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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

It's international blog against racism week.*

I'm not sure what to say about all this, so I think the most productive thing I can do is out myself.

When I was in college, I was a victim of racial violence.

Myself and six other white students were out early in the morning, postering for Campus Crusade for Cthulhu and singing Monty Python songs. (Yeah, I know.) We happened to find ourselves occupying the same grid square as a black fraternity that was pledging. They took exception to our presence. (According to later police reports, they thought our singing was chanted racial slurs.)

One of my friends was sent to the hospital with cracked ribs and other injuries. Another was stoned, though she was not seriously injured. I was restrained, and struck.

You know what? The only reason I didn't get my eyes blacked and my nose broken was because a young woman grabbed the arm of the six-foot tall man who was about to punch my lights out. That interruption was enough for him to come to his senses, and then she made the guy holding me let go of my arms.

When I tried to thank her, this woman who had protected me--who had, at risk to herself, saved me from serious bodily injury--turned her back on me.

I owe her something. And I also owe something to myself, I think, and future generations, if it's not too precious to say so.

There's thousands of years of hurt there. Even when we try like Hell to do the right thing, we're still going to hurt each other. We're still going to provoke a defensive reaction.

Those of us who have been hurt are going to react to a rub on raw skin. Those of us who have not intentionally done that hurting are going to be angry that we are not judged on our own merits, but rather by a standard of oppression we don't believe in, that we may actively be working against.

This is bigger than our own hurt.


I have another confession to make. I sometimes wonder if I'm trying too hard to be politically correct--I've been accused of it--because so many of my protagonists are not white people. Okay, the protagonists of the Elizabethan books are white. (They came that way.) Matthew is white. (And blond. He's of Polish extraction. Obviously.) Elaine is... of nondescript ethnic origins, probably mostly Greek, though I suspect there's some Turkish or something in there. Jackie is white American mongrel; Tribute is white--he came that way too. The characters in the Eddas start off Norse and blond; a few reincarnations down the line, not so much. (Some of them aren't even human any more.) Cricket is pale-skinned. I have no idea what her ethnicity is, or even if it matters in that universe.

Of the rest, Jenny is Metis (though not in the cover art)--which is to say Quebecois and Iroquois, Lily's mom is Latina and her dad's a WASC (white anglo-saxon catholic), Vincent's a sort of medium-brown mongrel, Michelangelo is subSaharan African, Lesa is... something vaguely Asian and something maybe not, Whiskey's preferred human form is more or less British of Nigerian extraction, André is dark-skinned, Jean is probably-French-and-probably-Korean. Gourami is a frog. I guess I run about fifty-fifty, when I break them out like that. It would probably be different if I included major secondary characters. (Min-xue, Bobby, Kadiska, Carel, Bunyip, Don, Kuai, Fred Valens...)

The funny thing is, I never think about the characters I write in terms of their skin color. I mean, in making the above lists, I had to think hard about which characters should be classed as "white" or "non-white." It's not... it's not a categorization I think in, in terms of the people I write.

I think in terms of their ethnicity and social background, yes, completely. I think of Don as Jamaican-American, and when writing him I try to be aware of what that entails socially, and in terms of his character and acculturation. How that background informs him, the same way I try to think of how Kit's background informs him.

But I'm not immune to my own unrecognized prejudice. Actually--funny story--the group I assimilated the most prejudice against as a child was Italians. I was in college before I didn't automatically assume Bad Things about somebody with an Italian last name. Funny thing to look back on, now.

I thought about that, though, when I was writing a particularly unlikable character in Whiskey & Water, and wondered if I gave him an Italian last name because of some lingering prejudice. (The tradesmen and women I knew as a child were a lot more dismissive of the Puerto Ricans and the Italians than blacks. Possibly because there were fewer blacks working in the skilled trades, and thus no sense of a threat?)

Part of the social circle I spent a lot of my childhood in--the Northeastern US lesbian community of the 1980's--actively privileged women of color. (This is not necessarily a bad thing.) I remember as a child going to women's music retreats where there were safe spaces set aside for women of color, and how it seemed to me that they must be wiser and better than the rest of us to deserve that consideration. (I know, I know. I was ten. I'm talking about childhood programming here.)

I still tend to assume that black women, in particular, are cooler than other people until proven otherwise. Is this othering? Exoticising? I dunno. I know exactly why Carel Bierce is who she is--she draws from some amazing women I knew in my childhood, and I suspect there's also a smidge of some other women who I have either had the privilege of meeting, or only wished I could--people like nnaloh, and Octavia Butler.

And I'm not immune to social consciousness or in trying to avoid stereotyping--I have, in fact, thought "Oh dear, I can't kill this character, he's gay/black/etc." (I can think of two characters who got reprieves that way--one because he was black and the other because he was homosexual, and because I could make the story work without killing them.)

I have never thought "I can't kill this character, he's white."

I think on some level, it's an attempt to chisel away at a weight of injustice. Is it unfair? You betcha. I think of it as affirmative action.

I'm in favor of affirmative action.

But of course I'm not colorblind. I can't pretend to be. I don't wish to be. What I wish is that we could find a way to be equal, to share out cultural heritages while still encompassing them. Which is why I get tangled in the whole cultural appropriation issue; because there's so much richness out there, and I don't think it's wrong for me to want to touch and understand the culture of Ethiopia or Hawaii any more than it is to want to touch that of Ukraine. There is a difference between a melting pot (that old, suspect image) and a chorus.

coffeeandink with a handy list of tips on how to shut down discussions of racism. (also, here is one of the several posts describing what this week is and how to observe it)

There are other good posts at oracne, yhlee, oyceter, rachelmanija, and truepenny, that I've noticed.

*and I helped!


I was raised with a prejudice against the Japanese--planted by my grandmother, who hated the Japanese, thanks to WWII, with a passion that didn't fade until the day she died. Two things turned this around:

One, I was ranting one day to a friend about how the Japanese were buying up American real estate and treasury bonds, etc., trying to win economically what they couldn't win militarily. My friend just shrugged and said, "Well, we're selling it to them."

Two, and more deeply, I had a mighty, mighty--um, shall we say affinity for a Japanese exchange student my senior year of high school. To the point where hearing her name to this day causes a bit of a stir in my chest.

And quite honestly, my story "Village of One Thousand Cranes", a fantasy tale set in a Japanese-American internment camp in Arizona in WWII, was written partly to expunge some of the guilt I still felt from time to time about my own early prejudice.
You learned. It's all anybody asks.
My question is, have you ever had a character who was gay/or black (or insert whatever minority you wish) and evil? I mean not seductive evil, but simply evil, and viewed as such by the narrative without any excuses or flattery.

I don't think I've ever had a character who was simply evil.

Full stop.

The closest I come is Richard Baines, and I can even generate a little sympathy for him.
Yes. That is...hugely important.
I think -- and maybe I'm totally wrong on this -- but if one consciously thinks in terms of skin color all the time, doesn't that make it racist? I mean, back when I was going to school in the 70's (oh so long ago), people were fighting to have themselves looked at as PEOPLE not the color of their skin. Now, it appears to have changed -- where they DO want people to look at the color of their skin. I think that's wrong.

The most popular kid in my elementary school was a black girl named Antonette because she did so well at sports.

One of my best friends in college was from Hawaii and was a mix of Japanese, Korean and a whole bunch of other races. We laughed when the group for minority students contacted him. He told them he wasn't a minority. Another of my friends was Pakistani. Another of my friends was from Brooklyn. It really made no difference to me. It still doesn't.

No, I don't believe people should be colorblind. But I believe that they need to look beyond the color and see the people.
Of course it is bad to see nothing but color. However, it is possible to notice race and yet still notice other things as well.

For example, I am female. It would be bad if people saw nothing about me other than my XX chromosome. However, it would be very odd indeed if people pretended not to notice that I was female.

Also, if I and other women were paid less for the same jobs at the same company than male employees, that injustice would be impossible to address unless people were able to notice, discuss, and act upon the fact that some of us were women and some were men, and that our gender correlated with how we were being treated.

Similarly, of course all races should be treated equally. But if you refuse to pay attention to race, then it is impossible to notice or do anything about it when they are not treated equally.
Some friends of mine do video game development, and a couple of them have pitched making this or that character in a game female, and they've gotten back the response "Well, but how will we explain her presence?" Women are so weird, that if they don't serve a really obvious, understandable role in the game (love interest, object to be rescued, etc), you'll need some kind of elaborate backstory to explain them. The same thing has happened with games with minority leads.

You add one minority to a cast, and people roll their eyes and say he or she is a token.

Add a bunch of minorities, and suddenly you're being politically correct.

Make the cast all minorities, and it's a "minority show/book", for "minority audiences", and "the mainstream" won't read it or watch it.

Put in no minorities at all, and no one will have a problem with it. (Except the whiny minority political groups, and bleeding heart political correctniks.)

Subtract sassy black women, hep (or criminal) black men, cab driver Pakistanis, quickie mart Indians, terrorist Arabs (or noble I accused of being a terrorist but I'm not Arabs), the do-rag and tatted gang Latinos, the martial artist or math nerd or corporate drone asians, that is to say, subtract the 10 Standard Minority Templates and 99.9 of what's left in the media will be, you know, white regular people, with all their rambling, casual diversity of lifestyle and identity.

The co creator of the inexplicably white New York of Friends, David Crane, has a new show in the works, with a large regular cast, which is also all white. Not set in Iceland.

I guess what I'm saying is, as far as I can tell, 9 out of 10 creators don't think about it, don't care about it, resent being called on it, and don't exert themselves much to fix it. So if you fall into that last tenth, my feeling is, don't get into some kind of weird double reverse second guessing thing on yourself.

"You add one minority to a cast, and people roll their eyes and say he or she is a token.

Add a bunch of minorities, and suddenly you're being politically correct.

Make the cast all minorities, and it's a "minority show/book", for "minority audiences", and "the mainstream" won't read it or watch it.

Put in no minorities at all, and no one will have a problem with it. (Except the whiny minority political groups, and bleeding heart political correctniks.)"

Thank you! Very well said.
rilina is doing a link roundup in this post, and she's pretty thorough, so interested parties might want to keep an eye on that.
I sometimes wonder if I'm trying too hard to be politically correct--I've been accused of it--because so many of my protagonists are not white people.

Most of my protagonists aren't white, either. Yet I rarely get accused of being too pc because of it. I wonder -- she says with irony -- why that might be?

Besides, most of the world isn't white. *shrug*

"I'm as politically correct as I know how to be, and no-one is going to stop me." --Ursula K. Le Guin
:-P Because *you* are a Minority Riter. Or possibly I'm Pretty Fly for a White Girl.

When did being interested in writing about, understanding, thinking about people who are not exactly Like The Writer become... I dunno, suspiciously trendy?

Most of the world is not white. Many of the interesting people I know are not white.

thats some good blogging there

This is an issue I think about a lot. I am a person who wants diversity in my fiction, but I often have to ask myself what I even mean by that.
Its not that I want all black casts in everything I watch and read, I just want to be represented.
Just for the writer to spend as much time thinking about race as I have to.
I'm a Psychologist by trade and I often find myself being the only kid in the room raising my hand to mention the issue of race, culture or class.
My middle class white peers rarely consider the issues that I have to consider every day.
Race, ethnicity is a construct. It only exists in our minds. And yet it is real enough that African American people are have more prevalent diabetes, obesity, and other social ills.
So, for it to be a construct it literally kills people.
How do we translate all this to fiction
damn if I know
it is just all the crap I have to think about all the time because I am an African American
and the fact that every time a white person says they don't see me as black they are typically ignoring all the things that makes me different, like my choice of music, food, or art.
It is something I can never ignore because the minute I do I round a corner and see the terror in some random white lady's eyes who is scared because she didn't expect to see a black man coming.
We can act color blind but a life of living in a segregated world has taught us to fear the other, subjugate another and ignore whole sections of the population in literature, art, and all sorts of media.
I am rambling
but really, to me it comes down to just asking you to think about it.
Think about how the other guy feels,
how people lik eme can't ignore who we are
or that there isn't always a place for us in the world because we are so widely ignored in popular media.
It is one thing to say you don't see color
if that were the case then your default wouldn't be white, which in most media it is...
I guess I can quit with the ramble now
I am usually so much more coherent than this

I liked the blog, I don't know if that came through in my comment.
I like that other people take the time to stop and think about their race, and the effect of their work.
I think that is an important first step to a truly diverse society.

Re: thats some good blogging there

thank you. And yes, I agree.

Idiosyncratic childhood programming

Until I was about six or seven, apparently I was telling individual white people apart by hair color, clothing, and rough size. To the point where I walked out of a store following a woman who was not my mother but had roughly the right coat on and long brown hair. She was very surprised to find she had a duckling ...

I still have more trouble telling white people apart than any other ism, which is weird, because you'd think I'd find them MORE similar internally (i.e. most Mexicans of my acquaintance have dark eyes and dark straight hair), but I don't. Comes of growing up the palest thing on the block besides our curtains, and going to a school where only 15% or so of the students were white.

And it really gets up my nose when people look at me and assume they know how I grew up, who I'm friends with, what I like to eat. Screw you, I internally yell sometimes (but rarely externally), I grew up four blocks from the toughest project in town, and I only started to meet and befriend white people in FUCKING HIGH SCHOOL. Before that, the only white people I met (who weren't family friends) were the stuck-up rich assholes who moved into the yuppie condos across from my house,a nd acted like everyone else on the block had the plague, just because they were dark and didn't own Mercedeses. *Those* white people killed my neighborhood.

When I grew up, we knew the names of all our neighbors, and none of the rambunctious teenage boys tried anything, because they knew if they did we'd tell their gramma and she'd WHUP 'em. Property taxes started rising once the whites moved in, though, and one by one the families had to move out, and their houses were bulldozed for condos, and suddenly, wow, look, we had a crime problem! Partly because of resentful local teenage males, but mostly because outsiders would drive in from other neighborhoods to prey on the rich whites who lived here now.

And the looked at Mom and me and assumed we were them. And i've never stopped hating people for doing that, however natural I know the confusion to be.
When I was in high school, my best friend and I plotted a perfectly dreadful murder mystery. There was only one character with an "ethnic" name (Italian). He was the murderer. And we didn't even notice we'd done it. At the time I would have sworn I wasn't racist. I worked on racism-fighting causes, I argued with bigots in and out of my family, I was dating a black guy. But there it was.

Years later when we found the dramatis personae, we cringed. And gave the name to a good guy professor in a fanfic, as an apology of sorts. But still, gah!

It's not exactly "I can't kill that guy, he's white," but I actually did insert a white guy that nothing bad happens to into one project, just to prove that -- given the other two white guys that bad things do happen to, who I made white in part so that they could without it looking like racist commentary -- I don't have some sort of grudge.
Hey, if you're trying too hard to be PC, I say go for it! I know there's that entire spectre of white liberal guilt and how it can be harmful as well, but not trying at all is worse than trying, with the caveat of having an open mind. (insert standard Not the Magical Minority Fairy disclaimer here)

And you already mentioned Bobby in your comment to my post, but I think it means... even if you weren't trying to create a non-stereotyped Asian character, even if you didn't notice at all, she's still there, and I hug her (if she won't shoot me, that is).

And yeah, it's unfair to have to think twice about killing off black characters or gay characters, but on the other hand... you do what you can. And hope that one day there are enough characters of enough races and ethnicities and cultures and sexualities and ages and genders that you won't have to think about it.

This is bigger than our own hurt.

*hugs* So much love for you ^_^.
You are so *wise*. So many people would have taken the experience you began the entry with and gone, well, so many unpleasant places with it. I just wanted to tell you that I'm really impressed that you didn't.
Thanks. Not wise, I don't think. Just plagues by an inability to commit...