This post is a follow up to my earlier post on diversity and representation. In short, while I think it's great that we're beginning to talk and write about race and representation in our fiction and field, I think we1 need to expand our analysis of whiteness.
I'm still working on figuring out what this means, and I'm sorry that I haven't developed my thinking sufficiently to be more clear on this. In light of that here are a collection of my thoughts on representation:
Whiteness is multiple and I think it's possible (and important) to depict whiteness and white characters critically and without recapitulating normalization. At the same time, it's important to avoid falling victim to a lot of the normalization to which uncritical representations of racial diversity often fall pray.
The theory around race and representation must deal with issues around assimilation. More diversity is useful, but to move forward on issues of representation, the field needs to better understand the process of assimilation. I want to see stories that help us unpack assimilation.
Whiteness is complex and a major problem with stories that "don't do race well," is not just that the characters aren't explicitly of color, but that whiteness isn't portrayed very well. This is part of the struggle of privilege, but not only does science fiction need to be better about diversity and representation of non-white characters, but we the thinking on whiteness needs to continue to evolve apace.
Discussions about diversity and representation in fiction often lead the under-informed to ask "So what, do you want to impose some sort of quota system? Does that mean diversity is more important than quality?"
The answer is almost always no.
I'd also like to point out that this is one of those cases where whiteness and systematic bias conspire to define "quality," in unuseful ways. But this is another argument for another time.
The canonical answer is: there's a great deal of amazing work written by people of color and a lot of great fiction that incorporates and addresses the experiences of people of color. This is great, and if we've learned anything in the last couple of years, it's that if you look for this work it's there. The real challenge revolves around cultivating that work so that there's more of it, and promoting2 that work so that there's a large audience.