That Time My Book Got Called Racist

(The title is only a little sensationalist.  My book didn’t actually get called racist in quite so many words.)

I found a new review for The Agora Files yesterday.  It’s not exactly a glowing one.  But I’m actually okay with that.  I don’t expect everyone to fall in love with my work.  It’s a little different and she’s not wrong when she notes how awkward the pacing can be when it’s just Cyrus running alone and we’re stuck listening to his internal monologue.  I think it turned out great, but when writing it, I was fully aware of how that could work out for the reader.

Heck, even her comments about how unrealistic Cyrus’ preparation for a run is doesn’t doesn’t really bother me much.  We don’t get to see prep time here.  It’s even noted right at the beginning of the book.  This kid’s on the run.  Every second.  And no, he wouldn’t be stuffing his face mid-run because he’s going to puke it all up.  And yes, apples can actually be a terrible thing to eat while running because it can run right through you and come out the other end much less solid, but it’s also a solid source of complex carbohydrates which will give you awesome amounts of energy with minimal amounts of space being taken up in a backpack.

Heck, almost everything about the running aspect of this book could be seen as unrealistic.  While I did a great deal of research on ultra-marathoning, the reality is…it’s not that exciting.  While there are those who run more than 70 miles in a day, there are very few who can finish that, take a couple hours of a break, and get right back out there for another 70.  Cyrus is not intended to be a serious look at the sport of ultramarathoning.  He’s an action hero.  He’s John McClane. You can’t stop to question the amount of math that would go into sending a motorcycle into the air to knock down a helicopter, you just appreciate the ride.  I based the running in this book in reality, but it’s an intentional exaggeration.  Just like very few fictional characters ever go to the bathroom, there is an expectation of a suspension of disbelief.

However… Although I did happen to go off on that a bit, that’s not what got me about this review.  It’s the note about racism in the book.

And not because she’s wrong.  In fact, I’m amazed she’s the first person who called it out.  It’s there. It’s definitely there. And it’s intended to be there.

But again..the details aren’t exactly all that exciting…and, as I’ll point out shortly…aren’t really necessary.

You see, Cyrus lives in a world which deviated from our own history at the point of resolution for World War II.  He lives in a world where the Civil Rights movement never happened.  He lives in a world where there is still an expected difference between people of one of the multiple colors of skin available and those who are as pale as the moon.

And so, with that, perhaps she is right.  There is definitely a history which could be told.  Cyrus, in his internal monologue could go on at length, musing about how these ‘dark skins’ (which, for the record, is not an accurate portrayal of how people of color are referenced in the book, they are generally discussed as something along the lines of darker skinned people…it actually changes per usage, because it’s not a label, but a description used by Cyrus in his internal monologue) have it different.  Heck, he could have even had a discussion with Charlie or Bruno, or maybe even Grant…somehow…about it, to give it some color.

I even had it in an early draft where Cyrus and Charlie discussed it a bit with regards to how difficult it would be for a black person to be smuggling goods across the country as compared to a white person because they would be more highly visible as a result of how people, including those in law enforcement, have a long history of expecting black people to be up to no good.

But the point is…I shouldn’t have to.  Which is why it was taken out.  Because, although the Civil Rights Movement may not have ever occurred for Cyrus and the people of his world…these situations are things which occur in our world.  Heck, since I’ve published Agora Files, it’s become much more present in our daily news.  People of color simply don’t have the same freedoms as those without pigmentation.

So, I took out any explanation of such things.

Because…although he might call them ‘dark skins’ (although I’m fairly certain he doesn’t) instead of labeling all people with black skin pigmentation as being African-American regardless of their cultural heritage or current citizenship status, the reality is, Cyrus isn’t wrong.

And if you look throughout the books (book 3 coming very very soon!), you’ll notice something.  Cyrus isn’t looking down at people of color, but being intrigued by how they reach the statuses they do.  He’s amazed when he finds out Charlie was a Runner, because it would simply be that much harder for him.  Similarly with other reveals that crop up, but…well…I don’t want to spoil things for those who haven’t read the books.

In short, I included subtle notes of racism in this book because racism itself often is exactly that.  Subtle.

Sure, we may have situations where a couple of black men sit down to wait for an interview in a coffee shop and get dragged out by the police, but even more frequent are black men and women who have cops slow roll past them when they’re walking down the street to make sure they aren’t causing any trouble.  Or parents keeping a corner of their eye on them to make sure they aren’t going to do something to their children…or simply rolling up your windows as you go through a ‘black’ neighborhood and locking your doors at the stoplight.

I stand by these moments in Agora Files as I believe they should paint a far stronger picture for people who notice them than if it were to be directly called out.  And it paints an even stronger picture to see how infrequently it’s noticed at all.

It should make you at least slightly uncomfortable.  Because the reality of Cyrus’ world, not just with regards to racism, is that it’s actually not all that much different than our own.  Just exaggerated…

And she notes that the comment about ‘dark skins’ ends up having a negative impact on the reader for the character.  That’s not intentional.  And I’m definitely not going to suggest anything as far as what that might mean.  But even if it were intentional, it should have an even greater impact later when each and every one of these characters of color show their strength, their true colors.  Again, I don’t want to spoil anything for you…but these ‘dark skins’ as the review references them…they’re the good guys.

Well, you know…not by definition or anything, just as a character trait which is shared by each of them…even if it doesn’t appear that way in the beginning.

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