Tuesday, March 10, 2009

RaceFail and "Writing the Other"

There is a heated discussion about racism in science fiction on Live Journal at the moment. It's too complex to describe here. The best overview I have found is by Oyseter on Ambling Along the Aqueduct.

rydra wong is keeping a list of links to RaceFail posts at her Live Journal.

As far as I can tell, the discussion/argument/fight began with a discussion of "writing the other." In SF this does not mean writing about aliens, but writing about humans who are not white and American and probably male and straight.

The best essays on this I have found are by Mary Anna Mohanraj and (via a link from Mary Anne) at Deepad's Journal .

Deepad's post is especially stunning. It's a description of what it's like to read SF while living in a non-western culture and then wanting to write SF and F. How do you begin a fantasy in a tavern, a classic fantasy starting place, if India does not have taverns?

How are you true to yourself and your experiences, while being true to the genre?

Now, there is much in fantasy that is not in the typical American city: dragons, barbarian warriors, wizards, trolls. (Sounds like Ankh Morpork, doesn't it? Which I have always assumed is London.) None the less, the typical fantasy landscape and culture is western.

So, that is one question. How do non-westerners, non-Euro-Americans write F & SF? And how do we make F & SF a place that is open to people of every culture, when the field at present is so white American?

We need to make SF more open. If it does not change, it will end by being a weird white enclave, like gated suburbs or the Aryan Nation.

The other question is -- how do I, a white American, write about other people and cultures? When is something cultural appropriation?

Having asked the question, I am now going back to writing a story about how Brer Rabbit gets trapped in a human body and ends as a black auto worker in Detroit...

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