Everybody knows that racism is bad, but somehow hating diversity is cool. Thus, Felicity Savage over on the Amazing Stories site has a post where she chastises non-white people for wanting to see themselves in science fiction stories. She concludes by praising the work of Stephen Baxter, which she says provides the following insights.
Speculative fiction this good achieves something no other genre can do: it makes you realize, really realize, that we’re all in this together. Black, white, yellow, brown, male, female … to the Big Bad lurking on the dark side of the moon, we all look like snacks. That kind of perspective shift is what I read the genre for.
This is simultaneously honest and oblivious — the first predicated on the second. Because, of course, the reason that it is important to include diverse characters and diverse voices in speculative fiction would be because the assertion “we’re all in this together” is not, in fact, a pure, shining, unimpeachable truth, handed down by the gods of speculative fiction for our enlightenment. The statement “we’re all in this together” is, instead, an ideological presumption which is not supported by most of the extant facts. Kids in segregated schools on the south side of Chicago aren’t in this together with folks on the north side who have buttloads of tax money dumped into their science labs. Folks who were enslaved weren’t in it together with the people who pretended to own them with the collusion of the law. Women who lost their property rights during marriage weren’t in it together with the men who controlled them. And so forth. Proclaiming that justice and equality have been achieved because you’ve imagined some big old space monster is not profound. It. is. bullshit.
To say that human difference is not part of good sci-fi is to erase the thematic concerns of many of sci-fi’s greatest writers, from Philip K. Dick to Ursula Le Guin to Octavia Butler to Samuel Delany to Joanna Russ and on and on. It is, moreover, to admit to an almost ludicrous poverty of imagination. Sci-fi is dedicated to telling stories that haven’t been; to exploring the entire range of what might be. And yet, the only story you can think of, the only future you can see, is one in which white people’s experiences are the sole benchmark of importance, in which all people’s troubles and traumas are subsumed in white people’s traumas; in which, somehow, racial (and gender?) difference has ceased to matter,and in which that “ceasing to matter” means, not a blending of diverse races and experiences, but an erasure of all races and experiences which aren’t the dominant one right now, at this particular time.
“Nothing is gained by mapping our fragmented ethnic and sexual identities onto our fiction with the fidelity of a cellphone camera photo,” Savage says. To which one can only ask, who is it that gains nothing exactly? Ethnic and sexual identities are a big part of how we live; exploring them has been a huge resource for science fiction in the past. Admittedly, if you’re committed to a world in which you never have to think about others, and in which the one sci-fi story is a story about how your particular concerns, no matter how boring and blinkered, should erase everyone else in a lovely rush of imperialist amity, then, yes, diversity is an irritating distraction. If, on the other hand, you think that sci-fi should be as rich and complicated as the world we live in, then including difference is not a failure, but a necessity.
HT: N.K. Jemisin.