Imagine a world without white privilege. The system that deems Caucasian features and white skin as a status symbol has lead to some of the greatest atrocities in human history: genocide, slavery, imperialism, and the mass incarceration and systematic murder of people of color all over the world. Anti-racist activists have long held that white privilege and white supremacy must be dismantled in order for society to ever become truly post-racial. A world without white privilege would be a world in which people of color would finally feel safe to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.
But according to Victoria Foyt and her new novel Save the Pearls, a world without white supremacy is pretty terrifying, at least for white women.
To put it lightly, this book is problematic, but to put it more accurately, this book is catastrophically misguided. It doesn’t take much effort to unpack the racial implications of this one. You don’t need to look any further than Foyt’s own summary of the novel. The protagonist, Eden Newman (the name Eden here obviously is meant to signify purity), lives in a world where dark-skinned people are the dominate members of society. They’re known as Coals. I can’t imagine why the ruling class of the world would choose to name themselves after something so dirty. Oh wait. It’s probably because Victoria Foyt is a racist.
Eden Newman has the unfortunate luck to have been born blonde-haired and blue-eyed. These people are known as Pearls. Again, the ruling class of society inexplicably gives a better name to the supposed underclass. Wow, it’s almost as if white people are still the dominate class, even in a fantasy novel based on the premise that they’re oppressed. In this post-apocalyptic world, those with darker-skin are more valued because they’re better equipped to handle the intense heat of the planet. Therefore, Pearls are considered weak, ugly, and have the lowest chance to find a good mate. However, choosing to defy the logic of her own novel, Foyt writes that mixed-race children, even though they can survive the heat better, are still ridiculed in a similar fashion to the Pearls. Why? Who the fuck knows?
My favorite part is how the Uni-Gov, the Big Black Brother of Foyt’s novel, has a law that says the Pearls are only allowed to go outside at night, and only if they’re wearing heavy layers of makeup to darken their skin. That’s right: black face features prominently in this totally not racist novel. Foyt writes that even if Pearls follow all the oppressive rules created for them, they’re still considered lucky to survive to their 40’s. You know, kind of like black men such as Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin.
I’m finding it hard to believe that Foyt doesn’t realize the wealth of bullshit that she’s created with this novel. She’s crafted a truly terrifying world for her white readers: a world where they’re treated like men and women of color are treated today. Beauty standards are notoriously Euro-centric, with emphasis being placed on blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin, and small noses. Even the standards of beauty that women of color can attain are often only appreciated when placed on a white body. That’s why Katy Perry gets praised for her rear end while black women can’t twerk in a youtube video without white folks clamoring to talk about how they’re disrespecting themselves. I could accept Foyt’s world if it critically examined itself and prompted some important questions about white privilege, but it appears that it’s just another YA Fantasy novel on a bookshelf of increasingly white-centric stories.
Victoria Foyt is failing readers of color. What is in this novel for black and brown children other than self hate? We’re talking about a society where images of beautiful women of color are rarely shown in mass media. Hell, there are barely any women of color in mass media to begin with. The novel rings forth as not only harmful, but intentionally spiteful. Either Victoria Foyt is the most naive, backward thinking author since Joseph Conrad, or she’s a thoroughgoing racist. I can’t find an in between here.
What’s worse is Foyt’s own delusions about what she’s created. In an article for the Huffington Post, Foyt says that she’s surprised that there hasn’t been any protest to the novel’s content, not because of the stark, cutting racism, but because of the interracial couple. Yes, Foyt actually believes her novel is a positive step towards racial unity or something. She also offers up this gem:
Conceivably, if the book had not reached the African-American community of readers, if such a category still exists, perhaps there might be some backlash. The first young African American reader who responded to me loved the book. But then, she’s the kind of free spirit who would eschew limiting herself to a single category.
Did Foyt just say that “free spirited” black children will love the book more than others? This is college-level racial coding. She’s setting up a dichotomy of blacks which is further evidence of her racism. Black and brown readers should not have to abandon their racial identity in order to be taken seriously. I don’t know who this free spirited black reader is, but the fact that Foyt seems impressed that the reader isn’t like those other black people shows clear signs that she has a very warped, very racially tinted view of those she should be serving.
Eden Newman should not be the hero of this novel. The Pearls should not be the poor victims we’re supposed to sympathize with. The Coals should not be the ones we hate. Foyt is putting something out into the world that is not only an element of white privilege, but an active agent in the strengthening a violent, dehumanizing system of oppression. A world without white privilege is not a world we should fear. It’s a world we should strive for.