May 2007 Erase Racism Carnival
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Welcome to the 12th Erase Racism Carnival! Sorry this edition is a little late. We had a few issues to deal with at ABW Central this weekend.
This is a very media-heavy edition, mainly because media issues are very interesting to me. The summer movie season is starting to heat up and this season’s television shows are coming to an end, allowing us to examine them completely. There’s plenty to talk about in the realm of literature, too. So, get comfortable, grab a drink, and settle in. There’s a lot of great stuff to read.
Writing and Reading
In the past month, there’s been a lot of talk on this blog about diversity in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror genre. It started with a post by my guest blogger, N. K. Jemisin, called No more lily-white futures and monochrome myths.
Speculative fiction (SF) has been, historically, one of the most racist genres in American literature. Oh, it hasn’t had as many Stepinfetchits or Uncle Toms as the mainstream, but there are few more powerful ways to wrong a people than to wipe it out of existence, and this is precisely what countless SF novels have done. If the crew of the Space Navy Vessel Whozimawhatsit is all white; if a vast medieval epic spanning several continents contains no chromatic folk; if the scientific accomplishments of ancient nonwhite empires are dismissed as alien leftovers; if China is the only continent toasted by an invading space warship; all of this is a kind of literary genocide. (Yes, genocide.) And it’s something that SF has not only done well for years, but continues to do.
Author Tobias Buckell weighed in:
…I keep seeing the same repetition. Someone says SF/F isn’t diverse, people respond by chanting “Hopkinson, Butler, Delany, Barnes” like it’s a magical phrase that dispels the +10 diversity attack spell.
Is the cadre of writers in the field diverse?
This could be a larger societal issue, an issue of fandom, the technical nature of SF/F, or that readers don’t see their faces in SF/F and don’t read it and therefore don’t write it, whatever your theory is (and I’m making no accusations or forwarding theories of my own here, that isn’t the point of this particular entry), it still doesn’t change the fundamental fact that is not a racially diverse field.
One way to address this issue is to encourage diversity in fiction markets, particularly the top tier markets. I offered some suggestions on how editors and publishers could achieve this:
- Make sure a wide range of people know that your magazine accepts unsolicited submissions by reaching out and posting notifications in venues frequented by non-white and non-male individuals.
- Put your money where your mouth is. Publish more stories by established authors that feature non-default people and non-default settings so that newer authors (and readers) will see your market as open to diverse views and ideas.
- Update submission guidelines to very clear statements of what the market is looking for or lacking.
- Get creative with ways to attract more diverse subjects, settings, characters, and writers.
- In the fiction selection process, think carefully about the stories you choose. Publish stories that reflect a true balance (but don’t lower your standards to do so).
Some editors are listening, so we’ll see what may come.
Matthew Cheney over at The Mumpsimus gives a detailed analysis of a story in the latest issue of Weird Tales.
The question (problem? issue?) of how Third World countries get represented in First World fiction is one that has interested me for some time, mostly because I’m hyper-aware and perhaps hyper-sensitive to my own status as a First World reader.* My ideas about such representations have run quite a gamut over the years, and continue to shift and change almost daily.
Today, my thoughts returned again and again to Will Ludwigsen’s story “Faraji” in the April/May Weird Tales…
The central failure of the story is in its representation of Africa. The story is set in the future, it seems, or at least an alternate present, because there is a “President Russell” in the U.S. By not naming the African country where the narrator is imprisoned, the story unfortunately plays off of “Dark Continent” stereotypes that set all of Africa up as a mysterious, primitive, and brutal Other. It could be argued that the narrator is someone for whom the continent is, indeed, that, but I think such an argument utterly misses the point. The point is: Why tell this particular story in this particular way at this particular time?
Africa in such a story is not a place at all, but an idea, and that idea is the same damn one that Conrad and so many lesser writers used. There is a difference between setting a story in “Africa” and setting it in a particular place at a particular time. There is a difference between using the idea of “Africa” as a prop for your plot and actually writing about Africa. I think those differences are vital, particularly when writing about places that have suffered so much stereotyping in First World readers’ minds.
There is a lot to chew over in that post, and many more good points than I can quote without making this carnival far too long.
Novelist PL Logan talks about examining prejudices in the context of the writing life:
The reason why it’s important to get at your prejudices (your ‘isms’ if you like), other than the part about everyone else being able to see them, is that unless you plan to write solely about someone exactly like you, you’d better be able to understand the Other (those who are Not You), at least a little.
If you can’t even understand the person sitting next to you on the bus or on the freeway or at your school or job, how in the world can you understand someone living in the fourteenth century, or in Tau Ceti, or in the Unicorn Kingdom?
Megatrouble’s Super Like a White Man? Searching for the Black Superhero in Comics and Film is a thorough examination of the subject, well worth taking the time to read.
Does the superhero genre of film and comic books speak to people of color? While comics have explored race and superheroes with more nuance, the films lag behind in their portrayals of African Americans. I am entertaining the idea, of course, that a “superhero” does not have to be white and male. My motivation for writing this essay, then, is to stretch the notion of what a super or action hero should look like. Because “hero” is ingrained with a specific image–an American white male, usually a firefighter, infantryman, or doctor–we need more diverse models for heroism.
Thomas Sowell has an interesting article on Bookstore Ghettoes that, oddly enough, has nothing to do with genre fiction. Unless you count ‘being a black author’ as a genre.
If Rachael Ray had been black, there are bookstores where her cookbook would not be displayed in the same section with all the other cookbooks. It would be displayed off in a special section for black authors.
The notion of honoring black (“African American”) writers with a special section in bookstores is just one of innumerable fashionable symbolic notions that ignore consequences.
In other situations, the negative consequences of mindless symbolism can be far more serious.
Movies & Television
Pam Noles has an excellent post about the casting decisions surrounding the film adaptation of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Quoting the New York Times:
When [HBO] broadcasts its two-hour adaptation of the book… at its center will be a new character: a man who was part Sioux, was educated at an Ivy League college and married a white woman.
“Everyone felt very strongly that we needed a white character or a part-white, part-Indian character to carry a contemporary white audience through this project,” Daniel Giat, the writer who adapted the book for HBO Films, told a group of television writers earlier this year.
Pam goes on to say:
Can we guess the cultural composition of “everyone” in this case? See, this pale and monolithic “everyone” needed a protagonist for their adaptation of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee… one of the touchstone works about the expansion of the West from the point of view of the people who lost out big time.
And the question that always floats to mind around here when I see these types of stories? Is the contemporary white audience truly as dumb, ignorant and xenophobic as the green light guardians at the Hollywood gate assume them to be? (To be honest, quite often my answer is yes. But lots of times my answer is no…)
…it comes down to we’ll never actually know if the contemporary white audience is not being given enough credit as long as the overwhelmingly pale Hollywood People who make the decisions continue to pull this crap.
M H Ayinde gives us an interesting take on a possible interpretation of Spider-Man 3‘s use of dark vs. not-dark Spidey.
During the course of the movie, Peter Parker does indeed seem to be transformed into a strange stereotype of a black man. He becomes a sexual predator. He plays jazz piano. He struts down the street while classic soul plays, Shaft-like, in the background. He hits women, and he has to battle his own raging anger. Sounds like a black stereotype to me.
If Spider-Man’s suit had turned some other colour when he was “evil”, I might not have cared so much. But it turned black and, unfortunately, the connotations are far to obvious to be ignored. Aside from this, throughout science fiction and fantasy, dark is used as a lazy shortcut to mean something bad. How many dark lords are there? And even the word itself is used when a writer is stumped to come up with something more creative – the usage of the word really is a prime example of that old literary transgression: telling rather than showing. If we are told something is dark, we know it is bad, without ever needing to be shown why.
In Keep Your Grubby Paws off My Likeness, Lo offers a different take on media representations of minorities:
…being “underrepresented” in TV shows and commercials means that corporate America hasn’t learned how to exploit you yet. If you watch a TV show or a commercial and you find absolutely nothing in common with anyone, you have no desire to be like any of the people that you see; you are in a good spot.
You have an opportunity to have a future. A future not tainted by subliminal messages.
I’m not sure I agree with her thesis, but it’s an interesting view.
Kevin on SlantTruth takes a look at a few movies and TV shows and what they reveal about America.
New Jack City – Black culture in its entirety. Notice all the Hip Hop played in the movie? This is all that is wrong with the United States of America.
The Godfather – Definitely not white culture in its entirety. A socio-economic metaphor for the difficulties involved in making it in the U.S.
Donna, at The Silence of Our Friends, comes to an uncomfortable realization about discussions concerning race on the Internet (and, really, anywhere):
My mistake was thinking that white liberals who blog and especially white feminists were ignorant about the way society and culture affect people of color, if you explained it, then they would be more supportive of our ideas and causes. It took me awhile to see that unity and solidarity were only for their ideas and causes and that for the most part it is all about them. This is what both Nezua and BA are talking about in their posts and how they are rejecting those who are users for only their own goals. I’m not so dense that I didn’t figure out long ago that this is true for a few, but I didn’t want to see the bigger picture and how true it is for many.
This came in the context of an excellent post about White POC – “those who are harmful to us collectively and are as self-serving as many white people.”
…there are POC who will tell white people what they want to hear in order to get ahead, and there are POC who have been socialized and acculturated to believe in the all-American racist stereotypes. […] This is the unfortunate person we hear about when white people want to contradict our truths with their “NDN, black, asian, latino etc friend” who thinks that racism isn’t a problem and that we’re just making a mountain out of a molehill. […] It’s also what we are talking about when white people tell us “Not you. You’re one of the good ones.” They mean we are assimilated and they notice we are white POC, or as Archie Bunker says, “You’re a credit to your race.” A white POC will think this is a compliment, instead of seeing it as an extension of racism.
In a sort-of related essay posted on Jesus’ General and other blogs, nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez, The Unapologetic Mexican, writes about The True Front of Progressivism:
SOMETIMES YOU WONDER if blogging is a component of Real Change, done for distraction, provided as a social experience, or is just a game. And of course, it is all these things at different times. In their better moments, blogs can affect people and their views profoundly, just as a Great Book might, when dropped into your hands on a crucial day.
But we are all selective. And we all have blind spots. That is why situations like JC’s here are good. He has many guest bloggers, and they all bring their points of view. He does not edit, he does not pressure, he does not in any way censor inflammatory posts, and he lets the Whole work its business when he brings in those voices. This is a good way to avoid blind spots and evidence of a true progressive nature in action.
Yes, I burn hot, as many of the “brown blogs” do. Just as the feminist blogs do. Just as the anti-ablist blogs do. But change and truth are not lukewarm entities or processes, and nobody has to agree with all I write. I am sure JC doesn’t, and I’m sure Glenn Greenwald doesn’t, but they both read and blogroll me. It doesn’t mean we haven’t had rough moments, adjusting viewpoint pangs, or disagreements. But—to me—it means they earn the name “progressive” if only for their effort and willingness to move outside the mainstream boundaries. […] I have plenty of exposure. I am happy at my place, and happy to guest post here, and happy that my words get out there.
I am not happy, however, to see how contained these points of view and discussions are in the “mainstream” blog world. My point is that there are many who are connected to this struggle. You want to talk about race? You want to talk about eliminationalist rhetoric? You want to talk about LEFT vs RIGHT….but that leaves no room for others, does it? Is there only Left and Right? Is it really so simple?
An excellent, excellent post.
News and Current Events
Jenn and James at Reappropriate take exception to something Pat Buchannan wrote about the mass killing at Virginia Tech. They decide to take him on point by point, delivering a solid smackdown:
James: While I concur with your point about safety in classrooms, the most insulting part of this argument, to me, is that America already has an ongoing experiment where we allow thousands of unregulated, uncontrolled small arms to infiltrate small, closed-in populations. These small arms contribute to thousands of unsolved and ignored homicides every year. We call this experiment the inner city. If you want to know what happens when everyone gets to carry a gun, go to the hood.
Jenn: While it is important to remember what it’s like to be a 1.5-genner, and the isolation that such an identity entails, the association of Seung Cho’s actions with all Korean American immigrants is ludicrous! The 1965 Immigration Act opened this nation’s gates to countless talents and skills from around the globe; we can’t conflate one person’s actions with an entire race of people, based solely on skin colour and pathway to citizenship.
In We Are All Criminals, Brownfemipower keeps the real issues surrounding the immigration debate up front:
Right now, although anti-immigrant aggression still centers on economics (the dirty spics are stealing jobs/making us pay for their welfare), the driving force behind the debate, the issue that really triggers the debate, is the “war on terror.”
Some of the first anti-immigrant organizations in the U.S. to capitalize on anti-Arab “war on terror” policies were the hate organizations the Minutemen Project and the American Patrol Report. Both organizations were classified as hate groups by the U.S. government pre 9-11. […]But all of this was conveniently forgotten by politicians, government officials, and universities in a post 9-11 world.
Rachel (of Tavern fame) feels that Racism is the Problem and Shooting the Messenger Promotes Racism, a reaction to a news story about a teacher disciplined because of something published in the school paper she oversees.
The article in the May issue of the Blazer included anonymous comments from students questioning the intelligence of blacks and expressing disapproval of interracial dating.
Some of the anonymous quotes accompanied an editorial by a student staff member who called those attitudes appalling.
It is difficult from the article to tell if the administrators were more concerned about how black students would feel after reading the bigoted comments or if they were more concerned about how it would make their school look. But if school administrators think that these types of comments are not made on a regular basis, they need to get real. Racial abuse is not uncommon in schools; bigoted remarks are also common. They may be said only amongst racial peers or close friends, but they are there nonetheless.
Should these students and their advisor be punished for exposing racism? Should we shoot the messenger or attack the message? I think we should attack the message without white washing it, and punishing the messenger only puts a lid on the problem.
We, As Individuals
One of the reasons I love this carnival is that it never fails to bring home to me that Erasing Racism is not just the work of groups of people, but of individuals. People who live in the world and do individual things with other individuals to combat and eliminate racism. Whenever I find the world too overwhelming and it’s problems insurmountable, I remember that I don’t have to take on the world, I just have to deal with what surrounds me every day. With that thought, I leave you my final carnival offerings:
MissProffe muses on one of the side-effects of being a teacher of color:
We chatted about TOCs being role models – not just for students of color, but also for majority students – at a predominately White independent school. S.G. remarked how there is added pressure on TOCs to project a positive image with respect to appearance (dress) and manner (language).
Is it fair that my colleague and I must cross every proverbial T and dot every proverbial I in the words we choose and in the clothes we wear? No. However, Life isn’t fair, and This Life presents a double-standard for people of color, regardless of our level of education, an impeccable wardrobe, or ability to speak the Queen’s English.
And finally, Rachel S. writes about Things You Learn About Race From a 7 Year Old on Alas, A Blog:
A few weeks ago my partner’s son B was here for the holidays, and as usual he and I spent a great deal of time together. I’m often curious about when and how kids learn about race, and I always observe how B discusses race. He is a dark skinned black child, and I am a very fair skinned white person, which makes it fairly obvious to any on-looker that I am not his biological mother.
B: “Were [those people looking at us] because I’m black and you’re white? They want to know if you are my mommy.”
Rachel: ”Why do you think that?”
B: (very matter matter of factly) “Because black kids have black moms.”
Rachel: “Can black kids have white moms?”
B: (laughing at what he thinks is a joke) “Black kids can’t have white moms.”
I found it interesting how conscious he was of other people looking at him and me. He very clearly connected it to race.
These are the kinds of issues that frequently come up in mixed race families. They are also faced by monoracial families even if they don’t realize it. …I do wonder if it would be different if I was the black one and he was white. Given that we live in a fairly rich area, where many upper middle class and upper class white parents have women of color as their nannies, it is not too uncommon to see black and brown women taking care of small white kids. However, a white women taking care of a black child is almost unheard of, which is why we probably get some many stares.
Also, if you’re interested in reading more stuff about race in the SF/F genre, keep an eye out for the People of Colour SF Carnival. The first one is due out next month.