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05 January 2007 @ 12:27 am
Ursula Le Guin and Earthsea... and Buffy  
Wow.  A friend of mine sent me links tonight to the youtube trailer for the Japanese version of Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea books called Gedo Senki.  We were bemoaning the fact that it's not going to show up in the US until 2009 because the SciFi channel (that made one of the CRAPPIEST book to TV adaptations I've ever seen) holds the rights to the U.S. market.  And he sent me links to LeGuin's negative view of both the SciFi Channel miniseries and the Japanese movie (although she hated the Japanese movie less).

At her site I came across an essay titled Shame, by Pam Noles.  Written by a highly intelligent woman of color, it talks about the continued and often seemingly ignored trend in sci-fi and fantasy to write from the white perspective.  It was prompted by the Sci Fi channel's magnificent ability to cast what was a book filled with people of color as all white.  LeGuin actually talked about their "whitewashing" on Slate when the miniseries came out.

I followed other links to find this freaky and sad gem written by Douglas Blaine... and before you go agreeing with his viewpoint (not that I think you will), read Tobias S. Buckell's refutation because every word he says is worth reading, and worth practicing.

Pam mentions Buffy in Shame, and again in her response to the responses.

She says, in the original essay:

Am I the only FoP [Fans of Pigment] forced to develop a veneer of denial in order to function at the gaming tournaments, at the conventions other than the comic book fest in San Diego, or while watching "Buffy" and wondering if The Hollywood People who had ever actually been to Sunnyvale? Because, you know, if they had, there'd be five Asian/Pacific Islanders and at least three Latinos in the background. Am I the only FoP who was reduced to searching the people in the background because the people in the foreground were always a given? Am I the only one to wonder why the Los Angeles of "Angel" looked a lot like the New York City of Woody Allen's films?


There's a fic of tabaqui and reremouse's where Gunn asks where the hell all the people of color are (it's called SNAFU and is Spander if you're so inclined) in Sunnydale, but most of the time I think people in the Buffy 'verse stick within the boundaries set out by Joss.  And maybe that's too bad.
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literate and stylish: csi ryan huh?mishloran on January 5th, 2007 08:58 am (UTC)
I don't know why, but I find the phrase 'people of colour' amusing in a "what the fuck are we really calling this concept that?!!" kind of way. Yet I do not know what other catchphrase should/could be used. As it were.

Also talking in your LJ about it weirds me out because apparently white people aren't allowed to talk about skin colour at the risk of sounding like horrific wipe-out-all-different-skin-tone type Nazis.

But I dunno. I don't know what it's like in Americaland, but I don't come across a lot of people who aren't white in my day to day existence. I live in the middle class type area of Bristol and my university course has one darker-than-white skinned person on it, and then at work I'm, again, about one in ten customers (and over half of all statistics are made up!) is black or Asian? I guess?

But then, maybe I do not think about it because I am the majority?

But isn't there that gun-toting dude in BTVS who is black? The one who is friends with Riley?
my monkied brainkatekat1010 on January 5th, 2007 09:53 am (UTC)
it is a silly phrase isn't it? I like hers - FoP or Fan of Pigment. Seriously, she knew what she was doing when she made the acronym - making fun of the whole business.

I agree that it's a problem to talk about race - heck it makes most people pretty damn uncomfortable, and i've often felt that way even while i was talking. I had (and will probably have more) moments of fear posting this thing. But better to talk about it than to not talk about it.

And Austin, TX is split, I think, about 40% white, 40% hispanic, 20% other, and I do have a bunch of people in my classes who are different colors. But what they were talking about above is having non-white people show up in fantasy/sci-fi genres as main characters, as points of identification... which you have to admit, are predominately white dominated even at times when other writing isn't as homogeneous as it used to be. Heck, things still haven't changed that much in lit. studies. You look at my comparative lit department and they're still studying the dead white guys - maybe in interesting ways, but still, dead white guys. it's why I'm in asian studies instead of literature - because at least in asian studies they place an emphasis on the lit of other countries and there's a lot more cross discipline work being done.

and unfortunately i know that i don't think of it because i'm the majority, because when i've had these convos with friends who aren't white, they say they think about it all the time - that it's part of what it means to be non-white.

And for me the whole cross linked discussion was really to kind of ask why not? Why not have less white characters? Just because I'm a white woman who used to live in a small town in Cali that had 9 black students in our school doesn't mean the only literature i should have been exposed to in highschool should have been written by white women. Just because you live in a city where you predominately see white people every day doesn't mean that has to define your reading materials.

And the problem with many of the Btvs characters that weren't white is that they were often evil or fucked up: Trick (from S3 I think) is the evil black vampire who helps the Mayor, and yep, there's the solder boy who helps Riley, and he turns into the first or second henchman of Adam (heck, the Initiative is a pretty big bad on the whole and he's part of that). Kendra the Caribbean slayer is killed by Darla because she's not flexible enough to keep up with Buffy. And she's right about So.Cal (which is ostensibly where Sunnydale is) - there should be an entirely different social makeup than the all white kid school if they were talking about So.Cal schools. My friend who grew up in Riverside, which is basically as So.Cal as you can get, was part of the white minority at his school.
literate and stylishmishloran on January 5th, 2007 08:59 am (UTC)
I also apologise for blithering in your LJ when I actually don't have a freakin' clue what I'm talking about or a leg to stand on. Haven't much thought about this before, and it is before nine in the morning...!
my monkied brain: Mish Rockskatekat1010 on January 5th, 2007 09:54 am (UTC)
It was not blither! it was (and will probably remain) my only comment to the post - and so I bless you!! Especially because you gave me a thoughtful comment!

and i probably wrote way too much in response because it's 4 am my time and i've been awake reading and goofing around online and should really be in bed - so I apologize for the weird tone (if there is one!) and the bad spelling errors.

gray_ghostgray_ghost on January 5th, 2007 10:55 am (UTC)
Well...Douglas Blaine is a fucking idiot:



I submit this is one of the underlying motives of authors for creating new races. We can invent elves and dwarves and the like and say they like fried chicken and watermelon without coming off as totally inept asses.



*bonks head onto keyboard*

Maybe I'll post that in his blog...

my monkied brainkatekat1010 on January 6th, 2007 03:35 am (UTC)
you caught that he was an idiot too huh? sadly i think the links are pretty old so going and writing comments now may not do much good... but hey, it's a free internet. (or something like that)
Purple: Kitty--bugpsychoadept on January 5th, 2007 07:14 pm (UTC)
Well, I don't agree with Douglas Blaine, but I'm definitely sympathetic to his viewpoint. Granted this is probably colored (er...) by my own experiences, but I think what he fails to acknowledge is that the reason it *matters* that he doesn't feel comfortable writing a character of another race is, at least in part, fear.

I don't buy his line that "I don’t (can’t) do this for the same reason I don’t write legal thrillers or romance or business books: I know nothing about the true subject." As he points out himself, he could do research on romance or the legal system or business, he simply chooses not to. With the subject of race, though, he seems to feel that the research required isn't possible. I'm not sure exactly what to make of his assertion that the only way to understand black people is to live among black people, except that I doubt he would say that the only way to understand the legal system is to go through law school.

What I can say, though, is that despite those who claim you should "write what you know", every fiction writer ever is forced to write *something* they don't personally have experience with, or they're not really writing fiction. The thing is, most of the time we're not afraid to *imagine* what it would be like. We can extrapolate from our own experience, and sometimes we just make stuff up.

Writers take on all kinds of personas that aren't their own, whether it's a man writing about a woman, or an able bodied person writing about a paraplegic, or someone who's never so much as touched a gun writing about a character in the military. Most of the time, no one thinks anything of it, and if the writer gets it all wrong it's not the end of the world. There are exceptions, of course. If a man writes a horribly sexist book about a woman, he's going to take flak for it. But that's not going to stop men from writing books about women.

For some reason, though, we seem to have a collective mental block over the issue of race, particularly the idea that if you're white you can't write about other races. Not everyone suffers it, obviously, but from what I've seen it's fairly pervasive. What makes it different from most other issues is the fact that writers, like Blaine (and myself, to be honest), are afraid of getting it wrong. Because it's such a sensitive social issue, it's perceived as worse to get this wrong than most things. Here I can only really speak from my own experience, but I think writers are afraid of opening themselves up to accusations of racism if their portray isn't "accurate". LeGuin's statement suggests that maybe it's not as much of a problem as people fear, but I think that's a large part of it.\

(ctd below)
Purplepsychoadept on January 5th, 2007 07:14 pm (UTC)

I know for my part, it's an issue I usually stay far, far away from. The main reason for that is the militant anti-racism atmosphere I experienced at Antioch, which frankly I think was working against its own interests. Like Blaine, I grew up in an all-white community, and my attitude when I went to Antioch was that a black person was person with black skin. I had no idea of the social and cultural issues that went with it. I'm certainly more enlightened now, but I often wish I weren't. Because my first direct experience with the anti-racism movement was to be told, essentially, that because I'm white I am inherently racist and my opinions on racism are invalid, I am in a way more racist than I was before. I'm afraid to talk about racism. I'm always a little nervous around black people (and, yes, it is centered more on blacks than other races), until I know enough to be sure that they're not going to take anything that comes out of my mouth as racist. I'm certainly afraid to try to portray a person of a different race in a meaningful way in writing, and I'm hesitant to include minor characters of other races for fear of being accused of tokenizing them. I hate that this is my feeling on the whole subject, but I freely admit I'm not brave enough to try to act against it on my own.

My larger point, though, is that I think my experience is similar to what's happened in the larger sense. I think Blaine's attitude about not being able to write characters of different races relates to a feeling of exclusion. I think whites, at least those who are aware of the issues involved, have been told so often that we're the bad guys that we feel like we don't even have a right to participate in the debate over racism, that if we attempt to engage in dialogue on the topic we're just treading where we don't belong, and that anything we say about someone of a different race is, by its very nature, subject to criticism.

What LeGuin says about cultural imperialism is part of the problem. Unless we were fortunate enough to grow up in an atmosphere where we regularly confronted the ideas involved, those of us who are conscious of the concept of white privilege are so afraid of unknowingly exercising it that we're paralyzed. We really have experienced a sort of reverse racism. Should we get over it, try to get a better handle on the issues and take them on anyway? Yeah, of course. But when confronted with someone who has judged me without even bothering to get to know me first, my instinct is to run far and fast in the opposite direction. Likewise, I think that's what's happened with this whole issue. Few people have the courage to try to engage an issue in an atmosphere where they feel like their voice doesn't count anyway. I think this problem is going to persist until the larger atmosphere is more one of compassion and discussion than condemnation.

(As a footnote, I know I've made some generalizations here, and I know plenty of individuals who don't fit them. Still, this has been my overall impression.)
my monkied brainkatekat1010 on January 6th, 2007 04:01 am (UTC)
Unless we were fortunate enough to grow up in an atmosphere where we regularly confronted the ideas involved, those of us who are conscious of the concept of white privilege are so afraid of unknowingly exercising it that we're paralyzed.

See, this is really why i posted the above - because i didn't grow up in an atmosphere where I regularly confronted ideas of race. And I think the only way to reduce the paralysis you're talking about is to talk about race, remind ourselves what the issues are, and engage again in the conversation. It doesn't have to be all at once, it's not always going to be positive, but the only way to make change, the only way one can change - for me - is to rexamine ideas. To remind myself that there is a racial situation in this state/country/city/school/world that I don't experience in the same way as people of color do. To remove some of my fear by trying to research, informing myself about the problem, and occasionally engaging with rabid people from both perspectives. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the only way to stop the rabid disenfranchising is to become informed of why people felt the need to take away your power in the first place (not that i'm saying you're not aware, because i'm pretty sure you are), but then being able to respond to them that if they want to change the world they have to engage in discussion with more than just people of color - they have to change the minds of those hegemony. Disenfranchising white people isn't the way to do it, and I don't think any of the people I linked to above would maintain that it was.

thank you for commenting btw. you're one of three people on the flist who didn't read that and go "oh hell no, i'm not touching that with a ten foot pole" and i really really really appreciate that.
Purplepsychoadept on January 11th, 2007 06:22 pm (UTC)
gotta work. will reply to this later...
my monkied brainkatekat1010 on January 6th, 2007 03:46 am (UTC)
but I think writers are afraid of opening themselves up to accusations of racism if their portray isn't "accurate".

Sure. And I agree with you that there seems to be more fear when talking about race to get it wrong than many other types of writing. At the same time, don't you think that it's scary to write BSDM? Have you ever been afraid of someone commenting and telling you that you've gotten it all wrong? I know that when I've tried to write it, I have had that fear. Didn't stop me from writing it though.

But also, say i went out today and published a fic set in the buffyverse filled with characters of color, and posted it to my lj. I'd be surprised if people's first reaction was to tell me i'd gotten something wrong about writing people of color. The fic community we're in tends to praise things they like and less than half the time complain about things they don't (or they might complain to someone else, but not me). I might not get many comments, but even if some of them were comments telling me I'd gotten it wrong, wouldn't it still have been good to make the attempt?
Purplepsychoadept on January 11th, 2007 06:21 pm (UTC)
At the same time, don't you think that it's scary to write BSDM? Have you ever been afraid of someone commenting and telling you that you've gotten it all wrong?

Sure. I always worry about that with certain aspects of my writing. But I think in the case of race it's the perception that if you screw it up, it's not going to be a few people saying "Hey, that's wrong," but a whole bunch of people going "You screwed it up, you're EVIL!"

As for your example of writing a fic for the LJ community, I guess I've seen too much wank on the subject to even feel comfortable doing that. In the case of an established character, like Gunn or Olivia, it's not so hard because you can just follow canon, and other people already know and accept the characters, but if you were to write in a bunch of black or hispanic or asian or whatever OCs... well, I think the most basic problem there is that first of all you're going to have to point out that these characters are a different race, unless you give them racially linked names, which... well, the whole thing kind of makes my brain hurt to think about. But the fact that characters are generally assumed to be white, unless stated otherwise, is a problem in and of itself.