Jemisin on the need for blatant racism in SFF

1

NK Jemisin has written a brief Twitter thread on why SFF should have blatant racism and bigotry in its stories. It's an interesting read, and something to consider.

Comments

  • 1

    Here’s the unrolled thread, but it doesn’t get any of the interaction between Jemisin and Twitter commenters. https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1105950917537513472.html

  • 1

    So, to prompt some discussion. Should unveiled, blatant racism be present in our games? Are these topics we should include in the games at our tables? Should they be in games we offer for public play, such as at cons? Should real-world racism be present and addressed in published games and settings?

  • 2
    I agree that these things should be in the toolbox for both fiction and roleplay, since both are great vehicles for exploring the issues of the world. However, when it comes to gaming, I think you need to know who you’re playing with, and these days introducing anything like this in a con game seems like asking for trouble for any of a variety of reasons.
  • 1

    I have never been to a con, so I won’t weigh in on that. I do play in several pbf games at the moment, and I’m running one. I’ve also run games at my home with friends.

    My friends and I have had conversations about the racism behind D&D racial tropes, and we attempted to mitigate that in our own play. But the closest I’ve been to directly addressing racism is in the Lasers and Feelings game I’m currently running pbf, in which a couple of players now have made IC comments about two different alien species who are bigoted toward other species. That’s still the allegorical method Jemisin decries. I wonder what would happen if I introduced direct human-to-human racism in this game, a fast-and-loose knock-off of Star Trek, which has supposedly progressed beyond racism.

  • 0

    I guess in a novel I'm not all that fond of blatant anything - I prefer writing to be allusive rather than obvious (unless it's transparently space-opera type writing which is clearly not intended to be a serious reflection of any real world). So blatant racism doesn't really interest me any more than blatant sexism, or class prejudice, or whatever.

    Racism is clearly Jemisin's thing (and probably rightly so) but it is only one form of prejudice, and there is IMHO a risk in focusing too much on any one issue if that then implies a neglect of others.,

    In a loosely-related topic, I read a fascinating comment by a female chess player on the recent Netflix series Queen's Gambit, which has been hugely popular and perhaps many of us have watched. She said that although the series did indeed capture quite accurately the obsession that tends to consume really good chess players, and although it pleased her enormously to see an on-screen portrayal of chess which tends to be a marginal geek-sport, her experience in approximately the same time-frame is that she regularly faced far more overt and unashamed misogyny and sexism than the fictional player in QG did. Now, presumably the writers of QG could have found this out, but reckoned that it would be more effective as a story to have misogyny and sexual stereotyping as one element among several, rather than the dominant one which seems historically to have been the case. I suspect it would have been much harder for a 2020 audience to engage with and empathise with characters if they were all routinely hostile in a sex-based manner. (Equally, some may well argue that by diminishing the level of antagonism then that particular facet of the past was being partially whitewashed to accommodate modern sensibilities).

  • 1
    When writing fiction, I suppose the needs of the story should come first. If the social issues being addressed become too blatant, one wonders why not just write an essay instead. But I see this as a question of deftness of hand, rather than one of whether these things should exist in the medium at all. Many in the gaming community will argue that these kinds of isms have no place in gaming, period.
  • 1

    My main difficulty of including prejudice in games is my lack of experience with it. I've not been on the receiving end of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. so I'm wary of my ability to include those issues in a game. The one time I was in a game of Bluebeard's Bride, (run by a woman and abuse survivor), both the events in the game and the discussions afterwards were eye-opening for me about how pervasive and vicious is the prejudice that others suffer.

    I don't think Jemisin's saying that racism (and other prejudices) have to be included in every artwork. There's a place for escapism and a space where people can forget the injustices of the real world. But I'm sensitive to her point that the use of metaphors for racism allows white people to feel all pious about being woke, without actually addressing the real problems that affect real people. It's perhaps the fiction equivalent of Twitter activism: the appearance of something being done, without actually doing any work.

  • 0
    Following on from my earlier comments about prejudice of various kinds in SFF, it occurred to me that a very common theme of earlier writers was class-based prejudice. Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton and a host of others often have characters, major or minor, who are blocked from some normal activity because of birth place, class, parentage etc. Equally there are characters of the Lord So-and-so type who are of the elite but able to transcend the class barriers of their time and befriend/empower the underlings.

    More recently we have had female protagonists tackling a male-dominated agenda - noteworthy in this regard that Norton, though a woman, almost never had major female characters.

    Now we are discussing racism.

    So maybe different kinds of prejudice come to the surface at different times - I'm not saying that it's a fashion thing, rather that particular kinds of prejudice are prominent in the collective imagination at different times. For example, Asimov seems to have taken for granted that prejudice based on skin colour would disappear in the future, whereas class-based prejudice would not. Maybe a more contemporary author would make the opposite call?
  • 2

    Is it that different prejudices are "fashionable", or is it that they're becoming noticed by the privileged people who write SF? It could be that Asimov didn't think about racism because he never came across people who were the victims of it. There's been progress in the past 60 years and now non-white people are able to talk about their experiences.

  • 1

    If you're working on a story or game set 500 years in the future in a world light years from earth, how much sense would it make to base any racism on races and race relations that are current now? So you are back in the metaphor game, or you ignore it.

  • 1

    Talking Asimov, Pebble in the Sky was absolutely about racism. Though done via analogy (not skin colour but prejudice towards people from Earth). I think that racism via analogy take is a classic SF thing. So I’m Star Trek, there seems to be no prejudices based on human skin tones but plenty of species prejudice.

    I think NK Jamison is arguing for a more on the nose take, but on the other hand, even the Broken Earth is racial terror and enslavement via analogy.

  • 0
    > @dr_mitch said:
    > I think NK Jamison is arguing for a more on the nose take, but on the other hand, even the Broken Earth is racial terror and enslavement via analogy.

    Indeed - skin colour or personal appearance in Broken Earth gives clues about geographic origin but does not seem to give rise per se to prejudice... it's the ability or not to detect and manipulate orogeny that does. Which surely is analogy?
  • 0
    Re Stsr Trek, wasn't there an original series episode where the people they met on some planet were all half white and half black, but it made a crucial difference which colour was on the left or right? Confused the Enterprise crew no end. I don't recall the episode name
  • 1
    edited January 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Re Stsr Trek, wasn't there an original series episode where the people they met on some planet were all half white and half black, but it made a crucial difference which colour was on the left or right? Confused the Enterprise crew no end. I don't recall the episode name

    Ugh! An episode which was so heavy-handed it was cringe-worthy at the time - I saw it at the time and cringed throughout - and has only gotten more ick since. "I'm a gonna hammer this message in, whether you want it or not!" Makes Jemesin seem delicate and hesitant regarding racial predjudice.

  • 1

    Now there's a TOS episode I never saw - didn't think that was possible.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    Now there's a TOS episode I never saw - didn't think that was possible.

    It might be your mind forgetting something traumatic, as often happens. You might remember it under hypnosis... ;)

  • 0
    Just looked it up... "Let that be your last battlefield" - cringeworthy I agree, even through a (British) young person's eyes, though I did wonder if Americans found it more subtle than I did. But it surely counts as "blatant racism and bigotry" being explorec in science fiction?
  • 1
    edited January 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Just looked it up... "Let that be your last battlefield" - cringeworthy I agree, even through a (British) young person's eyes, though I did wonder if Americans found it more subtle than I did. But it surely counts as "blatant racism and bigotry" being explorec in science fiction?

    Oh, indeed! Extremely blatant, Richard!

Sign In or Register to comment.