Storify: Redeemed Racist Protagonists

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.

[Content Note: Racism, Rape]

Redeemed Racist Protagonists:
Tweet thread on The Black Witch, on American Heart, and on similar books.

@jules_chronicle: Can we all agree that if your MC's big character arc is deciding that marginalised people are people, that your story needs to go in the [trash emoji]? I am so so appalled by this American Heart announcement. I can't believe anyone, anywhere, thought this was an acceptable book.

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.

@wiseoldchild: What if arc's purpose is to reach 'difficult' audiences and hold their hand whilst educating? Worth it?

If such a book could be done, I don't trust a white writer to reach a white audience with it. Because a book like that would need to be a mirror for the reader. Condemnation, not forgiveness. NEVER forgiveness. Because 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 with regards to 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.

@GodOfTheGallows: That tells non white kids that literal monsters are more worthy of acceptance than them

In closing: Huckleberry Finn is a hugely problematic book and white liberals need to stop worshipping it. I like the "I'll go to hell" line, too. Twain had talent. But his characterization of Jim throughout the book is deeply racist. So if you're comparing your new YA book to Huck Finn, you're already red flagging that you're prolly not competent to write about racism.

And I just. Not to beat a soapbox into the ground, but this whole "how else will we reach racist kids??" is the wrong question. When you prioritize white racists--whether it's white readers or white voters--over people of color, you're taking POC for granted.

You're assuming that people of color will vote, read, buy, whatever scraps you throw out. That they don't need attracting or energizing. You're assuming there's no lost cost of people of color dropping out of your voting, reading, buying groups from neglect and starvation. You want to lose 100 people of color for those 1 or 2 white racists you can reach with your gentle "ur not REALLY racist" message. You want more buyers, voters, readers? Energize people of color! Leave behind the white racists. THEY CAN DECIDE TO CATCH UP ON THEIR OWN.

And here's the thing, white women: You understand this concept when the topic is "White Women In Star Wars". You're a-okay with energizing a new ladybase of fans even if it alienates a handful of MRA assholes. Of course you are! It makes sense! We recognize the incredible business sense shown in ignoring MRA boycotters and letting them miss out on Star Wars to spite their ownselves.

But let one person say "okay let's similarly not cater to white racists and focus on a fanbase of color" and it's like WHOA NOT SO FAST. "How will we reach those racist white people?" Maybe we don't! Maybe they decide to fix themselves so's they don't miss out on Star Wars! Maybe we send a message that racism is SO UNACCEPTABLE that fiction suggesting otherwise is laughably bad and incredibly offensive.

Maybe we energize a fanbase of decent people who deserve real representation, rather than scrape that barrel bottom for the last racist. Maybe we recognize that one white person isn't inherently more important to us than hundreds and thousands of non-white people. Maybe we stop taking those non-white people for granted because what else are they gonna read/vote/buy, eh?

But all that is gonna mean (a) boosting creators of color into places where they're allowed to create and (b) being willing to see our white selves less represented in media. Which will sting for some white people. When you're used to the privileges of an unequal system, any attempt to balance the system FEELS like oppression to the privileged.

How about we white people roll up our sleeves and accept that? Because it's the right damn thing to do. And, I don't know, if you REALLY need to write a Redeemed Racist narrative and you think YOU can do it, maybe pub it independently? I'm an indie author. We have infinite space to spread out and we're not taking finite trad pub slots from authors of color who deserve rep.

This is my same advice for people who want to sensitively explore Redeemed Rapist stories: I don't think it's suited as a trad market story. Anyway, something to think about when we talk about how we take up space as privileged people. ALL VIEWS MY OWN.

@LTFiction: Double standard: white people aren't REALLY racist, POC take it too personally; any criticism of white ANYTHING is taken totally personally.

This is a good point, too; recognize 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.

@the_author_: There are huge consumer bases who are underrepresented; catering to racists is a poor choice morally, creatively, and financially

Once again, Bailey says in 1 tweet what took me 50.


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