punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Bringing Soul into Sci-Fi

This entry will probably generate some hate mail. I just know it. But it's been bouncing inside my heard for a while, and I just have to let it out. I think about this topic from time to time, and sometimes it arises anew, and I have finally decided to brave the accusations that inevitably follow such a topic.

If anime has brought anything positive to the sci-fi community, one of them HAS to be more people with African-American backgrounds.

I hate the term "black people." While I know culturally, there are "blacks and whites," in my head there isn't, and a lot of my long-time friends will attest to the fact I put such little emphasis on skin color, I often couldn't tell you who of my friends may be "black" any more than which ones have brown eyes or blue eyes. It simply does not matter to me, and never has. That being said, I understand current society does not feel the same, and often the topic causes so much unrest and tender nerves that just saying, "black people and white people are really no different," causes debate where someone will eventually accuse another of being racist. *I* have been called racist once in a while, so I know that term is pretty overused and slung without justice.

I know there's "subtle racism," and that's the hardest to root out. I often ask myself, "Hey, would I feel differently about this guy if he were white?" So far, no. The real test came recently onboard the Red Line too and from work, where I might be the only white guy in my car. I don't feel uncomfortable, and the types of people who stare at me probably do so because I look kind of funny, white or not. In fact, white people on the Metro seem more unfriendly and crabby, especially middle-aged women for some reason, but that's another entry because I cant for the life of me figure out why. I mean, yeah, once in a while some crazy dude gets on the car, start ranting about the white people draggin' him down or whatever, but he's not really doing this so much as him being black as he's just nuts. Sometimes, when I see an aggressive urban youth staring me down, I wonder, "How would I feel if he were white, if he were dressed the same with the same posture?" Yeah, still cautious. "How would I feel if this same guy was wearing a business suit?" Less cautious. I may be segregating people by posture, eye contact, and dress, but not by color. Maybe that's something I need to work on, too.

"There are a lot more brothers running Katsucon than Otakon," someone said to me at Katsucon this year. The person said this is a positive way towards Katsucon, but there was a subtle bitter slant towards Otakon for reasons I won't go into. Now, as I told him, I didn't know if such a statement were true, and if so, if that really meant anything about racism or not, but to be careful when saying such a thing. But it reminded me about why I feel more comfortable in anime crowds than regular sci-fi: cultural diversity. I think comic book fandom has always had this, and anime seemed more balanced than the "crackerfest" [jk] that a lot of sci-fi cons have.

I wondered for years if the sci-fi crowd had subtle racism. I still don't know, but here's a hint: at Balticon last year, a female author who happened to be dark skinned was giving a "talk to the author" seminar in the ballroom. Gol-LLE, for the first half hour is was all about her being black. "Did you think being black has influenced your writing?" "How did growing up during the civil rights era mold you as an author?" "Did you feel pressured to write differently in a white-dominated industry?" Etc...

Shades of Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson.

I couldn't have been the only one who got sick of this because I finally had to break the chain and asked her what influenced starting a story, did she have spontaneous ideas, asked to do a genre and built on that, or what? It was a simple question that I thought would encourage her to speak more about herself, but I prefaced it with, "I hope no one minds if I ask a question NOT related to your skin color..." and half the audience applauded. I mean, one question about being a black writer, fine. But like 5 or 6 in a row? It was like the fact she was black was just too much for some people wrap their head around. That's subtle racism right there. I don't think the questioners hated black people or anything like that, but still in their head, black people were somehow an "exotic line of division," like, "Is it true Asians make better lovers?" Uh... depends on who taught them? I don't know. Unless there are physical differences (height, super-curly hair, whatever), I don't think anyone should be concerned about how someone looks unless they are selling a product like platform shoes or no-lye relaxer.

Don't ask me how many black people are my friends. I don't know. I don't care! I don't know how many have brown hair or blond hair, or even how many women I know than men (I am friends with women more than men, but that's not really anything I strive for, it just fell that way). I am not in the habit or sorting people by sex, color, religion, whatever. I sort more by personality and who gets along with whom. That's hard enough without mixing stupid shit like a melanin skin count.

But ever since the 1980s, I always wondered, "Why are there so few people of African descent in the sci-fi world?" And when I started attending anime cons, I felt happy to see more balance because it felt more... American, and that's weird because anime is mostly Japanese influence, many who stereotype blacks as huge guys with loud voices and big... guns. I find I don't feel comfortable when am separated by color. In Sweden, that was a big thing for me. I wouldn't have guessed it, but something always felt off, and when I saw someone who wasn't white with blond hair and blue eyes, I always kept thinking, "Oh, there you are..." Look, an Asian person! Yeah, you stand out because half the cafe is looking at you. The only black people I saw were in Arlanda Flygplats and some tourists from Nairobi in Gammalstad. So maybe after a while I notice black and white after all, or at least the absence thereof.

AOL had always been good about a mix of sex and racial background. When I left AOL, I feared I would find that most of the tech industry was not as mixed, so I was glad this company has a good mix as well. I think that this mix reflects how racial differences are really eliminated over IM, e-mail, and other text. Is the LJ journalist I am reading white? Black? Female? Jewish? WHO CARES?! Just at Martin Luther King wanted, "judgement by content of character."


I just had to get that out.
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