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.
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.
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!