The Problem with Awarding Victoria Foyt’s Save the Pearls

I have a new piece up at Clutch magazine.

Each day between indie and professional publishing, thousands of books are released. Most of these novels will never achieve notoriety, but a select few manage to rise above obscurity and create a space in our collective imaginations.  Victoria Foyt’s Save the Pearls is one such novel and it recently won the prestigious Eric Hoffer award in the category of Young Adult.  This novel first caught my attention when I noticed several people of color tweeting about the racism in the plot and expressing horror that such a novel could possibly receive a literary award.  The following is Eden’s (the protagonist) mating video, in which she lists what she wants in a partner and why.

As you can see from the video, Eden is wearing blackface and this is because Foyt’s work is set in a dystopian world wherein Pearls (read: White People) are actively oppressed and outnumbered by Coals (read: Blacks).   Humans live in caves and fear something called the Heat, due to the destruction of the environment and ultraviolet rays. The amount of melanin in one’s skin is the primary indicator of which bodies are considered valuable and who is most likely to survive. Essentially, in Foyt’s vision of our future, there will be a role reversal in terms of social and institutional power, as blacks benefit directly from the skin color which has plagued us since humanity decided to apply a negative value to difference.

In her piece at the Huffington Post, Foyt makes it clear she subscribes to a color-blind mentality and suggests that her book has not received many negative reviews in spite of the subject matter. Foyt goes so far as to discuss a positive reaction by African-American reviewers and argues against negative reviews by saying that the youth are more progressive. Though  Foyt makes it clear that she is cognizant that we are not post racial, she heavily implies otherwise by suggesting that generational riffs have resulted in youth who have not experienced Jim Crow and in particular segregated public education.  So Foyt’s understanding of black youth is that they are detached from the racism they experience and view relations between blacks and whites as negligible.

Her suggestion that Save the Pearls “will give those who have never experienced prejudice the opportunity to think about it in a new way, especially in terms of how our decaying environment one day may turn around the status quo” highlights one of the many problems with this novel.  If one has never experienced oppression based in race, how exactly can one accurately put into perspective what it is be stigmatized because of the color of one’s skin? This turns the subject of race into something abstract  because from this perspective, it becomes a theory rather than something that meaningfully affects lives.  Black people are the best people to argue about the oppression based on race that we face, and no amount of white liberal guilt will impart a level of expertise beyond our lived experiences.

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