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Is It Better to Be Erased Or Stereotyped by White Authors? [Oh, It’s Tuesday]

FaN blogger Ryan Dixon sent me a link to this Psychology Today article, which was really a response to this blogger’s questioning of the way black people are depicted in speculative fiction. Basically the original argument comes down to so-in-so does such a bad job of writing black folks, I sometimes wish so-in-so just wouldn’t bother to depict us at all.

As a long time sci-fi/fantasy fan, I find this problem hugely frustrating in all areas of fiction. I tend to lean toward representation — especially when it comes to movies and TV shows. Like another FaN blogger, Monique King-Viehland, I certainly didn’t appreciate the odd, jive depiction of the “black” transformers, Skids and Mudflap in Transformers 2. But my head nearly exploded when I didn’t see any black people in the trailer for COWBOYS & ALIENS (even though 1 out of every 4 cowboys was black). And in the planned incarnation of my third novel, there’s a big discussion about the fact that there are no blacks in THE KING’S SPEECH, when in fact, there was a huge migration of African blacks moving to England to work in its factories during the early twentieth century, and more than a million Africans fought for the Allied Forces during WWII.

A million plus Africans fought w/ the Allied forces in WWII.

It feels like white-helmed fiction often erases blacks and other people of color from its annals, to the point that I doubt even black people recognize that we lived in England pretty much from the 15th century on, that our contributions to WWII went beyond the Tuskegee Airmen, and that the African diaspora extends to just about everywhere these days, including Japan and many other countries, where you wouldn’t necessarily think of blacks actually living.

So at the end of the day, I’d rather have black people be depicted by white authors, even if it’s poorly, than not be depicted at all. But really, I’d rather have more white authors, movie makers, and other kinds of story makers extend some brain cells toward crafting three-dimensional characters of all color, rather than keeping black characters in 2-D, while their white counterpoints get the full 3-D work-up. That’s just decent writing and casting, and I would argue, white Hollywood and white authors– especially the folks behind historical pieces — aren’t doing a very good job at either.

But of course, this goes both ways. I’ve seen some rather two-dimensional depictions of white people in both black movies and black books. If we want white authors and moviemakers to come better with their depictions of us, perhaps we’d do best to lead by example. At the end of the day, we’ve all have got to do better.