Representation and Race Futurism

I had an item on my list of blog posts to write for a couple of years to write something reflecting on "RaceFail," and finally a gave up, because I didn't want to write a book, I didn't know what to say, and I was more interested in the actual discourse itself than finding the "side of right," in a conversation that was both way too simple and way too complex all at once.

So rather than reboot the conversation, which has ended in some senses and continues on in others, I want to start writing a bit here about race and representation in fiction, but also discussing the way that conversations transpire online. Here's part one. I'll figure out some way to index them all together once they're posted and assembled.

I wrote this scene a while back where a character who grew up on a small [1] outpost visits a space ship. Given relativistic space travel, from the character's perspective, the crew of the space ship are 750 years old or so, despite being in their subjective early forties. That means the character's 31st-great-grandparents (roughly) were cousins of the people he's looking at.

He notices a few things: the people on the ship are all taller than he is and also taller than everyone from the outpost. He also notices that there's more more skin tone variation amongst the people on the ship than there is among the people in the outpost.

There are a bunches of problems with this story. Including the fact that its not finished and that there are parts of the execution that I think need a lot work. But this part, I quite like. For this story (and I think in general,) I've drawn the following conclusion:

  • Race is temporally constrained. We understand racial difference and our own racial experiences in terms of our current reality. This changes.
  • The aspects of race which are the result of lineage (skin color, bone structure,) are likely to change over time as lineages continue. We can assume that these kinds of changes will be pronounced in smaller populations over longer periods of time.

To a large extent the tension between the "outpost people" and the "ship people" is the core of the conflict in this story. I've been thinking in this story about the impact of colonialism (and race as a result) on societies and political outlook. It's almost certainly not perfect, but I enjoy the possibilities, the story has its moments, and I'm finding the theory building productive.

I'm circling around a point: in-story diversity, particularly, diversity that reflects late 20th/early 21st century notions of difference alone cannot further thought race and racism. In other words, diversity is not criticism. There are many ways to productively further the discussion of difference in (genre) fiction, lets not stop with representation.

I'll be writing more about this in the future. Comments are very welcome!

[1]Under a billion people.
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