Race Fail 2009 and the current "yellowface" issues surrounding the Avatar: The Last Airbender
movie have opened my eyes to assumptions. Living in DC has opened my eyes to assumptions.
My future was never white. I want that clear from the beginning. The first book I read that I identified as sci-fi (A Wrinkle in Time
didn't count because I didn't think of it as science fiction. They traveled to another planet by tessering, and it never occured to me I was reading science fiction.) was Podkayne of Mars
. Podkayne was clearly non-white. She and her grandfather used a Maori gesture with each other to indicate people they thought were stupid. I read the book now and cringe a bit at the sexism, though I know Heinlein was actually ahead of the game by having a female protagonist, but Podkayne was never white to me.
This is where growing up in greater DC comes in to play. The DC I currently live in is nearly 60% black with a population just under 600,000. The DC I went to when I lived in the suburbs as a kid was 90% black with a population of over 900,000. It was called Chocolate City for a reason. If I went to my mother's office, chances were good that every security person or policeman that I saw would be black. More than half of my mother's co-workers were black. The higher up the government chain of command you went, the more likely it was the person was male and white, but it was already beginning to change. Any time I thought about the future, it was a mixed future. In my head, I used terms like mixed and mulatto. I can define all the shades that my southern ancestors used derogatorily. But until I went to boarding school, it never occurred to me to think in terms of race.
Class was an issue, but my mother, for all her prejudices made it clear that race wasn't. If I married the son of a black officer, it would be a little odd, but fine. If I married the son of a white enlisted man, I would be shunned. (Sadly, sometime after returning to the US in the early 1980s, Mom drifted into an easy racism that truly surprises me. My sister occasionally picks up on it. Sis, I can call on it. Mom I can't. Dad does though. Considering Dad's the one who grew up in the segregated South, it's funny that his example is the one I follow.)
At my very first mixer, I danced with a guy from the Middle East and got teased about it. At my second high school mixer, I danced with a black boy from another boarding school. During study hall the following Monday, a couple of the upper classmen threatened me with bodily harm if I ever did it again. I was enough of a coward that I stopped going to mixers. I didn't stop hanging out with my friends, though, and many of them were black. That probably sounds like the old liberal, "but some of my best friends..." racist excuse. I didn't realize that black students had only been accepted four years before I started there. I just knew that these girls accepted me for who I was without trying to put me in a compartment. That was more than I could say for the majority of girls. The first Jewish girl at the school started the same year I did. For me to be able to hang out with the students I liked was a big thing then.
But the future was going to be better than that. In the future, it wasn't that we were colorblind, it was that color didn't matter. The differences would be celebrated and acknowledged, but they wouldn't kill someone's chance at a career. Uhura's earrings made that point for me. She wore distinctive earrings, and, when we see her cabin in Elaan of Troyius
, there are African art works shown. Uhura was cool. I wanted to be like her when I grew up. I just knew I wouldn't have the tan.
Tonight was the eighth grade graduation for the kids in the program I mentor with. The Secretary of Education gave a nice little speech (and is tall enough to confirm my suspicions that Obama wants to change the sport of official Washington from slo-pitch softball to basketball). One statistic he quoted that stayed with me: 66% of the eighth graders in Detroit drop out of high school. It's chilling to me.
There were no white faces among the graduates. These kids feel like they are on a path toward a brighter future. But when I give them a science fiction book, I want them to see the world, not just this one, as a place where anything can happen.
I gave my students (fifth graders) the books that revenantrose
was generous enough to help me purchase. Three of them were science fiction books and one of them deals specifically with the entitlement the British felt to cultures they thought were uncivilized. (Nation
by Terry Pratchett which is technically a sci-fi fantasy book even though it's more of a riff on colonialism and Robinson Crusoe
types of stories.)
How dare publishers and movie producers think that a protagonist needs to be shown as white to be "universal"?
The one friend I've had since high school works four blocks from where I live. She won't walk to my apartment building because it's not a good part of town. What she means is, by crossing under 395, she goes from Washington to DC, from a place where she sees primarily light faces to an area where she sees mostly dark ones. It saddens me.
I love my city. I want the future that I see when I read science fiction. Hell, I want the past that I see when I watch I,Spy
on Hulu. I sure as hell don't want Jesse McCartney playing an Asian lead.
What I want is a future where we go to Mars or Mirabile and everyone who has a skill or an education can find their way into the deeps of space. I want the kids of Detroit to read science fiction and choose to stay in school so they can go into "Space, the final frontier."