Is it important to show People of Color in science fiction?

Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko, Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

The simple answer to this question is yes. Despite the homo-social tendencies of the science fiction media (books, movies, comics, and television) which are then marketed to sub-cultures, People of Color not only exist but make up the bulk of the human experience, despite what you may see in modern media.

Let’s put this another way. Projected into the future, our modern society would likely be much more colorful than predicted by Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek with a far greater distribution of People of Color onboard the less politically-correct Enterprise of the Future. And before I get rants from Trekkers (Trekkies), I have much respect for Star Trek. The show at least tried to present people of color somehow making it to the future as something other than a snack for the monster of the week or as space janitors.

If Trek truly represented our modern world thrown forward, we would likely have seen more people of color in command positions, more Indians, more Chinese, simply because, allowing for three hundred years, we would expect much of our current world’s cultural disparity to have been ironed out, replaced with people doing the job because they were capable, not because it was expected we would see only Caucasians in positions of power because they were funding the show, viewing the show, or producing the show. When seen in the light of marketing, Star Trek still promoted the idea of the supremacy of the Caucasian heroic model endemic of modern science fiction. (To be fair, it did improve with age, allowing women to command ships and even to put a Black Man in command. Took nearly three decades, first Star Trek debuts in 1966, Commander Sisko appears on DS9 as a regular in a command role in 1993.)

Cover for Son of Heaven, a book from the Chung Kuo series.

Perhaps if we were to be more honest, the future might look a lot more like a book series called Chung Kuo, that posits an eventual domination of China and other Asian cultures completely taking control of the human experience through both a rigorous development of their human potential and the downfall of a decadent Western Civilization. Truth be told, that, at the moment, seems to be a much more likely model. It is a brilliant series of books to read. (Yes, it was very long, with quite a few characters, but if you like political science fiction, you will love Chung Kuo.)

It is important to show People of Color in our science fiction because we are here. On Earth. Right now.

We did not vanish into obscurity in the past, nor will we disappear from it in the future. Like it or not, the future of the world, much like the past of the world, will be defined by People of Color. The question might really be: Why can’t everyone have an equal opportunity to make it into the future, have an equal opportunity to be heroic or cowardly, genius or idiot, socially well adapted or psychopathic and maladjusted with equal frequency in our media?

We know the real reason already. The Heroic Myth has been co-opted to not allow Heroes of Color. Yes, I said it. What are you going to do about it?

That’s what I thought. Nothing. Ask modern publishers or movie-makers. They reply with:

“It’s too dangerous. They’re not marketable. We won’t be able to sell that. Who ever heard of a powerful Black male superhero. No one would believe it. If you made the lead character, White, I could move that for you. No one wants to read about Heroes of Color. Can you be more black? You can’t sell that here. Mexicans can’t be heroes. Only Asians do kung-fu. Who wants to see a movie about Native Americans? Stereotypes are easier to write about. You have to have a Caucasian on the cover. Movies with all Black casts can’t make back their money. We can only sell movies about native people with a Caucasian lead.”

All sound familiar? Oh, they might not if you haven’t ever tried to do anything with a Person of Color in it. But if you have, you will know the sound of one or all of these refrains.

Listen. Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound you heard when that statue of Lenin was being torn down. It’s the same sound you heard when they tore down the Berlin Wall. The same one you heard in Egypt, and in Greece and in Spain, in 2011. It’s the same one you heard when people Occupied the United States in protest.

You might not be familiar with it. It is the sound of revolution.

It is the sound of people having enough. Their rage with being put on the side of history. People are not condiments. You do not use them to flavor YOUR life. They are not meant to add color to your media, the same way you might add a purple cabbage to your green salad. People of Color are life itself.

Sanaa Latham as Alexa Woods in AVP

Your media may deny it. But Nollywood knows better. So does Bollywood. How are those newspapers selling these days? How about those publishing houses? Comics? The comic and print industries are scrambling like insects during a fumigation. Your model of exclusion is ending. People want to be heard. People want to be acknowledged. People want to be Heroes. People of Color want to live to the end of the movie. The People want to be Seen. Admired. Loved. Respected. Acknowledged. For their contributions, for their histories, for their suffering, for their triumphs, but more than anything for their Humanity.

We are as People of Color, writers of Color, science fiction authors, are fighting to acknowledge we Exist. We will be here in the future, in whatever form that future takes. That the future will depend on us as much as it will depend on (insert Caucasian hero here) to save the day. Hannibal turned the tide of battle, China had a history and culture that has lasted 3000 years unconquered by outside forces, the Mayans created one of the most accurate calendars on Earth, Egypt was one of the greatest hubs of science, trade and commerce on the African continent and the world. Like it the world now depends on the people of Chile to grow food, or the South American nations to protect the Amazon as one of the last storehouses of the world’s bio-diversity. Our future will also depend on People of Color.

People of Color are not an afterthought in the novels of Caucasian writers. We are shaping the world.

There are 800 million people living in the nation of India. There are at least 1000 million (1+billion) people living in China. 500 million living in Africa, 500 million or more in South and Central America. People of Color are not going to go away. As knowledge is democratized, so will opportunity spread. So will innovations, creativity, productivity. One day, the West’s ability to create and dominate the world, may be surpassed in one of these nations. People forget the United States rose to power in a near socio-political vacuum. The world was in a terrible state of repair after World War II, there was no real competition then.

Pay attention. That has ended.

Those nations have recovered. Each of them filled with people who want to see themselves portrayed as heroes. Filled with the same drive and ambition we possessed in the West. See Singapore, Beijing, Taipei, Japan as examples of the masterful harnessing of human potential. The West should be quaking in its cowboy boots. But it won’t. Its belief in Western Superiority is complete and less and less valid in a world filled with motivated People of Color.

Let’s close with a chilling quote from the masters of assimilation: “We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.” This is the future of the West. Cold. Mechanical. Clockwork. We are all cogs in the machine. Know your place. Surrender your individuality. Serve the machine and its hidden masters.

I do not accept this.

People of Color exist despite the pretense in Western media that we do not. And if the West is not careful, it may find history will mark the passing of White Supremacy and its Western pathology of deleting People of color from history with tales of fiction about the Caucasians who could not adapt to the reality of their eventual blending and dissolution back into the melting pot that are People of Color.

We better hope those motivated People of Color where ever they may be find a way to change our future. The world as we know it, is looking pretty grim. We need new thinking to have a future at all.

People of Color, write your revolution. Save our Future. Resistance is never futile. Fight for every word.

Thaddeus Howze Atreides
@ebonstorm (twitter)
@ebonstorm@gmail.com

Thaddeus Howze, Authoris a veteran of the IT and Communications industry with over 26 years of experience retooling computers to best serve human needs. Unknown to humanity, our computers have another agenda. Thaddeus recently released his first collection of short stories, Hayward Reach. In a coded format, he has secretly informed Humanity of the impending computerized apocalypse. You can read parts of the code here: http://ebonstorm.wordpress.com or http://ebonstorm.weebly.com

Part of a series of essays on: The State of Black Science Fiction.
Check out the other members of this Online Black History Month Event

Winston Blakely, Artist/Writer – is a Fine Arts/Comic Book artist, having a career spanning 20 years, whose achievements have included working for Valiant Comics and Rich Buckler’s Visage Studios. He is also the creator of Little Miss Strange, the world’s first black alien sorceress and the all- genre anthology entitled – Immortal Fantasy. Both graphic albums are available at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other online book store outlets. Visit him: http://blakelyworks.blogspot.com/ or http://blakelyworkstudio.weebly.com/

L. M. Davis, Author – began her love affair with fantasy in the second grade.  Her first novel, Interlopers: A Shifters Novel, was released in 2010, and the follow-up Posers: A Shifters Novel will be released this spring. For more information visit her blog: http://shiftersseries.wordpress.com/ or her website www.shiftersnovelseries.com.

Milton Davis, Author – Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. Visit him: www.mvmediaatl.com and www.wagadu.ning.com.

Margaret Fieland, Author – lives and writes in the suburbs west of Boston, MA with her partner and five dogs. She is one of the Poetic Muselings. Their poetry anthology, Lifelines: http://tinyurl.com/LifelinesPoetry/is available from Amazon.com  Her book, “Relocated,” will be available from MuseItUp Publishing in July, 2012. The Angry Little Boy,” will be published by 4RV publishing in early 2013. You may visit her website, http://www.margaretfieland.com.

Valjeanne Jeffers, Author – is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend and Immortal III: Stealer of Souls. Her fourth and fifth novels: Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch: Clockwork will be released this spring. Visit her at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com and http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com/

Alicia McCalla, Author – writes for both young adults and adults with her brand of multicultural science fiction, urban fantasy, and futurism. Her debut novel, Breaking Free will be available February 1, 2012. The Breaking Free theme song created by Asante McCalla is available for immediate download on itunes and Amazon. Visit her at: www.aliciamccalla.com

Carole McDonnell, Author – She writes Christian, speculative fiction, and multicultural stories. Her first novel is Wind Follower. Her short fiction has appeared in many anthologies and have been collected in an ebook, Spirit Fruit: Collected Speculative Fiction. Visit Carole: http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com/ or http://writersofcolorblogtour.blogspot.com/

Balogun Ojetade, Author – of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: TheChronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steampunk) and the feature film, “A Single Link”. Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/

Rasheedah Phillips, Author – is the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair in Philly. She plans to debut her first spec/sci-fic novel Recurrence Plot in Spring 2012. You may catch her ruminating from time to time on her blog, AstroMythoLosophy.com.

Nicole Sconiers, Author – is also a screenwriter living in the sunny jungle of L.A. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, and she recently published Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage. Visit her: http://nicolesconiers.com/index.html

Jarvis Sheffield, M.Ed. – is owner & operator of TheDigitalBrothers.com, BlackScienceFictionSociety.com & BlackCommunityEntertainment.com. Visit him: http://www.blacksciencefictionsociety.com/profiles/blog/list?user=2stjwb1h216fd


8 responses to “Is it important to show People of Color in science fiction?

  1. I read Chung Kho many years ago mainly because it depicted an non Eurocentric view of a world empire. It is such diversity that had drawn me back to reading science fiction and fantasy, which I had abandoned for quite a long time. It’s no wonder that most of the writers I read today are independent writers that have taken it upon themselves to change the paradigm.

  2. This is a very thoughtful treatise on the state of entertainment media. You’ve pretty much said it all.

    By the way, I hopped over here from Mitch Mitchell’s Black Web Friday post on ImJustSharing.com

    Cheers,

    Mitch

  3. Pingback: Black Web Friday – 3/16/12 | I'm Just Sharing

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