This month in Urban Fantasy 101, we talk about the single white vampire myth and how urban fantasy authors (erroneously) equate vampires with whiteness.
Why are so many vampires in Urban Fantasy fiction French (and white)?
I have issues with the way that popular vampire mythology and fiction remains singularly focused on white, European, male vampires.
I know that Anne Rice popularized the notion with her white French vampires back in the day, but that’s not an excuse or an explanation for the lingering trend or the genre’s reliance on putting French vampires all over the place – especially where no French vampire has ever belonged.
Anne Rice wrote primarily about vampires who were white and French because she was writing a version of New Orleans where members of the African diaspora were outnumbered by white people and were very rarely turned into vampires. New Orleans in Rice’s world is one where almost all of the active supernatural characters are white and/or French (or hailing from France in some way).
New Orleans is a part of America tied up in Frenchness. There are French street names, French landowners buried in historical cemeteries, French food in the restaurants. It makes some sense that to write about the supernatural in New Orleans is to write about French influence and French vampires.
However, port cities like New Orleans also took a lot of their culture from free and enslaved Black people who came to the city from the Caribbean and who left their mark on the ports. So why aren’t they represented in that unique set up?
So many authors writing in the Urban Fantasy genre tend to write off so many experiences and identities in the quest for perfectly pale vampires and it’s sad.
I’ve read more than my fair share of vampire novels and I’ve only seen a single Haitian vampire (in Debra Dunbar’s Templar series).
Hardly any of the vampires I see in these books are from the African diaspora and other countries where French is spoken. Fewer still are Asian or Indigenous People or even from South/Central America.
For the most part, Rice (and many of the Southern Gothic and Urban Fantasy authors that came after her) deign to play fast and loose with demographics in order to create a New Orleans that is far from diverse.
Now technically, I have nothing against French vampires.
I want them to stop being the default for vampires.
Well aside from the obvious (that there really doesn’t need to be such a focus on the French as the be all and end all of vampire representation), my first beef with the over representation of white, French vampire is that even if you do a world where all vampires forever come from France, there’s literally no reason or way for them to be all white.
Vampires are fictional. So fictional.
Like I said in my Crimson Peak diversity post, “Automatically if a book or film has even a suggestion of the supernatural, the argument of historical accuracy to excuse all white gets thrown out.”
The point is that a diverse world like the one we live in deserves diverse characters of all kinds. And that’s something that doesn’t matter with how we get there.
To erase vampires of color because the typical historical attribution comes from Europe or because “other countries or cultures have/don’t have vampire myths of their own” is to ignore that vampires aren’t real and that people of color are.
One of the two is over-represented in urban fantasy and let’s be real, it’s not people of color.
To go and say “hey, it makes sense that all of these characters are white because of historical accuracy” or whatever is to admit that the only history you know or care about is white history.
Imagine for a moment how it feels for people of color to see authors jump through hoops in order to justify the homogenous whiteness of their vampires. Imagine how it feels to see demands for people that do write diverse vampires to then explain why they wrote these vampires of color and centered them in their stories.
Don’t think for a second that it doesn’t happen – that either of those scenarios don’t happen.
No one asks for an explanation for Jean Claude in St. Louis or Michel in New Zealand or Lestat and Lestat in New Orleans. No one ever stops to wonder why you’re more likely to see vampires in an urban fantasy book than a single fleshed person of color. No one asks to explain white vampires and no one really asks why many of the most popular vampires in fiction are French and white.
But authors writing vampires of color – especially if the author is a person of color – are frequently questioned about the why behind their writing.
They have to justify the existence of vampires of color as if the ‘of color’ part is harder for readers to understand than the fact that we’re talking about the walking, talking, sexually active undead. (Personally, there are more fascinating things to ask questions about when it comes to vampires. You know…like the ones who can have biological children while a vampire? Yeah… I don’t get it.)
I forget though, that many people (readers, writers, and publishers) find it infinitely easier to understand and therefore humanize fictional non-human characters over characters and readers of color.
But seriously —
The vampire — blood sucker extraordinaire – doesn’t have to be universal for vampires of color to exist in fiction. There doesn’t need to be an explanation for why there are vampires of color in your universe and there definitely shouldn’t be an explanation about why vampires gravitate towards white characters for prey or procreation – trust me, it shouldn’t need to be said but I’ve seen things…
It takes maybe five seconds of research, five minutes of intense google-fu to figure out that there’s nothing out there, no text or expert that says that the vampire as a modern monster has to be white (and French)!
No European country has a complete hold on the myth — although the myths out of Romania certainly have been immortalized in fiction.
The point of the vampire is that they’re uncomfortable to be around or think about even when we pretty them up in prose and film because blood is life.
Anything that takes someone else’s life in order to gain power or extend their own is something to be feared. Humanity’s relationship with death is so widespread and so historically mystifying that of course, we’ve come to embrace it to this extent and why vampires are present in most — if not all — works of urban fantasy and paranormal romance.
That’s part of why vampires are so pervasive in our fiction.
We don’t understand them and on some level, despite trying to, we know that we never will. They’re mysterious, immortal, unreachable. Of course they’d be the go-to for romantic figures in urban fantasy because hello… that’s how the vampire has evolved all over. Not every culture in history has a vampire-figure in their mythology, but they don’t have to in order to be represented.
Death happens to everyone and yet we still don’t understand it. We still don’t understand what happens afterward.
Vampires bridge that gap.
In urban fantasy, they serve as connections between the living and what comes afterward in a way that zombies and spirits can’t.
We’ve evolved them into something that feels like it could be universal (even though the vampire as we know it now is a particularly Western creation) and we’ve fallen in love with them to the point where it just doesn’t feel like an urban fantasy novel without one.
And yet, the vampire still isn’t seen as universal enough to be diversified in the wide spectrum of urban fantasy books and we’re stuck with the single white vampire as the one that most writers in the genre gravitate to?
Are you a voracious fan of vampires in urban fantasy?If you have thoughts on or recs for vampires of color (like Nalini Singh’s great Guild Hunter series), I’d love to hear them!
4 thoughts on “Urban Fantasy 101: Single White Vampire”
First let me start off by saying this is an excellent post and you are quite right. There needs to be some variety here.
Number one: I blame Anne Rice and Laurell K Hamilton for the prevalence of the White French vampire, too. I mostly attribute this to a lack of imagination among certain writing sets. Its one of the reasons I have completely stopped reading any Americna Urban Fantasy. Most, if not all of it, is rip- offs of Laurell and Anne and Meyer, trying to do them one better. This isn’t any different from geekboys re-writing the same white male power fantasies, over and over, in superhero novels and video games, only its for white women instead. Its the reason why so much slash consists of relationships between only white men.
If it has a cover picture of a white women in tight pants, holding a weapon, I will be skipping that book.
Second: I have been studying vampire lore for decades. Every country in the world has a vampire myth. Every culture has something very similar to it. So the idea that vampires don’t exist in other cultures is a crock of bull. Some writers try to find inspiration in other cultures and those are the stories I read. I do not want to read yet another retread of spunky, white girl in the city (she runs a bookstore, she’s a barista or a bike messenger or any number of other low level jobs), falls in with a vampire and a werewolf (or any other supernatural creature for that matter) who fight over her.
Third, and this is the point I like to make about the monsters society creates. At some point, their stories so saturate the culture, that people begin de-mystifying them. Making the monsters less scary, making the monsters sexy and desirable as a way to deal with their own fear.
Just like on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where some of the worst/best villains become likable and contained. Like Spike, they become controlled and lovable. I think its some people’s way of dealing with fear of the monstrous. I can see this happening with zombie movies and books now, where writers attempt to take fear out of the equation by having the protagonists fall in love with the zombie. Some women writers do this with all monsters. (It explains Hannibal series Chibi characters and schmoop stories, with which I also have little patience.)
I loved Octavia Butler’s Fledgling because it dealt directly with the idea of racial prejudice in the vampire community.
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I HATE THE WHOLE WHITE VAMPIRE THING SO MUCH. Especially since I’ve got a lot of family in New Orleans, so I’ve spent a fair amount of TIME in New Orleans, and so my suspension of disbelief is always crushed by the multitude of white vampires. (Interestingly, “Fat White Vampire Blues” is basically a huge stomping on all those tropes, by someone who obviously loved New Orleans very much and wanted to cross vampire spoof with “A Confederacy of Dunces.” So if you’re ever interested in watching a vampire race war in New Orleans in that style, while putting up with a reprehensible protagonist, ala Ignatius, then go for it.)
I also admit, this is why I’ve been writing immensely fluffy family serial fiction about a black father of a young girl getting turned in his thirties, and the huge effects it has on his life, paperwork, and family. Because god, if I have to see one more pretty white vampire whining about his terrible angst…
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