Friday, February 8, 2013

What Makes a Black Person Black?

What makes a black person black?

Will I lose my blackness if I'm separated from my past? If Superman came to Earth and had dark skin and features that appeared to be of African descent, would he be considered black? Is being black about having lived through a certain history, inherited a certain legacy?

What brought these existential questions to mind? The speculative fiction genre, specifically science fiction and fantasy. In an earlier post, I lamented the fact that the fantasy genre, as written by black authors, is predictable and limited in scope. We have this chance to finally be free, truly free, and we don't take it. Why not? We can rewrite history, but we only wallow in what's already past.

Fantasy promises worlds of amazing adventure and culture, but the black fantasy stories I read are tied down to an African/African American past of struggle and prejudice--specifically slavery. I'm not suggesting that I would like to see black protagonists transplanted into worlds that are clearly white (I'm not interested in African knights or black [ethnicity] elves in European settings). No, I want to see something that is undeniably rooted in black experiences, traditions, and imagination.

However, does that mean that I will only get stories about gangs, drug dealers, and poverty-stricken people? Is that all we're about? Is it impossible to imagine, for instance, a world where blacks are in power without it being a case in which blacks are enslaving white people or some such switch story? I don't want to be white; I want to be me.

How about our futures? Surely, there will come a time when blacks as a group are not oppressed, or at least have risen above it. What will be black folks' contributions to advancements in the science fields? I have no idea. Yet it's got to be more than voodoo robots (I made that up, but I wouldn't be surprised if I saw it). Science fiction promises us a victory over the universe. Don't we have a place there as pioneers, leaders, and innovators?

On the subject of alien races as stand-ins for minorities: Don't like it. I don't see the point. Why can't Chinese, or Venezuelan  or blacks, or whatever minority be used? Why have these kinds of stories and then have one character of Nigerian descent, for example, be there. We can't even participate in plots that presumably are about us.

Or, how about a future where racism has been overcome; every culture mingles freely; and skin color is no issue? Well, those stories seem like dystopian plots to me because there is now one culture, and it is white. It's usually not a true melting pot with a mish-mash of culture, and those that are exclude the characters that are the source of that culture. They'll be people wearing kimonos, but no Japanese people--crap like that.

Can I write a story about a black queen (who isn't Egyptian or 'African') set in a fantasy world based in alternate past of America? What if that past didn't include the enslavement of blacks? What if in this world blacks settled America in their own colonies, built adobe-structured kingdoms alongside Native Americans? Is that possible; is she still black? If I write this story, will it be accepted? Well, I am any way.

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