“It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin’ on the porch with my family, singin’ and dancin’ down in Mississippi.”
— Steve Martin, The Jerk
So it turns out that some WASPy middle class white girl figured out the whole New York memoir publishing racket (i.e. whatever you do, don’t actually tell the story of your life) and wrote a memoir while sitting in Starbucks about her life growing up as an “original gangsta” in Compton. Luckily for the publisher, after spending hundreds of thousands on the advance and surely a couple million on production and publicity, they “discovered” that this supposed gem of street-wise realism was, in fact, an act of stereotyped racial tourism so egregious they had to pulp the books before they ever got shipped to stores. There was just no way to know, according to the publisher and the agent. The author was just so good at her hoax. That’s the way it always is in these stories, isn’t it? You’d think that after years and years of these hoaxes being discovered that these industry professionals would make a bit more of an effort when some cheesy movie script falls into their laps claiming to be a memoir. I mean, come on, a woman escapes the Holocaust and is raised by wolves? A man leaves rehab and immediately goes to a bar and sticks his nose in a beer to prove he’s manly enough? And at least those are original movie scripts. This woman literally updated the plotline of The Jerk, didn’t realize it was supposed to be an ironic exploration of race relations, and got a publisher to make her rich for it.
Lovely. Well, it’s not like it’s news that racism can still move a few books.
My favorite take on this mess comes from the AlterNet story:
In the world of Internet fan fiction — in which amateur fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other shows imagine new adventures, they have a derisive term, the “Mary Sue Story,” for wish-fulfillment that crosses the line. That’s when a certain kind of fan breaks the rules and makes herself the hero, fascinating everyone, saving the world.
This story, about a white girl who makes black people happy by escaping from their ghetto, is a Mary Sue story about race. And people ought to be upset that it passed for realism.
You should read the whole article, but…