Diversity: Race


At Racebending.com, the article, “Frustration of an Asian American Whedonite,” expressed in vivid detail one of my biggest qualms with the Firefly universe – a show I dearly love.  Here is the fusion of Asian and American culture in the future, but there is no actual representation of Asian people outside of a few scarce faces in the crowd.

Even xkcd, the awesome stick figure comic that covers everything from culture, math, language, to romance, pointed this out: xkcd: The Uncomfortable Truths Well

So it’s been noticed by people of many different races, which brings us to some very pertinent and needed questions brought up in the article:

Shouldn’t it be a priority, if you’re trying to tell a believable story about a Sino-American future, to include Asian characters?

Isn’t it marginalizing to fantasize about a “mixed Asian” world completely absent of Asian people, especially when you live and work in a city that’s almost 1/8th Asian?

If you were to write a scifi show about a merged African and North American empire, do you think it would be acceptable to avoid giving a single spoken line to a black actor?

This question in particular struck me as the one most likely to hit home for Joss Wheldon and others like him:

Would you ever tell a story that purported to have major elements of American gay culture, without having a single gay  character in-frame for more than 3 seconds? What about a show that claimed some feminist themes, but cast only men, with women barely seen and never heard?

These are excellent questions that need to be asked. Joss Wheldon is one of my favorite directors and producers of television and movie storylines. He does a great job in fighting for equality; however, he is a bit blind when it comes to race.  All of our heroes have blindspots and weaknesses, and asking them to consider their blindspots are opportunities for growth.  It’s also an opportunity to seriously consider how one creates a story, builds a world, and what are the implications inherent within building that world.

As the article itself says:

The issue isn’t Joss Whedon. It’s the blinders. All the blindspots that make it tough to understand problems that you’ve never or rarely ever had to personally deal with. The blindspots that make it tough to understand why, sometimes, race should influence casting decisions. That sometimes it should be a mission statement – or, at the very least, a priority.

These blindspots is something everyone has, but in order to grow, we need to acknowledge them and confront them.  If we truly wish to create a more inclusive future, then we have to seriously examine our own blind spots.

When you create a world, there will be diversity. It does exist. Examine our own world, particularly American – which is my home country and the one I know the most about: Demographics of the United States, Census 2010 Report on Race in America.

So let us crunch some numbers specifically for Asian Americans: Census 2010 Data states the total population of the United States to be: 308,745,538.  Asians are listed as 4.8% of the population. Some may claim this isn’t a lot, but the 4.8% is misleading for if you crunch the numbers here and see how many people are represented in that percentage, you end up with: 14,819,786.  That is over fourteen million people that are being erased. That is a heck of a lot of people, and this number is increasing every year.  In 2000, only 3.6% of the population was Asian, meaning 10,242,998 people in total. That is a 43.6% increase over ten years, and this data shows this is expected to increase even more. That’s a heck of a lot of people.  I’m only examining Asians here.  Blacks represent 12.6% of the population, an even larger number, and Hispanics 16.3%.  This is only three races, for there’s also the Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and biracial people.

Out of curiousity, let’s count up the population statistics for all non-white races: In 2000, 69,961,280 people were non-white. For 2010, 85,192,273 are non-white. All this data is from the 2010 Census report I cited above in a link, and it shows that there has been an increase in diversity over the past ten years, and this is expected to increase.

Diversity is increasing in our world, not decreasing, so creating a futuristic world where diversity is nearly non-existent not only erases whole swathes of people, it leaves huge gaping holes within that universe.  I’ll use Firefly as an example. What happened to the diversity?  With it’s increasing trend, it seems highly unlikely that the other races vanished or diminished out of nowhere. Even a genocide wouldn’t go down without a huge fight, but there is no evidence of a huge genocide to wipe out the majority non-white races within the history of the presented universe in Firefly.  Speculation on this matter is a moot point, for when it comes to already created universes, it is best to examine what has been presented to us as the history, the details of this world, and the people within it.  The Firefly universe gives no explanation to the lack of diversity, and instead, claims to be a mix of two very different cultures – one Chinese oriented and the other American oriented, but if this is to be true, then where is the Asians? Why are they not prominent everywhere and why do they not have major roles within the story and in various places of power? Quite simply, this seems to be a major a blind spot; the creator simply didn’t consider it, and thus the universe, which had great potential for examining diversity within the fusion of two fairly different culture, doesn’t live up to its own ideas, nor is it willing to even prod the possibility of what a world would be like with our currently increasing trend in diversity.  This is a bit of a failure, and it’ll always be a very disappointing and sad mark on one of my most beloved television series.

It’s these blind spots that we have to seriously examine if we wish to create not only a fully realized and three dimensional world, but also realistic three dimensional characters.  The repercussions of writing worlds and stories that contain little representation of other races is fairly significant in our culture, for it is a form of white-washing.  As the above analysis on the Census data shows, over eighty-five million people have little to no representation in our media and literature, and thus, they have little to no characters with which they can relate.

To help define a few of my points, here is some information on white-washing: “CNN Explores White-washing,” “White-washing Race.

As quoted within the CNN article on white-washing:

“Certainly changes will be made to the story in adaptations, such as setting a story in the United States instead of Japan,” Racebending.com states. “What disappoints us is that when these adaptations are reset to America, they do not reflect the diversity of  the United States. Many people are of Asian descent but are also ‘totally American.’”

Indeed, considering over eighty-five million people in American are ‘totally American’ and non-white, and over fourteen million of those non-white people are of Asian descent.

This idea of “color-blindness” when dealing with race is a form of very subtle racism, and often results in these blind spots, where non-white races end up nearly invisible, often in their own adapted stories.  This erases entire swathes of people, which is a form of oppression.  It allows certain people in our society to just never examine their blind spots, to never examine ways to make their works more inclusive and more representative of the beautiful diversity that is our world.

It is a challenge for us writers to examine our blind spots and find ways to improve our writing, our stories, and our view of this world.  But it is a challenge we all must face if we truly wish to dig deep and explore within our stories not only ourselves but our world, our dreams, and our future.

Categories: Characters, World Building, WritingTags: , , , , ,

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