Science Fiction’s Race Problem

March 28, 2014 | 1 book mentioned 1

How can science fiction writers invent aliens and entire planets but not include multifaceted characters of color in their fiction? At The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky discusses the genre’s equality problem and analyzes how race is viewed in everything from The Left Hand of Darkness to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. “When that future unthinkingly reproduces current inequities, it seems like both a missed opportunity and a failure of imagination.”

is an associate editor for The Millions and an editor in Atlanta. She tweets at @temalone.

One comment:

  1. I read Left Hand of Darkness not too long ago. I don’t remember ANYTHING about skin color, one way or the other. In fact, it’s more common to NOT mention such a detail, especially in first person narrations. Hmm, let’s see, what do I remember being mentioned about color in stories I’ve read? In Space Cops, there was a kid who was black–not by inheritance, but as if he was spray-painted, even on the inside of his mouth. A fan-fic work crossing Evangelion with Cthlulu Tech had four races: pure Terran, pure Nazzadi (black with red eyes), amlati (Terran/Nazzadi cross resulting in an “averaged” color), and sidoci (Terran/Nazzadi cross resulting in white-pigmented skin). I think there’s a lot of stories where skin color was mentioned incidentally, but I don’t remember it because it wasn’t all that important to the story. And when you’re playing with futuristic worlds and sub-species of human, (like the Neitcheansin Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, which come on a rainbow of colors but are defined by their bone blades, immunity to chlorine gas, and ability to survive off foods and in environments that other varieties of humans can’t) skin color often just isn’t worth mentioning. If there’s a sense of a particular contemporary race as having “taken over” the species, well, authors tend to write what they know, and they’re going to look at a futuristic humanity through the lens of their own race. And how many SF authors are skin-color minorities? In fact, outside of specifically “colored” genres, what percentage of any authors are?

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