So the other day I was sitting around the kitchen table with my family, and we talked about the plight of the Saxons after the Norman invasion. Not, mind you, that we want to forget the special oppression of the Carthaginians and — worse — their Celtic allies when the Romans won the Punic wars and salted Carthage.
Now, the sad part is that my family MIGHT actually sit around and talk about these things. I know that, you know that, and unfortunately the universe at large probably knows that. One of the biggest and nastiest fights I had with my then ten year old was about whether the monopolies of Augustus were justified or good or ultimately bad. I didn’t disown him for defending it, but some days I still feel iffy about this decision. State-granted monopolies: not even once! (I also remember my husband’s face when he came down to see what all the shouting was about at 8 am on a Saturday. “Right, then. I’m going back to bed.”)
BUT even my family doesn’t obsess about such past injustices, or worry that somehow we haven’t redressed the treatment of these people. And certainly, unless writing an historical novel, none of us worries about reflecting the Saxon experience in the proper manner.
This makes us odd thinkers — not to mention, of course, racist (and possibly sexist, homophobic and insensitive to those suffering the heartbreak of psoriasis) — in the eyes of establishment SF.
Christopher Nuttall, one of the amazing indie writers I know whose income is the envy of traditional writers, wrote a great editorial for Mad Genius Club.
This came to the attention of the mouth-breathers I won’t link because otherwise we’ll greatly increase their links.
They insist that races in the future must be represented exactly the same way they exist today. No, more than that, they insist any black people in the future must be written to reflect the “plight” of black people today.
By this, btw, they mean the AFRICAN-AMERICAN experience. Because they are provincials who think that the stereotypes of their tribe and culture are laws of nature. In other words, barbarians. And for all that, they think they are sophisticates, who must lecture everyone on everything, and without whom no one ever would understand the complexity of the world.
These are the same idiots, who in fits of racist idiocy assume that every black person is descended no more than a handful of generations ago from slaves; that any slave is dark skinned; that anyone who tans is discriminated against/and/or needs benevolent protectors.
They don’t realize there are endless countries in which the majority can tan, countries where no one is being oppressed by “white people” because there simply aren’t enough white people. Oh, sure, their rulers might have learned to mouth the platitudes of being oppressed by the west and of “colonialism” which translates to free trade in which you didn’t get everything you wanted, because such platitudes open the pockets of various UN sub-entities. But in the end, at the bottom of it, these people if they are oppressed are oppressed by people of their race, not because of their race but for other reasons.
They also don’t realize that what are considered races or even ethnicity in this present day and age won’t be the ones who obsess people in the future.
Get humans off the Earth and have travel between planets even mildly expensive, and in a hundred years you’ll have the Alpha Centaurians looking down on the Martians. Another 500 years and people from systems we don’t have a name for will brag of their direct Earth ancestry.
Will there be physical, recognizable differences we can think of as “races”? Given adaptation to different environments and all, probably.
Will they obsess on racial differences and histories on Earth? WHY would they?
But Sarah, you’ll say, you’re missing the whole point of science fiction, which is to reflect our current problems and help people question current situations, and think their way out of them.
I refuse to say that’s THE point of science fiction. It can be A point, but it’s certainly not the one that convinced me to sign on to read much less write it.
I signed on to read and write SF/F because it’s fun to imagine what the future might be like. But that’s beside the point.
If what you really wanted to do was reflect the current disputes at people in order to change their minds, what is the point of reflecting current disputes in exactly the way they are now?
For that, you could be doing present day literary fiction. Or, you know, editorials. I mean, if what you want to do is write about current day problems in exactly the way they are.
Or you could…. you know… get under people’s guards by creating a future generation that has some elements of the current problems, but not all of them. i.e. You could create a situation that has just enough to make you think of things in a different way. Say, you can write a world in which reproduction and sex are entirely divorced as a way to address the problems of sexual minorities in our current world, and get people to think about it sideways and outside the box, without bringing up the same instinctive and immediate responses. Or it could be that you have the story of a racial minority that has been discriminated against or used as a political pawn and therefore has had its culture destroyed, and their struggle to free themselves of other people’s expectations… but make them purple. Or have tentacles. Or something.
This is much more likely to get around people’s baked-in prejudices and make them think of things in a new way than just pounding them over and over again with your vision of things as they are now, or as you think they are now, or even as you think they should be.
That really is eliminating the one advantage of science fiction.
So, when people are writing an oppressed minority, should they research? If it’s science fiction? Should it be exactly like the experience of some race in our time?
Well, yes and no. Of course you should research, and of course there are far worse things that happened to races and people of various kinds, throughout history. And if you’re going to torture one of your characters, or a group of them, you want to do the worst possible thing to them, right?
But it shouldn’t be exactly like the experience of a race or minority of our time. Because if you do, you might as well just shout at your readers and tell them to repent. It’s a great way to signal your virtue, yeah, but other than that I’m at a loss for what you think you’re accomplishing.
And if you think that your only way to be oppressed, the only history of race oppression, the only way things can be awful is the way they are now?
Well, (shrug), the only funny thing about that is having the ignorant and blinkered lecturing everyone else and virtue signaling their specialness.
Fortunately such people tend to be ignored in the long run. And the rest of us have books to write.