian and wasn't real.

No. There is no such thing as stereotypical people. There are poorly-characterized white people, which Collins' characters are not. There are archetypes, which I believe you may be thinking of. But you run into stereotypes when you are talking about "others", about groups of people whom you don't distinguish between. Mainly marginalized groups. Chaff, Rue and Thresh are all classic Afro-american stereotypes, and that's offensive. No other group is as ignorantly betrayed in THG as blacks. (Except for every other minority in the US that she doesn't bother to portray at all.)

2) Are the people in power in the Capitol all white? Should I not take offence that they, stereotypically, are, then?

No. First of all, what the hell is stereotypically white? (Please don't answer that. It's a rhetorical question.)

The Capitol folks are not the only white people Collins writes about, so she has the right to portray one portion of her white characters as bad people. She's got good white people, too, and white people that blur the lines, and white people you aren't sure about one way or another. That's because she sees white people as diverse individuals. When it comes to black people, they ONLY fill the roles that they've historically filled in American media, and they are offensive.

3) And are you asking authors to write books which are all politically correct?


4) the right mix of colour, the 'correct' stereotypes?

At this point, I deserve applause for keeping my cool so well.

There is no right mix of color. There are no correct stereotypes. There are only people, for pete's sake. A whole world full of people of different colors, who are all individuals and should be treated as such. Step 1: Don't pretend that PoC don't exist. Collins manages that, to a small degree. Step 2: Pay attention to PoC. If you do that, then you'll see that we're not all the same. Are all black men six feet tall or bigger? Are they all aggressive and violent? No. Then don't write them that way.

If you are writing white characters of color AND characters of color who are interesting, unique, individual, then I don't care about the mix. Honestly, if Collins had only included Rue and hadn't put in Thresh and Chaff, I would've been a whole lot less offended. Because Rue, although she plays the sacrificed-black-sidekick card, is a fleshed-out character. I would've been sorry that there weren't MORE PoC. But I wouldn't have been as offended as I am when you add together everything Collins did with Rue, Thresh and Chaff. (jeez, just look at their names, for pete's sake!)

5) People who write books are not all of one 'type' either. They have their own experiences in life, prejudices, leanings, preferences, education.

Yes they are. They are mostly white, with limited exposure to PoC, who give little thought to the PoC in this country. (again, to be clear, I am referring mainly to the United States) That's why we have these problems to begin with. That's why Collins has it so firmly entrenched in her mind that black men are all huge and scary, and black children are adorable little nothings who worship you and to whom you can do anything. Because that's all white people have seen for the past 200 years, and that's how they have written PoC in media.

If just looking at a story in terms of black & white is your thing - well, fine, but be open & accepting too.

As I said in a comment below, racism is not a matter of opinion. You can't CHOOSE whether to be conscious of racism or not. Or, better said, you can choose, but there is a right and a wrong choice. If a book is racist, then that needs to be acknowledged. Maybe it still has other merits, but I'm not going to give it a free pass because the racism isn't prominent enough to turn me off. You shouldn't, either.
Jun. 19th, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
Outside of the the 3 main characters, I never noticed anyone's race in the books. With the description of Katniss and Gale being dark haired and olive skinned, I automatically thought of them as mixed race. That could just be me putting myself in their shoes though. You bring up some really interesting albeit disturbing points. I need to go back and re-read, which I was planning to do anyway before book 3 came out, but now I'll be on the lookout for this.
Jun. 19th, 2010 02:38 am (UTC)
I automatically thought of them as mixed race.

Intriguing! I am of mixed race myself, and this didn't occur to me. Although, as fox1013 points out below, her sister and mother are blonde and blue-eyed. So that's probably why i assumed she's completely white.

Thanks for your comment. :-)
Jun. 19th, 2010 03:15 am (UTC)
I think I conveniently forgot about what Katniss' mother and sister looked like just to fulfill the picture in my head.

I guess I also imagined Panem to be so far in the U.S's future that things like singular race would be a rarity, even though Collins did describe a few characters with the blonde/blue traits. Yeah, I was obviously just projecting. ;)
Jun. 19th, 2010 03:34 am (UTC)
I guess I also imagined Panem to be so far in the U.S's future that things like singular race would be a rarity...

That was my thinking too, probably also influenced by Firefly's take on what the future might look like in terms of diversity.
Jun. 19th, 2010 05:07 am (UTC)
Jun. 19th, 2010 07:23 am (UTC)
Yes, diversity
So why does Katniss - the girl - have to be the heroine - or should it be 'hero' - why does the strong, silent type Peeta get to be injured & have to be cared for - what's so good about girls? - why wasn't Rue a boy? Their names are pretty asexual - what's that about?
Janet again.
Jun. 19th, 2010 02:24 am (UTC)
Katniss's first character description, about how she looks more like Gale than her family, emphasizes her "straight black hair" and "olive skin." (Her mom and sister have light hair and blue eyes.) Correctly or not, I interpreted this to mean that she's not necessarily white. I selfishly hope that I'm right with that, because (A) I love the reading I get from that, and (B) I read an article that suggested she be played by Malese Jow in the movie, and that's currently the casting of my HEART.

Not that this discredits any of your arguments about the novel's black characters, which are definitely legit criticisms that I'm ashamed I had never noticed before.
Jun. 19th, 2010 02:44 am (UTC)
"Straight black hair" and "olive skin" are pretty classic descriptors used for people of Euro-Mediterranean descent, specifically Italians, Greeks, Spanish. I don't think there's any complete consensus on what "olive" skin actually is, though, to be fair.

However, since you point out that her sister and mother are blonde and blue-eyed...that pretty heavily points to white, doesn't it?

Anywho, thanks for your comment! I think Malese Jow is lovely and adorable, too. :-)
Jun. 19th, 2010 02:56 am (UTC)
No, I think you definitely have a point. The more I think about it, the more I think my interpretation points more to reading what I want into the text than anything else. :/

But. Malese Jow! :D

And thanks for the thought-provoking post.
Jun. 19th, 2010 02:43 am (UTC)
Like other commenters, I'm ashamed to say that I didn't realize the many problems you have pointed out about Collins' approach to race in THG. Thank you for making me more aware of them, and for cross-posting to good_hunting_hq , which is how I found this. You've given me a lot to think about when I read the first two again and Mockingjay. I thought Kat and Gale were mixed race, but to be honest, didn't really think about the other characters' race at all.
Jun. 19th, 2010 02:52 am (UTC)

It's true that Panem is a totally different world, and we really have no idea of what the race breakdown is. However, in most American novels, the default is white. I believe that in THG, unless stated otherwise--as in the cases of Rue, Thresh, and Chaff--we're to assume that the characters look white.
Jun. 19th, 2010 03:32 am (UTC)
You're right, of course, white is unfortunately the default. That will undoubtedly change, but we still have a long way to go.

It's true that Panem is a totally different world, and we really have no idea of what the race breakdown is.

This made me think about the BSG 'verse. Is Panem like that, where it's at least *supposed* to be gender- and race-blind? I don't know, but I hope that was goal, even if Collins--like BSG--didn't succeed.

It'll be interesting to see if there are more descriptions in Mockingjay. Also, I fear that Hollywood will be no big help in terms of casting.

Would you be up for discussing this again after the release of Mockingjay? We could set up another post for it at Good Hunting. Hopefully I'll have more to contribute then than just "Uh, wow am I oblivious sometimes." *headdesk*
Jun. 19th, 2010 03:35 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting this. You make some very good points. And another thing to add to the list -- well, I'll just paste from my original post after finishing HG.

The depiction of Rue and Thresh made me rather uncomfortable. He's tall and strong and intimidating. She's tiny and sweet and likes to sing. Collins barely provides any physical descriptions of her characters, but she makes a point of saying that Rue has "dark hair, eyes, and skin." Both characters come from District 10, which is full of orchards where the people are essentially treated like, uh, slaves. Collins choosing to specifically point out those things about District 10 bothered me. On one hand, I do like that she seldom describes any of the characters' physical attributes (except that one time - why?), because it leaves the readers to create them in our heads. It can get really strange, though. Aside from the braided hair, I didn't even know what Katniss looked like until I read the Wiki page after I finished the book, and I was a bit pleasantly surprised that she has "olive skin and black hair". Then again, her sister is blonde and fair, so ... I dunno. I could be making way too much out of this, but it got under my skin in a way I didn't really like.
Jun. 19th, 2010 04:19 am (UTC)
I hadn't read this post of yours before, but that's also an excellent point and one that I really hadn't thought about. Her descriptions of skin, hair and eyes tend to be largely lacking. Except for the main characters and these few dark-skinned characters. Huh. **wanders off with the wheels turning**
Jun. 22nd, 2010 09:21 pm (UTC)
Love this. I love that you caught it in your first read, as I didn't start picking up on much of this until my 3rd go-round or so. I just read your whole review, which was awesome, and hopefully I will get back there to comment sometime soon.

except that one time - why?

Yeah, it's clear that their black skin is an essential part of who they are, unlike with white characters. My roommate pointed out that the only other people Collins describes in such detail are the people of the Capitol, who are all freaks.

which is full of orchards where the people are essentially treated like, uh, slaves.

I actually found that really intriguing when I first read it. Given this discussion I now worry over Collins' intentions. But the idea of Panem coming back around to treating blacks as slaves is an intriguing one IF Collins does something about it in the story.
Jun. 19th, 2010 04:13 am (UTC)
All good points. I had noticed that there weren't many people of color, and I was particularly appalled by Thresh's portrayal, but I notice that in most books by White American authors (which ends up being most books I read -- I fear I'm not good at seeking out authors of color). On the flip side, the Authors of Color I've read tend to have mainly characters of their own ethnicity/race.

I have no disagreement with your complaints regarding how the PoC were treated in The Hunger Games, but I also wonder how much of it is a function of White authors, in particular, being uncomfortable writing about cultures they've not participated in?

Let me put it this way.

I find it completely unoffensive for Authors of Color to write books containing mainly Characters of (their) Color with either no one of any Other Color or only stereotyped people of Other Colors (including white). Part of this is the general dearth of PoC in books written by White people. Part of it is that their culture comes through, and I'm interested in it. I've always been intrigued by the different social structures that different groups people create. Not because I want to copy it or claim it or have any kind of "cred" with it, but because I want to understand.

But I don't. And neither do most/any White Authors out there and writing today. There's still too deep a cultural divide. And I think that when the story takes place in a society that too closely resembles modern society, the PoC in the books do tend to be stereotyped or whitewashed. And neither of those makes for an enjoyable reading experience if you look at it too closely.

I would like to think that Collins could have done a better job. Especially since these were mostly secondary characters. And maybe it wouldn't have been as bad if more of those secondary characters had been PoC (i.e. - why wasn't one of the people from District 3 Asian? Why weren't the fishing district Mexican, or at least mixed? Not that those were the only possibilities there, or that those suggestions aren't stereotypes in and of themselves, but at least they would have provided a little more color, and she wouldn't have had to dig into their cultural psyche). But really, I'm not entirely convinced that she could have done any PoC in her book any real kind of justice, any more than I'm convinced she could have written the book without including any People of Color (given that it is set in post-modern America). Because Collins is White. She hasn't walked that road.

I don't know. Maybe I'm not giving White people enough credit. But ultimately, I'm not sure Collins is unique as a culprit in this particular crime. Not that it shouldn't be talked about. It should. I'm just saying it's only the first half of the conversation. The second half being how to respectfully write believable characters of a Color that is not your own in a setting that isn't entirely fantastical.

Anyways! re: Gale and Peeta and Katniss -- I've read them assuming that they were Appalachian, which would mean a mix of Northern/Central European, Black American and Native American.

Finally... I really, really hope this comment doesn't sound dismissive or rude. Or like you (or people of color) should be responsible for starting the second half of the conversation. I think it may be something that I bring up as a possible future topic in my writing community, though. Because you have me thinking now.

Edited at 2010-06-19 04:21 am (UTC)
Jun. 19th, 2010 04:56 am (UTC)
And I think that when the story takes place in a society that too closely resembles modern society, the PoC in the books do tend to be stereotyped or whitewashed.

I don't care what society you're writing about; I don't see any problem with "whitewashing," as you call it. I'm assuming, by that word, that you're referring to depicting PoC who could just as easily be white--ie, their racial experience doesn't enter into the character's arc.

I'm fine with that. Maybe I'm wrong, and if so then someone should tell me. But I think it's great when there are PoC whose race doesn't matter. The book "The True Meaning of Smekday" is a great example of this. It's sci-fi, and the heroine is a dark-skinned biracial girl. This fact pretty much only enters the story when one of her friends is surprised to learn that her mother is white. That's it. Throughout the rest of the book, she's described as looking black, but she goes along living her (awesome) story. She could "just as easily" be white.

You seem to be quite worried about cultural differences. Sure, they're important. And sure, you should be conscious of them. So if you're writing a character of color, don't try to explore their cultural idiosyncrasies. Leave that to authors who know that better. Just write the character as if s/he shared your own culture. What you essentially will be doing is thinking of people of color as just people, and I doubt that'll offend anyone.
Jun. 19th, 2010 05:42 am (UTC)
I see your point, but I'm not sure it jives with your comments above.

For example, I felt like Rue could "just as easily" have been white, given her characterization -- i.e., a sweet, smart, likable young girl who liked to sing. She would have been just as disposable (everyone in the book who is not Katniss is disposable) if she'd been white, and it still would have been sad, but I think it wouldn't have been as offensive. Possibly because we have Katniss, who is female and kickass and survives. But because Rue was black, her disposable-ness is offensive. It sucks that Collins didn't think of that when she made the choice, and sucks even more if she did and made the choice purposely, but that's exactly the kind of racial awareness I'm talking about.

Chaff was just generally offensive, white or black. And because my personal experiences with skeevy old men are with white variety, my head blocked the fact that he was described as black. Again, the fact that he was black made his characterization offensive on a completely different level than it would have been if he'd actually been written as white.

I guess my point is that because of our history here in the U.S., there are certain characterizations that we have to be aware of and sensitive to when we're writing people of color that we don't have to be a careful about when we're writing white people. Because we don't think of them as "just people" when we're reading them.

Or maybe the problem is less with the way particular characters are/were written and more with the fact that, in THG and as an example, Finnick who survives and ends up being decent wasn't a person of color, to at least give some strong, hopeful and positive representation of people of color? But this is still part of that larger discussion that I feel needs to happen. How do white authors write people of color, even as "just people", without offending?

I'm not sure that makes any sense at all.

Regardless, I appreciate the book recommendation, and will definitely check it out. I realize I was speaking in broad generalities in my first comment, and there are exceptions. I just haven't come across many.

Edited at 2010-06-19 05:45 am (UTC)
Jun. 19th, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
I guess my point is that because of our history here in the U.S., there are certain characterizations that we have to be aware of and sensitive to when we're writing people of color that we don't have to be a careful about when we're writing white people.

Yes, this is an excellent point. All of your points were excellent. The way I see it, white writers should write characters of color as if their race doesn't matter. And then go back and make sure that they haven't created exactly the type of bad situation you describe-- ie, writing a character, like Chaff, who could have been white but as a black man falls into the stereotype of sexual aggressor. (It was clearly much easier for Collins to write him as a sexual aggressor *because* he was black, but whatever, let's forget about that for now)

Will they run into problems? Yes. Will they make mistakes? Yes. We all do. But if a white author regularly includes people of color in their stories, in a generally positive way--as positive as their white characters--then most people will give them the benefit of the doubt. The problem with Collins is that the FEW times she writes PoC, they are offensive. She is not able to see beyond their color, to see PoC outside of the proscribed roles that American society has taught her to keep them in.

So that's why I, personally, think white authors should write PoC. The more they do it, the better they'll get at it. And yes, it'll take some extra work; it takes a little more effort than writing about white characters. But it's worth it, because then their books can connect even better with more readers, and because they're helping to increase diversity in American literature.

Justine Larbalestier is of course the best example. She makes a concerted effort to write characters of color. Are there some problematic aspects in her characterizations? Sometimes. But no one really cares, because it's clear that she's interested in black people as people; because it's clear that they are as real to her as white people.

This comment is way too long but I want to say one more thing. I'm biracial, and I was raced largely in white culture. So when I write, I struggle to include minorities, and I get a little nervous about makign sure I'm getting it write. For instance, I am writing an X-Men fic, and I realized that none of my characters were PoC besides Storm. Obviously, canon limits me in this sense. But I had 1 non-canon character, and I changed her race to black. However, she happened to be the character who gets fridged, and also the only lesbian. So now I'm in a position where I have to debate whether it's worse to keep her as black and to plug her into those stereotypes, or to not have any black characters at all.

It's a delicate question that's required a lot of thought. Ultimately, I'm leaning towards leaving her as black. Because I believe I've developed her character enough, and I believe she serves enough of an important role, that it would be great to have a black character be so prominent. Similarly, if Rue had been the ONLY marginally-stereotypical PoC in THG, and we had someone like Chaff, say, who had played a role more like Johanna's, then I would have accepted it. Again, it's when an author shows a pattern of racist characterizations that we run into trouble.

Jun. 19th, 2010 02:09 pm (UTC)
Wow, that was a lot of typos, lol. Sorry!
Jun. 19th, 2010 04:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you, thank you for having this conversation with me here, even if the comments are getting too long. And thank you, again, for the author recommendation. **makes more to-read notes**

I, personally, think white authors should write PoC. The more they do it, the better they'll get at it. And yes, it'll take some extra work; it takes a little more effort than writing about white characters. But it's worth it, because then their books can connect even better with more readers, and because they're helping to increase diversity in American literature.

That's really the crux of it, isn't it? Don't be afraid of what you don't know.

Yeah. Thank you.
Jun. 19th, 2010 08:09 am (UTC)
Careful imelda, your last sentence sounds like me!
I'm not the only one to gloss over physical descriptions, obviously. But there was nothing there that, to me , a white person, spoke of 'culturely' PoC or mediterranean or asian or anything. A culture of killing and waiting to die is anathema to me. Isn't it stereotypical to regard people as 'white'. I don't believe that all whites in the States are the same. What cultural attributes does a PoC have? I don't know, not living in the States, maybe. Does a Kenyan, or a Somali or a Pakistani have POC attributes? Culturally they are very different, and different from a Mexican or an American broadly & stereotypically speaking.
If the story was about all whites, you wouldn't have been happy - no diversity.
If it had been all about blacks, you wouldn't have been happy - white author can't therefore mustn't write about non-whites
It's sort of mixed, but you're not happy - it's too stereotypical - you could make a better mix?
We all read books differently. We all hear/see the News on tv differently - depending on who chooses what they want us to see. Sometimes we see what we want to. I've told you I would re-read the book from a race point of view - I'll also do it from a cultural viewpoint at the same time - the two are different, are they not?
And yes, I think you were rude to call my comments nonsense. Where's the discussion about my 'nonsense'? Don't pontificate on the internet if you're not prepared to hear an opposing viewpoint. Your reading of the book isn't 'correct' just because it's you. Janet
Jun. 19th, 2010 02:08 pm (UTC)
Sigh. OK, Janet. I'll go back and respond to your initial comment more completely. But understand this: racism is not a point of view. It's not a matter of opinion. If you're reading a book without thinking about whether it's racist or not, then you're doing it wrong.
Jun. 25th, 2010 01:51 pm (UTC)
Sigh, back at you!
wisteria says she can enjoy less information on the character's appearance (sorry - paraphrasing here) "because it leaves the readers to create them in our heads". That's correct. But some writers go to explicit detail about appearances. Why? - I don't know, ask them - they could be precise people; or they may want you to know the image they have in their head; or they may want you you to pick up details for later in the story - who knows? Unless every story comes with a deconstruction by the author we can only read it from our point of view. There's no wrong or right way to read a book. There is a personal way to read a story, and that is to experience it with all the experiences, prejudices etc we each have. I don't believe we can't learn from listening to others tho, don't get me wrong. To me, Collins doesn't need to put much description into the characters' appearance because it is the fast paced story that is the main attraction. There seems to be a twist each time you presume to know what happens next. Great stuff.
As I obviously wasn't the only one in the world to not let race determine my reading of the story, I don't think the collective 'we' should be ashamed of doing so. It's one way of reading it, not the only 'right' way.
I am surprised by your thoughts on authors being all the same - unless you were kidding. I think you misinterpreted some of my more sarcastic comments too, so, there you go - the wonders of the written word! (Now that is meant to be ironic.)
Anyway, we'll see if the movie's any good - it'll be subjective, eh. Usually the book is better, because someone else's interpretation, Hollywood or otherwise, isn't quite our own. Sad to say, it's power & money that make more decisions for us in any life, poc, white or whatever.
Jun. 25th, 2010 03:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Sigh, back at you!
wisteria says she can enjoy less information on the character's appearance (sorry - paraphrasing here) "because it leaves the readers to create them in our heads".

The default in American culture is to read all characters as white unless described otherwise. That’s the way everyone reads. Black readers reading THG don’t picture everyone as black. Indians don’t picture everyone as brown. They picture them as white. They can't just *choose* to read it differently; we have all been taught to expect white as the default. Therefore all other races are excluded in literature unless they are explicitly stated to be something other than white. Much has been said about this on the internet already. See: google.

There's no wrong or right way to read a book.

Yes there is. Did you miss the whole LJ-explosion about the Supernatural big bang fic? There’s a link in this post. If a story is racist, you have to acknowledge it; you can’t just expect that people who are offended by the racism will ignore it.

unless you were kidding

Yes, I was being facetious. I went on to say “most” writers are the same, and that’s what I actually meant.
Jun. 19th, 2010 04:56 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I'm a PoC myself (Native American) and I totally missed the fact that there were any PoC in the books. I just assumed that everyone in Panem was white for some reason, but maybe that is because the physical descriptions of the characters are so brief and not repeated anywhere.

Thanks for posting this on good_hunting_hq . Please come back and post more about any THG series topics anytime :)
Nov. 17th, 2011 01:37 am (UTC)
Linked you!
Great post!! I just linked it on my blog :)

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