?

Log in

No account? Create an account
[child|writing] The Child asks about skin color in genre fiction - Lakeshore — LiveJournal
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2009-08-03 14:59
Subject: [child|writing] The Child asks about skin color in genre fiction
Security: Public
Tags:books, child, culture, green, process, publishing, writing
A few weeks ago in San Francisco right after my Green reading at Borderlands Books, I got into a conversation with a Filipino-American fan about the presence (or absence) of dark-skinned heroes in F/SF. He was thanking me for writing Green as a South Asian, and talking about his sense of identification with such characters.

Yesterday, the_child (who is ethnically Chinese) sidled up to me (who is ethnically Anglo-Saxon) and asked , "Why did you talk to that man in the bookstore about people's skin color?" (She'd been listening in at the time.) This from a person who so far in life has rarely commented on her own racial identity, or anyone else's. She appears to view the world with a surprising racial transparency, at least heretofore.

I said, "Well, that's a subject which is difficult for some people." I went on to explain that a lot of science fiction and fantasy is written by white people, with white characters, and this makes many readers uncomfortable because it doesn't give a place in those imaginary worlds for Asians, Africans, Arabs, South Asians, Native Americans or other people of color.

She then wanted to know why we said "white", "black" and so forth, when clearly I'm not white. In fact I'm sort of a meaty pink with pale highlights. Her friend D— isn't black, he's a rich, dark brown. And so forth. This question of "color" is an observation she's made before, one of her few long-standing comments on race.

So we talked about labeling for a little while, and about how writers and artists can show the entire world in their work if they try to. She finally said, "Okay," and wandered off.

I doubt I've heard the last of this — in fact, I hope not — but it was definitely a challenging conversation, in a very low-key way. Trying to get it right both for her sake and for my own progressive sense of social justice, all while staying honest and direct, is a delicate process.

Originally published at jlake.com.

Post A Comment | 13 Comments | | Link






Twilight: WritingScroll
User: twilight2000
Date: 2009-08-03 23:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:WritingScroll
I expect you did quite well - and that you're right, it's definitely not the last of these conversations.

I have a couple of kind-of-separate questions though:
First, if there's no reference to ethnicity in the text, what then?
Second, is it ever true that ethnicity wouldn't matter? Is it different for SF? For trad. Fantasy? vs. "Urban fantasy" (the latter being set "In The Real World") If the writer is trying to show a world where that kind of difference doesn't matter (either "anymore" or "to us in this part of the universe"), what then?

I'd love to get into this conversation with you and several others :>.
Reply | Thread | Link



Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-03 23:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'd love to get into this conversation with you and several others :>.

Only in private. I've learned my lesson about speaking up in public.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



torreybird
User: torreybird
Date: 2009-08-04 15:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hm - does a Foolscap panel count as public? 'Cause I think it'd make a great conversation, if appropriate boundaries were established (i.e., strong panelists who can redirect.)
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-04 15:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Not with me on it. I've already said too much here, in fact.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



torreybird
User: torreybird
Date: 2009-08-04 15:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Fair enough.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



eilisflynn
User: eilisflynn
Date: 2009-08-04 00:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's good to start talking about this now. As a hapa, half-Japanese, half-white person, when we moved back to the US I spent a lot of time with white people -- and got reminded once in a while that I thought of myself as being the same as them, but they didn't think that way of me. You get used to it, but it's a shock.
Reply | Thread | Link



User: tillianion
Date: 2009-08-04 00:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This reminds me of a conversation I had during my years teaching in an Aboriginal community here in Australia. The girls were colouring in, and one asked for the black crayon. "I can pass you that, cause I know black, cause I am black" said the other. Then followed a discussion in which they listed everyone's colours, including mine (I was pink). I then asked about our principal (a very white Catholic nun who had been at the school for about 15 years). "Oh, Sister Francine, she black!" said the kids who knew no other world but one with Sister Francine.

I was fascinated by how on the one hand, they didn't give colour any value and quite happily listed all the different shades, but on the other hand quite definitely listed Sister Francine as one of them by saying she was black.

Then there was the day later in my time there, where I'd tanned up the extremities very nicely (one boy told me after a holiday "Miss, you almost black as me" and then laughed, cause no way was I gonna be black as him) and one of the high school girls wanted to know how white people could get. So I showed her a bit of my stomach. She nearly fell off her chair - "Do people really come in that colour?" She had my showing my stomach for days, unable to believe it was true.

It's a strange thing, this skin colour stuff.
Reply | Thread | Link



farmgirl1146
User: farmgirl1146
Date: 2009-08-04 01:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Strange stuff indeed. Love your story.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



Morgan: mulder and scully look
User: subu
Date: 2009-08-04 01:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:mulder and scully look
It has always baffled me why people put so much thought into the color of one's skin. I honestly do not understand it. And even though we all live together, we're still segregating ourselves. It's so weird.
Reply | Thread | Link



weezlgrrrl
User: weezlgrrrl
Date: 2009-08-04 06:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Wow. I've had a few really challenging conversations with my younger boy Orion recently. After Michael Jackson died, and his music was on every media outlet on the planet, O became a fan. Totally understandable, he digs the dance music, and he LOVES the "Thriller" video. He's particularly interested in Michael as a little boy. (O likes to sing "Ben." Heh.) Things started to get weird after O watched "Thriller," and saw a stunningly handsome young black man, then saw all the images of MJ in his later years. It wasn't so much the skin color change that freaked him out, it was the massive plastic surgery. It really upset him. "Why did he DO that?" was asked repeatedly. We had a lot of conversations about self esteem, and how a cruel parent can make someone feel so bad about himself he wants to be somebody else altogether. It made me sad to lay something that heavy on the little man (he's 9) but I didn't feel like I could gloss over something like that. O finally made his peace with the idea that Michael changed himself because he was unhappy. He's asked for a Thriller-era poster. His final comment on the sitch--"Mom, he was so handsome. If I looked like that, I wouldn't change anything." Shit, man. The sex conversation and the drugs conversation weren't anywhere near as hard as this one.
Reply | Thread | Link



fledgist
User: fledgist
Date: 2009-08-04 13:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
George Bernard Shaw, who became an active anti-racist after visiting Jamaica in 1912 to see his fellow Fabian Sydney Olivier (who was Governor at the time), referred to white people as 'pinks'. I find that rather charming.
Reply | Thread | Link



Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-04 13:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Huh. Oddly (and purely by coincidence), kenscholes and I have a collab in process where white people are referred to as "pinks", quite pejoratively.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



fledgist
User: fledgist
Date: 2009-08-04 20:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You should be sure to credit the spirit of GBS.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



browse
my journal
links
January 2014
2012 appearances