What happens when you try to be inclusive, but mess up anyway? *A closer look at A Deadly Education*
In conclusion, like the wise philosopher Hannah Montana once said, Everybody makes mistakes. [intro music] Surprisingly, a lot of people were really into the "Addie LaRue" discussion video I made last time, and a lot of you wanted to see part two where I continue the discussion with "A Deadly Education." So here we are, we are also gonna have the same sponsor as last time as well, which is Squarespace. The all in one platform to build a beautiful online presence and run your business. Squarespace is such a fantastic platform for when you want to create a website because it has so many flexible options. It gives you tons of functions like collecting donations, starting email campaigns, social sharing, and blogging tools.
Plus they have integrated analytics so that you can see which content needs a higher engagement and then you can track your metrics and make sure that you get even more visitors to your website. If you want to check it out you can go ahead and start your free trial where you don't have to pay at all, and if you ever decide to pay at some point, you can head to squarespace.com/readwithcindy to get 10% off of your first domain or website using my code readwithcindy. Before I dive into "A Deadly Education" I do wanna look back at some of the comments that were made on the "Addie LaRue" video. I got an overwhelming amount of comments from people who definitely believe that no matter what you need to write people of color. A crimson Daisy says "there's no such thing as avoiding the issue of race entirely.
Focusing entirely on whiteness is also an active choice." Everyday Sam says, "I believe with my whole heart that representation in media is essential for the advancement of a lot of important movements. We need to see more strong women, LGBT people, disabled people, people of color.
We need to see them living their lives and being full fledged humans. I believe that white or white-ish people, especially those who consider themselves allies have a responsibility to include these types of characters in their works. Not to speak over minorities and oppressed groups, but to help open doors for them. Basically help normalize them as people who deserve love and respect so that they will be allowed to tell their own stories as soon as possible."
Klimptone pretty much sums up the new thoughts that I've been having where it's a bit too easy to just let authors off by saying, "Oh, I can't write about people of color because I wouldn't be able to do it justice. Because there is still systemic oppression and books by white authors tend to have more reach and open more doors. For instance, 'Addie LaRue' has already been optioned for a movie rights, which means that her a disinclination to write roles for people of color will lead to less acting roles for people of color and less jobs for them as well."
Which means that we would be limiting these opportunities because this author has decided to stay in her lane. So yes, that seems to be an overwhelming response to the question, should white authors write non-white characters? Yes, absolutely. Authors should write more diversely and we need to see more of that. But what happens when an author does try to write inclusively, but then messes up? That is what I'm gonna be talking about for part two of this video as I take a look at "A Deadly Education." Basically, what happens is that the internet gets really mad about it. And I want to take a look at what this means when someone tries to do something that everyone believes they should be doing, and they mess up and they get canceled.
What does that mean for this whole initiative in general. "A Deadly Education" is a fantasy novel that came out last year that features a protagonist who is extremely antisocial. She goes to this magic school for teenagers who are developing magic as they grow up.
They exist in a world where the more magic that you start to have, the more susceptible you are to having these creatures attack you. Because they'll be able to sense the magic in you and then they will literally try to kill you. So it's kind of like the worst form of puberty ever. And the closest thing that these magically gifted people can do in order to protect themselves is go to this wizard school. This school is unique because there's no teachers, there's no exams, there's no holidays or anything like that.
The only thing that you need to focus on throughout your entire time in this school is to not die. The school is pretty much the best chance that they get to being protected because it is relatively sheltered, and by staying there it will give them time to just develop their strength until they graduate and are able to fend for themselves. But in the meantime, while they're in school, they have to make sure to watch out when they're walking the halls alone. They have to watch their backs even when they're eating meals or when they're showering or even when they're sleeping in bed. They basically had to always be on the lookout.
The main character is half Indian on her father's side and half Welsh on her mother's side. She has only grown up with her mother so she's not super close to her dad or knows much about her culture or identity from that half of it. She does befriend a popular boy in school and essentially the first book follows their adventures trying to survive in the school as more and more students get killed off, which is like a super casual thing. Like everyone is just dying every single day and they're like well.. The world building in this book is super expansive, and what's interesting about the magic system is that the magic is based on your knowledge of language.
So the language that you speak basically decide what kind of textbooks that you get, and what kind of spells that you learn. So knowing languages and being immersed in multiple cultures is super important for you to expand your magic and be a more powerful, competent wizard. Which means that the school that she goes to is super diverse, where you have tons of different students from all over the world speaking multiple different languages, all coming together in this giant ass school just to make sure that they don't die from the monsters. The premise seems really cool so far, right? We have so much diversity, we have different languages and cultures, we have that intermix with some of the magic and the fantasy elements that are going on.
We have a biracial protagonist. This is what we want from white authors, right? Unfortunately, some controversy has come up from this book. When the book came out, some people started raising points of concern. There was discourse that started around the book and some of the ways that the author depicted racial elements. So let's start with the worst offender, which is the dreadlocks issue. To bring some context, again, the book is very rich in world building.
There's tons of different creatures and little details about the book to fully illustrate this is a magical world, and because the students are constantly in danger, they have to abide by certain rules so that they are less in danger. For example, not showering as much or else they might die. Learning specific languages so that they can learn certain spells and even to the point of their hairstyles, which could put them as a risk for danger.
There is this one paragraph where she's talking about how a lot of students will shave their heads completely or will just have really short cropped hair. That's like another method of survival because of all the dangers around them, and she goes into detail about it in this paragraph. "Going fully shaved like that is popular if you can afford it.
Dreadlocks are unfortunately not a great idea, thanks to lockleeches, which you can probably imagine, but in case you need help, the adult spindly thing comes quietly down at night and pokes an ovipositor into any big clumps of hair, lays an egg inside and creeps away. A little while later, the leech hatches inside it's comfy nest, attaches itself to your scalp almost unnoticeably and starts very gently sucking up your blood and mana while infiltrating further. If you don't get it out within a week or two, it usually manages to work its way inside the skull and you've got a window of a few days after that before you stop being able to move. On the bright side something else usually finishes you off quickly at that point."
So essentially, in this paragraph, she's saying that having dreadlocks as a hairstyle is a bad idea because there are these lockleeches that can get into your hair and burrow inside of it, and will hatch itself inside of your hair and suck your blood, and then you become paralyzed because of these leeches that are inside your dreadlocks. Yeah, that's not really a good look. I'd like to give the benefit of the doubt whenever it comes to these controversies. But I definitely do not think that paragraph should have been included. I read the book because I saw that there was controversy around it, and I wanted to read it to get the full context to see was this irrelevant to this story at all? And the answer was, it was not. It was an extra world building detail that I believe the author probably added to emphasize how dangerous these monsters can be to the point where you have to maintain a certain hairstyle to avoid being in danger.
I also think the author saw an opportunity in wordplay because she was like, oh, lockleeches dreadlocks, haha, I can make a little connection from there. But she failed to realize how that could be bad because black people's hair especially dreadlocks have often been stigmatized to be dirty. Black people will literally be forbidden from wearing certain hairstyles in the workplace or at school because people have certain prejudices about the cleanliness of that hair or the professionalism of that hair. So that was a huge oversight on her part. And I don't think adding that detail of world building was worth it at all.
It didn't add anything to the story. It was just an extra detail that she wanted to toss in. But it was not worth it because a lot of people were pissed. And I think people were justified in being pissed off about that.
So the author got criticized for this and she wrote up an apology, and she made sure that for any future publications of the book, the passage will be taken out completely. I think this issue was necessary to talk about because it really shows how the fact that this paragraph can slip in, and she didn't notice what was wrong with it and her editor didn't notice what was wrong with it shows how pervasive these perceptions can be. Whether it's subconscious or not. Even when an author is actively trying to be inclusive, they can still mess up this way.
I don't have much to say about this specific issue because I feel like it's pretty clear point blank that she shouldn't have included that passage in the first place. Like I don't think there was any room for debate there. However, I do have some thoughts on the other big criticism, which is her biracial protagonist.
A criticism about the main character is that she is half Indian, but she doesn't seem to show any real connection to being Indian. She seems to be like a white girl with a brown girl skin. Some readers criticize that this character was so out of touch with the Indian side of her family. However, when you read the book, you do read about how she was raised by her Welsh mom in this hippie commune in the UK, which would explain why she I guess, is a bit more white, or whatever that means.
I actually got some comments about that in my "Addie LaRue" video when I mentioned "A Deadly Education" and what I found was interesting. Was that I got two comments that were pretty much the opposite of one another. Ruelux Prince says, "When white authors write people of color, they often fall into the trap of I'm just going to unfold the fact that our main lead is biracial into the subtext of the story, and let the readers figure it out like a mini mystery, so not to offend anyone.
It took me a literal 100 pages to figure out that El from "A Deadly Education" is brown and biracial, because the author kept on not saying she's Brown. I shouldn't pull out my uni level literature reading abilities just to figure out a basic stat." This comment pretty much echoes the criticisms that this character has had. It's not obvious that she's brown or a biracial character.
However, I got another comment from Pari Whoop; "As an Indian person I actually like the Scholomance. I think El is a very well written half Indian character and Nomi Novik references Tales from Hindu mythology that are not very well known. She in my opinion did represent Hinduism very well. And even as a half white character raised by her white mom, El knows Hindi and Marathi and was taught this stuff. She was good representation without Naomi Novik needing to insert herself into the role of an Indian girl."
So I just thought that was super interesting, that you have two completely different viewpoints for the effectiveness of the way that this main character was portrayed. On one hand, we have this commenter who doesn't even believe that this character was truly depicted to be biracial or brown because it wasn't mentioned or referenced at all. And on the other hand, we have this other commenter who thinks that this was a very good depiction of an Indian biracial character. So it's like, what is the truth? That's the hard part. We don't really have an answer for that.
There is no right answer to that. I think this is an example of how it can be very tricky to write people of color. Whether you're white or non white, or whatever, you're still going to get scrutinized for the way that you depict a certain character. But what's tough about this is that there's no set way to portray a person of color. Being a specific race is not a personality trait.
It's a very tricky territory to expect an author to prove that a character has a specific heritage because it's like, well, how do you prove something like that? How do you show that you are Indian enough or Asian enough? If she isn't eating the food, and she isn't speaking the language, if she isn't a part of her father's life, does that make her less Indian. I personally hesitate with criticisms about this main character being whitewash because she was raised by her white mother in a predominantly white place, and isn't really close to our father and has never been to her native country. Because a lot of immigrant children have had that experience. A lot of times immigrants will live in western countries, but their extended family do not live in the same places as them.
Maybe they have never even visited their native countries before. So to call them less of their race, is kind of hurtful for people who really do feel like they're in between those identities. For example, I'm vietnamese, but I am not closely tied to that culture at all, because I'm not close to my family. So if you were to write about a character like me on page, you wouldn't really tell that I'm vietnamese at all.
So does that mean that I'm less of a vietnamese character? Or I would be a poor portrayal of a vietnamese character? How do you decide whether someone is properly that race? And now let's make it even more complicated because there's another layer to this criticism. It is mentioned in the book that the main character rarely ever showers. If you read the book, you'll know that this is actually a world building detail where pretty much all the students in the school rarely take showers because that's just one of the ways that you are vulnerable to one of the monsters attacking you.
The main character is one of those students. She is one of those people who are vulnerable and therefore she is another one of those people who do not take showers. People had a problem with that because it looks bad to have an Indian protagonist who rarely showers due to the stigma of Indians not being hygenic. So this is where it gets tricky because on one hand, that stigma absolutely exists for Indian people. But on the other hand, everyone else in the school no matter what race they are, don't shower at all because monsters are literally lurking inside the bathrooms and are going to kill you. So it's really more to do with a fantasy world and not really anything to do with her being Brown.
But again, we have that stigma against Indian people for being unhygenic. So is it problematic or not? I don't really know. I feel like I can't really say because I'm not Indian.
Personally, I didn't have a knee jerk reaction to this detail compared to the dreadlocks passage because I feel like there's a difference between dreadlocks being singled out as a bad hairstyle to have, versus someone not showering, but they also happen to be Indian. Like, I think there's a big difference between that, but some people might disagree. What I do find interesting though, is that the main character has largely been criticized for being too white because she has grown up with her hippie white mom.
But then when the subject of her being dirty and unhygenic is brought up, all of a sudden that's connected to her being Indian. If we were to connect her being dirty and not showering as part of her identity, wouldn't it make more sense to tie that part of her to the fact that she grew up with a hippie mom? And you know how hippies don't shower, right? She has grown up in a hippie commune where a lot of hippies tend to be dirty and unhygenic and not shower. So why is it all of a sudden that when she's revealed to be dirty from not showering is being connected to her being Indian? Which is it then? Is she whitewashed or is she an Indian girl who's being stereotyped? Which one is it gonna be? To me these criticisms almost feel like a contradiction against each other. Whereas like, you have to choose one or the other. She was written this way, because she's white.
And she was written this way, because she's Indian. That falls into the same issue, again, where we're boxing people within whatever race they are, when race doesn't really determine what your personality trait is, or what your habits are going to be. What I find hard to distinguish is finding that line between a character just having a regular trait versus a character showing offensive traits. If we argue that this Indian character not showering is offensive, should we also argue that reading about an East Asian character who's good at math is also offensive? Or is this just a character who happens to be good at math? Where do we draw the line from here? And that's why it can be complicated to write about people of color, because everyone has a different threshold for what is acceptable and what is not.
Obviously, for the case of "A Deadly Education" we should turn to Indian readers to see if this is okay. But the problem is turning to people of a specific group does not necessarily mean that it's okay, because we're not like a monolith. I could look at the portrayal of an Asian character and think that they're totally fine, but maybe another Asian reader could look at it and see that as offensive. How do you really know, because everyone is gonna have a different opinion For whether something is stereotypical or offensive or not.
So when all these criticisms were brought up, people were making threads upon thread, calling the author out for the way that she wrote certain characters and certain hairstyles. She posted an apology and she made sure that future editions of the book would get rid of the dreadlocks line, but people were so mad at her and calling her racist And saying that they weren't going to support her anymore. Some of the reasons were because they were still offended by the fact that she included that dreadlocks line in the first place. Some of the other reasons where she only apologized for the dreadlocks thing, but not because of her Indian character not showering.
Some people even reply to her apology and said don't write people of color. It's not my place to accept her apology because it wasn't for me. I wasn't any of the people that were affected by the things that she wrote in her book. But it did make me think about this whole issue on a broader level. It's interesting for me to read "A Deadly Education" right after I read "Addie LaRue" because that is a book that is devoid of people of color, whereas "A Deadly Education" actually aims to be more inclusive. So as much as we can criticize V.E. Schwab for writing an overtly white book
with barely any people of color, we have an example through Naomi Novik, who wrote a book that does aim to include people of color and aims to incorporate different cultures and languages as part of the world building, and yet it still faces backlash. You could argue that this is what V.E. Schwab was trying to avoid in Addie LaRue. Because when you write about character who isn't white people are gonna have an opinion about the way that you did it. And when you write about a character who isn't the same identity as you, you are way more susceptible to messing that up. This applies to anyone, no matter what race or gender or any form of identity that you are.
But I think that is a bigger risk for white authors to take this on. They're just inherently not going to understand people of color experiences. It's literally impossible for them to understand it. You can educate yourself, you can read about it, you can try to talk to people about it, but you're never actually going to experience it. And you're never going to actually understand the nuances of it because you just simply haven't lived the life of one.
Which means that when authors try to write different identities, specifically white authors, they are inevitably going to mess up. So we have this conundrum here where we are expecting white authors to include intersectionality in their stories, but when they mess up, they face backlash and they get canceled for it. By that logic it's almost like you have to get it right the first time, and if you don't then you're canceled. It becomes a stain in your history. People are gonna bring this shit up no matter how long ago it's been. You mention Naomi Novik and people are gonna be like is that the author that wrote offensive stuff about dreadlocks? You mention my name people are gonna be like is that the girl who made a bunch of fairy dick jokes? The internet does not forget.
She would promote her book on Twitter after this and then people would reply to attack her even though she already apologized and had removed the line from future publications. Which proves that a lot of times when people get cancel, it's not really about getting an apology or having that person try to fix things. Because if that were the case, people wouldn't still be mad after you mess up. People wouldn't be like, Oh, you apologize and you fixed it.
Alright, my job is done. Have a good day. No, that's not the case at all. Instead, when someone messes up and gets canceled, it's more about the fact that this person has been offensive on some level, and therefore they should just disappear off the face of the earth and not have a platform and never create anything ever again.
That's the impression that I get when I see these responses who are still mad even after she's apologized and tried to fix it. Because what else can you do? What else would someone want after that? The only other solution is to just not create anything at all? The thing is, I don't actually think Naomi is racist, but a lot of times when people mess up, they get the label of being racist, or sexist or ableist or some kind of -ist or phobic. But I think there's a big difference between someone like Naomi who unintentionally wrote something offensive versus someone like JK Rowling, who goes out of her way to hurt people with harmful ideologies. But a lot of times we conflate someone making mistakes as someone being purposely malicious and harmful. Someone committing a few mistakes becomes equal to someone who is racist or homophobic or ableist. And maybe it's because intention doesn't equal impact.
Just because someone doesn't intend to be offensive doesn't erase their impact of actually being offensive. So maybe that's why people aren't so forgiving, even though she's apologized and tried to fix things. But this makes me wonder where is the line between canceling people for writing offensive things and letting them have room for growth, because the fact of the matter is, people are gonna mess up. Everyone has committed microaggressions and has said or done offensive things, and most of the time is unintentional. I'm no stranger to that. I've said tons of stupid shit in the past, and I will likely continue to do so in the future.
Because that's just part of being a flawed human being. It doesn't matter if you are white or a person of color. Everyone has blind spots, and everyone is gonna make mistakes. The difference is that when you are an author or a content creator, or just someone in the public eye, everyone is gonna see your mistakes. The more that you create and try to put things out into the world, the more likely you are to mess up.
So who gets allowed to continue to create things and who doesn't get to be allowed to create anymore? In part one of my video I had asked should white authors write non white characters? The answer for the most part seems to be yes. But what happens when they do that and mess up? Who is deserving of forgiveness and growth and who deserves to be cancelled? How do you even decide whether someone is capable of growth after making a mistake? Is it only after they feel bad about it? Because lots of people feel bad after they make a mistake. Is it only if their intentions were pure? Because a lot of times people don't have bad intentions, but they mess up anyway. I got a lot of comments on my "Addie LaRue" video where people were saying that they were terrified of writing certain characters because they were so afraid of messing up. I've also seen other comments arguing that being terrified of messing up isn't an excuse to not write diversely.
I agree with that. But I also think it's understandable to be terrified when the climate of the internet can be so vicious. I don't really have the right answers for this.
I just want to point out that we live in a complicated world we have many people with many different opinions. And sometimes it's hard to figure out what the right thing to do is. In conclusion, like the wise philosopher, Hannah Montana once said, Everybody makes mistakes. [Music: Everybody Makes Mistakes by Hannah Montana] I think I sympathize with Naomi Novik because I make mistakes all the time too. And like her I am in a very public position where unlike regular people who can just learn and move on from their mistakes, our mistakes will be crucified by the internet. And that's the risk that you have when you decide to be an author or any form of storyteller or a content creator.
So I can understand why authors and even authors of color are paralyzed with not knowing what the right thing to do is. Because it can be hard to figure out what is the right thing to do especially when you mess up. To end this video on a more hopeful note, I'm gonna share two comments that I think articulate best what my current stance is on this whole matter. Hannah Elizabeth says, "There is no right answer, no one way, no rulebook for us to follow.
That's kind of the point isn't it? That the human existence is so subjective. Personally, I think that authors should be brave and write with conviction. You wanna write an all white cast because that's what you know and want to stay in your lane, fucking own that but be honest about it. Wanna write about people of color, own that you might fuck up and will fuck up in some people's eyes. Be willing to listen, learn and try again.
There's always another story always another chance to try it again. I'm not down with creative censorship. That's the point of fiction. To explore boundaries and imagine new worlds."
Alie Chiasson says, "There is no good answer for these questions. You have to do what you can with a kind heart and attentive mind and above all, empathy. There is no avoiding criticism. People will have an opinion, no matter how careful and thoughtful you are regarding race, but also a myriad of other things.
It's not something you can control. As part of the universal experience being a writer, I think it's important to listen to criticism, for introspection and to reflect on our privilege, our impact on others and our personal responsibility as writers and as human beings to think about racial issues and to help shift the culture in every big and tiny way we can. What each of us does and how we think matters, and often more broadly than we can imagine." Very well said. Much more articulate than I probably happened throughout this entire video.
Is a very complicated subject I know. I'm gonna go take a nap now because I've used way too many of my brain cells. Go ahead and unsubscribe from my channel. Goodbye.
[Music: Purple by Rachel Bochner]