Literature Study: Uniformity and Depiction of Ethnicity in Books

Octavia Butler's Mind of My Mind

The uniformity and depiction of race can be seen in many books if you browse the shelves carefully and even the categorical setup. For instance, the books by African American authors are to the very left and represent a small portion of the area inside my local Books A Million store while the Harlequin romances, fantasy and other categories fill up the entire store and many of these books show multiracial couples or the dominant heroine as a waif, young white woman, however there are books challenging this uniform makeup.

Promises Unspoken written by S.D. Valyan tells the story of a wealthy white man taking care of his sibling’s twins and he hires a body guard to protect him and his estate. The bodyguard that arrives is not only a female, but African American and it hurts his ego a little that this small woman is sent for him and he pursues her throughout the story even though he is engaged to a wealthy, white redhead. What makes this book significant is its focus on a few aspects: The attractive black female, her unconventional career as a protector, and her unbending attraction to the main character. This was rarely seen in books I’ve read as a little girl where the woman was a white “damsel in distress” needing rescuing from a ship’s captain or pirates(Valyan, 2006).

In the same vein but different genre, Octavia E. Butler burst the envelopes when she wrote the Patternist series. The series begins with Wild Seed in which an African woman with the ability to shape shift is broken apart from her family during the slave trade and meanwhile she meets Doro, an originally born African man who claims “he has no color since he is now Spirit”- he can jump through bodies and in the process he “eats” the human’s souls. He and Anyanwu (Wildseed) have a love/ hate relationship as they begin to birth a race of visionaries, psychics and other unknown creatures upon the Earth. He does not consider Anyanwu his bride; he only wishes to keep her by his side at times since they are the only two on Earth who are immortal. Although the Patternist series uses science fiction, or speculation within the plot and characterization, some of Doro’s behavior is reverberated in today’s culture and Anyanwu allows herself and her children to be abused and molested by him but she can not let him go for fear she will be alone. Eventually she is the one who gets over Doro while he aches to remain with her. This takes place in the communities now, minus the psychics (Butler, 1980).

Although the above books focus on contemporary issues none of them lack the instance of racism. Even in Valyan’s Unspoken, the heroine, Erica Mitchell must face oppression and racist people within Jason O’Connor’s estate. They loathe her because of her skin complexion meanwhile Wild Seed shows how the tragedy and horrific event of slavery is still felt through the offspring. “The legacies of racism and cultural racism continue”(Holtzman, 2000).

Butler, O. E. (1980). Wild seed. Warner Books, Inc: NY
Holtzman, L. (2000). Media messages: What film, television, and popular music teach us about race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.
Valyan, S.D. (2004). Promises unspoken. Booksurge

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