White Teen’s Burden

I take back everything I’ve ever said about others being the worst SVH ever. This one is beyond infuriatingly awful. Let me also say right up front the the strong upchuck reaction I had from this book are from my own personal thoughts on racism. So I’m totally using “I” statements here. I can imagine many will disagree, but let’s me respectful, eh? I’m taking about with each other. Feel free to belittle, insult, and rip all the characters to shreds. Photobucket The really really sad thing here is that some ghostwriter perhaps really thought they were doing a good thing. That in one book, they would nip the moral problem of racism in the bud. Some editor probably told Francine that she needed to address the race issue again, she argued that she already had an interracial romance and a Mexican Festivals, and some compromise was reached where they would release a book that would solve racism.

Some of you may say “but at least it was addressed, and may have got some people who read this thinking about it”. I argue that this makes it worse. This book includes some of my major pet peeves about how white people deal with racism. Look, as a white person, I am FAR from perfect in this arena. I do not claim to have the answers, but I know what this book shows ain’t the answers either.”But they are only teenagers!” you night say. Yea, well, for teenagers that solve crimes, and generally in other instances act like they think they’re 30, I’d expect more. And if the author(s) were seriously really trying to send a message about overcoming racism, they did a piss poor job.

Enough of my soap box (sorry I got all Liz on you) let’s get into it.

Pet Peeve #1: White people think that racism doesn’t exist if they don’t directly seeing it play out in their own lives.

We know trouble is brewing because Liz decides to do a survey for the Oracle on what people would change about Sweet Valley High….Liz is all stoked to write about how people would prefer  “more soft drink machines in the cafeteria and shorter classes”  but is all taken aback that some people at SVH think the school has issues. Liz gets all pissy when Penny suggests that the school get rid of Pi Beta Alpha. I hope that Lois Walker knows about this survey and that she goes to town with it. Also, shut up Liz.

Pet Peeve #2 White people pat themselves on the back when they have a friend of a different race.

Neil Fremount (who used to dry hump Jessica at the drive-in, and is now dating Penny Ayala) has a bff Andy Jenkins. Andy is really good at science, and is just like a regular guy! Neil loves talking to him! And it doesn’t even bother him that Andy is black! isn’t Neil so progressive? He has a black friend! He can’t be racist! And, Andy is just a “regular” guy, and is just like all the other white people!

Meanwhile, Neil’s dad works for Andy Jenkins’ Dad at some power plant or something. Mr. Freemount insinuates that Mr. Jenkins got the job because he’s black. Mr. F also works with Mr. Cashman, who is lucky enough to have that outstanding Charlie Cashman as a son. Mr. C is totally spouting off to everyone, and Charlie also gets these ideas from his dad and decides to give Andy a hard time because their dads are having a work feud.

Pet Peeve #3 White people get annoyed when people of color won’t accept their help.

Neil is pissed that Charlie’s crowd is giving Andy a hard time, and what makes him even madder is that Andy doesn’t want to do anything about it. Andy’s locker gets defaced and his tires slashed and wants to just ignore it.

“Listen,” Neil began hesitantly. “Try not to let it get yo you.” He groped for the right words but couldn’t find them. “Think-think of how Martin Luther King Jr would react to a situation like this.”

Yes, yes, Andy does give him shit for saying that, and explains how when something like this has happened before, a teacher told Andy just to ignore it. Neil, however, is pissed that Andy is pissed at him for trying to help. This makes Neil so pissed off!  He is trying to help out his black friend, don’t you see? He’s such a good guy! And Andy is making it so hard for him to be the progressive white guy! And it is just so hard for him! And we have to hear how hard it is for him for several chapters! You know who’s perspective I’d like to hear on this? Andy’s. But he is really just a contrived plot device so the school can learn about racism. We don’t have opne single chapter or paragraph told from Andy’s point of view. He’s not a character, he’s a plot device.

One day in the parking lot of the movie theater, Charlie and his gang  jump Andy and beat the crap out of him. Neil comes out and tries to stop them, but Charlie offers to let Neil have a swing at Andy. Neil looks at him and suddenly realizes how AWFUL Andy has been to him, and how Andy won’t take his sage white advice all the time, and decides he needs to take his advice out on Andy, and TAKES A SWING. Neil is all shocked at himself and calls the police after Charlie and his gang flee the scene.

So now Neil is the big hero, and the halls of SVH are buzzing because the school just had their first hate crime! Yay! Where’s the cheerleaders and the band? maybe Winston can do some stand-up to commemorate the occasion. Neil goes on for a while and lets people think he saved Andy, but is ALL TORN UP INSIDE about his secret. Yea, because NEIL is the true victim here, folks. Finally he goes over to Andy’s to tell him what he did (apparently Andy was beaten unconscious and didn’t know it was Neil that hit him) and Andy apologizes to him for being distant to him and not taking his advice and Andy tells Neil that HE’S THE RACIST FOR NOT LISTENING TO HIS WHITE FRIEND. And Neil still doesn’t tell him about what he did. God, this is sooooo hard for NEIL!

The twins get their airtime by having a serious discussion about inequity and privilege.  Liz is all torn up because she keeps getting answers to her “what would you change about SVH” survey and not every answer coming back is “Nothing! SVH is perfect! Except that we should have more dances!” and tries to engage Jessica in a powerful dialogue about privilege and system of oppression in America.

“So in other words, people who are good-looking and rich get extra, is that what you’re saying?” Elizabeth demanded hotly. “I know it’s not fair” Jessica said. “But hey, I don’t make the rules.” Elizabeth stood up, threw the pillow on the bed, and began to pace. “Then I want to talk to the person who made the rules,” she said fiercely. “We need some new ones.”

Ah, Jess, our very own Social Darwinist. And watch out entire system and history of oppression, Liz Wakefield wants to talk to you.

Pet Peeve #4 White people claim to know what discrimination and hate is like because of (what they think) are similar instances. AND Pet Peeve #5 Teachers/facilitators use trite and insulting exercises to simulate discrimination (see also: making people walk around with a blindfold all day so they can understand the plight of blind people)

After Andy’s beating, Jessica does get a bit pissed about inequities. So she decides to START A PETITION! Yea, that will show ’em. Meanwhile, in her sociology class (they take sociology in high school? as if that’s the most messed up thing in this book) and Mr. Jacobi tries to teach them a lesson about discrimination by dividing them into Light-Eyes and Dark-Eyes. And the Dark-Eyes get to treat the Light-Eyes like crap and there is nothing they can do about it. Oooooo, burn! Jessica gets all upset.

This is what is feels like, she told herself. This is what is feels like to be discriminated against.

Wow! In a 30 minute period Jessica is transformed and feels the entire plight of people of color! Thanks trivial exercise.  I also want to mention that people are talking about discrimination, but Andy’s situation is beyond discrimination. He was flat-out almost KILLED.

Oh yea, so what’s going on with Andy? He’s back at school and up for a prestigious science award/scholarship. The school has an assembly for it, and everyone rushes to be the first into the auditorium to show their un-racism. When Andy accepts the award there is thunderous applause and a standing ovation. I think it is great to support him and he had been through a lot, but before the “incident” did anyone even know who he is or give a shit that he was good at science?

See Pet Peeve #2

Elizabeth falls all over herself and makes a big show of inviting Andy and his girlfriend over to sit with the gang at lunch.Because, you know, she likes black people! And she can’t be racist, because she hangs out with black students in the cafeteria! Except that she never talked to Andy before this incident!

Elizabeth felt a surge of warmth when she looked at her friends. They all wanted to reassure Andy that they liked him. And it wasn’t just because of his race. That would be reverse discrimination, which was just as bad. They all genuinely liked him because he was a likable guy, and he seemed to recognize their friendship for what it was.

Sure, Liz. Inviting someone to eat with you because you want to get to know them better is JUST AS BAD as beating them in the parking lot. Also, Liz stop patting yourself on the back for being so accepting.

Charlie Cashman and his gang taunt Andy as he is walking across the football field and Neil sees this and stands up for him. Andy thanks him but tells him it doesn’t mean they are even, and walks away. The only redeeming thing about this book is that Andy doesn’t automatically forgive him. But he does, however, walk off alone. So Andy still feels isolated and alone in in uber white Sweet Valley, loses his only friend, but Neil makes up with his girlfriend and gets his friends back SO ALL IS WELL!  He does some serious soul searching and groveling, and finally Penny forgives him, and things seem to be back on track for him. For NEIL.  Thank god. What about Andy? Oh, there wasn’t enough time on the book to do his epilogue because the pages were needed for the contrived lead-up to the next book.

Pet Peeve #5 when someone tries to shove resources down your throat.

This one applies to me! No, seriously, as you all know, I love pop culture, and one of the reasons I love it is because it reflects the dynamics of society. I find it interesting to dissect pop culture in terms of its depiction of the the non-white, non-hetero, non-rich, non-able-bodied. I wouldn’t say I ENJOY it, because I wish I didn’t have to point out how it represents some fucked up stuff. Anyway, some great blogs I read and recommend are Stuff White People Do, not to be confused with the blog Stuff White People Like, which although is a humor site, is still a social commentary. And, one of my very favorites, Racialicious: the intersection of race and pop culture.

And special thanks to my friend John for making the book cover graphic above.