Friday, June 25, 2010

Black Girl, Light World V: Black Authors/Characters in Speculative Fiction



A few nights ago I was doing my usual Youtube surfing for tutorials on natural hair care and styling, when I came across the above video by AFR0STORY and she poses a question/situation that I've also pondered a a lot over the years.

I love speculative fiction in general, and fairytales & epic/high fantasy in particular. Those are the types of stories that lead me into wanting to write and the stories that instill inspire a creative spirit in me. I grew up reading and sci-fi and fantasy were the genres that I always turned to for something intriguing to read. It didn't escape my notice that most of the characters (all of the characters) were white people, or elves as white people, various aliens as animals or white people, dwarfs as white people... yeah.

I know that that affected me as a kid wanting to write speculative fiction because all my characters were at least racially ambiguous with light skin, if not white. I hadn't even really noticed that that was something I was doing. I was just writing the same types of characters that I read about in these types of books. It wasn't until I was in my late teens, that I began to question the status quo in the books I was reading--therefore questioning my own writing--and made a conscious decision decision to change that.

Part of the reason there aren't many black characters in spec-fic is because that aren't many black authors of spec-fic. Just go to wikipedia and look up spec-fic authors, then spec-fic authors of color. The difference in length between those two lists are drastic and telling. And it's kind of vicious cycle, black kids don't see characters who represent them in this genre of fiction, so they don't read those books and certainly don't care about writing them, therefore there aren't many black authors to make black characters sci-fi and fantasy. Some noted exceptions are Octavia Butler (obviously), Jeremy Love (graphic novel Bayou and others), Nalo Hopkinson, Tananrive Due, and Nnedi Okorafor (there are more, and if you're curious wikipedia is a good place to start).

I know that one of the problems that I run up against as a fantasy writer is that fantasy relies heavily on cultural mythological motifs and archetypes, and though I grew up with European fairytales as the model to work from and I'll be honest, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Red Shoes, Rapunzel, etc are close to my heart, those stories that are close to my heart don't represent me as a Black person or as an American (though I see that White people have no problem with identifying with princess even though there aren't any American royalty... none explicitly stated as such though there is certainly a privileged class) and when I do write a story with a black character, I don't want to just drop them in a traditionally European setting and call it a day. I want the world I build to be reflective of the background of the characters in it. But while I am African American, I am not African either, and stories about Anansi or Ituen and the King's Wife don't awaken the same... nostalgia, the same emotional investment in me, and I don't know if that's a failing on my part, if it's something I should strive to change or just realize that--for me-- this is a part of my African American experience. I learn and read about them because I do want to know, even need to know the stories of people everywhere, but they are just as unreflective because they don't relate to the culture that AAs have grown up in for the last 400 years. For me, framing a story has become difficult. Often, I have felt caught between a rock and a hard place. Where are my myths to draw from?

One writer that has helped me be much more flexible in the way I think of myth and incorporate that in my stories is Jeremy Love. Bayou is one of the best stories I've ever read and Love structures the story using traditional Southern folktales and myths and while I was reading it online (don't worry, I'm buying it and Vol. 2 as soon as I get my 2nd paycheck!) it was like something shook loose in my mind. I can do this differently. I can mix and match. So fine, this story reaches out to you, this other character, and that setting. I can mix it all in if I want to, I just have to "make it work." I do want to familiarize myself more with the works of the Black authors above, and glean from them how to approach what, for me, is a conundrum.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

This is Me Being Real

I have had it drilled into my head for the last six years to be real, so here it is:
  1. I am angry that a close friend of mine did my sister wrong and lead her along until he got booty-blinded by a mixed girl
  2. I am angry that that mixed girl was also a friend of my sister's and that neither of them feels the need to realize/admit their wrong
  3. I am angry that the above close friend chose that girl over my sister even though she is continually a bitch
  4. I am angry that he thinks himself so alternative, when in reality he is just alternative enough
  5. I am angry that the above mixed girl and another mixed girl whom I also grew up with, have a superior attitude over me and my sisters who are "100%" black (as if any African American can ensure that they are 100% anything), and treated my sister like less than  because she was not a virgin--
  6. even though they were also sexually active and giving their boyfriends head and letting them finger them, and struggled in other ways sexually. The above couple now act like they are the holiest purest things ever and when people commend them for that, they never mention that they struggled to wait in any way. But still treat my sister like less than because everyone knows about her but no one knows about them.
  7. I am angry that those girls patronized me for years because I wasn't a threat to them, what with me being fat, black, and unattractive
  8. I am angry that I still feel beholden to them because they were there for me and my sisters when my mom died, even though they have continually done us wrong since then
  9. I am angry that certain people feel like they can say whatever they want and attack people's character  in a soft voice and feel that they aren't being aggressive, but a darker-skinned person who speaks louder than they do is aggressive even if the comment itself is not in any way an attack on their person or character.
  10. I am angry that all my white and mixed acquaintances are getting married or at least in stable relationships, but there is only one black girl in sight with a good man interested in her.
  11. I am angry that this is the status quo at every single "multicutural" church I've been too
  12. I don't understand what happened to my friendships, well maybe I do. Superiority and Inferiority complexes kept people from truly trusting each other, and even though there was opportunity for change many of us dropped the ball. And over the years nothing changed.
  13. I don't understand why all this can't just be in the open. The fact us people don't like to own up to their behavior and they especially don't like being accused of racism/colorism, preferential treatment, whatever.
  14. I wish all those girls would have the experience my sister had in Peru so they could gain some understanding. (Until recently, I was the darkest person in this group of friends; when they all went on a trip to Peru, Peruvians would come up to my sister and say "Your friends are so beautiful" or ignore her altogether as they fawned over the light-skinned mixed girls. On that trip she came to understand how I felt a lot of the time when I was out with the girls, because here in the U. S., while she has recognizably African features she is considered red-boned enough to be attractive, and she is actually an attractive woman; but in Peru she was considered way too dark/ethnic-looking to be really attractive).
  15. I think it is ironic that a lot of the issues that have cropped up in these relationships have to do with race, even when almost all of the people in these relationships self-identify as black and as Christians. I think it is ironic because I believe that this may be the #1 least dealt with topic in the American church today and even intraracially, the effects of racism can be seen in a bunch of young Southern African Americans who want to love God, want to love each other, and love music.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Eternity is my desire

”He hath set eternity in their heart,” said the Preacher, and I think he here sets forth both the glory and the misery of men. To be made for eternity and forced to dwell in time is for mankind a tragedy of huge proportions. All within us cries for life and permanence, and everything around us reminds us of mortality and change. Yet that God has made us of the stuff of eternity is both a glory and a prophecy yet to be fulfilled.

A. W. Tozer--Knowlegde of the Holy