Racist Things Steampunks Are Not Immune To: Dysconscious Racism

"Planetary Alignment," by Julie Dillon. Courtesy: Digital-art-gallery.com

By Guest Contributor Jaymee Goh, cross-posted from Silver Goggles

Dysconcious racism is a term coined by Joyce E King (in the Journal of Negro Education, Spring 1991, JSTOR, but you can get it through Google, too) as “the uncritical habit of mind (i.e., perceptions, attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs) that justifies inequity and exploitation by accepting the existing order of things as given.” It’s pretty much the reason why Moff’s Law exists as a comment policy on pretty much any blog that seeks to analyse pop culture.

You know when people say stupid sh-t like, “there will ALWAYS be racism,” or “people have ALWAYS been prejudiced towards one another” and “human beings are just like that”? And, like, what the fuck kind of argument are you going to have with that kind of statement, anyway? It’s not like there’s any kind of untruth to them; it’s just that it’s a really f-cking lazy thing to say and absolves people of any responsibility to actually think and address the problem of, you know, RACISM!

Dysconscious racism in steampunk is part of a larger attitude of escapism, usually exhibited by people who just think steampunk (and other kinds of fiction) is a fantasy, and whenever you try to engage with them about the political implications of their very problematic ish (whether it’s literature or world-building or whatever), they get their “Why Do You Have To Be So Political About This?” tantrums on and “Suddenly The World Is Ruined and it is Totally Your Fault” because you brought it up, so there.

On another note, dysconscious racism can include the refusal to consider the ins and outs of racism, and a lot of grouching about “being made to feel guilty.” Sometimes, some effort is made to engage, but there’s a lot of tip-toeing around the actual problem, a lot of stumbling around, and rather than have an actual conversation, we all sit around making vague statements about why racism still exists. Which, FYI, doesn’t actually help any.

Anti-racism is a conscious thing. It has to be cultivated as conscious habit. We grow up with so many unexamined assumptions and with poor education systems that cannot possibly cover the length and breadth of the world. Sometimes, our own education systems don’t even cover the ins and outs of our own countries’ histories (and seeing as how schools are as form of state apparatus to mold citizens that comply with state expectations, it’s no wonder!), so it’s easy to grow up not realizing all these histories.

Dysconscious racism, then, is sort of a default state of mind for a lot of people who refuse to develop the critical thinking skills needed to actively combat racism. There’re only so many ways to combat dysconscious racism, and unless the person exhibiting it is willing to give thinking a try, there’s really not much you can do, except reiterate, over and over, “racism can be fixed. Racism is not a natural state of being. Racism is not here to stay. Racism is taught, not intrinsic to humanity,” and hope they gradually internalize that.


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Written by:

  • http://samchupp.com sambearpoet

     It probably has a lot to do with the inherent racist views of many English folks during the Age of Steam. I have observed that Steampunk Folks (including myself) tend to completely sweep the whole race issue under the rug instead of deal with it head on. Now that I think more about it, I think that, truth is, technology changes lives. Life could certainly have been different for all of us if the fantastical steam punk technologies that exist in some stories (like, say, flying through the Ether to effect true, cheap global travel, or Tesla’s ability to broadcast electricity to the whole world without wires) were real. I must admit to pessimism as to whether it would have truly fixed things: they had “Guns, Germs and Steel” – who can say that if they had *more* they woud’ve been any nicer. This article makes me think about the worlds I create and gets me wondering how to address the issues brought up by it.

  • http://twitter.com/archaeo_girl1 archaeo_girl

    I agree with your final sentiment that racism can be fixed. Racism is taught, it is not innate. Race is a social construct, a means of categorizing groupings of traits as a means to artificially define the “other.” (hell, physical anthropologists, whose entire field is to examine and discern the peculiarities of the human physical condition, cannot agree on number of races and what traits define those races!) Racism then attributes +/- morality to those actual or presumed traits in order to build up one’s own assumed group and create a superficial bond within the group.

    It is in defining the other as a way to build the group that racism really raises its ugly head. Yes, uniting against the “other” is a quick and dirty way to build and unify a group. But it’s crap and unnecessary; it is also a very superficial means of bonding a group and is ultimately detrimental to group dynamic. By means of the organization and understanding available in the world today, uniting towards a common goal (aside from condemning or eliminating the “other”) is a more difficult but much deeper way to unite a group. By trying and/or succeeding in reaching a goal, a deeper bond is made within a group, one that can be utilized in inter-group dynamics and ultimately improve the whole of the human condition.

  • Anonymous

    I’m going out on a limb and taking this to be referring to the proclivity of most sci-fi and now steampunk to be written from a view of a nearly all-white world. Part of that is a reflection on the writers, part of it is laziness in not fully thinking through the fantasy to pull in a wider audience (which, by the way, sells more books).

    There’s an e-book out called “The Steam-Powered Globe” written by a group of writers in Signapore, with mostly Asian female protagonists. It’s a good read, and an example of what more of the sci-fi/steampunk fantasy world should be.

  • Notebook

    I actually never heard of the term dysconscious racism until I read this article. I now know why I hate how most stories pull the Humans are B******* trope since it’s usually just used as an excuse for people to continue being bigoted.