So, I've been reading about the racist Hunger Games viewers who are shocked - SHOCKED - to find the character Rue is black, and are broadcasting their ignorance to all of Twitter by saying Rue's skin color "ruined" the movie for them, not to mention dropping the N-bomb.
I grew up in a small town in the North Carolina, where race was very much still an issue, even in the '90s. The color of your skin decided what church you went to, who you sat with at the lunch table in school, and even what neighborhood you lived in. Kids at school who tried to hang out with people who weren't the same race ended up mocked and ridiculed, and I even knew one kid in my social studies class who proudly claimed his father was a member of the KKK. Thankfully, my parents thought all of this was bullshit, and taught me to regard it the same way.
For those of us who grew up in environments like this - especially those of us who escaped environments like this - racism is the ultimate taboo. When we see it happening, we take it personally, because we've seen how it affects people's lives. It's the thing that separated us from our neighbors - that prevents us from living and working together. It's the thing that made our friendships awkward - or prevented them from happening altogether. It's the thing that drove poverty and isolation. It infuses everyone's lives with fear.
I imagine if I had been born black or Latino, I would be a seething kettle of rage by now. But I'm white, and so the main emotion I feel when this kind of thing comes up is shame. It's people who look like me saying these hateful things. Given where my family comes from, it was probably my predecessors who were responsible for Jim Crow laws, segregation, and the Civil War, too. So every time some racist dipshit pipes up on Twitter, I can't help but feel some reflected guilt. Great, now the guy in line in front of me at the grocery store is going to assume I think the same way these people do. Which means more fear and hate, all snowballing until we reach the point where some trigger-happy community watch captain is so scared of black people he shoots an unarmed teenager just for walking down the street.
But the other thing I learned from growing up where I did is that you can't always shout racism down. Sometimes the most powerful way to combat it is simply to show the alternative - people living together, working together, striking up friendships, marrying and having children. To hold up a multicultural society as an ideal to strive for. To convince people their neighbors aren't so different after all. To make us all want to live without fear.
One of the most powerful ways people have found to do this is through the media - TV, movies, books, music, art. Say, for example, including a character like Rue in a novel. So instead of following my first impulse and plumbing the depths of my vocabulary for curses that would put a sailor to shame, I'll say this to the Rue-haters,
I feel sorry for you.
And for everyone else, here are some more great books that feature young black women characters.
This book hits all my literary sweet spots. It's a blend of science fiction and fantasy, set in a near future where advanced technology hasn't produced a gleaming world of pristine spaceships and plenty. Awesome world-building and a wilderness adventure to boot! I'll never turn down a good wilderness adventure.
I love unreliable narrators. They're such an interesting challenge to read when they're done well. Micah, Liar's protagonist, layers so many lies and half-truths together, you can read this book over and over, and never truly know how much to believe. A lot of people want to categorize this book as a supernatural murder mystery, but Micah is such a good liar, I don't even know if I can get behind that description completely. To say more would be to give away too much.
Do you want to learn the very definition of a bittersweet ending? Do you want to cry - I mean bawl your eyes out, snot running down your face-cry? Are you a writer who wants a master class in using diction and spelling - the building blocks of writing - to develop your character? If I taught a writing class, this book would be required reading. Though, if you're an abuse survivor, you might want to approach this one more carefully.
Of course, there are more amazing books with complex, well-written characters like these out there. (I want to write more, but it's 1:30 in the morning, and I have to work tomorrow.) Please feel free to chime in on the comments with more suggestions!