Many, many moons ago, I wrote a senior thesis for my English degree that dealt with whiteness studies through the lens of the nigh-dead field of narratology. Specifically, it analyzed the modal discourse of colonial and postcolonial literature; the phenomenology of the (colonialist) narration itself, and how its structure is defined by whiteness, by the false binary of “white” and “nonwhite,” compared to the phenomenology of (postcolonial) narration and how its narrative structure arises from the starting assumption of multiplicity.
Or something like that. I don’t think it was really groundbreaking stuff, except that my argument was that both of these things took place in the same book(s – I had a few examples). It was good enough to earn me an A, though, in spite of my professors’ letting me know that I would be capable of fine scholarship if I could present it in a way that didn’t smack of chaos.
Last night I was flipping through some books on whiteness studies to see if I could apply that same discursive analysis to fantasy literature in a way that was user-friendly; that didn’t require knowledge of, say, the difference between structuralist and post-structuralist thought, or five dollar vocabulary words like “hegemony”; that didn’t read like the above paragraphs.
And then my brain exploded and my eyes bled all over my keyboard.
Frantz Fanon is beyond me lately, y’all.
Fortunately, I don’t think any of that is necessary to address an argument that has chapped my ass ever since I first heard it, when the Lord of the Rings movies were being released – the fanboy handwavium regarding the racist overtones of some fantasy literature based on the European experience. This argument usually borrows heavily from pseudoscientific evolutionary psychology: people like the daytime and do not like the nighttime, the night is frightening, and the night is dark, so of course the bad, mean creatures in fantasy novels are black. (And thus, the unstated but natural corollary, of course the good, nice creatures – or characters – are white.) It has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with this universal human experience, right?
Now obviously – or perhaps not so much – this binary construct of race is intrinsic to whiteness itself as a concept; the false white/nonwhite binary cannot exist without white privilege, for race is not truly a binary but a multiplicity. And thus, this whole argument cannot structurally exist apart from “non-white” otherness and, thus, white privilege.
It’s also a whole bunch of bullshit.
This argument is based on so many flawed assumptions that I don’t even know where to begin.
Since when is this light = good, dark = bad culturally universal? Want to talk to a Chinese person about that?
Who says humans are naturally afraid of the dark? How would you know? Experienced a world without artificial light lately?
If the night is when humans are vulnerable, why would we have evolved to spend that time sleeping?
Why would we generally prefer to copulate at night, unlike most diurnal species?
What were humans’ nocturnal predators, and how did their numbers compare to our diurnal ones?
Given that humans’ natural predators were usually, in fact, other humans, shouldn’t day be the scarier of the 24-hour cycle?
And, finally, is white not the color that we turn in death?