Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: I can't resist

From: Schooley (
Date: 15 Nov 2001

Kevin Burton Smith wrote:

> Yeah, that's something I think some people miss in the books. I think
> on the surface, yes, Susan and Hawk (and even Spenser, to a certain
> extent) may be racial stereotypes, but dig a little and the
> subversion that is the subtext becomes clear. The ditzy, frigid,
> money-grubbing Jewess (isn't that the way that stereotype goes?)
> becomes the educated professional/hot tamale/drinking buddy,

mmm, I was thinking the well educated, particularly in the mind-games department, stereotype. The one racists begin by saying "I've always admired your people for..."

> and the
> dumb but street smart black thug becomes a savvy articulate and
> sophisticated, uh, professional criminal, closer to James Bond than
> Bad Bad Leroy Brown.

More the savvy, immoral and not very articulate "six-foot nigger with a switchblade" stereotype that figures in some racist jokes I used to hear around this part of Ontario.

> The racial/sexual/whatever banter plays up the stereotypes, but only
> for the much greater fun of poking honking big holes right through
> them.

I accept that's the intention, but it just never worked for me in hardboil, where characters are judged by their actions, and this sort of shuck and jive dialogue, or long-winded motivational or moral musings are just so much after-the-fact justification for misbehaviour.

I don't see all side-kick pairings as racist, or otherwise bad. I just don't see why Hawk had to be black and Susan Jewish and not, say, the other way around. It's been close to 40 years since I read Cooper. My awareness of Hawkeye and Chingachkook comes largely from the much more recent movie, but my sense there was that they treated each other as equals, and not a case of one respecting the other's code because it allowed him to see done what he would not do himself. Mouse may do what Easy doesn't, but I never get the sense that Easy is easy with that. He's usually upset, in fact, but not in a position to do anything about it. And this is assuming I accept them as two separate characters. There's lots of room to develop the interracial sidekick kick without being racist.

Admittedly I grew frustrated and stopped reading Parker early on. Between Spenser and Hawk, I found Hawk much more interesting because I always wondered where he came from, what made him the man he was. But I never got that. Just more of the same stereotypes. Did he become more articulate later in the series?

And Kevin, speaking about racial experiences via Bouchercon, it didn't occur to me until I got home how few black people I saw at the event. I remember Walter Mosely and Gary Phillips among authors. I do not recall any black female authors at all. Maybe this is because I'm not as attentive to female authors as I should be. But I don't remember anyone black other than Mosely, Phillips and the hotel staff. (And I wasn't too far out of it. I even have a vague recollection of meeting Bill Crider.) This is an observation, not an accusation, but if it is correct, what does this say about our genre, particularly when Oprah is the most influential bookselling resource in North America today?


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