Storify: The Black Witch

Storify is shutting down in May and has informed users that we have to migrate our content elsewhere if we wish to save it. This is one of my old threads.

Thread 1: The Review

Y'all. THE BLACK WITCH is BAD. This is important reading. Review: The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

You want some extra nitpicks? Because the GIANT TRASH HEAP wasn't trash heapy enough? I got them.

"Gardnerian", as in the white-coded mages descended from "Kelts" and fae in this book? Gardnerian Wicca is a real religion.

"Wandfasting", as in the magical mage marriage in this book? Handfasting is a religious wiccan ceremony very much like marriage.

The Tragically Chaste Gay Guy in this book is named Trystan, which of course sent me thinking about Tristan and Isolde. Bodes well for him!

There's an Athenaeum without Athens, an Amazon race (Amaz) without Greece, and the warrior woman is named Diana.

These are TINY nits of appropriation, religious insensitivity, and gay-bashing on top of the GIANT RACISM FIRE but how in the HELL. How did ANY of this get published????????????????????

I tripped hardest over the Athenaeum, how the fuck do you think that's just a generic word for "library" and not think of Athens? WHO EDITED THIS BOOK. YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED.

Oh! And the Fire Fae guy is named Yvan, which sounds Russian coded to me, but who goddamn knows anymore I guess.

To be clear, the book is WAY more hugely problematic than these nits; I'm ADDING these to the pile. The pile is BAD, y'all. If you can read the review linked above (it's trigger warned throughout), PLEASE DO.

Marriage is apparently compulsory which is bad for Gay Men and Free-Spirited Women; bets on whether we'll see impact on other queers? The heroine is so het, that gayness is "explained" to her in a way that depends on her total revulsion to the idea of loving a woman.

You should write a book: how to offend EVERYONE in five syllables or less!

God, I'm STILL thinking up new problems with this book. Want another one? Here. The Tragically Gay Guy is lusting after his roommate, who (once realizing this) takes care not to undress around him. This is SUCH a harmful trope about queer people, that we're sexual predators secretly spying on our roommates, in bathrooms, etc.

Also, my friend Thomas pointed out that the winged "Icarals" are clearly named for the Greek myth of Icarus. There is so much GOOD world-building in YA out there, that I can't understand who greenlit this MESS of a hashjob. Like, everything is very slightly reskinned from English (Celts are Kelts) and Greek (Amaz[ons] and Icarals) like that's clever??????

The racism and ableism and self-harm and rape and slavery and Nazism and queer-bashing is bad but this book is also HELLA LAZY. wtf????????? I mean, whatever else happens, the people defending it CAN'T argue that it's "well-written" because it's clearly NOT.

And. Like. Look. I speak Clueless White People. I was one once. I got (some) better. I'm sure I still fuck up, but. BUT.

This whole "let's have a protagonist who is a Clueless White Person but Gets Better" thing is HARMFUL. Lemme talk about that. The protagonist of this book is basically Hitler's granddaughter. She wears Nazi propaganda at school. Special White Nationalism armbands.

You don't get to pull the "clueless" card for White Nationalists. Y'all, white nationalists are not Good People Making Mistakes. NOPE. We keep fucking sanitizing white nationalists and genocide. Ender. That agent querying for an Ender reboot. This Black Witch mess.

These white authors confront white privilege and want to defensively write an Innocent White Nationalist Who Gets Better and NOPE. You don't "innocently" advance white nationalism. You MAY do so -THOUGHTLESSLY- or -CARELESSLY- but you are complicit, not innocent.

Making the protagonist a White Girl With White Tears or an Adorable Little Smart Boy doesn't make white nationalism more innocent. NOPE. Stop sanitizing white nationalism as this "oops" thing that white people need to get better from.

That isn't a "thoughtful representation of navigating white privilege" or wev, it's fucking sympathizing with Nazis. STOP. Nazis and white nationalists do not get a benefit of the doubt that they might somehow be pure inside, divorced from their actions.

The protagonist of TBW benefits from, and engages directly in, the harm of oppressed people. She isn't innocent. She deserves no sympathy. The book doesn't acknowledge or confront her crimes, which means--again--it's a sanitized apologia for white nationalism.

In conclusion: Fuck that. Fuck all of that.

Thread 2: The Homophobia

Thread necromancy to talk about this.

THE BLACK WITCH is not some harmless "privileged person learns about oppression" romp. I've read the excerpts and reviews. When an author "explains" gayness in a way that REQUIRES the heroine to be REVOLTED by the idea of being gay, that is harm.

The protagonist tells her gay brother that he MUST marry a woman and just hide being gay for the rest of his life. He asks her if SHE could marry a woman. As a parallel and learning moment. And her reaction is a visceral disgusted shocked denial that she could do anything so HORRIBLE. That's harmful to queer readers!!

I wouldn't be handing out cookies for a "nice" scene of "marriage to a woman? I couldn't do that, I'd be so unfulfill-- ohhh." BUT. At least we wouldn't have a "queer learning moment" which FUNDAMENTALLY DEPENDS on the protagonist being DISGUSTED by f/f pairings. Young queer girls are going to read this and realize the protagonist they've been with for 600 pages HATES them.

Oh, and the protagonist doesn't even get better in this book; we're just sort of assuming that happens in a sequel. Like.... presumably she'll stop being a hateful bigot towards queer issues? In the second or third book? Buy them all to find out! (Oh, and Kat Whatsherface [Rosenfield] who I unfollowed all mutuals of accusing me of ulterior motives is GRAND when I'm queer and this is RELEVANT TO ME.)

If a Black author wrote a Black protagonist who said all white people are evil and should die, white authors would burn down Twitter. There wouldn't be any "well, let's wait until the 3-part series is finished and also the movie deals are over before we pass any judgment."

Thread 3: Kat Whatsherface

People pointing out racism, homophobia, cultural appropriation, ableism, and a terrible treatment of self-harm != "groupthink". Wow. [This is in response to a now-deleted tweet by Kat Rosenfield.]

I think it's pretty clear that you're minimizing real harm by misusing a term from clinical psychology. @katrosenfield

Please don't call people of color and queer people speaking up about our harm a "mob" next time. Thank you. @katrosenfield

Every time I see authors pulling this stuff, I have a zillion followers (mostly white) in common and nobody saying 'nuthin. If you're silent when your friends are racist, what value does your voice have? What good are you doing out here? Honest question. Maybe you weren't here for it. Maybe you didn't see. But you're seeing now. Are you going to stay silent?

I can't list in one tweet the number of intersectional fails in this book. Racism, homophobia, ableism (esp. self-harm and mental illness). If you'll come out on Twitter to gripe about love triangles or instalove or shitty covers but you're silent about this? Welp.

You don't have to engage every asshole on Twitter, but you also don't have to follow people who are PUNCHING DOWN ON PEOPLE OF COLOR. Wow. Following racists is not a morally neutral act. Following racists is not a morally neutral act. Following racists is not morally neutral. Every aspiring author of color, every own voice, every little indie out here sees who you follow and what you don't respond to.

I am not interested in how a Nice Author Lady "accidentally" compared POC and queer people to a "mob". I am not interested in how a Nice Author Lady "accidentally" used a term from psychology to suggest malice or mental illness on our part. And I'm not interested in following people who watch this go down and stay silent.

Maybe it's not fair, but I'm angry with a lot of people over this book and how this has gone down. Even if every single reviewer posting reviews (and PICTURES!!) is wrong, they don't deserve to be punched like this. Mob. Violent. WTF.

I see people who follow these folks and never say a peep and maybe you have them muted or something and don't see it but... wtf? How can our community do any good for anyone when we're okay with harassing reviewers and readers? What good are we doing as authors when we believe the harm we cause to marginalized readers isn't our problem.

"Oh, my description of self-harm was gratuitous and triggering and hurt someone? Well, let them read cake." REALLY? You guys, that's not the kind of author I want to be. That isn't the kind of author ANY of us should want to be. The fact that people are coming out to call POC and queer folk "groupthink mobs" is a CHOICE. Not an accident.

Kat deleted her tweet that I was responding to above, but Justina has the screenshots.

Kat also directed this at me, which I assume will be gone soon.

I want to say that I am a queer person deeply troubled by excerpts of The Black Witch, so this whole "garbage fire in my mentions" thing? I quoted ONE tweet of hers, in which she implied people expressing harm over the book--like myself!--are violent and mentally ill. Layers of harm done to queer people like me, to POC, to disabled people.... but I'm the victimizer. I am so tired of this cycle.

Anyway, I thank @justinaireland for saving those screenshots. I should've snapped them myself, but didn't realize Kat would delete them.

Thread 4: Tamora Pierce

@sapphixy: #TheBlackWitch #blurbs

@thebookphile: She responded guys, but to all comment she not just in general

oh my god, Tamora Pierce, put down the SHOVEL. "I read it months ago, blurbed the cover, and waded in to bash reviewers expressing concerns in no-star reviews but MAH MEMORY."

Someone as famous in this industry shouldn't be bashing reviewers on GoodReads ANYWAY, I'm sorry but that's my opinion. But for the love of BABY JESUS, woman, keep track of what you cover-blurb and stay AWAY from those in particular. I know it's hard, I know the cover-blurbing system is messed up all to hell and back, but you end up looking like a petty bullying baby.

"WAHHHHH PEOPLE DIDN'T LIKE THE BOOK I LIKED" is not softened by "oh shit, I'M the cover blurb? I'm old, teehee!" Also, "I'm old, teehee, and have COMPLETELY forgotten I've read this book" is not a good look FOR THE BOOK ITSELF. When the cover-blurbist cannot even REMEMBER she read the book, then fairly or not, that LOOKS like it's forgettable tripe. When was the last time you looked at the cover of your MOST FAVORITE BOOK EVER and couldn't remember if you read it or not?

@thebookphile: And again

First rule of shovels.

The book is 600 pages of a protagonist being racist. People are defending it because they THINK later books will teach her not to be racist. To repeat: This isn't a book about a protagonist renouncing racism. It's the first book in a series, and the protag MIGHT stop being racist.

The book is also INCREDIBLY bad about self-harm, rape, queer people, disabilities, and also it's just REALLY BADLY WRITTEN. Tamora Pierce going in after reviewers for WARNING YA READERS about racism and homophobia that would hurt them == terrible cruelty.

Understand that the heroine (who DOESN'T RENOUNCE HOMOPHOBIA IN BOOK ONE) is revolted by queerness. The sheer white privilege here--"read a harmful book because Book 2 will contain an apology"--is gross and disturbing. Again: This isn't EVEN a book about a protagonist learning *isms are wrong and doing better. We're just expecting that will come. Later.

@b00kstorebabe: Another nitpick to add to your pile is how she fetishizes Yvan, the Kelt. Even once she's "better" she still talks about dating him as something that could NEVER happen bc she couldn't ever date outside her race, but it's so thrilling & daring & scandalous to think abt


Thread 5: Redeemed Racist Narratives [Repost which bears repeating.]

A Redeemed Racist protagonist is as harmful and valueless as a Redeemed Rapist protagonist, in my opinion. We are repeatedly asked to identify with oppressors as misunderstood woobies, while very much ignoring their victims.

Any redemption arc for them is going to necessarily run up against either forgiveness and acceptance from their victims (gross), or writing victims who DON'T forgive the protagonist, earning the wrath of many readers whether the author intends that or not (even grosser).

Additionally, the process of making the protagonist "sympathetic" will normalize the harm they cause. They're just ~thoughtlessly and accidentally~ willing to accept atrocities like concentration camps and xenocide. But uncritical acceptance of atrocities your privilege protects you from IS complicity. Thoughtlessness isn't virtue.

A white author CAN'T forgive their white audience for their complicity in white supremacy. Forgiveness isn't ours to offer ourselves. "Difficult" audiences struggle to accept their complicity not because they don't know about it but because they don't WANT to accept it.

Soft-coating the racism in a fantasy package with a racist protagonist makes them LESS likely to accept complicity. Why should they? If you build an Innocent Racist for them to project onto, of course they will. Then they'll use her to point out why THEY are innocent too.

What is absolutely infuriating to me is the number of white women who get this about Rapist Protagonists but not wrt Racist Protagonists. Because of course they find rapists abhorrent but ehh, aren't we all racists???? Bring on the white saviour narratives!!!

And that's another problem with these Racist Protagonists: they're PROTAGONISTS. They're gonna Save The Oppressed Races in their YA quest. A book that confronted racism would need to have the racist realize she needs to step aside and support the WOC she's been silencing.

And white audiences (and most white authors) aren't going to accept that. Why CAN'T the racist be the hero once she Gets Better? She can't be the hero because she's been HURTING PEOPLE all her life. The last twenty minutes of white tears over that doesn't erase it. She's not a hero. She CAN'T be a hero BECAUSE racists aren't heroes. Same with rapists. Same with Nazis. (Stop romanticizing Nazis!!)

Then you add Traditional Publishing into this mix and the scarcity model of contracts per year, and we're entitled to Ask Questions. Like "why are you giving a contract slot to a Redeemed Racist protagonist when you have ONE debut Muslim YA author this year?" Again: If we were churning out Redeemed Rapist protagonists en masse while only trad pubbing one woman a year, we'd see more objections.

And let's talk about Default Whiteness and Opportunity Cost.

Folks see a Redeemed Racist and think "ah, yes, outreach for the children" because they subconsciously think all children are white. Let's reframe! Redeemed Racist Protagonist book? Shit, more chances for non-white kids to hear how hard they are to sympathize with. They're gonna hear they're SO HARD to sympathize with, it takes a protagonist 1800 pages and a 3 book deal to learn they're PEOPLE.

Meanwhile, opportunity cost: they AREN'T getting books about themselves being awesome because that contract went to a racist protag. Stop reacting to racist protagonists as a chance for white kids to learn and see the chance for non-white kids to be hurt and dehumanized. Literally dehumanized, since "person of color" in these YA books is often "mythical creature". So that's also a shitty thing.

Recognize that a POC protagonist who hates all white people would NOT be received the same. Like, keep in mind that THE BLACK WITCH ends after 600 pages with the heroine still not sure if her racism is Bad. But 600 pages of unresolved hatred towards white people from people of color in power would be met with howls of outrage.


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