Racism and the Spider Theory: part 1: The Background.

First off, thanks to everyone for the awesome Mockingjay discussion this past week! I never feel like I can properly process a book until I talk about it with other people.


And now for something completely different.

This year there have been several events and conversations that have made me think very hard thoughts about the topic of racism. Before I get into the thoughts themselves, I want to show you what prompted them.

1. Cover Discussions.

In the past year, there's been a lot of cover controversy in the world of young adult books. Books with main characters who are darker-skinned or Asian have been released with covers that do not reflect the characters. Sometimes the initial cover was inaccurate, and then changed after people protested.

 In one instance, a book initially released with a culturally-appropriate cover was changed for the paperback version, in order to draw more sales.

The hardback for the sequel is planned to look more like the second version than the first.

I have personally read all of these books, and they were all fabulous. I even did a wildly enthusiastic review of Silver Phoenix last year on this blog. I know that none of this is under the author's control, and I encourage those of you who love to buy books to buy these books and share them. They are all worth it.

That being said, the whole topic of race, both in books and in cover art, has been a huge ongoing discussion in my corner of the world. You can read many opinions here, here and here. While there are a lot of complicated reasons for this sort of thing, it certainly made me think.

2. People Who Say Stupid Things.

I try to avoid it. I get my news from the newspaper at work, and from BBC online. I don't listen to radio talk shows, follow ranting people on Twitter or get involved in yelling matches on blogs.

But unless I stuff marshmallows in my ears and close my eyes and sit in a closet for the rest of my life, I'm going to hear the stupid things that people say. And right now a lot of people are saying a lot of stupid things about race.

But then, there have always been people saying stupid things about race. 

I realized that while watching a M.A.S.H rerun a while back. In the episode, Pierce was trying to help a fellow soldier officially marry his Korean wife so he could take her and their baby back to the States. Pierce was also trying to get friendly with this nurse he really liked. At the end of the episode, when he told her what he was doing for his friend, she objected.

NURSE: I think we should help Koreans, but I don't think we should marry them

PIERCE: Who's we?

NURSE: You know. White people.

Needless to say, the relationship didn't work out.

So because of all these things, I've been thinking a lot about the relationships between people of different cultures and skin colors.  And for the past year, I've been trying to figure out what exactly racism is.

Then I stumbled onto a blog called Tea Party Jesus, which takes quotes from people involved in the Tea Party movement and puts them on pictures of Jesus. Some of them are ironic and some of them are sad, but this one stopped me in my tracks.

It was that logic "I'm not a racist, but..." that finally pulled all my random thoughts together for me. Add in a traumatic experience with a spider (details in next post) and the Spider Theory was born.

To be continued...


  1. On the cover issue, I find it really disappointing in this age that it's not okay to portray the correct race on the cover. My daughter is adopted from China and as she gets older, she's becoming much more conscious of this and so am I as her mom. It's not just books, but sometimes in movies too.

  2. The different book covers really astounded me. I know authors don't often have control over the covers if they're with a big house, so that means it's someone within the house making those decisions. It's definitely an eye-opener.

  3. Natalie- Sadly, I know what you mean. It's hard to find movies and books where these characters are realistically portrayed, not marginalized or made into some sort of "perfect" foil for the main character. I hope your daughter is able to find books that reflect her world as she grows.

    Helen- These authors had pretty much no say at all in the covers, and every one of them was very gracious and professional about the situation. I don't know who specifically makes these decisions, but I'm betting it's a committee of some sort. Dang committees. :)

  4. I feel so stupid because I had no idea this happened with book covers. Wow. Just...wow.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  5. Angela- I know! I didn't know either until Liar came out. I've heard of older examples too, ones no one really made a stink about.

    After this year though, I hope more people are willing to make a stink. I know I am.

    Wait, that didn't come out right... :)

  6. Giving the main character the wrong race for a book cover is just...idiotic. Is it because the publishers are racist? Who knows? More likely they wanted the book's cover to appeal to a wider range of readers and they were counting on the readers' choices being influenced by race. So...they thought their readers would be racist. It's Just plain stupid. If I'm reading a book with a white girl on the cover and it turns out that she's black in the book, I would be annoyed at the stupidity of the publisher.

    That said, I think that sometimes people make too big of a deal of the race issue. And people cry, RACIST! way too easily. The truth is, there are so many prejudices in this world, and most of them have little to do with the color of one's skin. Prejudice exists in all forms.

    Consider that picture from that Tea Party Jesus site. It just goes to show another form of prejudice. Are they implying that anyone involved in the tea party is racist? And are they trying to make a similar point about Christians?

  7. Rebecca- I agree with you that there are many forms of prejudice, which is why I came up with the Spider Theory in the first place. I view it as a way to tell if any group of people makes you uncomfortable.

    As for the Tea Party Jesus picture, I don't think he's trying to say anything other than "this person who claims to follow Jesus said this thing that Jesus would never say." But I suppose it depends on your interpretation.

  8. Miriam, if you've looked at the Tea Party Jesus site for any length of time, you would see a pattern that shows their prejudice against Tea Partiers (and Christians). Just look at the blog description: "Putting the words of Christians in the mouth of Christ." This is lumping all Christians into one group. Not only that, but it is also implying that all Tea Party Activists are Christians (which they are not).

    I'm not saying they should modify their description or apologize or take down their blog. Just saying that their prejudice against Conservatives and Christians seems blatant to me.

  9. Rebecca- Okay, I see your point. I hadn't really thought about it that way. Mostly I was just thinking about how ridiculous the quotes were, especially since most of the people who say them are proclaimed Christians.

    It's so difficult not to generalize, isn't it? And across all areas of life, too.


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