Thursday, 4 September 2014

Malorie Blackman and "too many white faces": anatomy of a media distortion

Malorie Blackman, as perceived by her detractors.

Last week children's author Malorie Blackman argued that kids' books should have more ethnic diversity. Sky News ran an article on her comments, quoting her as saying that "[readers] want to escape into fiction as well and read about other people, other cultures, other lives, other planets and so on, but I think there is a very significant message that goes out when you cannot see yourself at all in the books you are reading. I think it is saying 'well, you may be here, but do you really belong?'"

Seems a perfectly reasonable argument to me.

But what title did Sky decide to give the article?

"Children's Books 'Have Too Many White Faces'"

Now, let's make this absolutely clear. Nowhere in any of the quotes from Blackman featured in the article, or in the accompanying video, does she use the phrase "too many white faces." She calls for more non-white faces, yes, but this is not the same thing.

The headline seems to be referring to a comment made by Nikita Lalwani that "if everyone [in children's books] is white or Caucasian, it is just not accurate" - and this is a statement which is hard to disagree with. It does not equal "too many white faces."

You cannot even chalk Sky's misrepresentation up to a half-full/half-empty interpretation of Blackman's comments. In this era of self-published ebooks, it is possible for virtually infinite numbers of novels to be available on the marketplace. There is absolutely no reason why raising the number of books with non-white characters would involve decreasing the amount of books focused on white protagonists.

Nor is Blackman calling for books which demonise white people. One positive reaction to her comments was posted by an author who made the following comments:

"A call for more diversity shouldn’t be controversial.  Of course we need to see more diversity and inclusion in books, not just in ethnicity but representing kids from all walks and ways of life.  This isn’t political correctness, it’s just makes sense for stories to reflect the world around us and it’s only right that children get to see characters that they can identify with. 
I once had a conversation with someone in publishing who was uncomfortable that one of the ‘baddies’ in my story happened to be black.  She said that it could send out the wrong message.  I was rather taken aback and pointed out that the main ‘baddie’ in the story happened to be a white bloke (and the ‘heroine’ happened to be mixed race).  These creations weren’t ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’ by virtue of the colour of their skin.  Their actions and behaviour were character led, not colour led. It seems dishonest and unrealistic to portray any non-white characters as paragons of goodness for the sake of political correctness."

The Sky headline appears to have been chosen as a cynical means of getting hits from outraged reactionaries, but to its credit the site later revised the article with the more accurate title of "Call For More Ethnic Diversity In Kids' Books."

The original headline had already opened Blackman to a barrage of abuse, however, as she related in a follow-up article:

"Sky News saw fit to headline my interview – Children’s Books 'Have Too Many White Faces', a phrase I never used and which never even crossed my mind. When I complained, Sky apologised and changed the headline, but by then the damage had been done, with a number of publications publishing the Sky article with its original inflammatory headline. 
A deluge of racist abuse then descended upon my head. My Twitter feed was inundated with racist comments thinly disguised as indignation. I made the mistake of deleting a number of them, reporting two of the most threatening. I should not only have left them in my Twitter feed, but also retweeted every single one of them for my followers to see. I won’t make that mistake twice."

Amongst the far-right sites to attack Blackman was the Anglo-Saxon Foundation. A poster calling himself Woden's Child started a thread about the matter in a sub forum called "Anti-English/Anti-White racism and prejudice"; the topic simply repeated the original Sky headline, with a link to a Yahoo mirror of the article. Woden's Child later added his own thoughts:

Ironic how he claims that liberals "merely repeat a set of rules that govern their brainwashed state" and that "Talking sense and listening to anyone else's viewpoint is not in their remit" when he himself obviously hasn't listened to Blackman's point of view, and judged her arguments entirely by Sky's inaccurate headline. The Anglo-Saxon Foundation and their ilk like to think of themselves as awakened, and able to see through any media distortion; but this thread proves that they are quite willing to swallow a mass media lie, so long as it is a lie that fits their ideology.

Member Andy followed up with a pile of gibberish:

Saxon Patriot, meanwhile, claims that Blackman's objections are part of a Marxist book-burning plan:

This is obviously nonsense. The fact that Malorie Blackman has celebrated L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by dressing up as the Wicked Witch of the West proves that she is not out to destroy all classic children's literature.

What begins with book-burnings, argues Teutoburg Weald, will lead to political dissidents being burnt at the stake or shipped to concentration camps:

Incidentally, as I wrote here, Teutoburg Weald (real name Clive Calladine) is a Nazi sympathiser who considers Anders Breivik a hero and has advocated the murder of liberals and non-whites. To see him waxing lyrical about free speech and the evils of totalitarianism is positively nauseating.

After the concentration camps, says Witnere, there will be a genocide against all white English people sanctioned by none other than Stephen Fry himself:

Just to recap: Malorie Blackman calls for more children's books featuring ethnically diverse characters; the Anglo-Saxon Foundation views this as the first step in a process which will lead to all white people in England being rounded up and killed. And Blackman is meant to be the unreasonable one here!?

Eventually, Woden's Child linked to a news report which described how Sky had misquoted Blackman and the resulting barrage of racist abuse she abused online. Did he apologise for contributing to the misrepresentation of Blackman's entirely innocuous comments? No - his only response to this cyberbullying was "Ah, diddums."

As a final note, one member of the Anglo-Saxon Foundation is a self-published novelist named S.A. Swaffington. Under the name Ryan West, he wrote a novel called The Rise of the Saxons: And the Legend of Hengest and Horsa in which a bunch of proto-Nazi protagonists massacre children and lust after thirteen-year-old girls during an attempted genocide. Here is an excerpt from a review on Amazon:

'The Rise of the Saxons follows a band of Angle, Saxon and Jute "heroes" as they launch a campaign of genocide against the Britons (in the words of the main character, "lets holocaust them into oblivion"). They take a particular fondness for murdering defenceless children: near the start of the book Hengest slits the throat of a little girl who had been captured as a slave, and later on he uses a spiked ball to smash in the head of a nine-year-old boy who is cowering in fear. Meanwhile, two of his buddies throw small children into the air and catch them on swords, purely for fun.
The heroes of the story are associated with overtly Nazi or neo-Nazi imagery, including swastikas, double lightning bolts, raised-arm salutes, skinhead hair styles and - again - multiple uses of the word "holocaust".
There is one more thing which I think needs to be noted about this novel, however. When children are not being massacred, they are being sexualised.
At one point the character Hrothgar flirts with the female lead, Dresden. When she tells him that she is thirteen years old, he replies "Nearly a woman then, that's old enough for me... What's the matter love? I'll be gentle".
Dresden objects, but this is simply because she already has a boyfriend - Hrothgar is still allowed to join the "good guys", with this incident never being mentioned again. The novel portrays it as perfectly acceptable for a grown man to lust after a thirteen year old girl.
[...]There is nothing inherently wrong with a historical novel giving a "warts and all" portrayal of its chosen setting. But the main problem with Rise of the Saxons, as other reviewers have noted, is its propagandistic slant. In his note at the back, the author remarks that
"We are taught in England that we are British and therefore have viewed our history from a British perspective and so naturally we have viewed the Anglo-Saxons as foreign invaders. But if we say `NO!` to the people that wish to oppress English identity and do the most un-politically correct thing and think of our history from an English perspective then the Anglo-Saxons weren`t foreign at all, they were us. And we should honour their achievements and tell their stories, because if we don`t, then who will?"
Meanwhile, one of the five-star reviews expresses hope that "this book will act as a spark for other creative authors to produce works that glorify our Germanic English ancestors". But even setting aside the violence and racism, what is honourable or glorious about a grown adult making sexual passes at a thirteen-year-old?'
Sorry, Anglo-Saxon Foundation, but when it comes to portrayals of children in fiction, I'd say that Malorie Blackman is doing a better job of it than you lot.

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