Seriously though, how many women of color have you read about in science fiction?
Black, Indian, Native American, Asian….where are the women in science fiction? And where are the Black and Brown faces? They are so sparse that I dance a little, internally, whenever I come across one.
Lately, I have been doing a bit of research into why I didn’t come across women of color in speculative fiction and decided to narrow the scope to science fiction in particular. Why the research? I began to think that, quite possibly, I just was not reading the right books and that maybe there would be more if I looked harder. But that was not the case.
Historically, science fiction came about in the late nineteenth century, when racism and prejudice were still considered popular and proper. There is also the fact that pen and paper were not all that affordable and women were not allowed a lot of freedoms. All that means that women of color themselves could not write stories and a small part of me doubts that science fiction would be their genre of choice. Why write fiction when their lives were compelling enough? So, I could understand women of color not writing the stories that catalyzed the genre. And upon further rumination, it made sense that they were not in early works. Why? Because early science fiction was quite often related, in some manner, to the author’s interests and experience. Obviously, the inventions were new and plots were groundbreaking but the premise was still based in the understandable and the real. How many of those people, those who could afford pen, paper and the time to write, would come across a person of color on their afternoon stroll? How many would be interested enough to sit back and write a story using them as a protagonist? Not many.
I am not upset about that because many times, when someone tries to write from another perspective they get it wrong. And considering the early writers of science fiction most likely had no close contact with people of color, never sat with them and spoke as equals, it would mean that their characterizations would be rubbish——full of stereotypes and generalizations. Therefore, logically, it made sense to me. What I am upset about is not the lack of color from the progenitors of the genre, it is more about the lack of color in recent years. To be more frank, in the years after 1990.
When you looked at the above image, what character came to your mind first?
Contemporary Science Fiction
Yes, you read that correctly. I am skipping straight to today. I want to focus on simply twenty-eight years. Twenty-eight years of relative mutual understanding between classes, cultures and races. Yet, with this understanding, literature remained practically unchanged.
And some of my readers will look to television and film adaptations of older science fiction and say, “Well, there was that one Indian lady!” or “What about the Black woman who talked all the time on the space ship?” Tokenism. That was tokenism plain and simple. Oftentimes, the books your favorites shows are based off of had no people of color whatsoever and usually not too many women unless they were eye candy, cooks or sometimes secretaries and assistants. Even screenplays don’t usually include people of color and it is up to the casting director to take initiative and make the film or show feel at least a little bit equitable. So, that one character whose name you can’t remember that was in one episode of your favorite show does not count.
Let’s take a look into the more popular science fiction author’s of today. How many of them are women of color? How many of these books include women of color in a way that isn’t simple tokenism to be a bit more politically correct? These are questions I could answer for you, questions I am considering answering in a research paper I have decided to write but I will not answer them here. I would like to put the ownness on you and have you rack through your memory. Consider all of your favorite contemporary science fiction novels. You are more likely to have a being made of light than a woman with pigment to her skin. Or am I wrong? True, there are some such as in works by Octavia Butler but she herself was a POC (person of color). When you want to enjoy a good novel you only need go to a bookstore. If you are in the mood for science fiction, you go to that section. But if you want to read a science fiction novel written by a woman of color or featuring them as a main character, you have to do research beforehand or else you may leave the store empty-handed. At least, that has been my experience.
But, Chyina, there are tons of new ideas coming out every single day. And Black people even have afrofuturism! Ha! Yes, let me talk about afrofuturism for a second. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, afrofuturism is science fiction that is heavily based on African traditions, Black identity and culture and includes all those that identify as a part of the diaspora. And, it is pretty amazing, just to let you readers out there know. So, yes, there is afrofuturism but it came to be because no one else was writing about it. But how can you ignore such a large part of the population? How does that even happen? From Latinx, to Black to Indian to Asian why are you not considered in the “mainstream” science fiction genre?
I could rant all day about this which is why I chose to write a longer article and maybe all the research I have done will help me create a useful resource for others. But for now, I just wanted all the readers out there who have noticed this phenomena to know they are not the only ones. As a lover of speculative fiction and a lover of science fiction, I want to be included too. I want to read about characters who look like me and relate to them. But as of now, the day when I no longer have to search high and low for that one book is far off.
Just to end on another note…
I am always open to comments, questions and social criticisms. If you agree or if you disagree and think I am just another ABW, that is fine with me. Please, comment or contact me on my contact page, I don’t bite hard.
If you have authors or titles or articles you would like me to look at, let me know and I will honestly try my best to get to them.
Lastly, what is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to science fiction?