January 4, 2012

Perfect Chemistry: White Savior Syndrome


A fresh, urban twist on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers.
When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she's worked so hard for—her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect. Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more.
In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart.

Topic of choice: White Savior Syndrome

Okay, I'm going to try something a bit different on this blog. But before you go screaming off in a direction cursing the word change, just hear me out.

Basically, I want to use books as a diving board into assessing and understanding western (mostly American) culture better. Sometimes for better or for worse.

Now, I know this may seem weird. Odd. Or even plain downright uncomfortable, but bear with me. 

This isn't exactly my comfort zone either. Even though it feels right, I don't know how many of you will stick around after this.

Now onward with the interesting yet completely out of the blue topic: Perfect Chemistry.

As you can tell from the blurb and probably from the cover, this is a romance between an interracial couple: Alex who is Mexican-American, and Brittany who is European American. Now they both struggle and go through a troubled life. They both have secrets they are hiding and they both are completely different from one another.

And even though I gave a mostly favorable review for this book (seen here).

I still have a major problem with this book, which will be addressed today as the topic: White Savior Syndrome.

For those who don't know what this is, I'll break it down in lamest terms. It's basically when a minority is usually in some sort of trouble (it can be temporary or deep trouble) and they get "saved" by a white person (usually an European American woman) from the situation.

In this case with Perfect Chemistry, Brittany "saves" Alex (or Alejandro which is his real name which he doesn't use, might have that as a topic later on) from destroying his life in a gang.

Okay, now that we have broached this topic, let's expand.

Now you may think, "Huh? White savior syndrome? Is that even a big deal in American culture or even western culture?"

Unfortunately, it is.

You would think in the twenty-first century that this problem of the stereotypical viewpoint that white is good and black is bad, that we would grow as humans to evolve past these stupid things.

But that is not the case. You might think that this is just one instance that doesn't touch our culture.

Oh, but I beg to differ!

Think about movies and television shows. I can list quite a few television shows that use this "white savior syndrome" a lot.

Let's start with this:

Dangerous Minds
Freedom Writers
The Proud Family
That's So Raven!
Sonny with a Chance
Transformers 2

I could continue on and on and on and on, but the list could really do on forever and still very current and pervasive in the culture.

And this is seen as okay?

So it's okay that in Freedom Writers, a European American female "saves" a whole class of minority students?

So it's okay that in Sonny With a Chance, that every time that two guys get into trouble that Sonny has to "rescue" them?

So it's okay that in most traditionally-published romance novels that with every white woman there is a Native American clinging to her side that use to be bad but turned "good"? 

Granted, Freedom Writers is a true story, but did anyone ever sit back and think about the last time a teacher movie was inspirational with an African American (or any other minority) teacher as the savior?

When was the last time a movie was released in theaters where a superhero was black? And became a blockbuster hit and deemed a classic?

When was the last time where an African American (or any minority, for that matter) female saved an European American male from doing something "bad"?

So let's think this through: Hundreds of thousands of dollars are pumped into this media machine (by us), and who does it cater to?

The books, the movies, the television shows, even the radio, who does this cater to?


Yeah, I don't think so. 

Yet, minorities are the backbone of America and yet we are poorly represented as the hero. And if we are represented as the hero most of the time it's with the same actors like Lucy Lui, Will Smith and many others I could list. 

So what's the point?

My point is to look at what is being produced. Look closely. Do you really think a white female showing off her legs in a commercial is simply trying to convince you to buy a lotion product?

No, it's something deeper. It's a lifestyle, it's an ideology that European American females are sexy.

And if you want to be just like them (the hero, the person that everyone wants them to be) that you should buy this lotion too!

And yes, I went there.

I could spout off good points about commercials but I won't. I might write another post, however.

My main point is (she says with determination, hoping to actually stay on point this time), be careful about what you read, buy, and retell to everyone else.

Behind every story there is a message. Sometimes that message is just so clouded, like Twilight, that you really don't get it the first time. Or even the second. 

But after some analyzing it, rereading it, pouring it over in your brain, you might just realize what the author is REALLY saying, believing, and trying to influence you to buy in too.

Well, I'm here to help you out and to hopefully dissuade you from being convinced that white savior syndrome is okay as long as the writer writes nicely and shows some poetic justice.

I'm here to decode the message and slap some harsh reality on it. 

If you let me. :D 

Anyway, let me know what you think about this post. Informational? Boring? Fun? Interesting? Or some other adjectival phrase that properly describes this message? I would love to hear your thoughts! 


  1. AMEN! This is what I'm always trying to say! One of my biggest pet peeves is that there are never any main black characters. In the rare case that there is a token black character, it is usually a male. Where are the black females. There are no role models for girls. This is why as Leslie DuBois, I write interracial stories that feature a variety of races in several different situations. I think the thing with White Savior syndrome is that people find it easier to swallow and believe that a white person is saving a black. Even the book The Help annoyed me. While it is a great book and I loved it, I honestly do not think the book would have been as popular if a black person wrote it. And once again in that book, it is a white person saving blacks by telling their story for them. I've been trying to get people together to do a Black History Month blog hop which would entail doing book reviews for books with black main characters or giving away a book with a black person on the cover. The response has been slim to none. One person who was interested in helping asked if I could give her a list of such books because she didn't know any. Ahem! That's the problem! It makes me want to scream sometimes. I just want a book or a movie to feature an African American women who is not a hoochie or hood rat. This is why I started writing. I wanted to read mainstream books that featured characters like me. And the book doesn't even have to speak about the black experience. Why can't regular books just throw in a black character once in a while? Why couldn't one of the Pretty Little Liars have been black? I haven't read Twilight but apparently Bella can find a Vampire and a Werewolf to hang out with but not one black person? Okay, I need to calm down and stop ranting. Thanks for the post.

  2. Hey Sybil! Thanks for the post (I can't call it a comment, because good Lord, it's a nice long blog post) and for dropping by!

    Wow, there are so many things in there I don't know where to begin. I have to say I'm so glad somebody agrees with me and sees the same thing I do. It's just really annoying that people love this book, but fail to see that minorities are getting bad character roles. The fact that Brittany "saved" Alex is completely ignored in reviews of that book. Instead they talk about the love story as if that is all that matters, and it's not.

    Race matters. And unfortunately, just like you said, not a lot of positive minority characters are out there as a main character. And when we do get a "token" (that could start a whole another post) they are the funny black person or the ghetto black person or even the quiet black person that barely says anything. So it just says a lot about our culture that we are still dealing with stereotypes.

    I was actually tempted to include The Help as one of the examples, but I haven't read the book and I wasn't interested in it. I was going to watch the movie since the girl from Easy A (I forgot her name) was in it, but I haven't. But that's the perfect example of the white savior syndrome.

    Funny thing about the Black History Blog Hop: I think the person you are talking about may have been me! :) I don't get a lot of requests for African American works. And I was wondering where I would get some (for the giveaway). So, lol, funny how that happens, right?! Anyway . . .

    Amen on that! I want a positive female African American woman model in the theaters. What am I suppose to tell my kids (when I get some anyway, lol): Um, Hollywood is racist and decided that all African American females are the same? It's heart wrenching that we are poorly represented in theaters other than the stereotypical mad black woman and the funny sister.

    Man, that's one of my complaints actually about the YA section. You see all of these black covers but there aren't any black people in these paranormal romance books (like Twilight, like you mentioned) which is a crying shame. That is why I support Dia Reeves who's an African American writer who writes YA paranormal fantasy books and I will continue to support writers like you and Dia Reeves.

    No please keep ranting! :) It's nice to see someone else worked up about this too. It seems like people pick up books without thinking about the message behind them. So anyway, thanks for stopping by, and please feel free to drop by again.

  3. Excellent post. Though I enjoyed it, I had a lot of issues with Perfect Chemistry for a number of reasons, and this is one of them. It always bothers me that minority characters are underrepresented in general, but then overrepresented when we're dealing with negative aspects. I'm not from America, so the cultural makeup of my country is different, but the same issue is prevalent here. I'm marrying a Chinese guy, and I always wonder where the books featuring kids of a Chinese background are. I only ever seem to see those where a Chinese background is used to introduce mythology, and I find this both disappointing and frustrating.

  4. Excellent points! I agree with you on this. I'd love to see the media stop stereotyping.

  5. Hi, new follower here. Nice blog!


  6. Hey Stephanie! Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my blog!

    Exactly my problem! I don't understand why it is required for a Chinese character be in a movie as soon as kung fu is mentioned. I don't understand why a movie is set in a certain place about a gang, it has to be a minority gang. There are white gangs but people seem to forget that. Anyway, you raise a great point about it being hard to find a book with a Chinese main characters. I feature a Korean-Japanese character in my book, Angel Diaries, but still. The only book that comes to mind that I remember that has a Chinese character in it is American Born Chinese graphic novel. So yeah.

    Anyway, thanks again for getting me to think about that aspect as well. Hmm, now I want to go look for a book with a Chinese main character . . .

  7. Hey Donna Yates and Fall Into Books! Thanks for stopping by and dropping a comment!

    @Donna-It's sad to see this stereotype and to see that people aren't really doing anything about it. I'm not talking about rising a big protest, but to vote with our wallets. To tell the traditional publishing industry that we will not support your book or your stereotyping by not buying your products. I think that's the only way the media will stop stereotyping.

    @Fall Into Books-Thanks for the compliment! I love your blog too. So much so that I'm now a new follower! Thanks for stopping by and don't be a stranger.

    Thanks again all for dropping by. I love the fact that other readers feel the same way about certain issues arising in books. :)

  8. @Stephanie
    In my Priscilla the Great series, Priscilla's arch enemy is of Chinese descent. She has a British accent, but she's still Chinese. I actually had someone ask my why she has a British accent if she's Chinese. As if there are no Chinese people in England. Wow, some people are so sheltered. Anyway, though the girl is a villain, it is an important role. Villains can be minorities, heroes, love interests anything that white characters can be as well.
    @Larissa I definitely protest with my wallet. Though I read The Help, I refused to pay for it. I read it for free on my Nook while in a Barnes and Noble. I did the same thing with Something Borrowed. I refused to pay for it. They get enough money. If I shell out money for a book it is because I'm either supporting another Indie or minority.

  9. The Green Mile, monster's ball, any movie where the white teacher teaches the black kids to shape up - they're all big box office and they're all shameless because of White Savior syndrome.

    I just saw "The Blind Side", which was worst of all. Yes, I know it was based on a true story, but the black character seemed to be... simple (being polite here).

    -Mac Campbell
    Damn Fine Horror

  10. Hey Sybil and Mac! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

    @Sybil-Exactly! Why pay for something you don't support?! I certainly don't.

    @Mac-Oh yeah! I didn't like the Blindside either. I know it's a true story, but still, it's sad that they made a movie that glorifies a white family "saving" a black man from a negative black family.

    I don't understand why Hollywood fails to support minorities triumphing. Sad.

    Good examples!