Octavi a Butler’s Dawn and the Mistake of Colorblindness
Faculty Mentor: Everett Hamner
In Octavia E. Butler ’s Dawn , Earth has experienced a nuclear war and an alien race, the
Oankali, have taken the humans captive, but with the aim of eventually restoring the planet and making genetic “trades.” On first glance, this novel may seem like it is inviting readers to think how we should interact with an alien race. However, a more significant element is the way Butler uses the narrative to offer her own theory of race.
The novel insists that race cannot be ignored through a well-intending effort to promote
“colorblindness”; rather, race should be handled in a way that acknowledges and accepts racial differences. Racism is still a huge problem in the world, but the answer is not to erase these distinctions, but to appreciate them. Dawn demonstrates this especially through the death of Joseph Shing, an Asian American who falls in love with the main character Lilith Iyapo, who is black. As a result, the Oankali heighten his body
’s capacity to heal itself, recognizing that since Lilith is vulnerable as the mediator between them and other humans, so is Joseph. This intervention backfires, as another character, Curt, overreacts to seeing Joseph’s body healing itself and beats him to death. The effect is that Butler ’s novel powerfully demonstrates how racism results from misunderstanding and fear. Humans tend to ridicule that which they do not understand, and this is why attempting to ignore race is so ineffective: it buries mistrust rather than overcoming it, and ultimately, it returns.