By which, of course, I’m referring to the dismal decision to cast some random black cat as Buttercup, instead of the adorable, sweet, innocent yellow tabby I totally pictured him as. Why did the producers have to make all the good cats black? Not gonna lie, kinda ruined the movie.
If the above joke makes no sense, you’ve probably been spared the racist kerfluffle that followed the opening of the film version of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, the oh-so-popular YA novel in which 22 teenagers die horribly and the ones that get to live try not to die inside for getting to live. (If you get the “joke” but it is not funny to you, you are probably a human being.)
The book made it onto the American Library Association’s 2010-2011 Frequently-Challenged Books list for, among other things, having no moral lesson whatsoever other than “if you are a teenager and you kill 23 other teenagers, you win and your family wins.” But that’s not the utter lack of reading comprehension I want to talk about! I want to talk about another utter lack of reading comprehension! The kind that makes some people say things that are not only racist, but completely inaccurate. Things like:
These comments are so wrongity it’s hard to know where to start. They are a double-dip of wrongity. The obvious racism is one dip, of course, but the other is the total lack of reading comprehension displayed by their authors. Because Suzanne Collins does, in fact, “mention that” Rue is a black girl. Twice:
…And most hauntingly, a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that’s she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor…
The boy tribute from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue, but the resemblance stops there….
In an April 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Suzanne Collins was even more explicit about the races of Rue and Thresh: ”They’re African-American.” Doesn’t get more clear than that, really.
Other Twitter comments are even more unapologetically racist. One commenter announced herself disturbed that Rue was a “black” girl and not the “sweet, innocent” girl the Tweeter had pictured – implying in a barely-veiled way that “black” and “sweet, innocent” are mutually exclusive categories. Another noted that seeing Rue played by a black actress “made her death less sad to me” than if, say, Rue were white. And a third actually Tweeted “Sense [sic] when is Rue a nigger.”
(Unlike Rue and Thresh, who were portrayed in the film by actors with similar skin color to that of the characters as described in the books, Buttercup actually is called a “muddy yellow” -colored cat – but his film counterpart is clearly a longhaired tuxedo. So there’s that.)
This is obviously more than mere reading-comprehension-skipping-details fail. This is reading-comprehension-skipping-details fail that is almost certainly caused by either flat-out racism or rampaging white privilege (here, a distinction without a difference). This is an assumption of white-as-default, white-as-good, white-as-angelic-and-all-things-loveable-and-cry-over-able-when-they-die-unjustly so pervasive and unchallenged that it manages to white out – pun intended – not one but two references to a character’s actual skin color in the text itself.
Then there was the more generally racist Hunger-Games-related Tweet, and possibly my favorite: “Why did the producers make all the good characters black smh.” …Here, like with “sweet” and “innocent” above, “good” – for whatever value thereof – is mutually exclusive with having black skin.
And we wonder why Trayvon Martin‘s fate has exploded in this country.
Because here’s a question: why are “good,” “sweet,” and “innocent” mutually exclusive with “black skin,” if not for racism? Do we really think that if I (for instance), a five-foot tall white lady, had been walking home from a convenience store while wearing a hoodie, carrying Skittles, and chatting on my cell phone, would have been seen as a “threat” by a self-appointed community watch guy, let alone shot by him – even if I really truly had landed the first punch? I think not. And I think anyone who can equate those two situations is either being disingenuous about the role racism plays in today’s America or is being disingenuous about the role sexism does. Or both. It can always be both.
On that note, let me leave you with this perceptive bit of perception, from Lindy West at Jezebel (though I encourage the clicking of this link so as to read the whole thing, as it is both perceptive AND funny):
In 2010, someone suggested that Community treasure [and black person] Donald Glover should be cast as Peter Parker in the forthcoming Spider-Man reboot (the role eventually went to Andrew Garfield). White people went FUCKING BERSERK. Glover received death threats. Just for the idea of him being allowed to audition for a movie version of Spider-Man (a movie that, by the way, already exists with a white actor in the lead role). And just like with Rue and Cinna and Thresh and the racist Twitter-teens, it’s a proprietary thing-if Spider-Man is black, then he isn’t ours anymore. He’s theirs. Waaaaaaaahhh! In MY America, Spider-Man is white! In MY America, I don’t have to worry about non-white people all browning up my young adult fiction movie adaptations! It’s not fair—it’s like this isn’t MY America at all anymore.
Pro tip, fellow white people: It never was.