Today, through a series of meta links (thinky posts on a variety of topics but in this instance race in literature) ended up in a post critiquing Twilight and the rest of the series from the viewpoint of whether Jacob Black was portrayed well as an American Native.
In all honesty, the post in question (and I’ll have to hunt around to see if I can find it again to post it here) did make me sit up and think possibly for the first time about Stephenie Meyer’s use of an American Native tribe from a racial standpoint. In fact it made me think – which is a good thing because I think that’s actually the intention of the post (to make people think), and because up until that point I hadn’t really thought about it at all beyond idly musing the first time I read Twilight that American Native=werewolf is a trope that has been done before.
I actually do think Meyer is a good storyteller – her books wouldn’t be so popular if they weren’t. Is she Literature with a capital L? Well, no but I’ve never had any book snobbery which tinges some remarks I’ve read about the books. I’ll happily read anything from a classic Austen to Mills and Boon, Asimov to Asprin. I have my own issues with the portrayal of Bella from a female stand-point but I’d never considered it from a racial standpoint. Possibly because I love the character of Jacob and contrarily get completely irritated with Bella.
Then I realised that I usually don’t stand back and consider much literature or television or movies for that matter from a racially critical perspective. And I guess the post today made me question why that is.
I’m mixed race. I’ve been subjected to racial taunts. I remember a brick being thrown through our living room window when I was a child because of racial hatred. I’ve been one of only four people of colour at one school. I always identify myself as mixed on Equality forms. So it’s not as though I don’t identify myself as being a person of colour.
Yet I never critique what I read and watch racially. Possibly because I am mixed race, my exact racial heritage is unlikely to appear in literature, TV and film, and so while I may absently note the lack of racial variety or the overabundance of racial stereotypes in TV shows (or sometimes the quite evident pains that have been taken to include racial variety/exclude racial stereotypes), and tsk unhappily at times, I never really do more than that idle musing.
Is that a bad thing? Shouldn’t I be looking at things with a much more critical eye? And when I write, shouldn’t I be thinking of these things in a proactive way?
Weirdly, I do sometimes view things critically from a female standpoint (usually when something has annoyed me), so I will objectively stand back and say Star Trek 2009 disappointed me in its use of women or that Bella irritated me because in the end she wants to change who she is for a man or that Stargate Universe was very slow at establishing its female characters. Perhaps I identify more as a woman than as a person of colour. Or maybe subconsciously I’m just prioritising my battles, and hitching my wagon to an equal playing field on the basis of gender as something more achievable…
On the other hand, I admit, normally, my standard for a book/TV show/movie is: did I enjoy it? Two of my favourite films are Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, and A Few Good Men. Yet in both films the use of women and people of colour is possibly on very shaky ground. But, they are entertaining movies which have good triumphing over evil – and importantly I can switch my brain off when I watch them. Maybe the truth is that sometimes I don’t want to think critically about what I’m reading and watching; I really do just want to enjoy it. Isn’t this a bad thing? To just blindly accept images of women and race in art without question or challenge?
Perhaps the best path lies somewhere in the middle: maybe it isn’t a bad thing to switch my brain off sometimes and simply enjoy it, so long as I remember to switch it back on sometimes and really challenge what I’m reading/watching – and more importantly in some respects; what I write.