Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Writing Colorblind

As many of you know, I've had lots of rants here on this blog about this very thing: Why Writing Colorblind is Writing White (a rant) by Brutal Woman.

Her reaction is to something that John Scalzi said here.

Unlike Scazli, I intentionally identify my characters by race. In the AngeLINK books by my alternate personality I describe Jibril as a black African Muslim. Mouse is Arabic and Muslim, and he's brown enough that Rebeckah (an Israeli born American) misidentifies him as an Indian from India. Michael is an olive-skinned Mediterranean (his surname identifies him as Italian) and Ariel is Asian, though I never identify which specific country. I did this in my science fiction particularly because the future is so very often shown to be the purview of white people (specifically white males).

But more than that it seems unrealistic. Sure Americans and Europeans seem to dominate the political and economic landscape currently (at least from where I'm sitting), but that certainly wasn't always the case. And it only makes sense to me, particularly given the tendency, shall we say, for the U.S. to mismanage its economy, that some other ethnic/political/economic group could rise to a similar kind of dominance given the passage of time.

But those are the kinds of things you think about when you write SF. When it came time to write the Garnetverse books, I could have not bothered with race. The stories are all set in the pastoral (though not entirely rural) Mid-West, and a person could make the case that there just aren't a lot of people of color living in Wisconsin. Except, of course, that's a lie -- or at the very least a gross misrepresentation. Thus, I consciously identify Izzy as black.

I think that Brutal Woman is absolutely right when she says that when you don't overtly point out that someone is a person of color, the default in the majority of readers' minds = white. It's even a problem when you *do* it subtly, as I argue with Elizabeth Bear in the interview I did with her for the Internet Review of Science Fiction.*

Subtly doesn't get us anywhere. People like to say that race doesn't matter, but I think it does. I've admitted to "the default" when talking to Bear, and my partner and I have had long conversations how sometimes our "racial programming" will work pretty hard to ignore clues if they're too subtle. (She never imagined Poohka from Emma Bull's WAR FOR THE OAKS as black despite Bull's fairly overt, "He looked like Prince.")

I don't know what else to make of that except to say that this is just a really long-winded way of saying, "right on, sister" to Brutal Woman.

* You need to subscribe to Internet Review of Science Fiction to read this, but its free.

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