Mansfield Fox

Law student. Yankees fan. Massive fraggle. Just living the American dream.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Why Must Red-Shirts Be White-Skins?

Ursula K. Le Guin on the whitewashing of her Earthsea universe for TV and, more generally, the perils of selling the rights to one's books. I've never been that into Le Guin, so I'm not personally all that affected by the fact that her books have apparently been ruined. I do, however, appreciate her efforts to make her sci-fi and fantasy worlds non-lily white. I've never understood the conventions of the genres, which seem to suggest that there are no non-white ancient or medieval peoples or that the future belongs almost exclusively to Caucasians, both of which are patently false. Even on a fairly liberal show like Star Trek: The Next Generation, the "generic" crew, as opposed to the lead characters, was almost all white. I just don't get it. The principle characters of my magnum opus (which, now and for the foreseeable future, exists almost entirely in my head) are black or mixed-race; whites exist only on the margins, either geographically or socially. This isn't for ideological purposes - it comes naturally out of the logic of the story.

On reconsideration, I suppose my feelings on this are more mixed: I appreciate Le Guin's bucking the commercial and literary assumption that sci-fi/fantasy characters have to all or almost-all white; but, at the same time, I wish we lived in a world of literary color-blindness, in which, instead of saying "I want to write a science fiction story about people of color," authors would just come up with the story they want to tell and have things like the race of the characters, to the extent that it comes up at all, emerge organically out of the narrative itself. Of course, that's easy for me as a white guy to say - for the foreseeable future, most authors will remain white, and will probably want to write the kind of stories that are logically about white characters. So if you don't want people of color largely excluded from the genre, maybe you need authors like Le Guin making a special effort. I don't know. (What, you wanted a resolution of this issue?)