[LMB] Old SF

Beatrice Otter beatrice_otter at zoho.com
Sat Sep 26 20:32:36 BST 2020

---- On Sat, 26 Sep 2020 11:14:41 -0700 Zan Lynx <zlynx at acm.org> wrote ----

On 9/26/20 9:05 AM, Howard Brazee wrote:
> With SF, we have science and the dearth of any characters who aren’t white and male and straight and basically U.S. American.

Yeah, often.

But, there's a lot of old science fiction that never describes the 
character's skin color. So it annoys me when people write articles 
claiming all of the characters are "white." What does that even mean in 
a story set a thousand years in the future?

Even African genetics are going to get a bit pale in a thousand years of 
living in space.

And then there's the science fiction that spends a lot of time on 
aliens. What does "straight" even mean when the author has egg layers, 
fertilizers and a third gender with a hatching pouch? In at least one 
story I'm thinking of there's only a single human in the story. He crash 
landed. I'm fairly sure his skin color is never described, and he never 
has a chance to hook up with any kind of lady friend. So why don't 
people assume he's a gay man from Mexico City? It wouldn't change the 
story at all.

On the one hand, you've got a point. On the other hand ... it's not that simple. Race is not just about skin color; it's also about culture. If it weren't, Irish people and other European ethnic groups wouldn't have had to assimilate culturally in order to be considered White. There is such a thing as culture, and specifically white middle class culture; we who are members of it tend to see it as the default, as "normal," but it isn't. It's the product of forcing many different European ethnic groups to choose between giving up the distinctiveness of their culture (names, languages, religion, food, clothing) in order to stop being second class citizens ("dirty immigrants") and reap the benefits of being "white." (A holiday or two to celebrate your culture is fine; raising your kids as members of it isn't.) If the history of the planet tells us one thing, it's that there's no such thing as "normal." How we understand basic things like gender, economics, food, relationships, religion, ethnicity, disability, all of these things can and do change *radically* from century to century and culture to culture. And science fiction authors *sometimes* do a good job of thinking out different worldviews and how that affects culture and how it affects the way the characters will think and what their lives will be like (and hence how the plot will be affected). But all too often, SF authors take the dominant white upper middle class culture and project it forward. Oh, there may be other bits and bobs pasted on, but the basic underlying how-do-people-conceptualize-themselves-and-their-world is unmistakably Modern White Middle America. This probably makes the books easier to sell (after all, we're all used to Modern White Middle American culture and ways of thinking, so it won't require anything special of the reader to be comprehensible) but it does mean that the book doesn't have to explicitly say anything about what the characters look like for them to *feel* like they're about white people. Heck, the characters don't even have to be humanoid mammals to still *feel* like white straight cisgender neurotypical able-bodied middle-class 20th or 21st Century Americans.

Beatrice Otter

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