Monday, March 27, 2006

Here we go again (race and scifi part ???)

Thanks to this post from Nalo I just found a comment on my Octavia Butler obituary that I must have missed the first time. I guess that's what happens when I get lazy and start occasionally skipping my daily blog reading.

Since that quote was attributed to Nalo, she went ahead and answered it here and covered the topic pretty well. I still felt the need to address it though. I guess something in my ego just keeps me from just letting this slide.

Of course, the really amusing thing about that blog entry is how generic it was. Generally speaking, as Pam noted, there seems to be a generic white response to these kinds of complaints about genre writing. Namely, the assumption that any mention of the whitewashed nature of the genre most imply some sort of automatic dislike of white people. Usually this is just followed by some kind of MLK-lite suggestion that we judge the writers by the content of their works instead of the color of their skin. I have seen it over and over again in discussions of race and science fiction and comics. At this point I can pretty much see them coming.

What is really amusing about these statements is that they tend to reveal how little critical thought the person making them has really put into the issue.

Why do I say this? Simple. How exactly would a black person who hated white people get into a whitewashed genre to begin with? Who would they be reading?

Personally, I've been a science fiction fan for the better part of two decades. I already made a post about the books that most influenced me as a child. Long before I'd ever heard of Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, Steven Barnes, Nalo Hopkinson etc. I was reading Asimov, Heinlen, Ben Bova, Andre Norton, John Brunner.... Obviously I have absolutely no idea what it means to relate to someone who does not look like me. Ok, bad sarcasm aside, the truth is that every genre fan of color must by definition be able to relate to people who are different from them. There is no other way to get into the genre. There just aren't that many non-white people in it. The chances of there existing a black science fiction fan who has only read black authors and/or characters is so small I'd rather lay odds on that snowball in hell first. On the other hand, it would be remarkably easy to find white fans who have almost never read a science fiction book which didn't have a white writer and/or character.

Hell, as far as I know there isn't a stigma against putting white faces on a book because they might not sell as well. Which makes it remarkably interesting that the question being asked is why people who have to make a special effort to *not* read a genre story which requires them to identify with someone who doesn't look like them are prejudiced. If anything, the question should be reversed.

Why is it that putting a black face on the cover of a book is automatically a bad thing?

Why are non-white authors such a rare thing?

Where are the non-white fans?

What keeps them out of a supposedly universal genre?

And why is it that those who do exist tend to cluster into their own communities?

What is the cause of this defensiveness that shows up chiefly among white fans whenever the racial makeup of the genre is discussed?

Like I said, that piece displayed an all too common lack of critical thinking about the issue. I understand its probably due to long standing unquestioned assumptions that people are not even aware they hold. Still, since cornute was kind enough to ask.....

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The "David Chappelle's Block Party" playlist

I finally saw "David Chappelle's Block Party" last weekend in my brother over the weekend. Personally I think its brilliant. There have been a couple of comparisons to 'Wattstax' in a some of the reviews I have read so far. To me they are more than apt. This is by far the closest thing I've seen to that movie ever. I'd review it, but far smarter and more eloquent people have already done that in several places online. My favourite so far is the Boston Globe review. I am simply going to talk about the music.

Now if you are one of those people who has made up their minds to treat all hip-hop music as violent, angry, nihlistic, misogynistic musoc with little if anyredeeming social value then you will not get what made the music so great. If you aren't, you might have heard of some of the people who played, or at least you should have. That concert basically got together some of the best musicians alive today. People whose music has kept me company for literally thousands of hours over the last decade or so. At the very least you might want to open up your minds and grab the soundtrack when it hits. I know I will.

Otherwise, these are the albums that I have been inspired to play this week.

The Roots: Things Fall Apart, Phrenology and The Tipping Point
Mos Def: Black on Both Sides
Takib Kweli: Train of Thought, Quality
Black Star: Black Star
Common: Like Water for Chocolate
Kanye West: The College Dropout
The Fugees: The Score
Dead Prez: Lets Get Free
Erykah Badu: Mama's Gun
Jill Scott: Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1

Sidenote: While I'd personally love to see this movie get some Oscar recognition in the documentary category, I'll wager a small amount of money that it'll never happen.

Either way, good listening.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Universal Black Constant #1

I kind of wondered into this post topic by accident while writing about Eric Jerome Dickey's new 'Storm' comic book. One of the things I found interesting about it was the fact that he showed the animosity that sometimes tends to exist between Africans and black Americans. At the same time I've been thinking about a post on the genius of the boondocks character 'Uncle Ruckus'. What they both have in common is what I tend to refer to Universal Black Constant #1. Namely black people don't like black people

The most damaging legacy of slavery and colonization is , in my opinion, the widespread inferiority complex it left across all of those affected. The truth is that most black people, regardless of where they are born, have to deal with the message that the very fact of their birth makes them less than everyone else, but especially white people, from the day they learn how to communicate. Maybe a little after if they are lucky.

Africans and West Indians have the advantage of only being stuck with each other, which means that we are required to acknowledge each other's competence to a degree that isn't necessary here. Its still there though. Just about every African I know can tell you stories of Ruckus style comments made by other Africans. Most notably a wish for a return to colonial rule because the Europeans ran the continent better.

Now consider the fact that human beings have a natural tendency to place themselves in a hierarchy and consider what happens to those who know from day 1 that they are assigned the bottom rung. A struggle to stratify the bottom rung begins with everyone trying to be on small of that little space so at least they are better than someone. Hence all of the above reasons are amplified by the need to put down the other group in order to feel a little better about yourself and your group. Not the smartest solution known to man, but definitely understandable. And that right there is a vast majority of the reason different groups of black people stay at each other's throats.

The genius of Uncle Ruckus, in my opinion, is the fact that he brings light to the thoughts that lie buried in the minds of a lot of people, black and non black, tend to carry around with them and avoid talking about. I think there's a lot to be gained by actively admitting to and confronting the mindset instead of pretending it doesn't exist.