Category Archives: Racialicious Reads

Wild Seed [Octavia Butler Book Club]

Wild Seed cover

Doro discovered the woman by accident when he went to see what was left of one of his seed villages. The village was a comfortable mud-walled palace surrounded by grasslands and scattered trees. But Doro realized before he reached it that it’s people were gone. Slavers had been to it before him. With their guns and their greed, they had undone in a few hours the work of a thousand years. Those villagers they had not herded away, they had slaughtered. Doro found human bones, hair, bits of desiccated flesh missed by scavengers. He stood over a very small skeleton – the bones of a child – and wondered where the survivors had been taken. Which country or New World colony? How far would he have to travel to find the remnants of what had been a healthy, vigorous people?

Finally, he stumbled away from the ruins bitterly angry, not knowing or caring where he went. It was a matter of pride with him that he protected his own. Not the individuals, perhaps, but the groups. They gave him their loyalty, their obedience, and he protected them.

He had failed. Continue reading

Introducing: The Octavia Butler Book Club

From Seed to Harvest Cover

Octavia Butler was Racialicious before we even existed.

The late author is a cult icon, being a boundry breaking black woman in Science Fiction who infused her writing with rich societal commentary on race, gender, dominance, and much much more.

Last year, the University Press of Mississippi was kind enough to send me a review copy of Conversations with Octavia Butler, a collection of her interviews, edited by Consuela Francis. The interviews (some of which I will excerpt in later posts) were illuminating, revealing Butler’s damn near prophetic grasp of the underlying challenges facing our society. Quite a few of these interviews are from the 1980s and 1990s – her words still apply in 2011.

I savored the book as long as I could, but when I finally finished, I felt a deep and profound sense of loss. As just a casual reader before, I was suddenly confronted with the magnitude of exactly what went with Octavia Butler when she departed from this earth.

So I decided the best tribute would be to read, share, and enjoy her work.

Readers, welcome to the book club. Continue reading

Now Reading: Jose Antonio Vargas on “[His] Life As an Undocumented Immigrant”

by Latoya Peterson

Jose Antonio VargasLast year, at a Poynter function, I had the privilege of meeting Jose Antonio Vargas in person. Both charming and interesting, with a huge drive to make journalism a true tool of democracy, he seemed like someone I wanted to get to know.

Last week, Vargas wanted the world to get to know exactly who he was. So he took the bold step of writing a piece that could change his life forever. Called “My Life as an Undocumented Worker,” Vargas used the New York Times platform to reveal his secret:

Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.

But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.

Vargas artfully describes the pain of the political becoming personal:

The debates over “illegal aliens” intensified my anxieties. In 1994, only a year after my flight from the Philippines, Gov. Pete Wilson was re-elected in part because of his support for Proposition 187, which prohibited undocumented immigrants from attending public school and accessing other services. (A federal court later found the law unconstitutional.) After my encounter at the D.M.V. in 1997, I grew more aware of anti-immigrant sentiments and stereotypes: they don’t want to assimilate, they are a drain on society. They’re not talking about me, I would tell myself. I have something to contribute.

Continue reading

Feminism For Real Touring New York and Ontario

Feminism for Real Poster

Save the date! Feminism for Real is landing in NYC next week!

Join us on Thursday May 19th from 6pm to 8pm to celebrate the New York City book launch of Feminism FOR REAL: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism, edited by Jessica Yee.

Where: Streetwise and Safe/Queers for Economic Justice
147 West 24th Street, 4th floor
New York City, New York

There will be a traditional Indigenous opening acknowledging the territory, and the evening will feature presentations and round table discussions from the editor and several of the book’s contributors. Venue is wheelchair accessible.

Proceeds from the evening will go to support Streetwise and Safe (SAS) Project for LGBTQQ Youth of Color.

For more information about the book go to the official site or contact Erika Shaker at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives at erikas@policyalternatives.ca

Also, check Andrea Plaid in person!

The book will tour the following week in Kingston, Ontario on May 25th:

Feminism for Real 2

Join us on Wednesday May 25th from 7pm to 9pm to celebrate the Kingston book launch of Feminism FOR REAL: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism, edited by Jessica Yee.

Where: The Artel
205 Sydenham St.
Kingston, Ontario

There will be a traditional Indigenous opening acknowledging the territory, and the evening will feature presentations and round table discussions from the editor and several of the book’s contributors. Co-presented with the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre. Venue is wheelchair accessible, we regret that the washroom area is not.

Proceeds from the evening will go to support the Sex Worker Action Group of Kingston (SWAG).

For more information about the book go to: the official site or contact Erika Shaker at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives at erikas@policyalternatives.ca

Caribbean Steampunk on a Distant World: A Review of Tobias Buckell’s CRYSTAL RAIN

by Guest Contributor Ay-leen the Peacemaker, originally published at Beyond Victoriana

In the wake of the Steampunk Kurfluffle that started with Charles Stross’ complaint against steampunk, Tobias Buckell wrote an interesting response about fantasy’s tendency to romanticize the past and mentioned his own work:

But ultimately, I share Stross’s discomfort, which is why my steampunk plays have often been about adopting the style and nodding to the history. Crystal Rain, what I called a Caribbean steampunk novel, is about Caribbean peoples and the reconstituted Mexica (Azteca in the book) of old with a Victorian level of technology, using the clothing/symbols of steampunk, but making their artificiers black.

Sadly, Crystal Rain, written in 2006, seems to have come out just before all the hotness, as it rarely gets mentioned as a steampunk novel whenever these celebrations happen.

So, now that my curiosity was piqued, I had to go out and get the book to see for myself how he handles steampunk before “the hotness.”

What’s so refreshing about Crystal Rain, besides the setting, is its clear positioning as a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel. The book takes place in the multicultural, multiracial country of Nanagada, a land outside of our known history. Little touches hint that Nanagada is a society rebuilding itself from a cataclysmic disaster that occurred centuries ago. A mysterious object called the Spindle drifts in the sky. Barren areas exist that sicken the men who attempt to cross them. The Preservationists work to restore some of the lost technologies from “the old fathers” from long ago under the authority of the new governess Dihana and engineers have just started taking advantage of steam technology. Over the mountain range beyond Nanagada, however, lives the society of Azteca, a fearsome rival. Equipped with air ships and goaded to war by their gods called the Teotl, the Azteca are preparing for invasion with Nanagada in its sights. Continue reading

Quoted: Kenji Yoshino on The Gender Double Bind [Racialicious Read-Along]

The literature on sex equality is shot through with accounts of this predicament, variously described as a “double bind,” a “Catch-22,” or a “tightrope.” In many workplaces, women are pressured to be “masculine” enough to be respected as workers, but also to be “feminine” enough to be respected as women. (I put the adjectives “masculine” and “feminine” in quotation marks when otherwise unmodified because I use them to describe perceptions rather than realities about traits held by men and women.) The sheer mass of evidence further persuades me that demands for conformity made of women are not generic, but target them as women. I also become convinced these contradictory demands mean the story of contemporary sex discrimination is more complex than a single narrative of forced conformity to the dominant group.

To see how distinctive this Catch-22 is to women, consider the absence of a gay equivalent. If gays were in the same position as women, straights would constantly ask me not only to cover but to reverse cover. If I dressed conservatively, I would be asked to wear edgier attire. If I “acted straight,” I would be urged to be more flamboyant. But I do not think gays occupy this position. With significant exceptions of the “queer eye for the straight guy” variety, straights generally only ask me to cover. In my experience, the reverse-covering demand is more likely to be made by gays themselves.

Racial minorities are more like gays than women in this regard. If I, as an Asian-American, “dress white” and speak “perfect unaccented English,” I will find safe harbor. Whites make occasional reverse-covering demands – “Speak Japanese so we can hear what it sounds like,” or, “No, tell us where you’re really from.” But again, I have fielded reverse-covering demands more often from other Asian Americans, who tell me to get as politicized about Asian American issues as I am about gay issues.

When gays or racial minorities are caught in the crossfire of covering and reverse-covering demands, it is often because we are caught between two communities. The majority community (straights or whites) makes the covering demand, and the minority community (gays or racial minorities) makes the reverse-covering demand. Recent literature on African-American “oppositional culture” illustrates this dynamic. In response to white demands that African-Americans “act white,” some African-Americans have developed a culture of “acting black.” An African-American could easily be caught in a Catch-22, but not one generated by whites alone. More generally, negative epithets for racial minorities who cover – such as “oreo,” “banana,” “coconut,” or “apple” – seem to come from minority groups rather than from whites.

What makes women distinctive is that the dominant group – men – regularly imposes both covering and reverse-covering demands on them. Women are uniquely situated in this way because their subordination has more generally taken a unique form.  Unlike gays and racial minorities, women have been cherished by their oppressors.  Men have long valued the “feminine” traits women are supposed to hold, such as warmth, empathy, and nurture. Continue reading

Quoted: Kenji Yoshino on Covering and Conformity [Racialicious Read-Along]


I would think, I wish I were dead.

I did not think of it as a suicidal thought.  My poet’s parsing mind read the first “I” and the second “I” as different “I’s.” The first “I” was the whole watching the self, while the second “I” – the one I wanted to kill – was the gay “I” nestled inside it.  It was less a suicidal impulse than a homicidal one – the infanticide of the gay self I had described in the poem.

My only consistent foray from my rooms was to the college chapel, where I prayed to gods I did not believe in for transformation.  No erotic desire I had ever felt exceeded my desire for conversion in those moments.  It is hard now to recall that young man at prayer.  To see him clearly is to feel the outlines of my present self grow fainter.

An older American student [also studying at Oxford at the time] tried to help.  Arad was struggling to come out himself, but seemed, I thought enviously, much more self-possessed.  He was the prodigy of his class – his intellectual feats, in medicine and philosophy, were reported in hushed and reverent tones.  Tall and angular, he accentuated his forbidding demeanor with a black coat that billowed out like the wings of a predatory bird.

Arad was kind to me. I never named my malady, but he knew its ways better than I.  I remember sitting in his rooms, listening to him describe the deadlines he had set for himself – to come out to his parents in three months, to go to a meeting of the college gay group in six months, to begin to date in a year. It was important, he said, to be a creature of will.  Unable to meet his eye, I looked over his shoulder at the wall behind him, which was tiled with diplomas and awards.  In the center were some framed black-and-white photographs he had taken.  One caught my eye – a statue of a kneeling angel weeping with her head buried in her arms.

It was a portrait of abject perfection, a portrait of him, and it terrified me.  I recognized the striving impulse in Arad as an attribute of my former self, and felt shame for having lost the discipline he possessed.  Yet I was also frightened by the harshness of that will.  I thanked him and left, never to return.  I could not help him, and I knew he could not help me. [...] Continue reading

Introducing The Racialicious Read Along! Kenji Yoshino’s Covering

by Latoya Peterson

I’m starting to love air travel. It is really the only time where I actually have to disengage from the internet, which becomes time to read actual books.

On this trip, I packed Kenji Yoshino’s Covering, a book I had been intending to read for quite some time. In Yoshino’s gut-wrenching combination of memoir and legal study, he brings a lost concept back into the lexicon to allow us to use new language when discussing issues of race and assimilation. The term he uses is called covering.

“Covering” is sociologist Erving Goffman’s term for how we try to “tone down” stigmatized identities, even when those identities are known to the world. In my work, I describe four axes along which individuals can cover: appearance, affiliation, activism, and association. Continue reading