Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations – Gender, Race and Difference in SF

2 Feb

I am a white straight male of past middle age and above middle income. That has been and remains a position of privilege, not just in Canada but around the world.

I didn’t earn this privilege; it is almost entirely an accident of history. I didn’t choose my race, gender or sexual orientation; my age is nothing but the inevitable passing of time. My income (which is hardly the stuff of legend) may be, in part, a consequence of my choices but results as much from luck as anything else — a chance combination of genes that made me both intelligent and healthy and the so-far fortunate avoidance of personal accident or natural disaster. Any bad thing in my life has happened to occur at a time when they would do me the least harm; most good ones when I was best able to take advantage of them.

I am well aware that not everyone’s life has run as smooth. For some, they had bad luck or they made bad choices but, for many, their lives are less than they could be because of the systematic barriers they face because of race, gender or disability. These barriers are not accidents of history. They have been constructed over time, put in place by people who look like me (or, by people who look quite different in other societies or other times) so they and theirs can keep what they have and those ‘others’ can keep in their place. Money, power, status, privilege — these are all mine and you can have none of it.

The times are a’changing of course — slowly but inexorably. The ‘infallible laws of history’ ensure, if they ensure nothing else, that change is inevitable, even if progress is always hard won and never certain. Western society (the only one I can really speak to) has been in a revolutionary mode since the Enlightenment. It began when questions arose about the certainty of the status quo — of God in his Heaven and Kings on their Thrones — and barrelled forward with closely-bunched revolutions in America, France, Mexico, Haiti. These were transformative events based on transformative ideas. That all men (and inevitably, persons) were created equal. That Liberty, Brotherhood and Equality were the highest moral values. That a people had a right to self-determination. That one man could not own another.

Some people today view the fight for equal rights for women and gays, the ending of racial discrimination, the fight against income inequality as a betrayal. They would, I guess, take us back to the sixteenth century before the great flame of freedom was lit, when everyone stayed in their place and the privileged only feared each other. I, for one, ain’t going back. The expansion of personhood — and that ultimately is what discrimination entails, the denial of personhood to the other — is human progress and it continues to progress through time. There are set-backs and rear-guard actions by the entrenched and lithified structures of law, church and economy, but the world is a better place ‘in struggle’ then it ever was when ‘people knew their place.’

When I was young, I thought the world of science fiction was better than the real world. It was not only optimistic about the future in technical and scientific terms but in social and political ones. This was the sixties and seventies, after all. Star Trek presented people of different races and ethnicities working together, if not exactly as equals, certainly more equally than anything else in popular culture. Writers like Leguin, Delaney, and Farmer to mention a few were presenting alternative visions (and let’s not forget, Dangerous Visions) of the world. It was hardly earth-shaking, but it was a start. So right from the beginning of my own personal journey through speculative fiction, I never thought it was the bastion of straight white males.

Apparently, according to some — increasingly marginalized — people in the field I was wrong. Could it be true the Women are Destroying Science Fiction? Or that people of colour (POCs) are intruding where they don’t belong and subverting the moral structure (read ‘supremacy’) of real (read ‘white’) science fiction? 

What utter and complete nonsense! In fact, when I sat down to write this blog, I thought for a minute: why am I even bothering to refute such patent and pointless drivel. Some of it is undeniably, if unintentionally and illogically, hilarious but you can look for it yourself. Surely, it will all blow over. Surely, as more and more readers realize that more and more diverse voices make science fiction better, these last bastions of white male privilege will crumble away. Isn’t it obvious to everyone that a genre that embraces the future, that seeks out the alien, that explores the limits of human possibility must also embrace a multitude of gender perspectives, cultural understandings and personal narratives? Including, of course, the white straight male middle aged middle class narrative as one among many — and may the best narrative win.

Well, while it seems obvious to me, it still bears saying over and over again. Revolutions never end. Reactionaries never quite go away.

I’m no Rosa Parks but I’d be happy to give her my seat on the bus.

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One Response to “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations – Gender, Race and Difference in SF”

  1. S.M. Carrière February 2, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

    I heart this post. A lot. (Also, ‘I heart this post’ is now a real sentence. Because internet.)
    Alright, done with the silliness.
    In all seriousness though, I could not agree more.

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