|Aliens of Color, and other problems of fandom
||[Apr. 7th, 2007|11:57 pm]
On Race and Teaching Writing:
I've been reading and reading and reading the recent threads on racism in fandom, and, though any of you may well say differently, I tend to think of myself as someone who's working on her own racism thing (as opposed to actually being non-racist), and who thinks about it. A lot. Both in fandom and in daily life, including every day at work when I'm at work fully aware that I'm charged with homogenizing a diverse group of student writers in the standards of Academic English (which, hello, is one helluva a racially charged thing, if you hadn't noticed, and one I question even as I'm doing it, because there are all sorts of arguments about it, not the least of which is that as long as Whites hold to (White) Standard English as superior, we're living on the privilege of not having to learn it in order to get ahead. While at the same time, many of us who teach realize that as long as we don't have the power to change the standard, we need to do everything we can to demystify it so as to allow as many students of color access to the corridors of power as possible. And if you've never heard any of these arguments, June Jordon's essay about teaching Willie Jordan lays it out, though having taught the essay to a bunch of privileged white kids at NYU, perhaps not clearly enough if you're entirely clueless, but that's another rant entirely, I think).
As a Slash Writer:
Back to fandom... with all of this talk about WFans not writing CoC, or doing so badly, my first thought was, "Wow, I've never written any African American characters" and then I remembered that I had written Bug/Nigel (eight stories, plus the unfinished ones on my HD), and then I thought, wait, hold off on the self-congratulatory moment at that inventory, and then I thought, is there something about Bug's being Indian that makes it easier to approach writing him? I'm not sure....
I do think that there's a certain cultural distance at work--in that Bug's dealing not just with plain old American racism as a CoC, but also the whole colonial history of England in India and his family's experience of that... and maybe that distance makes it easier to approach him as a writer. Then again, from the first, Bug's explicitly referenced his experience with racist White Americans who see him as just another PoC, so it's not as if canon itself asks (or wants) to work the pretense of color-blindness or let fans get away with not seeing.
I don't know that in writing him, I ever thought to myself, "I don't know how to write him" because he's Indian. In some respect, I just did what I could to project what I knew about what it felt like to be abject, outside, fighting against quick-judgments people make based on your appearance, and having to prove yourself every time you walk in a room. As a fat woman, and as a woman whose nose will never be cutely upturned, I feel some of that, and, as far as my family history goes, large portions of my family were killed by the Nazis, and I heard from my grandmother stories of being shut out of jobs, school, etc. because she was Jewish in Germany, so... knowing that history was a part of my growing up, just as having this body was a part of my growing up.
Meanwhile, I wonder if my comfort level with writing Bug is due, in part, to the way that the show explicitly shows him confronting racism, so that I never really have to think too hard about his relationship to and perceptions of race the way I might on shows where the canon sidesteps the issue, by pretending it doesn't exist, or by mapping him as an "alien" character.
Aliens of Color and SGA:
And speaking of AoC, I cannot imagine why nobody seems to notice that Ronon has dark skin. I mean, sure, he's an alien, but since when haven't White people in the current day taken their own racist selves overseas? Is it just impossible to imagine that many of the White people coming to Atlantis would, in seeing Ronon, see not an alien but a big, black man of the sort that might've made them cross to the other side of the street on a dark night? Is it impossible to imagine that any of the White people on Atlantis might see Teyla as sexually available, not simply because she's got the bare midriff, but because she's visibly "other"? Really, I find it hard to believe that all those White scientists don't think about race all the time--don't notice whether the natives of a given planet look like them or not, and act accordingly. I have a hard time imagining that, sitting down for dinner in the caf, the scientists and military aren't sitting at somewhat racially segregated tables, and I can't help wondering whether Ronon, on coming to Atlantis, might see the people who look more like him (those who didn't go out the airlock already) as more like him--as possible allies.
Anyway, this is rambling, and me just saying that I've spent some of the time reading the recent SGA thing with clenched fists, sometimes feeling vaguely nauseous, and often feeling somewhat hopeless about whether fandom will ever get to the place where we can talk about race without talking about why we need to talk about race.
And sadly, none of this has made me want to watch SGA again, or get into the fandom.
And on the home front:
My folks have been staying with us this week, and my father brought Nigel and Ellie a copy of Peter Pan on DVD. Nigel had already seen it at his other grandparents' house, and we'd talked to him a bit about it. And Ellie has a cute 11" Peter Pan doll I found at a thrift store. I've always liked the doll, but I never intended to buy the movie. Now, we have it here and my husband was watching it this morning with the kids, and discovered that Disney never cut out the really horrible racist stuff, as I imagined they would, and so he told my folks that the kids wouldn't be watching it again until they were old enough not to internalize it. My father seems to think that it's all about what the parents think, and that if your folks aren't racist, you won't be. And yet I can't help but think that my mother is racist, or at the very least, unthoughtful about race, and neither of my parents were even offended by the "red man" song. Of course, the diplomatic thing would've been for Peter to not say anything to the folks, and to just confiscate it after they left and explain why. But I keep thinking that there are times when "diplomatic" just means being silent, and complicit, and that's not what I want Nigel to learn.
Nigel asked Peter, "But why is it wrong if the Native Americans were singing the song too?" My husband had to point out to him that the Native Americans in the film were drawings made my White Americans, and the voices were White Americans grunting along in the song, and the book was written by a White guy, and Disney was White, and basically, what we have here is a case of black-face, though that's not a reference Nigel would understand.
And I keep thinking that it's hard enough to be a fan dealing with racism, or a teacher dealing with it, or even a person, but I'm also a mom dealing with it, trying to navigate Nigel through a world where people still cheerfully sing, "What makes the red man red?"