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RECOMMENDED READING: “Too White Bread for This Shit: Race and Racism in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Urban Fantasy Series”

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As a former LKH reader, I was absolutely blown away by this article by Stitch over at Stitch’s Media Mix. Because I started reading the books when there were only five out, there is so much I forgot between books and seeing it all together in one place was shocking. I think you guys will find it really interesting.

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27 Comments

  1. Jenny Talia
    Jenny Talia

    I feel ashamed these days when I think how much I used to enjoy her books. Everything about her is off-putting to me as an adult. Thanks for sharing the article.

    January 21, 2019
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  2. I keep reading and oh I have written so much on the badness. Race is a huge issue – but the misogyny and homophobia are also really really bad – and there’s a huge amount of consent issues around the sex 9and there’s so much sex for there to be issues about)

    January 21, 2019
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    • to add, i honestly think Laurell K Hamilton made Anita half-latina because she thinks that voodoo/necromancy is a Mexican thing. Honestly, you read the books pretty much all her voodoo practitioners are non-Black Latinos (I think she’s had a major trainwreck of misunderstanding over Dia de los muertos. Or she honestly didn’t realise the origins of voodoo/Yoruba based religions)

      This is something we see a fair amount of Urban Fantasy – giving a main character some kind of “exotic” ethnicity (Native American is also super common here) in order to give them the special shiny powers but also do their utmost to distance them from thee culture/history/language (a dead parent is a perfect tool for this)

      January 21, 2019
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  3. Michael
    Michael

    I already like Stitch’s stuff, and already had problems with Hamilton’s books. Thank you for the link!

    January 21, 2019
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  4. Jess
    Jess

    I read, recapped, and analysed the first… 12 (I think?) Anita Blake books several years ago. I had to stop because the sheer amount of racism, sexism, and sexual abuse got way too much, and had a awful effect on my mental health. I.. just… there is so much bad in those books that I don’t know why there hasn’t been more pushback?

    I still sometimes remember random horrible elements of the books and I just can’t do anything but mind flail at the sheer awfulness of those books.

    January 21, 2019
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  5. Neminis
    Neminis

    Another problem in the books, especially the most recent few, is that Anita is becoming more and more needlessness and randomly violent. However, the reader is still supposed to think of her and her men as “the good guys.” LKH herself call them that on her social media, in interviews, etc. Anita is not a “good guy.” She is an anti-hero at best.

    January 21, 2019
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  6. Terra
    Terra

    I’ve had a love hate with this series for a long time. I never made it past book 6, but I always told myself that books 1, 2, and 5 were actually pretty good. Rereading them… ugh. SMH

    The worst thing for me as a reader is that there were genuinely interesting concepts and character flaws that, with a better writer, could have been amazing to read. The more I see of the author herself in interviews and blogs, the less I want to have anything to do with her work. I don’t recommend her to book buddies.

    January 21, 2019
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  7. Anon
    Anon

    In most vamp stories, they’re pale because they can’t go out in the sun. A black vampire would still have brown skin in that scenario. I mean, I know black people can get sunburns and even tan, but when they’re not burned or tan, they still have dark skin because it isn’t dark because of sun exposure, FPS.

    In fairness, I haven’t read this specific series, but I know how skin color works.

    January 22, 2019
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    • Sam
      Sam

      Exactly, even if they’re pale because their blood is drained and they’re walking corpses, black vampires would just look like black corpses!

      January 22, 2019
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    • MamaLich
      MamaLich

      Yup–the ’98 Blade movie did the smart thing by spending much of the movie describing vampirism like a disease (and how it would’ve had no effect on any POC’s skin color if they’re already dark/brown), and they even included vampires facing ‘inequalities’ in ways that seemed to make sense (by having the vamps separate each other by whether they were ‘born’ vampires (and so they had their own vampire ‘culture’ and politics), or whether they were just vampires that were simply turned (and so they definitely were never exposed to any vampire culture, and are often portrayed as bloodthirsty and hedonistic pricks with no interest in old vampire languages and politics (unless to usurp their way into getting more power)).

      The inequality between the vamps at least made sense…and it didn’t feel like it was Laurell’ing a current (and long-standing) issue that had nothing to do with vampirism/werewolves/etc. It also still kept snippets of POC characters facing actual real-world prejudice (like Blade getting shot at by cops, despite that the policemen were CLEARLY SEEING a corpsey vampire attacking a medic and a human male (Blade) during that situation).

      I’m just often amazed that so many Urban Fantasy writers would still try to make ‘vampires as the downtrodden minority’–despite that they’re vampires (and I say this with a deep love and affection for the undead). You can’t create a race of powerful immortal beings (especially with PERFECT, chiseled faces and abs) that are ‘prejudiced’ for drinking blood—and then show them ACTUALLY drinking blood (especially from unwilling (or heavily pressured) humans).

      January 23, 2019
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  8. Amy
    Amy

    *Sigh* The bit with Anita being half-Mexican bothers me. It took me a while to realize why, and then it hit me. Hamilton wrote Anita with all the benefits of a WOC, but none of the bullshit. So Anita has all the physical attributes White women like: thick hair, curvaceous body, but when it comes to actual cultural significance she outright ignores it.

    January 23, 2019
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    • Dove
      Dove

      Yeah and on top of that, it’s how she frames it specifically… Anita could’ve been American without ever being in Mexico and still be Latina (this could explain avoiding her culture and maybe making it work… maybe her family tried to become as generically American as possible to fit into the US and that’s what she learned as a kid) or Hamilton could’ve used Anita’s multi-nationality as a way to differentiate the heroine by explaining what she likes best about each country and which one feels more like home but instead, it’s just another lazy way to make Anita exotic and sexy. Oooh! She’s a little bit foreign! Wooooow.

      I also have a feeling that Hamilton doesn’t think enough about South or Central America to realize there are multiple countries where Anita could be from and still be Latina. (And something I forgot about, but the Carribean counts too.) 😛

      January 25, 2019
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  9. Kat
    Kat

    I have a perpetual love/hate relationship with the Anita Blake books. I’ve seen a bit of Hamilton’s interviews, and noped away from them. I borrowed the first one from a student about 12 years ago (it magically appeared on my desk one day, the way most books that students thought I needed to read, but didn’t want to get caught with them did), and I liked it okay. I mentioned it to my dad, and he gave me his entire stack of them, which was about 10 or 12 at the time. Read those, took them to the used book store, and picked up the next ones over the years from said used book store, usually for about $3 at the most. I will not buy her books in a bookstore.

    I agree with the commenter who said the concepts could be fascinating if well-done (still annoyed that we didn’t get to see the actual vampire ballet after it being hyped for the entire freaking book), but the execution is not the strongest. I like the plot more than the sex, which has gotten, IMO, really routine and stale and dry to read. It takes away from the story, and has done for years. I tend to use Edward as a marker of whether or not I’ll enjoy the once-through read – if Edward is in the book, there’s usually less sex and more plot, so I’ll most likely enjoy the book more (though even that has let me down in recent books).

    Thank you for the link to the article, Jenny. I read the article and left a comment there, because I did not realize just how white the books were/are, and now I’m upset at myself for not noticing. Unexamined privilege on my part. When the next one I haven’t read comes into the used book store, I’ll be reading with more awareness. Even though I’ve been leaning toward the “dislike” more than “like” with them for a while now, I feel compelled to keep reading. I have this vain hope that they’ll get better, even though I know they won’t.

    January 23, 2019
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    • Athena
      Athena

      I’ve gotten to where I just wait for someone to do a chapter by chapter flog of them, but even those have become less entertaining simply because the books are so horrifically boring and repetitive it’s just “second verse, same as the first,” if not outright vile. And then she snuffs out anything remotely interesting, like the vampire ballet. It’s honestly infuriating how she makes the problems with her books about other people. She didn’t write terrible books, you just don’t like to be pushed out of your comfort zone.

      January 26, 2019
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      • Neminis
        Neminis

        ” It’s honestly infuriating how she makes the problems with her books about other people. She didn’t write terrible books, you just don’t like to be pushed out of your comfort zone.”
        That is her go-to excuse. It’s not that she writes bad, repetitive, sex, it’s that people are prudes! It’s not that the stories rarely have a plot, it’s that people can’t handle that she’s a woman writing about sex! It’s not that the so-called protagonists are almost all awful people, it’s that they push people out of their comfort zones!
        Sometimes, LKH, it is you and not them.

        January 30, 2019
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  10. Paheli
    Paheli

    My mother loves Laurell K Hamilton and her books. My mother also thinks that Battlefield Earth and Jupiter Ascending are great movies. *eyeroll* I gave Hamilton’s books a chance a long time ago. Stopped reading after I got to the part where Anita is lead down to look at some animator/necro dude’s work and it included two dead women who were propped up like mummys. they were decayed but they still had their souls in them. Anita could see the terror in their eyes, and the dude said that he charged money for people to rape the corpses. I was so grossed out and horrified by that.

    January 24, 2019
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    • Dove
      Dove

      Oh god. I really hope that guy got what was coming to him but even then… we don’t need that cheap drama. It’s using rape as generic stakes and I presume these “characters” have no impact beyond that one book. I mean, for goodness sake, they didn’t need to be aware for him to offer their dead bodies for necrophiliacs. I also question the decay since I’d presume they’d want more intact corpses and what good is a necromancer if he can’t offer proper stasis of the bodies? …but I have no idea, maybe some people would want that. It’s still gross and weird and just why?

      January 25, 2019
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      • Athena
        Athena

        I believe it was a woman that raised the women, and yes she does get it in the end. The trapped souls kept the bodies from decaying further. And no, their existence didn’t impact the plot at all except to show how “evil” the woman who raised them from the dead was.

        Every. Single. Character. in Hamilton’s books has been raped, usually as part of their tragic backstory. And every one of the villains is a rapist. It’s literally the only thing she can come up with. It got to the point before I gave up that I was rolling my eyes when another one of her broken men admitted to being raped, and even now my gut reaction to seeing rape used in fiction is think of it as “insta-drama”, no real work involved.

        January 25, 2019
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        • Paheli
          Paheli

          It’s been a long time so I don’t remember all the details. Sorry about getting the gender wrong. Can I ask if I am remembering something else wrong? Didn’t the animator trap the souls because the two women did something wrong? Like the women crossed some person and the soul trapping and raping was the punishment?

          January 26, 2019
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          • Athena
            Athena

            I don’t remember that, but the guy in the wheelchair went through women pretty fast. I wouldn’t doubt if they had some connection to him. I just remember that one pretty well because at the time I saw Dominga as what Anita could become if she strayed.

            January 26, 2019
  11. Neminis
    Neminis

    Micah is another example of LKH doing a poor job with race. In one of the later books it is revealed that Micah is part African-American. Until then the readers had no idea, as LKH just fell upon her usual “he had something darker in him” trope. Most of the readers really seemed to have little idea what Micah looked like too, which wasn’t helped by the cover of “Micah” having an idealized image of LKH’s husband on it.
    So Micah is part African American and what is his distinguishing characteristic? He had a huge dick. The biggest dick of them all.

    January 25, 2019
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    • Stormy
      Stormy

      He had a huge dick. The biggest dick of them all.

      *snorting of tea commences*

      January 25, 2019
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      • Neminis
        Neminis

        Now I can’t help but think of a “Magic Mirror” parody.
        Richard: ” Magic mirror in my hand, who has the biggest dick in the land?”
        Mirror: “Wolf King, you have the biggest dick here, so true. But Micah has a bigger dick than you!”

        January 25, 2019
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  12. Dvärghundspossen
    Dvärghundspossen

    I was thinking about this really common trope where the MC has super pale skin, “porcelain white”, etc. It’s such an unrealistic beauty standard.

    I’m a pretty pale blond Swede by nature. Back when I was young and serious about my gothic look, I used to dye my hair black and also keep my skin more or less completely white. But even if you have the genes for it (which loads of people don’t, loads of people who are white “race-wise” can never get really white skin no matter how hard they try), it takes EFFORT. You have to slather on a layer of really heavy-duty sun block (and then you put your make-up on top… so you’ll have a pretty thick layer on your face at the end of the day) WHENEVER you go outside, at least from spring to fall. And that goes for SWEDEN, where the sun is WEAK – I can’t imagine the effort it would take to keep your skin truly white if you live in a much more southern location!

    And yet there are all these YA books, urban fantasy books etc where the heroine really has porcelain white skin, without any effort at all, despite living FAR south of Sweden.

    January 27, 2019
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  13. Small jar of fireflies
    Small jar of fireflies

    I once sat down and tried to figure out what was wong with my camera. in sunlight, I had an orange forehead, a white racoon mask, pink cheeks, and a strange green around my mouth.

    Answer: orange = ivory foundation over sunblock. White = carefully applied extra sunblock plus softly reflective eye makeup. Pink = nice blush glow spread over shiny white sunblock. Green = sunblock wiped away by napkin, skin beside coral lipgloss, camera confused by all other psittacine happenings.

    In artificial light i looked fine.

    I learned never to underestimate what sunblock can do to makeup.

    January 27, 2019
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    • Small jar of fireflies
      Small jar of fireflies

      … That was supposed to be a reply to Sweden sun facts. Whoops.

      January 27, 2019
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      • Dvärghundspossen
        Dvärghundspossen

        😀

        January 28, 2019
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