So I have taken us to about the middle of the second book in the fangirl acclaimed Twilight Saga, New Moon.
We have discussed many things, such as intimate partner abuse, personal autonomy, agency, and myriad other topics on this journey.
Now, all snark aside (I totally can’t back that up) I want to discuss something serious. I want to discuss themes, obvious and otherwise, of implied racism in the series.
All throughout the series we are bombarded w/ an image of beauty as white. As pale, flawless, sparkling alabaster skin as the image of perfection. Smeyer’s vampires are all various shades of white, and this is part of their perfect beauty, pallid, nigh transparently pale skin. It glitters in the sun like diamonds. It is the epitome of perfect beauty.
It comes as no surprise to me at all, considering how most media, in movies and such, consider white to be default, the norm. Pale skin, light eyes and fair hair are the ideals of conventional beauty in our world, and anything other is exactly that; an Other.
While I was not surprised, I was slightly taken aback that the only brown person portrayed in the Twilight movie, Laurent, was the leader of the “bad” coven of vampires (even though in the book he is not described as black, but rather having a slightly olive pallor to his stone skin). This was unsettling b/c we see it far far too often in major media. All that is good and pure is White and beautiful, and evil is always associated w/ Dark. In the movie Laurent is black, which natural hair, and while in this first movie (and first book) he steps out to not interfere b/t the two covens, later, in New Moon, we find that he does indeed come back to hunt and kill Bella. Writers do nothing unintentionally. Words are too precious a commodity in a finished product to do things by accident, so I don’t find the fact that a major player for the “Bad Guys” being the only brown skinned person a coincidence. In the mind of the writer, when it came time to introduce a force for evil, a darker skinned person came to mind. Even in the book, the darker skin, the olive tone, is associated w/ being bad.
Then, there is the issue of dealing w/ the Native American tribe. We start w/ the stereotypical poor Reservation, w/ it’s tiny, shabby houses filled w/ dark skinned kids running around shirtless and barefoot all the time. Those crazy savages, unable to bother w/ things like clothes. It is no surprise to me, either, that this is the foundation for the Werewolves in these stories.
The Werewolves, barely able to control the wild desires in them, unable to control their tempers and initially unable to control the rage in them that transforms them. Unable to control that urge to hunt and kill. Even, in the case of the character Sam Uley and his finace, Emily. In a fit of uncontrollable rage young Sam loses his control and slashes Emily from scalp to the length of her arm leaving permanent disfiguring scars. Modern day held over stereotypes of “Injuns” and their foul tempers circle over the heads of Native Americans everyday, and here, in a popular young adult fiction series we have the Werewolves, the ones unable to control their nature, as Native Americans. Granted, over time they are able to control their urges and master their transformations, but it is something they must overcome and learn, just as Natives must learn to not be so poor and lazy and savage. Oh, and later on Jacob sexually assaults Bella, something that good, white Edward would never too, b/c he is perfect and chaste.
One direction that I hesitate to step, but I feel must at least briefly be discussed, since Smeyer herself has admitted that her Mormon background heavily influenced her writing, is the way that upper echelon Mormons view brown skinned people. Years ago, and certainly not the only ones to hold this belief, leaders of the Mormon Church believed that Natives must be saved, made to “be more delightsome” by having their women married off to the white men, so that their children may have a chance to be born w/ whiter, more delightful skin. B/c they were once delightful and white, but were cursed w/ dark skin b/c of their savagery and evil ways. There were sects of the LDS movement who allowed racial exclusion in membership. There is a lot of scripture in the Book of Mormon indicating that Native Americans are descendants of the Lamanites, and some such (and names that keep popping up, coincidentally, are Sam and Jacob. Neat, huh?). As far as I can tell, a lot of this is fairly old dogma mostly only believed by older prophets and higher up leaders of LDS, and the friends that I have who are Mormon don’t subscribe to these racist beliefs. Being no expert on Mormonism whatsoever, and having only brief readings of the BoM, I can not lay claim to the validity of these things. I would, however, be interested in discussing this w/ someone more in the know than I. True or not, I still find it unsettling that the more poorly tempered and savage fantastic characters in the books are Natives, unable to make an active choice, like the good, white vampires.
More importantly, and in summary, I find the division of color and morality disturbing. I think it says a lot about Smeyer the way that she created her vampires and their lack of depth, beyond their beauty and surface qualities. These books are so wildly popular, despite their lack of conflict, plot, and utterly lazy writing that I think it is dangerous to not discuss the issues of race w/in the frames of the story. The division of morality along color lines is something that needs to be talked about, b/c it isn’t OK to erase PoC from media, and it isn’t OK to make the only amoral or evil character in a white world brown skinned (see: clusterfucktasthrophe that is the Avatar movie). All too often popular culture erases color from the world. The message this sends to People of Color is simple but clear: You don’t matter. No one sees you and you practically don’t exist. No offense, but you are the Other.