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Timothy’s Turkish, but that hasn’t been mentioned either March 10, 2009

Posted by Erin Ptah in And Shine Heaven Now, Fandom.
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If you think that anyone can be guilty of making a racist comment or performing a racist act, including you, and that you are willing to take ownership of your statements and actions, resist blaming the person who was offended, figure out why they were taken as racist, apologize, and not do it again, post this exact sentence in your journal.

If you haven’t been following RaceFail ’09, start here.

I’ve been hesitant to post about this because I’m pretty sure Clueless White Girl #5,264,592 does not have much to add to the discussion. But here’s one thing I think bears saying. Racism isn’t necessarily the overt Hairspray-style “white people and black people shouldn’t swim in the same pools!” nastiness. Racism can show up when you have a comic with an international cast of dozens and there’s only one recurring black guy. Whose name has yet to be mentioned in-strip. (It’s Bob.)

And before you say “but it’s a fancomic, and that’s just how the canons are” – (a) most of the OCs have been white, so I’m still not off the hook, and (b) what does that say about the canons?

ETA, having seen some people gripe about an Internet meme being a shallow response to a serious problem: Here are real-life things you can do. Poke around the links to this stuff for a while, and you will find yet more lists of things you can do. I’ll be snagging ideas from them, and working on the issues mentioned above, and on a basic level will not be Deeply Offended if you mention that perhaps some of my writing is not perfect. Y’all are enthusiastically invited to join in.

Oh, if anybody has awesome CoCs they’d like to see brought into Shine, I am totally open to recommendations.

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Comments»

1. Elizabeth - March 11, 2009

So I’m having a little bit of a blast-from-the-past right now and watching a show from my childhood: Cybersix. Have you heard of it? It seems like exactly the sort of thing you’d be into: badass crossdressing android superheroine fights crime on her own agenda. Oh and it takes place in Buenos Aires. The entire series is available on Youtube — just type in “Cybersix” and the second or third result will be a playlist containing all the episodes. Hope you enjoy!

2. Elizabeth - March 11, 2009

Oh and wrt racism in Shine and Hellsing, I think there are semi-legitimate excuses in those cases — for instance, the age and traditions in the organizations involved relegate their involvement to mostly native British families; the racial makeup of Britain is different from that of America and has fewer black people; and the main character of Hellsing is actually not white. Actually, for a Japanese series to involve mostly white people portrayed neutrally is kind of interesting in my eyes, considering the xenophobia Japan is well-known for (although admittedly the stereotypes and racism extend more to Americans in anime than Brits).

I read a neat comic book recently that both takes place in Scarborough (where I live) and involves race issues to an extent, as well as sexuality issues: Skim, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. I think it’s sort of a local-indie-publishing deal, so it might be hard to find, but if you can I’d recommend it.

3. X - March 11, 2009

Given that the main heroine of Hellsing is a Caucasian-Indian mix (and said mixes have been considered “black” under some legal systems historically), I think it has a pretty good diverse cast.

Reading through the Race Fail ’09 discussions, it looks like “just another Internet argument.” Writing as someone you’re not is fundamental to all literature and has been for a while. The whole discussion can be summarized as pointing to TV Tropes and telling people to pay attention. Yet somehow that was turned into a bunch of drama (OH NOES) by reactionaries on both sides.

Race Fail ’09 should be redubbed “ZOMG that’s racist you’re a racist e-drama EPIC FAIL ’09 of anti-lulz.” That seems to capture the relative maturity level of all parties involved.

Pathetic.

4. Erin Ptah - March 12, 2009

@Elizabeth: Cybersix looks pretty awesome. Never heard of it before, but I’ll have to check it out.

Also, yeah, Hellsing doesn’t do too badly, all things considered. I’m more concerned about the mix in Shine, given that it hops all around the world and involves a ton of crossovers. Was relieved to look down the cast list and see quite a few Indian characters, and of course the anime crossovers put in a lot of Japanese representation, but that’s still leaving out large chunks of the world.

And then I notice things like – well, I keep working in the Awesome Girl role models from the books I read when I was little, like Madeline and Annie and (eventually) Pippi Longstocking and Susie Derkins (Calvin and Hobbes). And every single one of them is white. I’ve been wracking my brain for a single Asian/Latina/Indian/black/Native American/in any way chromatic girl who fits into this pantheon, and I can’t think of one. And. Um. That’s bad D:

I actually had Skim recommended to me just the other day, so it’s on my Amazon wishlist!

5. Erin Ptah - March 12, 2009

@X: *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*

You clearly haven’t been doing that much reading, because the following points have come up over and over:

1) “Your books contain racist subtext/skeevy race issues/problematic portrayals of people of color” is not the same as “OMG YOU’RE A RACIST.”

2) Nobody is saying “you must never write characters of different races.” The point is that people should learn to write them well.

3) It’s not “just another Internet argument” when it contains prominent figures in the sci-fi/fantasy publishing industry dismissing the concerns of a very large group of readers en masse.

And one thing that has not been said before, because I don’t think anyone has made it necessary, but which is true nonetheless:

Indian/Caucasian =/= black, and to suggest that everyone who is not wholly caucasian is somehow interchangeable is made of massive fail.

6. X - March 12, 2009

Under old South African law, Indian-Caucasian mixes were labeled “Black” for a time. That’s what I was referring to. Obviously Integra is not black by common sense, but she would be considered it under some legal systems in the past. (Technically, I would be considered a “brown” under old South African law.)

One of the posts I read was a guy responding to the accusation that people should write cultures they know and not go beyond that. So apparently that entered the discourse at some point.

I still say both sides are overreacting. You have some authors calling the readers “trolls” and you have some readers calling the authors “racist.” It’s e-drama, pure and simple. Nobody wins.

Problematic portrayals of people of color are generally symptomatic of lazy writing, not deliberate racism. I would bet an author who writes characters of color as one-dimensional stereotypes also has a one-dimensional white lead. That doesn’t make him racist, it makes him a bad writer.

There’s also how people put subtext *where none was intended* (for example, people insist on interpreting Huckleberry Finn even though Twain explicitly said people who do are missing the point). Not sure how many of the objections being bandied about in this online spat fall into that category, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find some.

7. Erin Ptah - March 12, 2009

Dude. X. I know what you’re referring to. But using old racist legal systems to support your point is not a great strategy in a discussion about race.

“One of the posts I read was a guy responding to the accusation…”

There are a ton of posts by guys responding to the accusation. However, you will find a conspicuous lack of posts by people making the accusation.

And of course writers who makes every character one-dimensional are bad writers. However, this conversation is not about them.

Yet another point that has come up over and over: Intention doesn’t matter. Nobody is saying the authors Set Out To Be Racist. But just because you didn’t ~intend~ to include Unfortunate Implications doesn’t mean they aren’t there (this is still the most immediately obvious example I’ve ever seen), or that you shouldn’t fess up when someone points them out.

8. X - March 12, 2009

“Yet another point that has come up over and over: Intention doesn’t matter. Nobody is saying the authors Set Out To Be Racist. But just because you didn’t ~intend~ to include Unfortunate Implications doesn’t mean they aren’t there (this is still the most immediately obvious example I’ve ever seen), or that you shouldn’t fess up when someone points them out.”

Intention is of central importance, especially with a form of art like literature. Author’s intent defines its purpose, content, and delivery. One of the criteria for judging a piece of art is how well it conveys the intentions of the author.

Irony and satire are wholly dependent on author intent. If it didn’t matter, than Colbert’s “I rove tea” skit would be incredibly offensive, because it’s only the intent to skewer racism in the mainstream media that makes it acceptable.

I would say that a work with a large degree of unintended unfortunate implications speaks to the technical merits of how well it conveys the intent. The ad you gave clearly fails due to several technical failures in photo arrangement, symbolism, etc.

In our society, we have Carlin’s two knobs: the ability to change the channel and the ability to turn it off. If a person doesn’t like what an author writes, they can stop giving that author their patronage and find someone else to read. For example, am I annoyed at the white washing of Dragonball and Avatar? Yes, so I’m not going to see them and give them money. It was their choice to make the movies that way and it’s my choice not to see it. That should be the end of it.

Authors don’t have to apologize (“fess up”) for the work they create. Did the painter who used elephant dung to make a Virgin Mary have to apologize to the Catholics he offended? No, nor should he have had to (as some people demanded). The benefit of free speech is being able to say/write what you want and not have to apologize if someone doesn’t like it.

9. Erin Ptah - March 13, 2009

Not talking about satire, either. (Although it’s not like everything that’s meant to be comedy gets a free pass; see Dude Not Funny.) I’m talking about people who intend to include good, balanced portrayals of worlds that do not consist entirely of white people, and fail, and then insist there can’t be any problems because they tried.

So you’re arguing that nobody should actually voice their objections to a work, or ever protest them in any way except by not paying for them? Nonsense. Besides, in your example, the people involved in those movies are professionals. They should be able to handle hearing criticism.

I’m pretty sure anyone who paints a religious icon with elephant dung doesn’t care about offending people in the first place. But when your goal is to create a balanced, realistic portrayal, and someone points out that your work has Unfortunate Implications, you should listen. Not “you should legally be forced to listen”, but “you should listen because it will help you reach your goal.”

10. X - March 13, 2009

So long as the critique is oriented to constructive feedback, I can support that. Feedback is an important part of art, as it reflects the audience experience. What you describe is authors not acknowledging room for improvement, which IS silly on their part. I question just how much of what’s being said in this amounts to actual constructive criticism and how much is oversensitive hand waving.

I have little tolerance for Mary Whitehouse-style “moral high ground” preaching and based on some of what I read the people expressing concerns have crossed into that. I mean, the line “resist blaming the person who was offended” screams, “If you say I’m whining, you’re a racist! Nyah!” If you don’t like what someone has written, give constructive feedback and then move on. Or if you think your feedback will be ignored, leave them alone and go elsewhere. Turning it into a major dramatic event as this has become reeks of immaturity (it takes two for e-drama, so both sides are at fault for this).

I’m not saying withholding funds is the only way to express displeasure, but it’s the most effective and least annoying. An author has the right to offend anyone they want unapologetically. A reader has the right not to give that author patronage. It’s the dynamic between what the people will read and what the author will write that keeps literature pegged to current cultural standards. Readers should do their part to make sure the dynamic moves in a direction they like. LJ posts don’t really accomplish this.

11. Erin Ptah - March 13, 2009

You seem to be saying “A writer has the right to say things that are offensive, but a reader does not have the right to say that they are offended.”

I’ve brought this example up before, and I’m sure I will again: When John Murtha made disparaging comments about the place where you live, you were pretty angry. Should I have said “He has free speech, so he can say whatever he wants about you, and if you object you’re just whining”?

This whole thing is about authors not acknowledging room for improvement. It started with one specific author, Elizabeth Bear, who wasn’t trying to write satire or be offensive. She literally thought she was doing a good job writing diversity in her novels, and wrote an essay on how to do a good job writing diversity. And yet, her novels have Unfortunate Implications – and when she was called on them, she got upset.

And since then power players in the sf/f publishing industry have been backing her up, not to mention making veiled threats about refusing to publish anyone who disagrees with them.

The invisible hand of the market is not the only thing that controls what gets published.

12. Elizabeth - March 13, 2009

Hey, I thought you might be interested to know that I’ve been reading League of Extraordinary Gentlemen lately and enjoying it a lot — much more than I’ve enjoyed any other Moore work that I’ve read. You’re a fan, yes? I’m thinking of buying it hard copy since I always feel slightly dirty for pirating comic books. (Don’t know what it is — usually I make efforts to restitution for comic book and movie piracy, but not regular books and music. Possibly just because I do the former so infrequently?)

13. Erin Ptah - March 14, 2009

I’m a big fan, and I would recommend buying it. The first volume, at least. The second volume turns the squick factor up to 11, and the Black Dossier (which is supposed to fill stuff in between volumes 2 and 3) is an incredibly freakin’ confusing read, probably not worth the trouble if you’re not invested in the characters/story by then.

(…of course, you could always just pirate those first to see whether you like them. If you do, I’d say buy ’em.)

Me, I generally don’t pirate anything I couldn’t record myself. Except Twilight, which I could not in good conscience spend money on ^_^;

14. Elizabeth - March 14, 2009

There’s a third volume? Everything I’ve found only has two and the Black Dossier.

15. Erin Ptah - March 14, 2009

There will be. It’s in the works.

16. Elizabeth - March 14, 2009

Ah, cool beans. I’ll check it out if I like the other ones. I just started volume 2, but if the squick factor is really as high as you say I might not be able to tolerate it.

17. X - March 16, 2009

“I’ve brought this example up before, and I’m sure I will again: When John Murtha made disparaging comments about the place where you live, you were pretty angry. Should I have said “He has free speech, so he can say whatever he wants about you, and if you object you’re just whining”?”

I made the best of my objections to his comments by making fun of him for insulting the people whose votes he needs. I certainly didn’t go to his website/forum/LJ (assuming he has one) and yell at him, because that would have accomplished nothing. Putting laughter to a situation is better than calling out the moral high horse. As Mel Brooks said, if you object to someone by yelling at them, you’re no better. But if you can make people laugh? Then you’ve accomplished something.

I would say Elizabeth Bear isn’t a good writer if she’s ignoring valid criticisms. So I’m not going to buy her work. Simple. I’m not going to go on her LJ calling her names over it and I think those who do aren’t making themselves look good.

On another note: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a great series.


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