Update (two years later): This is also related. Even more so.
Because I am Way Beyond Busy, and because I still operate from habits developed by 13 years working in the mainstream media, I have not responded to the emailed and Internet(s) responses to my essay about the Scifi Channel adaptation of Earthsea. Also, I don't really have to because folks like Tobias Buckell are doing a pretty damn good job of it. Others are, too, but I really squealed over his deft, respectful, yet direct response to a (far too) typical reaction from a Majority Culture Writer.
I've only made one other public comment about this. I don't comment on issues of opinion. The whole point of me putting my experience/opinion out there is to get others thinking about the issue and sharing their own thoughts. Shockingly, the opinions of others often don't match my own. I plan to do something about that once I am elected Queen of the Universe.*** Until then, you are free to have your own reactions, opinions and feelings.
I will, however, respond to issues of fact. Or perhaps more accurately, what I perceive to be a miscue of fact.
Which is why, when the comment of livejournal user 'glacierdust' was sent to me, I knew it was time to break silence. Her post can be found at the journal of Lea Hernandez, whose Cathedral Child and Clockwork Angels I highly recommend. (Those who know about My General Disconnect With Manga and continued attempts to educate myself about that realm of comics will understand why giving those books a thumbs up is a big deal.) I excerpt the bit from the comment thread on DivaLea's journal I care about at the moment:
Now in this case, it is depressing that the Hollywood powers-that-be neither seems to know nor care *why* the ethnicity of the Earthsea characters matters to its fans (or to care about the author's wishes in the matter). But it's equally depressing that there are parents like Pam Noles' who claim they have their kids' best interests at heart while encouraging them to identify only with fictional characters who look like themselves. Ye gods, what a crappy thing to do to a child.
I'm responding to this not to pick on Glacierdust, but because variations of the thought she shared in that post and in a comments below it, have landed in my email. In this thread she happened to combine two of the common responses I've gotten from some white folks: reverse discrimination and the belief that skin color is a superficial aside when it comes to how the world engages with you.
This type of response has come ONLY from white people. I know this because each of them have told me they are white. Which is helpful, though frankly I figured that out anyway as my people tend not to construct apologias, present their Down With The Cause Creds, or indicate a basic ignorance of fundamental understanding about real-world racial realities when we're talking Die Whitey stuff like this to each other. (Granted, me and mine might not always AGREE about how those racial realities are interpreted or made manifest - re: Chief Justice Clarence Tomas just to pick one at random - but our baseline understanding from which we START our intraargument is the same.)
A lot of white people - within the wide world and the narrow closet of genre - think that validation of Ethnic Self means exclusion or disparagement of Ethnic Other. They think that if you stand up for Blackitude, you are de facto beating down the Caucasians. This is because, as Le Guin herself said - not to mention a whole bunch of academics and anyone else generally paying attention as they move through life in this world - THEY HAVE THE LUXURY OF DOING SO. For a lot of white people, even those who Mean Well and Their Hearts Are In The Right Place And All That, the mere fact of QUESTIONING the default setting of this world of racial inequity is percieved as an attack.
Think this is limited to racial discussions? Of course not. Hello, gender equity and all my sister FemiNazis! How about a shout out to the Hegemony of the Heterosexual? Did Coal Miner's Daughter illuminate or confirm your biases? Let me tell you, this particular big city girl got a small dose of Clue when she lived at the edge Appalacia for a little while, but until she lived in the land of big citrus and big cattle for many years it didn't really break through just how much Cultural Clueless she was carrying around. (And by 'She' of course, I mean 'Me.')
This is why quite a few white people who have read Shame mistakenly interpret the actions of my parents as being exclusionary. They still don't get it.
Because I'm beyond busy, I'm going to plagiarize myself from the only other place I've made a public comment about this essay. But I'm going to edit it a little bit here..not just to fix the punctuation. For the full response, clicky below:
My identity as a black person is challenged every day in genre. But what my parents took the time to do (once they realized they couldn't do anything to cleave me from genre), was help me question why me and my kind weren't in those fantasy worlds. That question, once recognized, evolved into my finding ways to take action and claim my right to exist and participate in those worlds.
I hope that clarifies. For the record, I am not surprised that Glacierdust and others walked away from the essay thinking my parents promoted a black-only construct. Like I said, these people don't get it because they don't have to, and I've spent an entire lifetime in this country encountering the baffling myriad of ways such folks express just how MUCH they don't get it. One essay might not be enough to break a lifetime of conditioning. My hope is that, by using the prism of one black person's personal experience dealing with genre, I can help nudge these people toward understanding.
"But you have a tag called Die Whitey on the blog!" (Yeah...I hear it coming. People follow patterns.) "That's racist! That's exclusionary! That's putting up a wall between you and me!!"
No, dears. That's FUNNY. There is a great and grand tradition of using the sheath of humor to make you comfortable before removing it to reveal the sharp edge designed to Wake You The Fuck Up. See Johnathan Swift, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Eddie Izzard, and a whole bunch of other people trying to engage with any extremely difficult topic in a public sphere. A lot of men still don't get the whole Woman Thing we insist on bringing up over and aain. A lot of straights still don't understand the damage caused by willful denial of other orientations. They don't even think to question the assumptions behind the term 'straight'. A lot of whites still can't see that when I care about Me and My Kind? I care about yours, too. That's why I'm screaming. That's why we all are.
My people cannot change this alone. If we could, do you think my essay on the Infinite Matrix would have even be necessary? Do you think that adaptation would have been done the way it was? Do you think genre media would have remained so very silent about it for so very long? (Remember, genre media responded only AFTER Le Guin spoke out in the mainstream, and a lot of them still haven't attempted to approach the issue, nearly a YEAR later.) Pulling back a bit to gaze at the wider landscape, do you think Buffy would have had gone on for so many seasons with nary a character of pigment in the background, let alone a significant one on deck? And now that I've finally seen some of Firefly episodes, WTF?? Oh look! People speak pidgeon Chinese! O look, Chinese writing on the ships! But, where exactly ARE the Chinese PEOPLE in this universe? Why are they an invisible, oppressive, yellow-horde backdrop for the white man's struggle for freedom and truth? Okay, yes, there are three pigments in the primary cast. One is violence first, questions later and blindingly loyal to the lost manifest destiny of the white boy in charge of the ship. One is the whore. One is the educated, God-jigging negro lusting after the whore who might be, ala Lando Calrissian, a double agent ready to betray the heroic white boy. And who, incidentally, and he isn't even given an actual name. Which is worse, Firefly with its theoretical Chinese people and alleged range of diversity, or Memoirs of a Geisha using pan-Asian leads to embody Japanese characters? Tell you what - give me the straight up myth of the white west perpetuated by Deadwood over the dishonest and bankrupt 'future' of Firefly ANY day. (WARNING! Deadwood link NOT work safe, and it's an mp3 to boot, in case you're on dialup like me.) What I'm saying is, Big Picture wise, if Me and My Kind could change this overall situation all by ourselves, don't you think Octavia Butler's primary audience would be among genre fandom, and not among feminists, political progressives and the literati who have truly taken her to heart?
Because I haven't yet in public, I would like to express my Eternal and Deep gratitude to Eileen Gunn for running the essay. If you don't have her short story collection, Stable Strategies and Others, get thee somewhere and buy it. And it goes without saying, I am also grateful to Ursula K. Le Guin for speaking out about this, and for just choosing to Exist in the way she does. Silence is the easy path.
I'm going to push back the posts that were supposed to roll out this week and let this one sit for a few days. If you see Glacierdust around? Send her this way. Or anybody else wondering, for that matter. If you're looking for shiny fresh newness, come back on Thursday.
*** And I have to be ELECTED. It's so much more MEANINGFUL if you CHOOSE to put me in charge, rather than if I crush you with my army of intergalactic death ray robots.