The Vampire Dairies - Racism and the Magical Negro
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Published: January 5, 2013
In my previous journal entry ( I talked about how the Vampire Dairies is nothing more than the Byronic Hero and also how sexist it is.
I also shortly mentioned that at first I thought that it was progressive in terms of the portrayal of non-white people. But now I have to say:
I was totally and 100 % wrong. Perhaps if early in season 2 things would have gone a different way it could have been progressive but it didn't, not even remotely.

I guess many people would deny that the show is racist and to some extent that is understandable, since it is not showing racism the way most people think when they hear the word racism. But before I go into detail let's look at the definition of the term. According to the oxford dictionary (…) the term is defined as follows:

the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races

prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior

Sure the second one is not so fitting for the Vampire Dairies, not openly that is, but the first one definitely does.

The best, and most obvious, example is Bonnie:

Bonnie was the only female character that actually had the power to stand up to the assholes around her, and actually the only non-white main character (Anna is debatable in my eyes, since when I saw her first I assumed that the actress is white). But did they use that? No! From mid-season 2 onwards she more and more became a tool, her voice of opposition completely drowned and now she is only a magical negro and the token black girl. And should anybody her doubt that, these are the characteristics of the magical negro and a token just have a look at what the term means.
The site (…) defines the magical negro as follows:

In order to show the world that minority characters are not bad people, one will step forward to help a "normal" person, with their pure heart and folksy wisdom. They are usually black and/or poor, but may come from another oppressed minority. They step (often clad in a clean, white suit) into the life of the much more privileged (and, in particular, almost always white) central character and, in some way, enrich that central character's life. If the Magical Negro (also known as Magic Negro or Mystical Negro) is from a society of Noble Savages, expect an Anvilicious Aesop about the failings of the protagonist's society — which usually leads to the protagonist "Going Native".
With such deep spiritual wisdom (and sometimes — though not always — actual supernatural powers), you might wonder why the Magical Negro doesn't step up and save the day himself. This will never happen. So enlightened and selfless is he that he has no desire to gain glory for himself; he only wants to help those who need guidance...which just happens to mean those who are traditionally viewed by Hollywood as better suited for protagonist roles, not, say, his own oppressed people. In fact, the Magical Negro really seems to have no goal in life other than helping white people achieve their fullest potential; he may even be ditched or killed outright once he's served that purpose. If he does express any selfish desires, it will only be in the context of helping the white protagonists realize their own racism and thereby become better people.
This can work somewhat as An Aesop about tolerance and not dismissing individuals from underprivileged groups, and it's certainly an improvement on earlier tendencies to either never depict minority characters at all or make them all villains. However, ultimately it's usually a moral and artistic shortcut, replacing a genuine moral message with a well-intentioned but patronizing homage to the special gifts of the meek. Minority characters still all too often aren't portrayed as the heroes of their own stories, but as helpers of standard white, able-bodied, middle-class heroes, and they aren't depicted as, you know, actual people with their own desires, flaws and character arcs, but as mystical, Closer to Earth plot devices.

Now can anybody here say that Bonnie how she is for nearly 2 seasons would not fit right into that? Sure she was "a friend" to Elena for years but still. Not only did her father never appear so far, neither was her mother mentioned until season 3, we barely know where she lives and no practically nothing about her life. She constantly helps Elena, never being angry at her for long, despite having good reasons for it and never stepping up for herself since early season 2. Not only that, but the extent of her magical powers was and is shown inconsistently, often making me ask, why she e.g. cannot perform a simply spell against eavesdropping but was able to figure out centuries old curses.

As for racism in general: Does every character have to be exceptional? No! But when a show only has none-whites in stereotypical and subordinate roles, then something is wrong.
But you don't have to believe me, just look at how the show portrays race so far:

The show acts as though there is no racism, but still there are no non-white families on the Founder's Council, which, yes, is still noteworthy because it presumes there have been no interracial relationships in the 150 years since the town was founded, despite there supposedly having been no racism. Even that illegitimate Salvatore was quickly explained by the dad knocking up a maid. And probably a white maid because the Salvatore in 1912, or whatever, was definitely not of recent African descent.
It wasn't really clear whether the Salvatores owned slaves, although it seems more than likely due to wealth and status alone, but then again "Salvatores" being wealthy and respected in that region and place is already unlikely since "Salvatore" is a clear Italian name. At the very least, they turned a blind eye to it as Katherine had a "handmaiden" in Emily who was clearly in her servitude without choice or payment and other black "servants" were shown as well. Even more, Damon was a Confederate soldier. And while not every Southerner was a slave owner, Damon supposedly didn't agree with the army's goals but nowhere in the story do they explore Damon's move from Confederate soldier to modern man.
Never does Bonnie or any other character challenge the Salvatore's role in the racist, slave past, despite the fact that the word clearly fell some time. Bonnie never has a problem with any of the Founder's day events, with the Council and how power is structured and maintained along racial lines (in effect if not in intention), or with how her friends seem to romanticize the founding families or the era in which slavery was OK. Remember the "Gone with the Wind" event and how Elena once said that it would have been great to live at the time? You yourself can ask yourself what kind of live Emily (Bonnie's ancestor) might have had in those days, but this was never ever explained or explored. It was just silenced and considered that Emily was portrayed without any background independent from Katherine speaks for her being another convenient tool. And Bonnie and her grams was the most vocal in standing up against the Salvatores and Alaric was a history teacher, obviously a qualified one, but none of these two ever says anything, albeit being perfect for addressing that. But as usual when it comes to difficult topics the show totally avoids it.
Not only is nearly every new black character on the show who is more than a statist a witch, the vast majority of witches are black. Bonnie seems to "serve" Elena in the same way Emily "served" Katherine, even without the formal bonds of slavery. Bonnie's primary motivation is to save and protect Elena although Elena does nothing to deserve her loyalty (after all where is Bonnie's independence now? Gone). Likewise, Abby loses her powers to protect Elena as a favor to her daughter (that is, to "serve" the Gilberts). Witches are also positioned as being in servitude to vampires as a class. Despite all this, the word "all" is relative here, talk about them being servants of nature, the black witches are so far primarily depicted as servants of vampires or white men. Always in service, always the go to when you need information and seemingly with no agenda of their own.
Damon and Stefan call on Bonnie throughout the series to help them, and they never offer her anything (rarely even a kind word) in return; instead, they seem to expect her assistance because her role is to protect Elena. Klaus (Greta, Chicago witch), Elijah (Luka and his father), and Katherine (Emily, Lucy) also have witches in their service when we meet them, and at various points throughout the story and the only one so far who even lashed out a bit was Lucy and she disappeared never to be seen again. Speaking of her, would the writers care about storytelling they would never have the spirits fall for the threat of killing Bonnie because she was not the last Bennet, Lucy is a Bennet as well. The only witches who were ever given an explanation on why they work with vampires where Jona and Luka, supposedly to get Greta back. But apart from that it was always a "debt" of some sort or not explained at all. Even Pearl had the loyalty of a black vampire (Harper) that some have described as being similar to 'servitude' due to his passive nature and instant following of commands (not that either lives long enough for us to find out).
The most extreme example of what vampires and Elena "expect" from the witches (what they almost believe they are 'entitled' to) comes from our Confederate soldier himself. When it becomes clear that Bonnie is the best weapon against the latest threat (Klaus), Damon does not hesitate to put Bonnie's life in danger to protect Elena's. As viewers, we are supposed to think "Wow, Damon really loves Elena" or "Wow, Damon really hates Bonnie" (and apparently that works, it always works, considered how many here hate or at least dislike Bonnie but champion Damon no matter what each character does). But given his relationship with black characters and also women in the past, it really makes me read this more as an example of the kind of servitude Damon (and the writers and most viewers) expects from Bonnie, particularly in relation to those she has been positioned as "serving" (vampires and Elena); just like Emily was expected to serve Katherine (and by extension the Salvatores by giving them day-walking rings).
Even more, Elena does precious little to stop Bonnie from putting herself in danger time and again. When Damon moves to get rid of the body, she protests by pointing out that it is not some random dead body, but Bonnie. But it doesn't take much before Damon is taking her body away anyway. Even Jenna got a funeral, and she's hardly as core cast as Bonnie, but Bonnie's absence from everyday life is never explained and the lack of her parents have been pointed out many times.
Even more, Bonnie is all too eager to sacrifice herself for Elena. Taken out of the context of so many other characters of color sacrificing themselves in service of a vampire or a doppleganger, this would be a reflection of selflessness on her part and is probably intended to come along as such by these writers. But it is precisely that context that makes it problematic, something the writers and most people either ignore or are not aware of. The alternative would be for Elena to kill herself or turn into a vampire (thereby stopping Klaus' evil plan!). But why should Elena die or become a vampire - if good old Bonnie can die-die instead? Sure Elena became a vampire, after everything was done. But noooo Elena doesn't have to sacrifice herself since she doesn't want to be a vampire. Well Bonnie didn't want to be a witch and she got dragged into this nonetheless. But while we are supposed to be sympathetic with Elena, who in many instances is the cause of her own trouble, we never are supposed to feel sympathetic for Bonnie, quite the contrary many viewers seem to hate Bonnie for daring to come against Elena and judging people, as if Elena's way of non-judgment is any better, considered what this attitude of her usually leads to into the show.

Revisionist history is another example of the show's racism. No fun. It's particularly not fun for those whose histories and realities are erased in favor of ones more palatable to "dominant" discourse. It's particularly not fun when it seems like the only reason history was revised was to conveniently create a context where a white person - or better a white family - could exist where they would probably not be otherwise. TVD has several hints of revisionist history (calling Emily "handmaiden", The Salvatores being wealthy, a single Asian mother charming a married founding father, portraying Victorian customs as romantic) to make the era more palatable to modern audiences, they really outdid themselves with the "Original" family. The Original Family, are from a European (supposedly Eastern European but at the same time Viking) village that was devastated by the plague. They heard from a witch (Ayanna) that in a land where everyone is healthy (America), that they could escape the plague by moving to (shocking) the New World. Supposedly the residents were werewolves (interestingly the pain and torture part was never mentioned by the spirits to Ayanna). Does that sound like accurate American history? No. Not even the werewolf part. While many today seem to cite skinwalkers as werewolves, these beings are not only part of the Navajo, but also more generally shapeshifters/witches and not werewolves the way many people today think of. There are stories and traditions in North America that involve human-wolf shapeshifting but that is probably rather something like convergent evolution and no actual link to European werewolf stories. But let's get back to history.
Now you could say that this is a story about vampires, werewolves and witches, so why being so strict and care about it. Sure. You could say so. But please, anybody, could you please explain why this ridiculous Eastern-European story needed to exist in the first place? I tell you: Because The Original family HAD to be white. They would not cast or write non-white characters. The Original family could have been just as old, had the same (or stronger) relationship to America if they were indigenous. After all, they could just have been there all the time or simply left America and settled in Europe. Given their speed and strength at least one or two would have stumbled about stories of Vikings or even their settlements. And vampirism isn't hereditary on this show anyway, so the Originals could have been indigenous Americans and still be the first vampires. On the other hand, they could have had NO relationship to America and been just as old and just as white/European and come over to America after it was "discovered" and being colonized. But, this would be more difficult for the writers to motivate Klaus' decision to stay in and terrorize Mystic Falls. And in this show everything has to resolve around this town and the main three (as evident by the place Esther had to do the spell to create the indestructible stake [the Salvatore cemetery]). So instead they do this and simply say "it wasn't in any of your history books." Which is ridiculous. This isn't a fantasy story in some distant past that could legitimately entertain the introduction of characters of color in unconventional ways. This is distinctly attached to the American history and world that we know (via location and reference to real historical events, like the Civil War). Not to mention that a settlement like this would have been detectable via archaeology. If you're revising history to make your audience (that you presume is white, non-indigenous and heterosexual, which it apparently is in the majority of cases) more comfortable with whiteness in a time where racism was alive and well (even more than it is today), that is problematic, at the very least. They are writing real histories and real people out of existence; positioning the white audience members' need to feel comfortable over audiences of colors' need to just exist in the story world. As a matter of fact what reason was there to cast these actors anyway? Especially Morgan and Holt barely make any attempt to hide their accents and it's clear that the chances of having someone like Joseph Morgan being the result of intermixing between Eastern European and Eastern American Native is next to zero. It looks more as though they were creating this story because Joseph Morgan and Claire Holt were so desired by them that they had to cast them. Then that is also problematic, because now they're saying the existence of POCs is less important than increasing opportunities to act for conventionally attractive white actors who are already overwhelmingly present in the television industry. And it is debatable how attractive they really are, because as far as I know many do not want Blonds. But back to America's original inhabitants.
Seriously, even Stephanie Meyer acknowledged the existence of indigenous peoples and had primary characters who were indigenous (although what she wrote is even more stereotypical and problematic than the "Indians" mentioned by Elijah).
Even without touching on the celebration and nostalgic representation of the antebellum south, TVD seems to be incredibly uncomfortable with acknowledging: a) that POCs and indigenous people exist, and b) the relationship between white people and those communities have not been pleasant/are not things to be nostalgic about, and c) that POC watch (or would watch) that show if you didn't keep positing white people and their comfort as more important than everyone else.
And you know what is another evidence of this? The actual founding family, the family that has a better claim on the turf called Mystic Falls than anybody else. It's the Bennets. Believe it or not, it's not Damon or Stefan, Elena or Caroline, Tyler or any Fell, not even the "Michaelsons." It's Bonnie. When Klaus came with this "this is my town" charade, Bonnie should have said that. But she didn't, never, not once. Not even the witches, or Sheila did. Bonnie's claim to this being "her town" is as good or even better than that of the white characters, but it was never even hinted at. No, Bonnie is just silent and plays "the good one."

Now since we had slaves and revisionist history, let's get to characters "of color" and stereotypes.
As already stated, in TVD the "magical negro" trope not only exists, it is alive and well. While not every witch is black, most are. While not every black person is a witch, most are. It's so bad that if you see a black actor on the show, you can basically guarantee that s/he is a witch. When we saw Gloria singing in the 1920s Chicago scene, you could be certain she was a witch. And she was. Nadine in the last New Orleans episode, a witch. Luka and his family? Witches. Sheila, Abby, Bonnie, Emily and Lucy - witches. Ayanna? Black and a witch. The witch casting the spell for the hunters? Black, most likely.
The only non-black witches so far are Maddox who worked for Klaus and the Original Witch Esther. Maddox seems to be the only true exception, and his number (one) is so small as to not derail the main point. As for Esther, she is a powerful, bad-ass witch of enormous power (and incredible incompetence when it comes to plans). Please don't tell me that a witch of that power, who can put a centuries-long curse on Klaus and defeat death (yet still talk to ghosts) is on the same level as the black witches who are relegated to servitude and often die in the name of that service! If anything, the contrast enhances the pattern.
And speaking of the death of black witches:
There are a few black characters with more than statist roles who are not witches. So few, in fact, you can identify them: Harper, Jamie, Connor, the one girl hitting on Tyler to get close to Matt in season 2 and that one girl and her grandpa in season 1 and Caroline's snack.

Caroline's snack, the girl and her grandpa, and arguably Jamie have been on the show so little that there is barely much to analyze. All I can say is that, with both of them, there was some potential flirtation with our only main non-white character (Bonnie) that culminated in some form of violence. In Caroline's snack's case, he was devoured by Caroline. In response, Bonnie tried to set Damon on fire (but he was, of course, saved). In Jamie's case, he was compelled to shoot himself; but Bonnie managed to save him (though Stefan seems angry because this places him in a precarious position as it weakens his hold on Klaus). Essentially, the risk of violent death seems always present. Whether or not Jamie will ultimately die, remains to be seen. So far he is just gone and that was it. No mentioning.
Jamie is similar to Luka: a black male with some potential for Bonnie-flirtation introduced to the cast - except the former lacks the latter's magic abilities. However, even Luka's magic couldn't save him. Both Luka and his father die incredibly violent deaths as they try to save Greta.
Harper's death wasn't too pleasant either: staked by a Gilbert. A soldier (I assume, Union? Though it is not explored) who agrees with (blindly follows?) Pearl's respect or affection towards humans, Harper seems like one of the few genuinely good vampires out there. He would have been entombed very shortly after turning on the battle field and would have relatively few kills under his belt. Not to mention. He seems like such a great foil for Damon! But Harper died pretty quickly (like Luka), and so many things were subsequently left unexplored - including the incredibly complicated and volatile relationship he would have with the Salvatores (and possibly all of the Founding families) and his empathy for humans that would position him as an ideal companion or ally for Bonnie.
The death of every black character has been either violent (Harper, Caroline's snack, Bree), in service (Sheila), or both (Luka, his father, Greta). In contrast to white characters who die off screen (Elena's parents), sacrifice themselves for a family member and not a 'master' of sorts (John Gilbert, Jenna), or die peacefully in accord with their morals (Caroline's father), the treatment of black characters seems pretty clear. I'm not saying white characters don't have horrific deaths (this is a vampire show, after all), but that they also have deaths with more meaning, peace or grace than black characters have enjoyed. Or, like Caroline, Katherine, Elena, John, Jeremy, Alaric and the Original Witch - they escape death altogether.

Pearl and Anna seem to be the only non-black characters of color who have more than a passing role on the show. I'm not sure what to make of Pearl and Anna. Because TVD is so good at ignoring historical racial dynamics, it is unclear if Pearl and Anna are meant to be WOC (biracial or otherwise), or if they are meant to "pass as white" in the antebellum South. They are given very little backstory - including any explanation as to why in the world Pearl, who seems to care so much for humans and for her daughter, would be friends with devil-may-care/Emily-owning Katherine. Pearl is also responsible for 'turning' Harper, who has a loyalty to her that is also not completely explained - is it because she turned him when he was dying, or is it because he is somehow 'in service' to her (a carry over from his past). Even more, does Pearl empathize with slaves (and is that why she turned Harper, who died on the battlefield just a few years shy of legal, if not actual, freedom?)?If so, why was she friends with Katherine? Did she have a secret friendship with Emily?!
In the modern world, Anna's racial identity is as unexplored as Bonnie's (even less so). Albeit unlike her mother Anna could "pass for white." As a very old vampire who may have been racialized, her perspective on historical events could be very interesting and worth exploring but she is only really interested in her mom and Jeremy, and that's basically all the plot she gets. Even the ghost stuff later is no real exception.
The show never delved more into Pearl's mind and world and both her and her daughter die violent deaths before we really get a chance to explore their motivations and histories (like, how does Pearl know about Mikael? What was her relationship with the Originals?).
On a sidenote, Jeremy, while a weak character who has had his mind wiped twice and is now reprogrammed into a hunter, has a special place in being the only character who has been in a relationship with two WOC while knowing everything about their supernatural states. Apart from that mixed relationships are suspiciously absent in this show. One could say the main triangle was "mixed-race" due to the vampire – human mix, or maybe Caroline and Tyler, but in each case the "mixing" is rather due to something invisible and also plays into the notion that white people are not any "race", that they are the norm.

Bonnie is the main POC on this show so she gets a second coverage:
How the character of Bonnie Bennett is treated on the show - both by writers, and by characters in the story world - tells us a lot about the message we are supposed to take away about the value of in Mystic Falls and possibly in real life as well.
This may seem like a stretch for some viewers (particularly younger viewers), but bear with me. If you do not, and cannot, relate to a traditional "founding family" main character because of their connection to whiteness, colonization and slavery, then Bonnie Bennett necessarily becomes your only access point to the show and considered that some only watch it in hope of seeing more of Bonnie that could be true.
As the only main character of color, Bonnie is uniquely positioned to have the same quality of dialogue, plots/storylines, and character development that other protagonists (who "happen" to be white) receive.  It started out promising enough with Bonnie learning of her powers and going toe-to-toe with resident bad guy Damon. When her grandmother died trying to open the tomb and even after Damon snacked on her neck, Bonnie is principled, strong and fearless in the face of danger or death. She uses her power to keep the vampires in check, and is a very strong female lead. Particularly in comparison to Elena and Caroline who, at that point, had done little more than worry about boys and ask Bonnie for help, Bonnie had the potential to be awesome. But as we all know (or should know since many rather blame Bonnie instead of the writers) that potential was never realized. Bonnie's character doesn't develop likes others do. Bonnie begins with very clear motivation: she has a strong conscience, and she will not bend on this easily - not even for Elena or Caroline, let alone Damon. She soon shifts from using her potential powers to control and keep the Salvatores in check and starts using it to serve and protect them. By mid-season 2, she is serving them with little question: Need to kidnap Mason? Got a spell for that. Need to freeze Katherine? Got a spell for that. Need to unseal a coffin? Got a spell for that. Need to kill Klaus/myself? Got a spell for that. It gets to a point where even Klaus is demanding action from her by threatening Elena's life - and it works.  The line of good/evil that she had originally clung to blurs so much for Bonnie with very little motive outside of Elena and her service to Elena. Bonnie's character isn't developing a better sense of the grey areas of life - she is blindly sacrificing everything and focusing her life completely on Elena and her safety. She even considers Elena's feelings and reactions when she is considering dating Jeremy. She goes from being a bad ass witch who will protect the town she loves from vampires; to being the 'weapon' of the Salvatores to protect Elena mindlessly, and forget the rest of the town and her own well-being in doing so (thereby fitting perfectly into the Magical Negro stereotype). This is the opposite of character growth!

In contrast, Caroline has become increasingly more bad ass. At this point, the only truly powerful, strong and emotionally rounded female character is a blonde, white woman with conventional good looks - Caroline (they ruined Rebekah pretty fast). Elena, to some extent, has become stronger, but her main motivations are still: protect her inner circle (at the expense of others, even if it means wiping Jeremy's mind), and love Stefan (even if he is a crazy Ripper) or now Damon (who is a constant impulsive and violent vampire without regard for the consequences of his actions). She even has sympathy for Rebekah despite her ravenous behavior and that insane bend on revenge for something her brother had done several times over the course of the show. Even Damon, and his concepts of love and sacrifice, have changed somewhat - he even seems sad when Andy, his compelled "girlfriend" (let's talk about consent another time, ok?) dies. Even Klaus is given a sympathetic back story and rapid character growth as he is challenged and rises to the occasion. Of course in both cases it's totally sick and completely ridiculous considered what the characters have done and still do.
But even so, they are given backstory, Bonnie's plot points always revolve around her being a witch. She is drawn into the supernatural drama because of her relationship with Emily. She is drawn into all other plot points because they need her magic to succeed. Caroline, Tyler, Matt and Jeremy have all had moments of soul-searching, whether they get to explore characters' motivations and feelings in complex ways. They have all also had relationships and trials and tribulations outside of their statuses as vampire, werewolf, human and human-ghost/witch/vamplover-dopplegangerbrother.
Bonnie is very, very rarely taken out of the context of witch. She rarely has conversations that revolve around something other than magic, and she rarely does anything that isn't in some way connected to magic (or to a spell to help a vampire). In contrast, Damon, Stefan and Caroline all act out of love or loyalty in ways unconnected to their vampire statuses. That is, Caroline kills to protect Tyler's mom as part of her status as vampire, but she doesn't love Tyler or help him transition every month because she is a vampire. She does it because she's Caroline. Bonnie, on the other hand, seems to be totally synonymous with Witch. Even her mother's apology to her for leaving is connected with a magic spell cast in service of vampires (even its relationship to protecting Elena is tenuous, further emphasizing the decay of her moral compass). In other words, Bonnie seems to have little value or purpose outside of being a witch.
Bonnie is also relatively un-loved. The only exception to this, and to her relegation to the role of servant witch, is her brief relationship with Jeremy. Jeremy is Bonnie's only on-screen relationship (whereas Elena has been linked to Matt, Stefan and Damon; and Caroline has been linked to Matt, Tyler and possibly Klaus). Bonnie seems to have a possible flirtation with Luka that is never realized (he dies), and with a one-episode character that Caroline later snacks on. Yet, even with Jeremy - who she has known presumably as long as she has known Elena - Bonnie is 'less loved' than other characters. Jeremy cheats on her with Anna and can't seem to be loyal to her. Bonnie is strong throughout the relationship (even when she is breaking up with him), and seems to find her moral compass again, at least in this regard. However, the fact that she is posited as a character who is not loved for so long seems to suggest that she is also a character who cannot be loved. Later she is given Jamie (a high criticized choice of the writers and one Plec defended by stating Bonnie is too strong to be with someone like Kole, but seemingly having no problems with shipping Klaus with Caroline, albeit the two brothers are equally homicidal.)
Bonnie has had exactly one loving on-screen familiar relationship, compared to Caroline's two (with both of her parents) and Elena's ever expanding family (her deceased parents, Isobel who seemed to care about her somewhat, John Gilbert who seemed to care about her a lot, Jenna, Jeremy and Alaric). Matt had his mother and his sister, and Tyler had both of his parents and Mason (although his relationship with his dad is not portrayed as positive). Even Stefan and Damon have on-screen parent time, and the descendant of their half-brother (who they kill). Bonnie only had Sheila. Her dad is never on screen (supposedly he will appear in season 4, which would still be an extremely long time), and her mother has only recently returned and abandoned her (and has admitted multiple times to abandoning Bonnie). But Bonnie doesn't seem affected at all and is only shortly angry at Elena.
Of course, all of this must be contrasted with Elena and Caroline. If it was also rare or difficult to love her white counterparts, it might not be a big deal that Bonnie is so alone. Elena is the holy grail of love. Everyone loves Elena and is fighting each other to die for her (the "For Elena" sentence is all too common now). Which, I'll be honest, totally baffles me. But in any case, she has been loved ardently by: Matt, Stefan and Damon. Her dopplegangers were also fought over by the Salvatore brothers and by Elijah and Klaus. Her family (extended or not) also loves her, and her friends often risk their lives for her. Although she makes a show of (what the writers want us to believe) being a "martyr", Elena doesn't really ever sacrifices anything for anyone. Caroline is loved by Matt, Tyler and possibly Klaus. She also has two parents who love her and, despite her insecurities, seems to be well-liked by everyone in the community. Caroline is loved even after she snacks on a classmate. Caroline is loved even after her parents (staunchly anti-vampire) find out she is a vampire. There seems to be no limit to how much Caroline or Elena are loved. And yet, it seems like it's impossible for a character who does or may possibly love Bonnie, to continue on the show. They either never love her, stopped loving her, didn't love her "as much", or died respectively disappeared.
It is also important to note that Bonnie is not alone by choice. Not all female characters need romantic interests or male counterparts to complete them or to make them valuable/loved. If Bonnie was choosing to be alone, then this would be a non-issue. However, Bonnie never chooses to be alone - she is just never given a real opportunity to love and be loved.
Bonnie Bennett's non-existent non-witch story arcs, backwards character "growth", role as vampire/Elena servant, and lack of lovability all ultimately comes down to the writers and not due to herself. Whenever there have been hints that Bonnie (or witches) will have a more prominent role on the show, it has been within the described restrictions. Bonnie's only role is as a witch figuring out or casting a spell - in relation to the Luka/witches arc, in relation to Klaus' demise, and in relation to opening the coffin. Her "big role" on the show has basically been a tool to move along the plot. Even her relationship with her mother was treated with less intensity or gravity than Caroline's relationship with her father (or mother), or Elena's relationship with her parents, or even Tyler's, Klaus' or Stefan/Damon's relationships with their dads. Abandoned her for 15 years? Whatever, cast this spell with me and all is forgiven! Magic is the only way their relationship is sustained (leave Bonnie, lose magic; teach Bonnie magic, strengthen relationship).
Likewise, whenever fans have clamoured for a specific romantic interest on the show, it has not happened. I'm not saying that fans should be listened to (that would be ridiculous) regarding plot. However, the recent sway of fans on the internet makes me wonder. People have wanted Bonnie to have some kind of romantic connection with Damon (because there is some flirtation in the books) and with Tyler. There also seemed to be some possibility of a relationship with Matt - as they were the only two single main characters, both "good" guys, and both with strong senses of what was right. None of these things happened. Now, there is a vocal community of fans who wanted Klaus and Bonnie to get together.
But that's probably not going to happen. Klaus started pursuing Caroline. Which might all be well and good in the frame of a show like this except... Caroline already had a love-triangle storyline, and romantic involvement with two other characters  - romantic involvements that are still alive and well.
I'm not saying that not putting Bonnie with Klaus specifically is problematic. But choosing to devote show-time to another romantic connection, and that connection is yet again unrelated to Bonnie... is problematic. You're basically saying you are OK with introducing new relationships, spending time on new love-story angles; JUST NOT WITH BONNIE.
Any why not with Bonnie? And before you say Kat Graham can't act - I'm not saying the girl is gonna win an Oscar any time soon, but you could at least give her the chance to flex those acting muscles. And let's face it, if you didn't think she could act, you really shouldn't have cast her.

So what is there left that would explain Bonnie's treatment and that of all other non-white characters on the show?
I can think of only one: racism.
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