“Save the Pearls” is a vanity published YA novel trying to bill itself as the next “The Hunger Games.” The publisher says that “‘Save the Pearls turns the tables on racism.’”
It uses blackface as a plot device.
In author Victoria Foyt’s futuristic world, no one wants to mate with white people—or “pearls”—considered to be the ugliest humans oppressed by people of color. In order to survive, they must put on blackface make up to be attractive to the ruling class of “coals.” Hoyt explains: “their stunningly dark skin that carries the greatest amount of melanin…makes them the strongest, most powerful race alive.” The protagonist is a white girl who must smear her face with “midnight luster” make up in order to protect herself from radiation and in order to look beautiful to the oppressive “coals” in hopes that they will mate with her.
The rule in Eden’s post-apocalyptic world is: the darker the skin, the higher the mate-rate. Other factors calculated into one’s mate-rate include wealth or employment status. For example, Ronson Bramford, a handsome Coal titan of industry, is at the top of the heap with a mate rate of 98%. At age twenty-two, he only has two years left in which to mate—or else he’d probably have a 100% mate-rate. Tiger’s-Eyes, or Latinos, usually rate above Ambers, or Asians, in the future race wars. White-skinned Pearls offer little resistance to The Heat, and therefore, are at the bottom. Only a Cotton, or Albino, would be lower.”
THE MIND IT BOGGLES.
Oh Jesus what fresh hell is this.
Leaving aside the sheer WTF of “Hmm, Blackface, what a grand idea for YA!” I’m seriously sideeyeing the fact that the oppressed White folks are named for a pretty gemstone, and the high muckitymucks are named for a common-as-muck thing. (Particularly given the gemstone-based scale. THERE ARE PLENTY OF BLACK PRECIOUS AND SEMIPRECIOUS STONES. THERE IS EVEN A MAGAZINE NAMED AFTER ONE. THIS IS NOT DIFFICULT.)
It’s not impossible for a setting to go into this “reverse racism” idea, but it’s pretty clearly not explored in this one, and used more as window dressing for a Cinderella-style romance. There are definite differences in ethnicity that could be played with* but the “Black folks are on top because melanin!” thing is entirely too pat and shows a disinterest in the very real social structures of oppression.** At the VERY least, the author could have looked a bit into how real people are encouraged to dramatically alter their features to fit a beauty standard made for a different ethnicity. (HINT: Black people do not usually put on white makeup.)
tl;dr My point here is if you want to “turn the tables on racism” you seriously need to have a detailed idea what racism entails. (Thorough worldbuilding would help too.) Basically, DO YOUR DAMNED RESEARCH.
*I recall an article once playing with the way nonwhite features are looked down on, where White women were described as having knifelike features and untamed, wild hair that moved in the breeze, contrasted to the beauty of African features with soft curves and unmoving, “tame” hair.
**I’m not even going into the weird idea that “the Heat” renders White people unable to GO OUTSIDE AT ALL, as though the human race hasn’t invented some kind of covering- perhaps woven? maybe made of reflective surfaces?- to shield the body from harmful environmental conditions. JUST SAYIN’.***
***Also WTF is up with this weird-ass “YOU GOTTA MATE BUT ONLY ONCE!” law? Sensemakeno. IDK, maybe it’s explained in the book as some sort of shadowy evil government thing, but it still seems like if you had a setting where humanity was in danger of dying out, not from lack of resources, they’d be all about, “YES MAKE A JILLION BABIES THEY CAN HELP WITH THE WORK.” Again, p. clear the worldbuilding was probably not thought out. Hell, there could be an exploration of the racist as fuck idea of “ALL THESE UNDESIRABLES BE POPPIN OUT BABIES AND THEY GONNA TAKE OVER!!!” (See: Latin@s now, Muslims in Western Europe, Chinese folks in the US…)