Monday, July 20, 2009

Diversity Roll Call: Sci Fi and Fantasy

This edition of the C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call (like the new button?) is up at Color Online and the topic is Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I don't read a lot of either of these genres except with my kids, and I can only think of one by an author of color, which I read years ago--Kindred, by Octavia Butler (1979). I loved it and highly recommend it. But I don't have much else to say about it at this point, so I was stymied about how to respond to the questions:
Spotlight science fiction and fantasy titles where people of color are the leads, works by people of color in these genres or discuss your thoughts about race in these genres. Do you notice the absence of color? In what ways is race portrayed in fantasy and science fiction beyond using traditional racial terms like black and white? If the book cover prominently features people of color, does it affect your perception? Are we more comfortable with imaginary characters versus different race in these works?
With time ticking down (the next question will be posted here on Worducopia on Friday and I have to figure out what it is, first), I turned to my kids. "Can we have a conversation about race in Science Fiction and Fantasy books?" My 12-year old is so agreeable: "Sure, Mom, just as soon as America's Funniest Home Videos is over."
* * *

Q: Can you think of a Science Fiction or Fantasy book you've read where the main character wasn't white?

A: I can't really think of one off the top of my head. But it seems like there must be one.

Q: How about just any character who isn't white? Like, in Harry Potter, there's like Dean Thomas and Cho Chang, but they're pretty minor characters.

A: I'm sure there are some, but I can't think of any.

Q: Do you notice the absence of color in the characters?

A: I sort of haven't really thought about it. Because I'm white, I guess.

Q: Do you think you'd think about it if you were a person of color?

A: It seems like I would, because if you think about it the other way around, if it seemed like every book you read most of the people were dark skinned—that would be not good.

Q: Why not?

A: It would make it seem like people who looked like you don't make interesting characters for a book.

(Evan looks up from reading Erin Hunter's Seekers: But if it's about bears, then that's okay. You can't have a dark-skinned bear.)

Q: If the book covers prominently feature people of color, does it affect your perception? Would you be more or less likely to read it?

A: I don't think it would affect it that much. It really depends what the book is about.

Q: In what ways is race portrayed in fantasy and science fiction beyond using traditional racial terms like black and white? Like, green-skinned people vs. purple, or lizards vs. cats, or--

A: Well, there's the wizards vs. muggles, in Harry Potter.

Q: Ooh, good answer! Go on.

A: Some wizards—like the Death Eaters, and Malfoy—hated muggles. And people that weren't wizards were called Mudbloods and considered not as good. (Mudbloods is a derogitory slang, the first time Malfoy says it to Hermione's face the other wizard kids are shocked) In the 4th book the Death Eaters were blasting muggles and making them hang in the air and stuff.

This is a great example, because the attitude towards non-wizards wasn't based on how they looked, and it wasn't whether they could do magic, either--Hermione was a really good wizard, but the "racist" pureblood wizards were against her because she was Muggle-born. Nothing she could do would ever change her status in their eyes.

They probably wouldn't be interested in buying books written by muggle authors, or featuring muggles as main characters, either.


  1. Cool to a post that deals directly with the questions versus a feature.

    Several readers have suggested authors I didn't know and one reader gave quite a bit of information about poc authors and their activist efforts against the industry.

    I think like WG hosts, I'm going to post a summary on Friday (or Saturday).


  2. That was great. Your sons gave great answers. I enjoyed Seekers. I checked Mr. Linky today for Roll Call, and there were 4 new links to read. It was a very nice surprise

  3. The new badge is terrific!

  4. It's a family affair! How great! I wish my parents had talked to me about the books I read...

  5. Often in Tolkienesque fantasy the racial divide is shown through the antipathy between elves, dwarves, humans, and any other fantastical peoples like ogres or orcs or something. There are some really interesting things that can be explored that way, but I find that it's also a hindrance when the world is set up so delineated between "races"--in Dragonlance, the different races have distinct characteristics like "elves are all slender" and "kender can't do magic" which if you think about symbolically, gives a message about race that I'm not sure was really intended.

  6. Ali, I don't know if you and Susan are aware of the HUGE online discussion from earlier this year about race in SF/F - it's mostly been confined to LiveJournals - but it's very relevant to the work both of you are doing with your blogs. I wrote about it here and provided a bunch of links:

  7. Rich, I didn't know that because I'm pretty much out of the loop when it comes to SF/F, so thanks for pointing me to your post. I'm looking forward to following those links to read further.

    Stacy, good point about Tolkien. I haven't read a lot of his work, but my general feeling after the Hobbit was along the lines of "Why can't we all just get along???"

    Zetta, It's funny you say that because I always feel like my kids are so tolerant, to indulge me in these discussions. It's part and parcel of the homeschooling we do, though.

    Care, I love the badge, too!

    Doret, it's been great to see how many people have been inspired to participate this week, hasn't it? Several new folks, too, which is awesome. I hope they stick around!

    Susan, I love the idea of doing a weekly round-up. Excellent.

  8. I love how you structured this post. And your son's example about Muggles in Harry Potter is an excellent one.

  9. Wonderful! I'm glad someone brought up Harry Potter. As much as I love the series, I always hoped for more people of color or maybe a more prominent role for Angelina or even Kingsley Shacklebolt! But Rowling does, at least, turn the debate about "purebloods" and "mudbloods" into a good lesson about intolerance.

    And the Q&A format is very creative!

  10. I never did understand that muggles vs the wizards thing. I figured it was because I haven't read any of the books. I mean, is a muggle someone who has to learn magic and wizards have innate magical powers?

    I enjoyed the post.

  11. The muggles generally have no idea the wizard world even exists. A few are gifted with magical abilities, but most will never do (or see) magic. Among the wizards, almost all have magical abilities but some don't--they're looked down upon. Some are purebloods (wizard ancestors going back for centuries) while others have muggle ancestors in their family history. The discrimination in the wizarding world is mostly perpetrated by purebloods who look down on anyone with any Muggle in their bloodline.