Sometime this January there will be a PoC in SF & Fantasy Carnival and the topic of discussion will be the representation of Men of Colour in SF and Fantasy fiction. But I've recently had an experience online, very well summed up in Livejournal's Deepad's essay here on cultural appropriation and the erasure of self.
Dear Elizabeth Bear,
It's about Mandingos. It's about the great scary, long cocked black man who will devour, rape, sexually satisfy like never before, protect and or die for this one, oh so special, white woman.
It's about we-sha-sha and the noble brave; the Indian scout. And it's not really progress when that 'Indian' is an amalgamation of cultures, shot into space and yet is still loyally following the phenomenal against/despite her circumstances white woman.
Aside: My historic strong female captain is Tryla Scott. She appeared on screen long before Janeway, was highly respected by her peers; was in fact the youngest officer to gain the post of Captain in quite a while. And ends up possessed, controlled, shot and never heard from again.
It's about my personal confusion that an author so highly spoken of by people I respect, would write about a magical, negro who gets bridled by a white woman after trying to kill or eat another white woman and, to my horror, becoming some sort of beast of burden/big buck protector; my horror at watching the humiliation of yet another black man so that a white woman can be empowered in front of her peers.
It's about the fact that you and writers like you don't have to think about this stuff. That you have the ready made excuse that it all 'serves the story' and that said character was written intelligently and as a well rounded individual with wants and needs of his own; with plots even. It's about the fact that I couldn't finish reading your book because I threw it across the room in disgust.
Aside2: Though I will admit that part of that was disappointment at yet another magical adventure in the land of Europa Celtic where every magical being the world over owes allegiance etc to a white Empire. In this case a FAIRY white empire.
It's about Tyr Anasazi being one of the most powerful and original black, male, SF characters I'd ever seen - subsumed and hobbled by Kevin Sorbo. The black man in the future is the ultimate epitome of what humanity can become? Strong, powerful, cunning, independent? Well, let's make him a sneak and pretender, woefully misguided, just plain wrong and then killed off for his own suddenly inserted stupidity and ambitions.
It's about Ronon Dex being yet another powerful character of colour, but existing, buck and strong and 'animalistic' at the expensive of Lt. Aiden Ford - left to become the black man junkie in space; because the writers didn't know what to do with him. The character was a US Marine, weapons & explosives expert - but he just wasn't 'buck' enough; no mandingo he.
It's about Geordi being blind. It's about Worf being, time and time again, a tragic mulatto. It's about holding on to Benjamin & Jake Sisko with finger nails and eye teeth. And also about conflicted feelings over Julian Bashir - South Asian & East Asian academic stereotypes vs someone who even knew what a sari was, up on a mainstream American show.
It's about Teal'c being solitary and alone, without a love life and an emancipation preoccupation. It's about Gerak ending up the personification of a newly freed people's inability to govern themselves.
It's about the first Black Power Ranger, being the actual first Black Power Ranger. And his martial arts style being something akin to break dancing. It's about the absolute and utter joy I felt when T.J Johnson became the Red Ranger. After seeing little black boys coming up with everything from Orange to Grey in schoolyards in my neighbourhood so they could pretend in that universe - here was a chance for them to say 'I can lead the Power Rangers. I can be the Red Ranger. TJ was!'.
Have you noticed yet that I'm listing? That I can list? That it's not impractical for me to list? And in my listing there's heartache and anger and depression and disgust?
It's about Avatar: The Last Airbender except in the live action there will be no Heroes of Colour, because the cast has been decided and they're all white. So too are the major Heroes of Dragonball Z. As were the main hero of SciFi Channel's EARTHSEA.
Even when the culture is non-white, even when it's not a case of aspects of my culture or some other non-white culture being incorporated into some white Europic Fantasy for some white Europic goal - there's no guarantee of proper, respectful representation.
It's about being fed up with all of that and not in the mood to pamper or pet someone who has far more privilege than they seem willing to admit to in the realms of fantasy and science fiction. And not wanting to watch them parade in a hairshirt when there are others who are actually hurting from a true lack of something.
I'm not calling you a monster. I'm not calling you a racist. But I am calling you clueless and ill worded and more than a touch thoughtless. Your ability to think about things, sometimes, does not erase my pain or lack. And only thinking of how things come across, sometimes, is not enough to make me like you. In fact, I don't think there's anything that could make me like you, other than you somehow earning my respect. And that's never going to happen if you keep checking in with me (metaphorical me, the larger culture and audience of PoC me) to see how you're going. Cause then it looks like so much brownie points, so much patting yourself on the back, so much excuses and dissembling; so much pride.
PS: I despise the phrase happens to have. Do you happen to be white? Do people happen to be straight? No. You hear "He or she happens to be Chinese/Indian/Gay/An Immigrant/Etc..."
And you, Elizabeth Bear in particular have written that someone just 'happens to have that cultural background'. I do not happen to be black or gay or have a Caribbean culture background. I'm not a straight white woman who just happens to have on these "accessories". Who I am, the facets that make up me cannot be picked up somewhere for $3.95, no matter how well you think you shop in exotic locations for true bits of said exotic culture. I am not white down deep beneath my brown and my dreads and my accent and SGL. And I'm as offended by it as white women would be if they were told that surely, surely, they're really a good thin girl down deep inside and they just happen to be fat on the outside.