Where are your manners?: Racism and rudeness on True Blood

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I hesitate to post about this, because I don’t want to hear any spoilers as I wade into the series, but I’ve been so struck by a scene in True Blood that I’m going to press forward. I recently watched the first few episodes of the show, intrigued by what I’d heard about its representations of gender and race. Like another show about vampires in a small town, this one stars a skinny blonde woman with powers who’s got a thing for vamps. Unlike that other show, the star’s best friend is a Black woman. (I just have to say that it makes little sense to me thus far in my viewing that these two are friends. Another post for another time.)

Why Tara is an instantly interesting character is that it quickly becomes evident that she recognizes racism and white privilege. We know this instantly, because she’s got a sharp tongue and doesn’t hesitate to make white folks uncomfortable by asking unorthodox questions. In most scenes, the white folks that she catches offguard are strangers to us, one-time characters, so we can easily watch in amusement as they struggle to respond.

In another scene, the one that has captured me, Tara is at her best friend Sookie’s house, along with Sookie’s grandmother and brother. They’ve gathered because Sookie has brought home a suitor of some concern to them — Bill, a vampire. Sookie isn’t worried about him, and her grandmother is easygoing too, more interested in the firsthand historical account he can provide than sussing out any danger he poses. Sookie’s brother, on the other hand, is far from pleased by the vampire in his living room and aggressively questions the idea of rights for vampires.

Tara isn’t thrilled by Bill either. But her line of questioning doesn’t concern Bill’s vampire nature. As the conversation turns to Bill’s memories of Sookie’s ancestors, Tara interjects to ask, “Did you own slaves?” Sookie immediately scolds Tara and gives her a look to let her know she’s transgressed the boundaries of politeness. Bill proceeds to explain he didn’t own slaves, but his father had owned two: a woman whose name he can’t remember and “a young, strong man named Minus.” Sookie’s grandmother then announces cheerily that her history club will be very interested to hear about this, to which Tara retorts, “About slaves?” This prompts another scolding look from Sookie, who appears uncomfortable.

This scene captured for me one way white privilege does play out in the real world. The white people carry on a conversation completely ignorant of how their privilege oozes from every word; a person of colour calls attention to it, and instead of receiving serious consideration and a serious response, she’s peremptorily shut down. Doesn’t Tara know it’s impolite to ask white people if they or they families owned slaves? Doesn’t she know how rude, inappropriate, and irrelevant it is to ask someone about their relationship with racism? How dare she imply any of these white folks are racist? Doesn’t she have any goddamn manners?

Before I wrap up this post, let me just point out that Bill can’t even remember the names of the two slaves his father owned. I mean, it’s not like they were even real people, right?

And did I mention that I don’t understand why Sookie and Tara are best friends? Or even friends at all?

(I’m serious when I say no spoilers. Refrain from telling me about future episodes please!)

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