With the Passing of Time

Celebrating all the colors in the world

Posted on: May 18, 2009

If it managed to slip past you, there’s a new round of RaceFail that in some ways makes me more sad than the first. There’s a good summary here with links to some of the discussion and problematic comments.

Super quick rundown: Patricia Wrede wrote a story where the solution she very cheerily chose for dealing with the “problem” of Native Americans was simply to eliminate them. People voice their concerns at this premise in a discussion thread of a review of the book during which Lois Bujold, another author and a friend of Patricia Wrede, says some very glib and la de da remarks, and then continues her flippancy by implying that there were hardly any fen of color until the internet because she went to a lot of conventions and they weren’t there.

Even more disturbing to me is someone found a discussion thread from 2006 where Patricia Wrede is talking about writing this book and some of the remarks she makes about her decision to erase Native Americans are just so upsetting, including her thoughts that she might need to include more African slaves because “there won’t be any Native Americans to have already done a certain amount of prepping land for human occupation, nor to be exploited later.” Is she saying that Native Americans aren’t human? It sure sounds that way to me.

Today is a day of protest and celebration to let people know that we are here, we’re not invisible, and try as they might they can’t ignore us. We were asked to post our own speculative fiction or artwork, write a post about our favorite fandom or character. But I’m going to break from that a bit. The rest of this post is me trying to express something I’ve been struggling to put into words for a while.

On Being “Color Blind”

I do understand what people mean when they say they “don’t see color.” I do get what they’re trying to tell me, and part of me appreciates the sentiment. But a bigger part of me doesn’t like it at all. Why? Because to “not see color,” to say you’re “color blind,” seems to white wash the world. I want you to see the beautiful tapestry this world is made of, to see how we are all unique, to recognize and honor different ethnicities and cultures. I want you to see the African-American in my gorgeous niece. I want you see the rich brown of my skin.

Because my fear is when you don’t, it is far too easy for you to negate or forget the history that comes from having this brown skin.

Noticing race and ethnicity isn’t the same as jumping to offensive conclusions about someone; it’s not racial profiling. It’s celebrating our diversity, it’s recognizing that there is beauty everywhere, in every shade. Here’s the difference. A woman looks out her window and sees a young black girl walking past with a backpack over her shoulder and a flute in her hand. If she says “Oh, look, there’s a black girl walking down the street,” she’s just making note of her, for whatever reason. If she calls the police to report that a black girl is walking down the street, that is racist behavior. And if said police actually come and question the girl, then decide while they don’t have any valid excuse to actually make her stop walking down the street they’ll trail behind her until she gets home, that’s not only racist but police harassment (and a whole lot of other things I can only express with foul language).

My other worry when people say they “don’t see color” is it makes it easy for them to dismiss or not even see Hollywood’s continued propensity to cast Caucasian actors in leading roles, even when those parts clearly call for someone of a different race or ethnicity. On the one hand, television and movies are not really important in the grand scheme of things. But like it or not, it does have an impact and can influence how children see themselves and the world around them.

So what message are we sending when Jake Gyllenhaal is the Prince of Persia? I mean, he seems like a great guy but can you honestly look at him and say, oh yes, he looks Persian. And here’s where the “color blind” problem comes in, because people often say “It’s about who’s right for the part; someone’s ethnicity shouldn’t matter.” And that sounds all nice and PC except would they be equally dismissive and casual if S. Epatha Merkerson were cast as the Queen of England? I’m not saying she wouldn’t do a fabulous job but it would also be more than a little unrealistic. Just as unrealistic as Jake Gyllenhaal playing the lead in the Prince of Persia. Do we really think there aren’t any extremely talented actors who could have had that part who may actually be Persian (or at least look more like they could be Persian)? Come on, they get cast as terrorists all the time. They’re out there.

But what bothers me even more are the excuses being made around the all-Caucasian casting of the Last Airbender, a show that’s steeped in Asian and Inuit culture. (And yes, before someone says it, they recast Dev Patel as one of the leads, but is anyone surprised that it’s for the villain? So we’ll have yet another movie where all the goodies are white and all the baddies are dark; I wouldn’t exactly call that an improvement.) It bothers me more because this was an extremely popular program, with children of all colors watching the protagonists and clearly not caring that the heroes weren’t white. But let Hollywood get its hands on it and suddenly the world is washed of all color, except for people in the background and those power-hungry bad guys.

What do you think this says to Asian children? To any child of color? Gene Luen Yang says it best: “they tell Asian-Americans that who we are and how we look make us inherently inadequate for American audiences, even in a movie that celebrates our culture.”

This isn’t anything new. There’s a fabulous post where vejiicakes shows with pictures and one video the history of yellowface. We can’t do anything about what happened in previous decades. But we sure as hell should do something about it happening now.

So, while I understand the point you’re trying to make when you say you “don’t see color” I’m asking you to rethink that position. Open your eyes and see all the colors, respect them, recognize when they’re being erased or demonized. And most of all, celebrate them.

And although it’s not exactly on point, it’s still a point worth hearing. Jay Smooth on Asher Roth and the Racial Crossroads


© 2009 With the Passing of Time


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Willingness to join soil, sound, hands; memory follows me ~ Viggo Mortensen
May 2009
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Daily words come from Merriam-Webster's word of the day. All rambling comes from my head.


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