by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson
At the end of 2007, I found myself experiencing a bit of fannish fatigue. Although there had been some definite highs (like IBARW 2), there were just as many lows (yet another round of white fans talking to FoC about their “tone”) and it seemed as if the headache pounding at the back of my skull wasn’t about to be relieved any time in the near future without some heavy duty meds.
Rather than dive into yet another round of crazy, I decided to focus this month’s carnival on the relationships that PoC have with one another. Why? Because, we have issues and history with both within our communities of origin and without that sometimes spill over into the cross-cultural homes that we try to create. Those same issues are even hyped up (every so wrongly) by an uninformed media. In other words, we’ve got some stuff to talk about. We can buy into bad or try and work through and support each other to the best of our ability in the process.
Below are a few of my favorites.
After college I kept on trying to find community in fandom. I went to Arisia, a local con, because so many people I knew talked about it like a homecoming. It was the place to talk endlessly about nerdy things, to meet people who got it, to be surrounded by geeks like me. But when I went I felt like a freak among freaks. Yes there were all these amazing panels I liked, books galore, and people who shared my obsessions. But again I was the one black girl in a room of white fans. Now I learned that in science fiction, the literature of ideas, we had moved beyond race. In the future, race and racism would be immaterial. All I saw was Lily White Futures and Monochrome Myths. I saw some token efforts at diversity, but they were done while sidestepping discussions of race. Uhura and Kirk and shared the first interracial kiss and TV and didn’t that prove how groundbreaking sci-fi was about race? Why did I object to fantasy books all existing in all white vaguely European landscapes? Was I trying to force writers into affirmative action? Why wasn’t I be happy with the occasional light brown vaguely ethnic witch or exotic dancer? Why did I insist on pushing my narrow minded racist ideas on this literature of the imagination?
Since I started writing it seems some of the things I’ve said when I’ve talked of culture and Cherokee medicines have really affected people. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what I said, but now every so often when one of my non-Native friends has a question on those two subjects I get an email. Now, it is true that very often whites assume any person who is a member of a particular ethnic group is an expert on that group. Whereas often times many PoC are well versed in their cultures, some of us have lived apart from our ethnic community for a very long time, even our whole lives.
I remember one day spending hours writing and rewriting a post trying to politely explain to some hopeful writer who sent me bits of the Native American romance she wrote that there were some serious issues in her research. I don’t mind offering assistance to new writers, but sometimes it can be a dangerous prospect. This woman got really mad at me when I pointed out to her that she should pick one tribe and look into it in great detail. You see she had badly mixed styles of clothing and housing in an area where the tribes didn’t even have access to those things. Now you’d think she’d be glad to have a chance to portray the particular tribe accurately.
Not the case. She said things like “what difference does the tribe make” and “any intelligent reader will get the general idea”. I tried to be polite (I swear I did) when I explained that generalizing Indians as a whole was less that respectful. It seemed like a simple idea to me, but no matter how I worded my concerns, she just didn’t see “what the big deal was”. No wonder I see so many books out there with portrayals of Indian that make me cringe (or swear loudly). Sometime I wonder if I’m the only one who wishes more folks would write about modern Indians, rather than “historicals” that spit at the truth as they go by.
There are different kinds of posts about race being written in fandom, posts with different purposes ranging from calling someone on their words to wanting to discuss the intersectionality of PoC and aliens in SF to wanting to help out people new to the discussion to… race and fandom/media/gaming/representation/characterisation — anything and everything. And most, if not all discussions end with participants on all sides exhausted and frustrated, the discussion now centred on how to define common terms (ie. “race”, “racism”, “privilege” etc) and constructing a framework (sociolinguistic — ie, the right way/time to bring this subject up, the right audience, the correct tone to use, kindness, politeness) within which members of the same (or different) community have a discussion.
We’re still circling that first very crucial and yet very basic stage — how to have a conversation about race — instead talking about issues in depth. Instead of broaching the specific problems or discussing perspectives and complexities that are brought up in the initial question, we instead cycle the Kübler-Ross stages of:
- Denial: “The show/the character/that phrasing can’t possibly be racist. I know them/it/the writer, they aren’t racist! I don’t have white privilege; I’m a individual! Why are you attacking me?”
- Anger: “How dare you call me/them/it a racist! That’s not nice, in fact, it’s the worst thing anyone could ever hear ever. And you’re a crazy troublemaker! And you don’t know what real racism is!”
- Bargaining: “Okay, maybe you kind of have a point but how does this benefit me? And how does it benefit you? Shouldn’t we be out talking in the real world where it counts?”
- Depression: “what good does talking about this do? It doesn’t change the world, it doesn’t change anything? Why bother? I come to fandom to get away from these sad real life things.”
- Acceptance: “wow, huh. Maybe there is a problem. So, what do I do now?” or my personal favourite, “oh, I know everything now, I don’t need to read further.”
Which hey, leads us all the way back to denial again.
Racism is often described as a product of a systematic abusive relationship between those who belong to a race that has power and those that don’t. Racism not only manifests in housing benefits or job availability or salary compensation or being able to walk down a street without being hassled but in TV, in adverts, in media and everywhere I look and listen.
The thing is, I do not believe the goals of race/racism discussions in fandom or the justifications for their existence — unless the writer writes them specifically as guides or aides for educational purposes — are to educate white fans or to “fix” them or to help them be brighter, better citizens and sleep better at night. It is not my responsibility, in an abusive relationship, to heal the person who is hurting me. The onus is on them; there are countless posts, blogs and resources at their fingertips. It is not my fault they hurt me. It is not my fault they feel bad because they realise there might be a problem. It is not my fault that they do not seek the help they need.
Those were the ones that topped my list, but as always, all the posts are worth a read. Oh, and I have to mention that I am currently enamored with the FoCing Cabal. I never really got into LiveJournal, but if I had/did, I would join on principle.