by Latoya Peterson
There comes a time, in every fan’s life, when you know you’re going to just shut up and take the blue pill.
For me, this normally comes up with new fantasy series. I am well aware of the dynamics of the fantasy world, and that most of the best authors generally create worlds in a certain mold: vaguely Middle Ages, super segregated European society archetypes and norms in play. The good are generally white and fair haired, the bad are at least dark haired, if not dark skinned. This is the major basis for most mainstream fantasy series (and even newer genres like urban fantasy follow this mold.) This is due to the sci-fi and fantasy world’s twist on Andrea Rubenstein’s video game based concept of the the usual amount of racism:
It starts with a primarily white universe*. If you really look at the worlds that the majority of games, even today, are set in, you’ll most likely notice a pattern: protagonists, antagonists, and random NPCs will tend to be white more often than not. You can read more about this trend, which is not confined to video games, in the post Why is the Universe full of White people? over at Angry Black Woman Blog.
The usual amount of racism doesn’t stop with the relative invisiblity of non-white characters, though. It extends to the concept that every non-white character that exists does so in a marked (versus the unmarked white) state. The marking of a character can be through comments drawing attention to the character’s race and/or through the use of clear racial stereotypes.
And, we fen of color know that generally, if we want to dip a toe in new worlds, they are going to be filled to bursting with white folks. As Angry Black Woman wrote a few years back:
12 colonies or planets filled with humans. So far I have seen exactly 2 black people (one was killed 42 minutes after he showed up on the screen), one Asian person (who isn’t even human, she’s a Cylon in disguise), one Latino person (whose son, for some crazy reason, is played by a white dude), and that’s it. The rest of the people are all white. White people everywhere. This is stupid. If you have billions of humans on 12 planets I refuse to believe that only the white people would survive. Statistics say so. Unless there weren’t many black people on the colonies to begin with. […]
White, heterosexual men have the luxury of being able to turn to 99% of the channels beamed into their TVs and see themselves portrayed in a manner that makes them comfortable and happy. Most white women, do, too. Minorities of most any stripe do not have that luxury. This is especially true of ethnic minorities. Why do we ‘bean count’? Because we can. That’s not flippancy, that’s a fact. I can look at my TV and count the number of black people I see because there are so few of them and they tend to stand out in the sea of whiteness.
When we bring up this line of reasoning, rabid fans trot out foolish justifications. My personal favorite: “Black people weren’t everywhere.”
Shakespeare wrote Othello, The Moor of Venice in the fucking 1600s. Why the hell are people still using that tired ass excuse for writers who were around for the end of segregation? Octavia Butler once said in an interview that you can confront supposedly progressive science fiction writers with their all white worlds, and many of them will be forced to admit something is wrong, just by simple logic and common sense. Yet, this madness keeps happening, even once the issue is pointed out.
Anyway, Game of Thrones is on HBO. I’ve been a fan of the series ever since a friend of mine and I swapped fantasy novels one afternoon at my apartment – he gave me A Game of Thrones, the first in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and I gave him Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. I devoured the series, even though it isn’t my normal cup of tea, and ran straight into Martin’s bout of writer’s block. A Feast for Crows dropped in November of 2005, a few weeks after I had caught up with the other three. And after that was over, it’s been half a decade since I’ve immersed myself in that world. (How long has it been? We stopped doing the book exchange before my friend even thought about having a baby – the kid is now three. I hadn’t even heard of Mixed Media Watch then, I think it was still on Xenga. I stopped checking Martin’s blog for updates back in 2008. And Jacqueline Carey has concluded three story arcs across three generations across Terre D’Ange, Ch’in, and all points in between.)
Still, I was excited enough for the series. I had already resigned myself to whatever background noise style racism was going to be in the series, having read all the books. Swallowed my bluepill, prepared to head happily into Westero with a minimum of drama. Was it too much to ask that I would be able to enjoy the show in peace? Could I just keep my bottle of Jameson at the ready for the inevitable “Winter is Coming” reference, make my little rules for the drinking game (imps, nipples, incest are already marked), and figure out if the adaptation measures up to the books?
Nope. Instead, I got racism in my fandom (thanks to Drago and the Dothraki), and sexism from the mainstream media.
*Sigh.* Where do we even begin? Read the Post Can I Just Watch A Game of Thrones in Peace? [Brown Feminist Fan Rant]