Well did the shoot for FROM CAPE TOWN WITH LOVE on Monday. Got beat up, kicked into a swimming pool--great fun. Sore on Tuesday, tell you true. But wouldn't have missed it for anything.
Been carrying on a conversation with a lady in the SF field. I started by posting a few thoughts on "The Stand" by Stephen King, and the fact that I think it quite typical of genre work, racially: blacks are either saints or sub-human monsters, nothing in-between. This lady (Call her Gail) responded pretty much as I expected, defending King on the basis that he doesn't have many black characters because he grew up in New England.
Do you catch the mistake she made? I wasn't complaining about the lack of black characters--I complained that the black characters he DID have were 90% sub-human, 10% impossibly good. Now...if I'm reading this right, Gail (and countless others) defended King's choice of imagery by suggesting that, in the absence of personal knowledge, he assumes 90% of black people are sub-human? I don't think that is quite what she meant, but wouldn't that be an interesting doorway into human psychology. Are people really saying: "in the absence of direct experience, we will tend to think negatively of others?" or was it "in the absence of direct experience, whites will tend to think negatively of blacks?"
Well...considering our national history, the second certainly exists as a possibility. Actually, going further through STAND I notice something interesting. When King actually gets into Mother Abigayle (the ultimate spiritual guide) and her history, he does it quite well. The beautiful characterization we have come to love from him. I had ZERO complaints with this section, about her girlhood, performing in a talent show, her sexual feelings for her three husbands. Quite lovely.
But if you look carefully, you'll notice something: he was trying. He was actually thinking about it. When he just flows, he goes back to the black-as-evil motif: danger, death, corruption, the unknown, the damned, the twisted. Now, this has little directly to do with race relations. This seems to have far more to do with the fact that human beings are not adapted for night-time hunting, and for most of our history, the night HAS meant danger and death. This naturally seeps into our language. Black people just happen to be at the losing end of this one, too. Sucks.
Anyway, in extended conversation, Gail and I spoke of imagery in books and film (she refuses to believe that the lack of black male sexuality in film reflects a bias on the part of white audiences, preferring an endless series of epicycles: every film with such imagery just HAPPENED to be lousy, you see. It was fascinating that she was able to look directly at a list of movies that have earned over 100 million, and not see one of them as having sex. Fish really can't see water, can they?)
This carried over to the question of black fans and writers in SF. She believes that the lack of such has nothing to do with the lack of representation on covers and in content. "You are either attracted to speculative ideas or you are not." I just loved this. It is EXACTLY the reasoning used by male editors to explain why there were so few women writers/readers in the field. Maybe women just aren't interested in the future, in speculation, in technology. It certainly can't be anything WE'RE doing.
I suppose I should totally discount everything I've ever heard from women about how desperate they were for role models of strong females. How heroines and images of female scientists and explorers are inspiring. Science Fiction isn't just "a literature of ideas." It is also an HEROIC literature. If people want ideas, they'll read non-fiction. We read fiction to help us gain perspective on our lives, to see models of people dealing with stress and pain and love and hope. And for decades, women have complained that men keep women in these little conceptual boxes, and that it limits women's entrance into the sciences, politics and art. And limits their interest in the degrading or exclusive literature.
And here was another perfect example: if someone is doing it to you, you grasp that it is damaging. ("Men excluding women diminishes female interest in the field.") On the other hand, if whites exclude blacks or Asians, lack of black or Asian participation in the field MUST be because...well, there is something different about blacks or Asians. Maybe they just aren't interested in speculation (shall I mention what this sounds like? Or can you guess?) possibly because they are so caught up in the struggle for survival. Uh...but Asians actually do BETTER than the average white family. Well, then, maybe its not in their culture. Ah...Japanese comics, television, animation and film is FILLED with SF imagery. And while the average black family has less wealth than the average white family, that leaves, let's say, half as many potential fans/writers per capita? Which explains nicely why I was the only black male SF writer in the field for twenty years.
Good one, Gail.
Can you see how this works? "They" are racist, sexist, culturally elitist, fools or knaves. When "Our" group does it, why it's totally understandable, and must be because the other group, is well..."not like us."
I can't think of an arena where this doesn't play out. Both Liberals and Conservatives love to fantacise that they are better, smarter, more American than the other. Both blacks and whites want to believe that their side has less racism or prejudice. Both men and women believe that their gender has held the world together (except for those interesting critters who hold the opposite gender higher than their own. I've always thought it would by hysterical to have a situation comedy of a marriage between a male feminist and a female masculinist [if such a word exists]. Their arguments would be a stone hoot.)
My guess about Gail is that she is a typical fan. She felt that the field was the Home she had sought for years--felt welcome and valuable. Found friends, lovers, employers. Bought into the mythology that SF readers are open to everything, less prejudiced than the outer world, existing in a world of pure intellect, incredibly tolerant. "Fans are slans," itself the exact type of prejudice and us-them thinking that they fled from the outer world.
And the idea that basic human tendencies toward tribalism might be here, in this citadel of higher thought, is disturbing as hell. The idea that SHE might be the oppressor now...that she is using the exact same logical formulations that men used to shape and control women...that is probably something she'll have quite a bit of trouble wrapping her mind around.
This is what it is to be human--to hide your unconscious beliefs (90% of the Others are monsters!) from your conscious mind (Mother Abigayle's beautiful story.) But if I'm right about this, it explains so much of human history, American history, human struggle. Men discount women's aspirations, women discount men's mortal sacrifice. Whites and blacks, deep down, each think they are better than the other, but play the conscious politically correct game of not QUITE saying it aloud. Obama's election means racism is over! Let's not notice the racial distribution in the Senate, shall we..?
This stuff is fascinating to me, it really is. And despite it all...God, I love people. Really, we're just wonderful. If only we weren't quite so afraid of each other, and ourselves.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:10 AM