Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being an Andrews Character

I'm not really expecting a lot of diversity from my V.C. Andrews.  She was a lily-white lady writing pretty, sexy novels to appeal to other lily-white ladies at a time, albeit a relatively recent time (within the past thirty years), when the very idea of racial diversity in media was a concept tossed about by high-minded academics in the company of other high-minded academics, most of them white and all of them very probably drunk.  Moreover, the very book that made V.C. Andrews famous took place in a locked room and featured a grand total of six major characters.  There's not a lot of wiggle-room for representation within those perimeters.

But she tried, God love her, she tried.  The very few people of color in Andrewsland are by and large kind, cheerful, generous people who do their best to ease the lives of the (invariably young, white, and clueless) heroines.  When both Heaven and her mother feel out of place in the rambling halls of Farthinggate, they are welcomed into the kitchen by the jovial Rye Whiskey, who dispenses home-cooking and advice.  The Dollangangers are led to safety by the mute housekeeper, Henny Beech. 

Taken all together, it points to a kind of genteel racism, the logic of which goes something like this: I am a white writer, and as such have no experience with persons of color as individuals.  It's not that I don't like them--heavens no!  It is just that I fear that I, ensconced in my whiteness, can never do justice to their inner nobility, and also because I am secretly terrified of being called a racist.  Therefore I will go out of my way to include them in my work, and furthermore, I will make them dear and kind and decent and well-nigh saintly, prescribing to no negative stereotypes.  How can that possibly be racist?  It's a Scarlett O'Hara attitude, pointing out that the slaves at Tara get a ham every Christmas while never addressing the moral question that there are slaves at Tara.  The trouble with genteel racism is that in the end, it feels as if the author expects a pat on the head for acknowledging the very existence of anyone who isn't white.