Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[child|writing] The Child asks about skin color in genre fiction

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.

Tags: books, child, culture, green, process, publishing, writing

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