Us vs Them: This Problematic Trope in Media

“They’re savages. Watch out for them. Be afraid of them. We have to make them civilized; it’s our duty.”

This sounds like an old movie about American History. However, these ideas come from two books that are scheduled to be released in January and it’s not about American History. They’re fiction novels for young adults.

Portraying people of color, or any race for that matter, as the villains or even pinning different races against each other is not right. It only helps to discriminate against people of color because of the cultural stereotypes placed on them.

“These aspects of a make believe culture of savage war-like peoples have their roots in the beliefs and stereotypes used to other people of color in the real world,” wrote Justine Ireland, author of Promise of Shadows. “According to scholars of racial inequality, one of the ways groups are othered by the majority is by ‘using the values, characteristics, and features of the dominant group as the supposedly neutral standard against which all others should be evaluated.’ And we see that at length in both Carve the Mark and The Continent.”

Photo from Goodreads

In The Continent by Keira Drake. she has Vaela Sun, the main character who she describes as part of the “civilized” part of the people. For Vaela’s birthday she gets to go to The Continent where two “uncivilized” groups of people are always fighting. I would be fine with this summary if it was just one race of people calling others civilized or if there was a mix of different races within the “civilized” and “uncivilized” groups. However, this author decided to base the “uncivilized” groups of people solely as Native Americans.  To make matters worse, the author tried to justify her decision by saying that she was part Native American, when in reality, almost every white person says they have Native American blood in them. Luckily, this book’s release date has been pushed back so that they can fix the problems. However, I don’t know how much you can change this book without changing the entire book. The world the author created was racist and the plot that she created is the reason why this is a problem. The book shouldn’t be published at all because it’s going to be a completely different book. Unless they change the race of the “uncivilized” groups of people, which would only make the characters of color one dimensional.

Photo from Goodreads

Similarly in Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth, there are two main characters. One of them is a boy, named Akos, who is apart of the Thuvhe. The Thuvhe are the gentle group of this book. The other main character is named Cyra and she is apart of the Shotet, the aggressive group.  The story, set in space, is about this power struggle between the Thuvhe and the Shotet, which sounds like a promising premise for a story. However, the author describes the Shotet like people from North African descent and the Thuvhe like white people. I don’t like how this book describes the traits of people of color because of the fact that the two different depictions of people that follow white supremacist ideas of the white people being the good guys. As of now, the book hasn’t been pushed back for it’s release date because of these problematic tropes and the publishers have not issued a response to the issues. But just like The Continent, the world of this book was based on racist tropes so how much that can be done to fix the problem is miniscule unless they change the entire book. 

The problems with publishing stories like these is that it only makes the division between different races even wider. Today we have many things that make each race hate another and we don’t need anymore. The killing of black people without cause and then the murderer getting away with it. The Muslims being branded as terrorist because of certain events that happened in the United States. These situations are already occurring in our world and it has “real impact on how readers perceive a story” (Justine Ireland).

I don’t like stories that have races pinned against each other because of the problems that come with it. As a black girl, I already feel discriminated against in almost every aspect of my life. Stories like The Continent and Carve the Mark only portray the worst stereotypes of people of color which does nothing to help me and other people of color try to diminish the stereotypes. I read books to be in a world where they have bigger problems but when I read books that show the same idea of white supremacy, what is that telling me? That I should be discriminated against? That I shouldn’t try to fight for what I believe in because I’ll lose? If we show that races are different from each other in media, the discrimination and the hate for each other only makes the division between us deepen, making an already divided country more divided.


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