Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Rambly Response That's Meant to Give a Bit More Context to Where I'm Coming From

So I put out my invite to folks at the George RR Martin Forum that were talking about my "Color Blind" post. I said if they wanted to come over and talk with me directly I'd welcome them. I didn't get a lot of takers.

Yesterday, though, Altherion popped over and made some points. I'm very glad he did. I responded to several of his questions in the comments thread for An Invite to the Folks at the Martin Forum, but I wanted to post about the last few things he said here. Altherion, I hope you don't mind my using your comments. It just feels like a great opportunity for me to demonstrate the type of dialog I'd like to have with people, a type I think is too rare. I kinda wrote this as a response to Altherion, but it's here for any that are interested.

The parts that Altherion wrote are in bold. When he’s quoting from my earlier post it is also italics. The stuff in regular script is new material.

To address your original point (the one that started the thread): I was not born in the US and its divisions along racial lines are foreign to me. That is, I do not intuitively understand why you (and, judging by the other thread, many others) make such a big deal out of the amount of melanin present in the skin of an individual -- although it is very clear that it is important to you. I believe you when you say it has had it is part of your daily life and it has affected your career. But I simply do not see where you get the certainty to make statements like this one:

Small test... I'd be interested to ask each "color blind" reader when was the last time they read something by a black author. They might shrug and say, "I don't know. Remember, I don't pay attention to an author's race." My translation of that - they probably haven't read a black author since a college lit course, because if they had they'd KNOW they had.

How would they know? For example, my answer to this test is: a few months ago. But the only reason I can tell you this is because somebody in the thread at Westeros mentioned that Samuel R. Delany is black. I did not know it from reading his story and I don't see how I would have learned it otherwise.

Great point about Delany. I actually can't speak specifically as to whether I think there are obvious racial undertones in all his work because I haven't read him. I shall, but I haven't yet. I think it's possible that the story you read might not be influenced by race in any obvious way. But Delany is one in a million. He's a very unusual man that carved a path for himself into sci-fi. In many ways, he carved that path toward you, going where few black authors go.

So you might have read a story not at all informed by race. Bare in mind, though, that at least some of his writing was very specifically about race and sexual orientation. Delany is very openly gay and openly black, as he discusses in depth his memoir, The Motion of Light on Water. Also, his Dark Reflections is about a black gay writer that pretty much seems like Delany himself. I only know that from looking him up, and from the fact that I’ve read interviews with him before.

In any event, a Delany story doesn't change my belief that in the vast majority of cases (and I wasn't talking just about sci-fi or fantasy) black writers do write material in which the racial aspects of our culture play a role. For us it's hard not to, because it so does play a role. Think of Octavia Butler, for example. I haven't read all of her works, but everything I have has centered on a young black female protagonist dealing with many things - including race. I would be amazed to to discover a white writer that would choose to write book after book with black protagonists dealing with race (along side vampires, social disintegration, slavery, etc.). It has never happened that I'm aware of. The fact that Octavia wrote what she did is wonderful - and it came out of her identity as a black woman - a dark black woman, at that.

That leads me in to answering why I make such a big deal about melanin... Let me start by stating the obvious so that you know what we have in common... The color of peoples' skin doesn't matter one bit to our shared humanity. Not at all. I've known that all my life, and in a great many ways my work as a novelist is about bringing that truth to as many people as I can. That's always a theme that's in the back of my head, sometimes in the front.

*Begin Spoiler Alert regarding my novel Walk Through Darkness – Don’t read this paragraph if you might ever read that novel.*

My novel Walk Through Darkness is about a white man that comes to understand he has a black son. That son is spending his life in bondage, as a slave because his mother’s colored skin matters most in Antebellum America. The man chooses, for many reasons, to seek out his son, to acknowledge him, to connect so that he can know the future of his line and so that the son can learn about the man and the family that’s part of his heritage. He risks everything to do this. He does it because every now and then – I believe – people can and do rise above our easy classifications of race and do better. I believe that. I wrote a novel about it. My commitment to such belief is professional, financial, and very personal.)

*End Spoiler Warning*

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, my wife is white and European, my kids are mixed race and multinational. Of course I don't think that the color variations between us matter at all. Okay?

BUT (you knew there would be a but, I'm sure)... that's the ideal. That’s the truth I know with all my heart and intellect. I also know that race does matter because the way of the world makes it matter every single day. I'm fortunate to be able to say I've never suffered any major racial attack, but let me give you some small ones. These are just a few snippets of life in my skin. Small things, but very real.

Grade School: I went to a predominantly white school. I can't tell you how many times I heard kids make racist jokes. If they knew I'd heard they always assured me they didn't mean me. "We're talking about them." Well, yeah, but that them includes many people in my extended family. I knew this, even if they didn’t.

Every time a black adult walked into the school I was invariably asked by other students if he or she was my father or mother. Obviously, that question was the first thing out of my peers' mouths because they saw that person’s skin, and they saw mine, and they made instant conclusions because of it.

Several years we did Square Dancing units in gym. At the end of the unit we'd have a big dance. Each time we did this I was partnered with another black kid. It was assumed. It was taken for granted that Joyce was going to be my partner. (Yes, I remember her name.) It feels - in my memory - like I was walked across the gym floor and had my hand slipped into Joyce's by my smiling, well-meaning teacher. "Here, here's your partner. She's just like you so it's a perfect match.” I doubt that was said that way, but it was meant that way and I knew it. It didn't matter that Joyce was in another teacher's class and that we avoided each other like the plague. We still became partners that one day of the year. I doubt we said a word to each other the entire time we danced.

In class photos in grade school I was always seated at the center point. The one dark face on the page. The photographer put me in the middle, I guess for some sort of symmetry. Why? Because of my skin. And I knew it was because of my skin. Just like I knew the local bullies’ names for me and my best friend were based on my skin. I was "Dirty Durham". He was "Mud-mate." Isn’t that brilliantly cruel? I was dirty. My friend was covered in mud for associating with me – and there’s a sexual bite to it also. I’m amazed that those kids were so effective in their slurs at age ten.

I could go on for a while about Grade school, but let's move forward...

High school: There was lots of confusion in high school. I don't mind admitting that much of it came from black students. I tried hard in my freshman year to fit in with the black students (I was in a much more mixed neighborhood and school now). But I wasn't "black enough", and try as I might I just couldn't get it right. That's actually a long and complicated story.

And easier one to grasp is this... First love. (I'll be embarrassed if she reads this, but it's true and she'll remember it too.) When I was a Sophomore I met a girl that I was absolutely giddy over. She was lovely and smart and she liked me! She had quite an olive complexion and I felt that I couldn't have been luckier to have connected with her. Until her parents met me. They didn't say an unkind word to me, but the next day this young woman, teary in the school hallways, said that she couldn't go out with me. Her parents forbade it. Why? Cause I was some shifty character? Because they just didn't want her dating yet? Because I had a bad reputation? No. None of those. Because of my skin. Because they were white and they didn't want the world looking down on their daughter for being with me. They told her that. She told me that. It effectively squashed our little romance before it had begun.

More recently: Driving with my wife and kids on the motorway around Denver, CO. I'm driving along having a conversation with my wife, the kids were in their car seats in the back, listening to Harry Potter on the iPod. I noticed a large, big-tired truck pull up on the passenger side. I kept talking, but noticed it as the truck slowed and dropped behind us, and then pulled up on the driver's side. It stayed right there beside us for a while, and eventually I looked over. There was one guy in the car, a white guy, and he was driving with one hand on the steering wheel. With the other, he was stretched toward me giving me the finger. He just held it there, seemingly asking for me to respond. I didn't. I actually just kept the conversation going with my wife. She's knitting and hadn't noticed any of this. I knew it would freak her out if I did say anything, so I didn't. Eventually the guy gave up and sped away. I watched him as long as I could, until I saw him take an exit. Relief…

Now, as I drove on I wondered if I'd cut him off or something. But I hadn't. Did I have some offensive bumper sticker on the car that he was responding to? No... The most likely answer to what went on there is that he's a racist, maybe an Aryan. (This was around Denver, after all. I think they have a presence there.) He drove up beside us, saw my pale-skinned wife, noted the kids in the back seat, and then saw me. He drove around to inform me of just what he thought of my domestic arrangement. And why did he think anything of me? Because of my skin. Because of my wife's skin.

Are you seeing how this stuff matters? What if he’d been with friends? What if I’d done what I had every right to and flipped him the finger as well? It’s not too much of an exaggeration to think I could’ve ended up in a violent situation, maybe a news story. It does happen to people, and it happens because of other peoples’ reactions to the skin they wear.

One more thing: this one is more internal, more about me instead of the outside world. I'm aware every time I go some place alone with my kids that some people seeing me with them may not immediately understand that I'm their father. I'm not a very dark guy, but at a glance I'm a person of color and they're white kids. If you look closely I'm in them and it's there to be seen. My father is there to be seen. My mother is. Just as my wife's mother and father are. I know that completely.

But, think for a minute what it would be like to entertain in the back of your mind that somebody seeing you with your kids may wonder what you're doing with them.

Has anything ever happened because of this? No. Maybe people don't think about it. Maybe only I do. But I do, and that will likely never go away. Consider also that I could be a bit darker and my kids could still look the way they do. (Genetics are strange like that, as Tobias Buckell will tell you.) If I was darker I'd fear people misunderstanding who I was in relation to my lovely eight year old daughter even more. Are you hearing some of why I'm reminded daily that race matters? Hearing that so much of it is external, but that aspects of it can't help but be internalized also?

As you can probably tell by now, I'd much rather live in a world where skin color did not matter this much and the way I am trying to contribute to bringing it about is by not acting based on it and preventing others from doing so. For example, if I shopped at Borders (which I do not) and noticed that they segregate by race (meaning, by author rather than by subject), I'd complain and when this would most likely have no effect, I'd stop going there. But I would never buy a book from the segregated section just because it was from there -- that strikes me as a racist action.

Altherion, I'd much rather live in a world where skin color did not matter this much too. God, would I ever! But wanting it and wishing for it isn't going to make it happen.

And that's a big part of my objection to "color blind" reading. It's hard for me to separate it from wishful thinking. Of course I want to live in a world not so plagued by racial strife. It's simply that I don't think we get nearer to that by announcing that race just doesn't matter and hoping that doing so makes the problem go away. It does matter - and I hope some of the examples from my life illustrate that. If those examples give you pause for thought - good. If you read other black authors you'd find those experiences not at all unusual (they're often a lot worse), and you'd read many more things that would give you pause for thought. I firmly believe that we'd all understand each other better if we read more widely, and reading widely has to be intentional.

Would I want you to read something from a "segregated section just because it was from there"? Of course not. And I never said anything like that. My original post was about 1) pointing out that there is a segregated section, 2) noting that if you don't know it's there or go to it you're not being presented with enough options to make that "color blind" claim mean anything and 3) encouraging you and others to read diversely because there's so much great stuff out there, and reading outside your normal parameters offers a wealth of experiences and perspectives that can enrich your understanding of what it means to be a human on this planet.

Altherion, I'm about as picky a reader as you can get. I have very high standards and I set a lot of books aside because they're not up to them. I'd never ask you to read a mediocre book out of some literary Affirmative Action. But encouraging you to read diversely isn't the same as asking you to read just anything by authors of color. For example, if you were interested in knowing a bit more about what it's like being black in America I could suggest a list of excellent novels. I wouldn't point you toward mediocre titles. I'd point you toward some of the best books being written by some of the world's best authors - who happen to be black and happen to be writing wonderful fiction that explores race in our complex, interconnected world. That's all I ever meant when I began this.

Thanks for reading this far.

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Blogger Lou Anders said...

My wife is from China originally, and we live in the Deep South, albeit a fairly large city here. When we were first dating and first married, we would encounter a very strange form of racism whereby cashiers in various stores would talk over her head to me and say things like "those people are all so smart" and "those people are good in math." It was invariably someone from a rural background making the comment, and as it was obvious they meant it as a compliment and did not know better, we always nodded and smiled and tried not to take offense despite the fact that they were acting like she wasn't there. I was more concerned about what my son might face as someone of mixed heritage growing up here and for a time felt we'd have to move when he started school (preferably back to San Francisco, where every other couple I met there was white-Asian). But since his birth, I've been struck by the incredible number of both mixed couples in my home town (not remarkable for many metropolises, but remarkable for this town when I originally left it) as well as the large Asian population we now have. Then we went through a phrase where, if my son and I were alone, people would ask me if he was adopted. Again, 9 times out of 10 they asked because they themselves had an adopted Asian child and were hoping to swap notes, so again, you don't take offense. But it does frustrate. Not offering the above to say my experience is comparable to yours, since the illustrations you give are a good less friendly than these well-intentioned slights, just the rambling response your own "rambly response" engendered on this Saturday night.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Kai said...

Hi David.

My handle is TerraPrime over at GRRM's fan board. I did post a couple responses in that forum, and I wanted to post a lot more, but alas, time. I just want to make a quick comment on one of the things you mentioned:

Now, as I drove on I wondered if I'd cut him off or something. But I hadn't. Did I have some offensive bumper sticker on the car that he was responding to? No... The most likely answer to what went on there is that he's a racist, maybe an Aryan. (This was around Denver, after all. I think they have a presence there.) He drove up beside us, saw my pale-skinned wife, noted the kids in the back seat, and then saw me. He drove around to inform me of just what he thought of my domestic arrangement. And why did he think anything of me? Because of my skin. Because of my wife's skin.

I think that's a perfect illustration of how racism affects us, but not on the immediate level where someone flips you the bird for daring to date white people. Rather, it's about the internal dialog that you described. It is in fact one of the more insidious ways in how racism destroys humanity. To wit, people who've experienced racism are forced to consider whether a particular treatment they receive is a result of racist motivation or not. If someone flips the bird at me, and I am of the same ethnic group as that person, then I wonder about what it is that I did to elicit such a response. But when our ethnicities are different, then I am forced to consider whether racism is a factor or not, and now I may have to conclude that this is about what I am. Did I get passed over for a promotion because my work is not up to snuff? Or was it because I am not white? The same kind of mechanism works in other forms of discrimination and biases, like sexism and anti-gay biases. What it does is that it both distorts the self-evaluation mechanism of the minority and it poisons the reaction of those of us in the minority group to the general world.

11:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! This is Bellis from the ASOIAF boards (see I did decide to visit!) and I wanted to thank you for the thought provoking last two posts.
I also wanted to say that your school experiences are almost identical to mine, except that I am not black. I grew up as a South Asian immigrant in Canada. I am also in a mixed race relationship (where neither of us are "white") so I can relate to that as well (although we have never encountered the racist truck driver yet!).

I am wondering whether some of the negative reactions to your posts by those outside of the US might have to do with the uniquely American nature of the black-white racial experience. From the perspective of a non-American, it might appear that you were were focused on the colour of a person's skin, rather than other diversity issues such as culture, class, gender/sexuality, religious beliefs, etc.

11:52 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Lou, Thanks for that rambling response. I commend the equanimity with which you live through such well-meaning slights. I'm particularly interested in the stuff with your son. I picture that exchange so very easily. Of course that would happen. It's not impossible that I might have asked the same question myself. Glad to say, though, that if I find myself in a park having the same discussion with a similar-looking father and child pair I'll be equipped to phrase my questions without making overt assumptions. Thanks for that. I won't forget.

Kai, You're smart.

Hi Bellis, Thanks for stopping in. Great comments. As they come in I'm struck by how often commiseration is voiced by people that somehow have personal experiences with being of color and/or being intimately involved with someone that is. The responses are coming in from people from very different backgrounds, and yet we clearly share a similar awareness. I'd hope that this would encourage some of the more skeptical white readers to consider that we may have something here - and it may be variations on experiences that are real and shared by a great many people on this planet.

As to the focus on skin color instead of a host of other issues... Well, I was using that original post to talk about one very specific aspect of a very real influence on my life that makes me question "color blindness". It strikes me as a little strange (but very familiar) that I'm attacked for things I haven't talked about before we've even talked through what I WAS talking about. To me, that's a symptom of the noise-heavy way we've been trained to NOT truly engage point by point with each other's beliefs.

Was I focussed on skin color? Sure. For that brief moment, brief post on a specific topic, yes, I was focussed on a societal construct that was built and exists because we're hung up on skin color.

Honestly, I doubt very much that most of those Europeans would disagree with me on that much if they really got to know me - or understood better the situations I was talking about. As I mentioned somewhere before, I'm not a very American American. Actually, my passport is still stamped with British residency. There are a great many ways that I no longer connect with American culture either... They'd know that better if they'd hung out with me a while, and they'd know that I do set my sights on very wide horizons. We can't talk about everything at once, though. Hence my hope that we could talk about a few things at a time, and build from there.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Tia Nevitt said...

I found your rambling response very interesting and I discussed it with my husband last night. We were both bullied as children for one reason or another, so we both can empathize. However, since you were a black boy in a white school, you had the added burden of being different.

I have had several experiences in being different, but one stands out in particular. In 1999, my husband and I went to Bangalore, India. Bangalore is not a tourist destination, so young white women were a rarity. Everywhere I went, I was stared and pointed at. People would turn and watch me as I went by. Beggars followed me everywhere. A young woman actually wanted to take a picture of me . . . while holding her baby. My very sturdy driver doubled as a bodyguard, as did my husband. It was a unique experience that I will never forget. I never went out in public while in India without knowing that I would cause something of a scene.

In reading of your experiences, I was reminded of India. Not that you are different in the extreme that I was in India, but it appears that you go through life with the feeling that you are under extra scrutiny, especially when you are with your pale-skinned family. If this is true, then I think I can understand a little of what you mean.

BTW, what beautiful children you have!

6:25 PM  
Blogger Aram said...

Hi David,

(This is Altherion again.)

Altherion, I hope you don't mind my using your comments. It just feels like a great opportunity for me to demonstrate the type of dialog I'd like to have with people, a type I think is too rare.

No, I don't mind. That was an interesting read. I don't have much time today so just a few short comments.

Regarding your stories: some of them I can give you analogues for that are just as nasty but involve things other than race (children can be very mean...), but some of the others are truly awful (the one with the truck in particular).

I'm aware every time I go some place alone with my kids that some people seeing me with them may not immediately understand that I'm their father.

I understand this one pretty well: I know somebody from India who has a child with blond hair and Scandinavian-type white skin. People do think about it, but as far as I can tell, not for long (mostly anyway -- there was one that simply refused to believe they're related).

Altherion, I'm about as picky a reader as you can get. I have very high standards and I set a lot of books aside because they're not up to them. I'd never ask you to read a mediocre book out of some literary Affirmative Action. But encouraging you to read diversely isn't the same as asking you to read just anything by authors of color. For example, if you were interested in knowing a bit more about what it's like being black in America I could suggest a list of excellent novels.

This is fair enough. Please do tell me the list. I can't promise you that I will read them all, but once I get home, I'll try to make time for them.

9:09 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Tia, Thanks for that. And, yes, I do think my kids are lovely. I've been very lucky with them and I'm thankful for it every day.

Altherion (Aram),

Hello. Children are so often cruel, I agree. I know we all have our share of unpleasant experiences growing up. Mentioning the ones I did I just wanted to point out that in addition to all the standard kid stuff I also had the extra ones race piled on my plate.

Okay, that list… (Guess I asked to be called on it, didn’t I?) Actually, it was a bit tricky to come up with. There are many titles to choose from and many authors. I decided to narrow it specifically to African Americans authors writing about race in America. I wanted to give you a range of styles to choose from – some more accessible than others, but all with remarkable qualities in their own way. I also wanted to make sure they offered variety in terms of time period and subject matter. I’d never expect you to like all of these books, but, hey, if you’re up for checking them out and giving one or two a shot that would be great. Some of these are “classics”; others don’t have the title but are good reads as well.

Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin (First novel by a famous black literary novelist, about coming of age, identity, religion, race.)

The Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (The only novel by a sci-fi novelist here – a tale of a near future with a world in increasing chaos, brutal and grim, but also poignantly hopeful as well. If you haven't read her please do. I think she was terrific, and I'm disappointed I'll never get the chance to meet her.)

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison (Classic with a capitol C. His notion of invisibleness of African Americans became a central theme and metaphor regarding race in America.)

Angel of Harlem, by Kuwana Haulsey (A young, contemporary author. This is basically a biopic novel about the first black female physician in New York. That was a rather amazing accomplishment considering that the medical community didn’t think blacks – much less a female as well – were anatomically capable of higher thinking.)

Hunting in Harlem, by Mat Johnson (Another young author, decidedly urban, with a bit of the “thriller” to it.)

The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas, by Reginald McKnight (Interesting short stories with quite a bit of range.)

Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. (Toni can be tough to get into, but she's worth the effort. I think Beloved is one of the best novels written - ever. I mention this one, though, cause it's darn good to, and bit more accessible.)

Little Scarlet, by Walter Mosley (This is a crime novel and can be enjoyed as such. I also think it’s shot right through with insightful – and sometimes confrontational – thoughts on wearing dark skin in the US.)

I’d be being coy if I didn’t mention my own books, Gabriel’s Story and Walk Through Darkness. I’m very proud of them, and believe they’re accessible and plot-driven at the same time as they're meant to hit some deeper themes.

Okay, that's what I came up with in one sitting. Again, I'm not putting these titles above the many others out there to choose from. I'm just mentioning a few that are certainly worth your time. If you asked me to recommend my favorite diverse titles from world literature I'd get even more excited about coming up with a list. But don't do that. I'd surely spend the entire day on it, which wouldn't be a good thing. I'm supposed to be knuckled down writing a sequel, you see...

All the best,


7:40 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hi all,

I got a long and enjoyable email this morning from a gentleman that said tons of things. (He enjoyed ACACIA being one of them.) He also pointed out that some of the book suggestions I just gave Altherion made him cringe. He wrote:

"Reading your list of black authors you gave Altherion frankly gives me the heebie-jeebies-- just to take two examples, Ralph Ellison's _The Invisible Man_ would have been more comprehensible to me if it had been written in Sanskrit (I was convinced while reading it that he went out of his way to remove any sympathetic, or even merely human, qualities from his protagonist),
and Toni Morrison's _Beloved_ is on my personal list of "Novels I Would Rather Gouge Out My Eyeballs With A Spork And Feed To My Cats Than Re-Read"."

Okay, that makes me chuckle. Point taken. Remember though - I did say that I don't expect anyone to like all of these books, and I did say I wanted to make the list a combo of some classics and more recent texts, and I did say I'd be happy if Altherion just checked a few out and picked up one or two that seemed of interest. So, don't give in to the heebie-jeebies completely! I'm not tying anyone to a chair and force -feeding them. I'm just providing a list - and lists are always incomplete and imperfect.

Honestly, I'd be just as happy if you read Octavia Butler and Walter Mosley in place of the Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison. I think there's tons to be learned and gleaned from a book like BELOVED, but it's never, never going to be for everyone. And I wouldn't want readers to turn away from it AND from other black writers because the experience of reading it made you want to pluck your eyes out.

So please don't think of that list as a "Read All of These Books Because They're Good For - Whether You Like Them Or Not" sort of thing. It's more of a "Take a Look At These Books And Consider Giving One A Shot, Considering That Some Of Them Are Good For You And Difficult - While Some Of Them Are A Lot Fun/Engaging And Are No Threat To Your Eyeballs" list.

Personally, my reading choices come from both types of lists, but I don't for a moment think that has to apply to everyone else. Choices are good, though. That's all I was offering. A few choices. If all else fails, though, you could just read me... GABRIEL'S STORY and WALK THROUGH DARKNESS - Can't go wrong there!

1:00 PM  
Blogger Saladin said...

Re: colorbilndness.

We should also note that the writing that is often unreflexively regarded as 'neutral' or 'non-ethnic' SF/F does of course have specific cultural reference points. But the fact that they are often european or european american (or pseudo-european, or pseudo-european american) somehow makes these reference points 'invisible'.

Thus a fantasy world modeled on the english middle ages where all or most of the central protagonists are quasi-european is just called "fantasy", but a fantasy world like Charles Saunders' is (officially or unofficially) "Black fantasy" or "ethnic fantasy" or "multicultural fantasy". This can often mean such a book faces a number of extra or higher hurdles in marketing, display issues, shelving, press, readership preconceptions, etc.

Similarly, we accept [esp. on TV] images of the future where white people who act and think and talk like Americans are in the overwhleming majority as just being "science fiction", when really, for a lot of intents and purposes these are images of (demographically improbable) "white science fiction".

Which is not inherently a problem -- my life would suck a lot more if I had neevr been to Krynn or Lankhmar or Hoth or Gene-Luck-Pickard's office. But we need also to provide room and resources for all good writing. A fantasy epic set in a quasi-Zulu empire should not have more cards stacked against it one in quasi-europe.

12:09 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Well said and good points.


1:37 PM  
Blogger paranoyd said...

Hi, David. As always, an interesting and informative read.

I think a case could be made that many of those episodes you describe could just be attributed to the cruelty of children and the misguided attempts of misguided people trying desperately to do the right thing without precisely knowing what it was.

Except for the driver. I have no idea what that was about.

In my case, I was picked on pretty unmercifully in school. The kids threw my wrestling shoes in the toilet and peed in them. They put thumbtacks and broken slivers of glass on my desk seat and made me sit on them.

I was beaten up pretty much every day - by every race. One day, a black kid named Calvin James beat me up while his friends riffled though my bag and ripped my paperback edition of Fellowship of the Rings in half. On another occasion, I was getting on the bus and was tripped. My bag hit a large Hispanic kid, who then beat the hell out of me. We had him sent to Juvie for assault, and his friends beat me up again.

My wife was driving a couple of years ago when someone pulled up next to her and threw coffee on her car at a red light. I only found out today (because we were talking about it) that the woman was black (my wife didn't feel it was in any way relevant except in the case of discussing the driver you encountered).

I guess my point is, many times we grow up with a certain view of the world because of what we went through when we were younger. Our perceptions are formed by situations which we may not even understand at the time.

I had a ton of enmity towards the kids in high school, and I still hate jocks and cheerleaders. I used to flinch when someone other than a geek uses the word geek. I used to hide my scifi fandom, and my rpgs and my Weird "Al" CDs. But I've moved past that, even though it took a lot of effort.

I understand race isn't the same thing as being a geek, but I was beat up every day for two years for it anyway. And I had only a couple of friends, because they got beat up for being around me. I have not grown out of being a geek, happily, and now I realize that it wasn't that I was a geek, it's that I wasn't them, and therefore threatening in some way.

Someday, I'll tell you what I went through being bisexual. Some of that stuff still hurts.

I am really starting to understand your viewpoint about race, mainly because I feel it's relatable to everyone about something. I think if more people were able to put that into those terms, we would be much closer to the color-rich and enjoyably diversified society I would love to be a part of.

I also think the other problem we should be addressing, instead of just making people more race-aware and removing biases (or lessening them, there will always be some biases), is helping people like yourself, and myself, in letting go of those thought that immediately blame themselves for others faults. There is really no reason you should have to think "Is this because I'm black?", or for me to think "Is this because I'm wearing a comic-book t-shirt?", or for my wife to think "Is this because of my 'Republicans for Voldemort bumpersticker'?"

No, the first thought out of our minds should be "Is this other person stable? Is this other person having a bad day? Maybe I should remove myself, since this other person is making a scene." Because it really isn't your fault when someone else is wrong.

6:00 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Sorry about the experiences you had growing up. Sounds miserable, but it also sounds like you've emerged from it with insights that you might not have had if you were at the edge of it. Most folks are at the edge, aren't they? Not exactly the bullies; not exactly the bullied. And then they forget... Maybe the bullies forget, too... The bullied, however, don't.

I very much like it that you say you can grasp some of my perspective on race because of ways you see it as relating to other experiences. I'm down with that. I also think there are ways that race is different than many other things that makes one stand out, BUT I agree that if we can connect on shared understanding of similar experiences we can build toward a respect of the ways those experiences are also different.

Makes sense to me.

As for the part about not owning this stuff - the fact that I shouldn't have to wonder "Is this happening cause I'm black?"... Agreed. It would be nice not to go around seeing the world in those terms and wondering if the world is seeing me in those terms. I'd add, though, that when that question comes up it partially defensive behavior. I mean, if this guy is giving me the finger because I'm black I want to figure that out right quick - as it will effect how I respond to it. In a way it's about being smart and watching out for yourself.

But it works damage in many small ways too. So...

So I'm gonna go watch a dvd with my kids. And then tomorrow get up and go about life again. Pretty basic stuff, isn't it? If we're lucky we all do it...

10:59 PM  

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