kaigou: this is what I do, darling (2 so you wanna revolution)
[personal profile] kaigou
Reading urban fantasy. What book? Doesn't matter, because this isn't the first time I've seen this or similar. (Aside: publication date is 2008.)
White witches weren't so bad, though maybe that was only because most of them [weren't very powerful]... Black witches gained power by killing or torturing things: from flies to human.

Yes, I do find those adjectives to be hugely offensive. A writer's stock in trade is the power of words, and thus one best equipped (and possibly expected) to ask: is this really the best word for my purposes? Especially when, as in this case, the answer is a resounding FUCK NO.

I mean, let's say you argue that white and black are 'just colors'. Why must it be those two? What about Orange Witches and Purple Witches: what's your first impression of which must be good and which must be bad? How about Chartreuse Witches and Puce Witches: no value judgment and probably even less of any meaning, thus demonstrating color in and of itself does not dictate a thing's morality.

The story even adds that on the whole, witches are untrustworthy regardless; the only reason White Witches aren't scary Black Witches is because the former type isn't all that powerful. Implication being that if a White Witch could be more powerful, s/he would immediately fall into Black Witch territory and go haring off on torture and death sprees, which takes the fail to even greater levels.

Plus, this good/bad division ultimately makes no sense in context; the good guys don't even like witches. They consider witches a necessary evil, and the operative word here is evil, though they may cooperate with certain witches when needed. What's the logic here, then? Good guys can't ally with (bad) witches, so we must minimize the evilness of the not-worse witches? Hmm, let's call them white — because white is automatically less-bad/better than black. Righto!

This is like saying, "well, he murdered, but y'know, it was just that one time — it's not like he murdered lots of people!" Even when we have need (eg for state's evidence), we don't dance around with euphemisms: a murderer is a murderer, be that once or many (serial) times. We don't label the former as less murderous; we label the latter as more murderous.

That's why I say it's not just racist, it's racism by dint of inertia. It's falling back on the status quo, same as defending the use on historical grounds (black magic and white magic). It's equally historical to use left-hand/right-hand, sinister/dexterous, dark/light, night/day, even clockwise/widdershins, to name a few. The black/white dichotomy is hardly the only cultural set of monikers to designate magical morality. Furthermore, I'd say it's ingenuous (if not outright disingenuous) to protest that 'history' justifies ignoring a term's modern meaning. 'Cunt' may have once been a compliment, but that was a thousand years ago — and if you call a woman that now, don't come crying to me after she punches you in the face.

TL;DR version: the predominant rationale for white=good and black=bad is based in racism.

It's not that hard to try something else. It just requires a few seconds' thought (although that does require a willingness to be arsed enough to be aware of the need). In this story, frex, if a witch gets power from controlling life, call that a Life Witch. If it's via torturing living creatures to death, call that one a Death Witch. There, see? Two seconds' thought and I came up with a descriptive term that actually tells me something — and doesn't require I tap into racist slurs to grasp the text's meaning.

Our language has millions of words. I refuse to believe that the inadequate and essentially bland color-adjectives are an author's only freaking choices to describe bad and more-bad, and I further resent being made to feel a silent accomplice in the text's racist undercurrents. If the combined gatekeepers+author never stopped to even realize what's being said in the text, that's idiocy. If they realized but didn't see it as worth addressing, that's reprehensible.

But if they didn't see reason to change it because they figured I'd never realize or care, I find that the most offensive of all.

note: if you comment anonymously and don't sign your post, I reserve the right to ignore your nitwittery. Have the decency to stand behind your words.

Date: 26 Nov 2009 10:45 pm (UTC)
reileen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] reileen
What about Orange Witches and Purple Witches: what's your first impression of which must be good and which must be bad? How about Chartreuse Witches and Puce Witches: no value judgment and probably even less of any meaning

I feel like Pratchett must've done something to this sort in his Discworld novels. That sounds like a very Pratchettian thing to do.

Date: 26 Nov 2009 11:11 pm (UTC)
ivoryandhorn: An ornate wrought iron gate silhouetted against a cloudy sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] ivoryandhorn
I have nothing to add because you're right on all accounts. Though looking at all the other dichotomies you've pulled up I can't help but feel that there must be loads of interesting stories waiting to be told about them.

Date: 27 Nov 2009 12:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nykeyoung.livejournal.com
"Black/White" in UF? Thought everyone left those behind for "Light/Dark"

Not that I like those either. I think I wrote something from the P.O.V. of the Dark users fighting against the oppressive Light users. I mean, the bad guys managed a big win and cover an area with eternal light and managed to keep it up for years. (It did manage to get taken down eventually, but I needed new protagonists to pull it off.)

Date: 27 Nov 2009 01:31 am (UTC)
ext_27003: (Default)
From: [identity profile] sans-pertinence.livejournal.com
My brain is kind of mush at the moment, so I don't really have anything to add here aside from a resounding yes.

This kind of thoughtless, ingrained stereotyping pervades all fiction genres, not just fantasy in all its incarnations; it's one more reason I'm reading mostly nonfiction these days.

Date: 27 Nov 2009 01:34 am (UTC)
starlady: (Blaze)
From: [personal profile] starlady
"Cunt" was a compliment?

I too have nothing substantial to add on account of your being completely right, except that I might go further than "inertia" and label it sheer (intellectual, ethical) laziness. On top of being racist, it's also bad writing and cheap fantasy; those dichotomies were shopworn at least by Tolkien, if not before.

Date: 27 Nov 2009 02:40 am (UTC)
starlady: Gryffinclaw: "Don't believe what you're told. Double check."  (question everything)
From: [personal profile] starlady
That survives in Scots, doesn't it? Kenning, to ken = to know. Cool, I would never have realized that.

I like that icon.

I guess I tend to see it as laziness (see my icon), but it's definitely inertia, too--letting the past do one's thinking for one rather than thinking over the past for oneself. The one time I walked out of a class in college was when one of my classmates made a comment to the effect that slavery was okay because it existed (we were discussing Ephesians in the New Testament), and I just didn't feel confident of my ability to sit across the same table as him for the remainder of the time. I've never understood that impulse to abdicate critical thinking. It always seems to me that the fact that we can make judgments means it's incumbent on us to do so.
Edited Date: 27 Nov 2009 02:41 am (UTC)

Date: 27 Nov 2009 05:34 am (UTC)
starscream: ([Bleach] Ishida; Quiet)
From: [personal profile] starscream
God, I can never find the reply button on this site.

I don't really disagree with anything here, but I wonder where the whole White/Black thing truly originates -- surely it was racial to begin with, but where did it start? I never put much thought into it, though for as long as I can remember everything in media portrayed evil magic as "Black magic" and things like holy magic as "White magic," then in games there's also "Blue Magic" so...

Actually, I'm not really sure if there's a point I'm trying to make here. I may just be rambling.

Date: 27 Nov 2009 10:37 pm (UTC)
reileen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] reileen
Western philosophy is like an old subway tunnel, really. Someone went in and slapped up some graffiti, and then someone else snuck in and added to it, and over time hundreds of graffiti artists adapted the original design and layered on top of it and altered things here and there, until it's almost impossible to see the original design without being influenced by the aeons of later edits, additions, and negations. Meanwhile, the rest of the populace sees it daily flashing past outside their subway-train window, never giving it much thought but used to the general shape overall, and thus vaguely familiar/aware but missing nearly all the nuances.

Holy crap, that is an excellent metaphor. And thanks for the brief history lesson - I was gonna go look up that stuff when I got time after seeing the one anon comment before mine, but you saved me some time. :)

Date: 27 Nov 2009 09:11 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Ah, the white=good and black=bad trope. It may not be my least favorite trope, but it's definitely up there. It's one of the most god-awful simplistic tropes out there. Don't tell that to certain published, white authors out there though. You'll just be accused of of being oversensitive. I'm not thinking of Racefail at all. After all, it's not as if a lot mediocre fantasy fails utterly at dealing with race issues, now does it? I now refuse to continue reading any new books that use that dichotomy without questioning it or twisting it in some way.


kellicat from LJ

Date: 27 Nov 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] genre-savvy.livejournal.com
I'm not big on dichotomies to begin with because only having too sides makes things too easy, but the white=good vs. black=evil has always struck me as the stupidest of the lot. Of course, I read a lot of comic books, so white and primary colors, especially on a man, have long since become visual shorthand for "good," while black/secondary colors are usually "evil." This is deeply annoying, because I don't always realize that I'm doing it. I hate this stuff, but it's so ubiquitous that I've absorbed it without meaning to. Does this remind you of anything?

Date: 28 Nov 2009 01:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] genre-savvy.livejournal.com
Only having *two* sides. Gah.

Date: 29 Nov 2009 02:43 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] multitudeofm
Ah. Another thing I have not missed about reading UF.

Personally, I don't like such divisions at all.

Yeah, sometimes we do have monsters, and that's fine. But every UF world seems to have a Great Evil. Why? The world is shades of gray.

I'm starting to see just how much of my current project is a product of my disenchantment with UF.