12th PoC Carnival

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This month’s theme was “Got Brown?” and is meant to be an exploration of the politics of representation. Some of these posts have been linked to before — however, these issues are part of an ongoing conversation, so please, share your thoughts in the comments.

I thought of doing this theme while re-reading the X-men series Age of Apocalypse, where we learn a little more about Blink. Her real name’s Clarice… and she’s from the Caribbean. I was really struck by this – was she secretly a character of color? I avidly re-read the rest of the series, and started the first part of Exiles, hoping to find out if someone would actually mention that if she weren’t purple, she might could be brown.

That never really happened. Blink’s a question mark of a character – why have her exist, and be from the Bahamas if it’s just window-trapping? What does it mean to have the characters of color be ultimately other, whether through origin (THEY’RE JUST NOT HUMAN!!!) or shade (we don’t have to talk about racism because we’re actually talking about mutantism!!!) or plot (where ¬†we’re not gonna talk about race at all – all we need is some naked tai chi)?

I’m gonna turn this over to the wonderful world of the internets in an attempt to answer this question.

I began with Google. The first issue I had is that I realized that I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for. I mean, seriously, if canon is declaring you non-human, how on earth does one categorize you for the purposes of anti-racist analytical work? While the non-human/ultimate alien trope isn’t mentioned in their entry on race and fandom, that entry does provide some interesting alternative questions… like, about the issue of absence and the WTFery of Firefly.

ABW also talks about SG:A here, breaking down the CoC timeline in Stargate Atlantis. Surprisingly, About.com also weighed in, pointing out the crucial difference between Star Trek, where the PoC are crew member, and SG, where the PoC are aliens.

Wilson writes:

I think there’s a subtle, but important, distinction to be made in sci-fi between humans of color and aliens of color, because the message being sent is subtly different. Consider Star Trek. The mixed crew of humans on the bridge says: We worked together as a planet to make this future happen. Now consider, say, Stargate Atlantis. The humans in the expedition are overwhelmingly white; the two regulars that provide diversity are aliens. The message here is: We white people went out into space; there, we met people unlike us.

Moving on. What do you do with the character who’s a member of a marginalized racial group who is then the one spouting off about their funny religious beliefs? Battlestar Galactica is one of my favorite shows, but the lack of black characters, and the fact that many of the characters of color are Cylons is so majorly squick. Plus, I’m still squicked out about the 8s (a model line played by Asian actress Grace Parks) and their naked tai chi – it was totally a moment of raced and gendered fan service. This picks up on some of the issues ABW talks about she is asking why the universe is filled with white people – you’d think that in the BSG world, there’d be more characters of color who are, say, human. Plus, Dualla’s role in the plot is suspiciously BFF – even her death is more about the responses of the (white) characters around her than her own emotional turmoil.

Changed the search terms up. Found out that, um, some comic writers think they already ARE writing about minority characters. AWKWARD. Other commentators also focus on metatextual issues and don’t necessarily offer a solution, though the interactions between that metatext and fanon response appear all over the fandom wank about Blaise Zabini being black. The comments to this post on rape in BSG pick up on that text/text reception issue.

Changed the terms again… and found this stunning write-up by Avalon’s Willow, the founder of the POC Carnival! This right here pulls up some of the issues I’m getting so confused about – what does it do for a story when a brown body – an exotic body – is just window-trapping? Especially when the appearance of that body, isn’t, like crucial? Merlin Missy calls out fandom for consuming these kinds of problematic images.

Nalo Hopkinson talks [post removed] about the utility of subverting some of these tropes. She writes:

Why would I like to see SF&F as it currently exists subverted? Why would I like to see more writers of color and writers from other than the wealthiest nations of the world? Can you see where it might be valuable to get more worldviews on the map? What does a fiction about mastery of self and others through technology become in the hands of writers who have cause to be wary of that mastery? What does a fiction which talks about colonizing other races and spaces become when written by people who’ve recently-as the history of the world goes-experienced that colonization? What does a cautionary fiction become when you expand the zones of experience from which those cautions are coming? What might a visionary fiction become when there are visions of the best possible worlds coming from a world of cultures, rather than coming as it does now from a minority of them?

Naamen Gobert Tilahun poignantly reflects on the shifting connotations of Teyla’s labor scenes in SG Atlantis, when situated in the context of African American history in the US.

Recommendations:

Heliothaumic, in its various incarnations, has always talked about the intersections between species (elf, human, dwarf, etc) and race. Unlike Dragonlance, not all the elves and human are white!

Skyward Prodigal recommends Joseph Marshall’s The Archer, which is a post-apocalyptic world of hotness. It’s got Lakota and other First Peoples presented, as, uh, alive. Nice change from the general sweep of things in SF, huh? The online novel is available in the sidebar of Marshall’s site.

Anti-Racist Parent Deesha Philyaw recommends Hyperion’s Jump at the Sun imprint. The publisher’s link includes an inspiring interview with the authors and illustrators associated with that line. Christina Springer also talks about why this is so important in children’s lit here.

This right here is a reading list waiting to happen! It’s a listing of SF books with WOC protagonist. A quick glance through suggests that many of the women featured are >gasp!< human!

Thank you for reading my first POC Carnival! :D

Comments

  1. Karen healey says

    I am not averse to praise, but I prefer it for things I actually did! I did not found the PoC sff carnival, or write that column for GRC. The fantastic Avalon’s Willow did both.

  2. says

    Maria, teeny tiny correction: the Cylon model you mean is Tricia Helfer’s Six (the blonde bombshell). Grace Park’s model is Eight–Boomer, Athena, others.

    And yes, it is distressing to see all the whitewash in media SF. Even Voyager tended to whitify their bridge crew, with POC being the aliens (and only one Asian, Korean-American, as a permanently junior member of the bridge crew). Actually, I *hate* that message that the Other is always someone who is not white.

  3. says

    Napthia 9–I *facepalm* myself. You’re right. But then, didn’t they pretty much (figuratively) castrate him the same way they did to Kim? He rarely if ever got to wield his power as second in command and I remember his character being minimized.

    I could be misremembering that, since it’s been so long since I have watched Voyager.

  4. MaggieCat says

    Funny how perspective can completely change how a show reads — I’ve seen and heard quite a few complaints over the years that the first female captain Janeway was frequently pushed aside so that Chakotay could take far more of a leadership role than the second in command normally gets on ST series.

  5. says

    Maggiecat, you’re probably right. What I do clearly remember were all the 7of9 episodes centering on *her* character and the relationship they developed between her and Janeway, edging Chakotay (and the rest of the cast) out of the ‘ensemble’. I never remembered Voyager being an ensemble show, really.

    The Star Treks I remember best are the original series (ST:TOS) and Star Trek: DS9. Oh, and The Next Generation. After DS9, bleh.

    Back onto Janeway and Chakotay, imagine the quandry the writers found themselves in, trying to write for the Other (women, American Indian) and not knowing exactly how to write for them because of not being able to break out of the usual tropes? I’ll have to find out how many women they had writing for the show, or (how do I put this?) nonwhite writers. But I’m not sure what the point would be, because even so, their scripts would have had to go through the studio process of being okayed, etc, and gone through Brannon Braga (a mediocre TV writer) and been whitewashed through a middle class white guy lens.

    I’m stopping before I get myself in any deeper!

  6. says

    Oh, oh—I DO know that Robert Beltran, who played Chakotay had major issues with the writers of Voyager and essentially cut himself off from the Star Trek realm for a few years after. I think he went back into the SF community later on.

  7. Katie says

    Holy CRAP that Nalo Hopkinson interview is made of pure, 24K WIN.

    She is so brilliant. I love how she takes those ridiculous, demeaning questions and turns them right back on the interviewer, and challenges all the dumb assumptions. And also, “Afro-American?” I am pretty sure that’s a bit dated.

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