Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Writers are not in the business of fear

Here's some righteously frustrated Storified words of wisdom from writer Alyssa Wong about orientalism when western authors write Asian characters, especially women.

Now, being very visually anglo saxon and X-chrome inclined, I'm far from the epicentre of this but even I'm nauseated by this sort of stereotypical depictionizing (yes, that is a proper word. Stop challenging me, dammit). It's offensive, of course, even when unintentional, but it's also extremely lazy. You know: sloppy writing.

The problem I find, as far as my reading goes, can be summed up by Charles Bukowski (of all people):

“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” 
By which I mean, the non-minority authors who might best challenge, invert and, ideally, help to destroy identity stereotypes  are often too scared, too well-meaning and too big hearted to go anywhere near the zone, while the idiots are gonna moonwalk backwards all over it whilst singing their heads off, treading on land mines and human casualties alike.

Is there a solution? I like to think so, and the first step involves casting away fear at all costs. Bravery is knowing the exact capabilities of a machine gun post and charging at it anyway.

But doing so intelligently. With caution and respect. Researching, asking experts on the ground. The sort of things you as an author should be doing about everything you write about anyway (Trust me, I'm not just mouthing off here. I've just spent the last two hours reading about dragonfly brains for something I may well not write anyhow). You may well fail, perhaps you've even set yourself up in a tactical position where no other outcome is possible. But at the very least it will be a noble failure. As Tacitus said:

"The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise."

So caution, patience:  yes. Fear: no. We're writers, speculative fiction writers, no less. We didn't get in this game to avoid risk.

And, er, that's all I've got to say, really.


  1. "...the non-minority authors who might best challenge, invert and, ideally, help to destroy identity stereotypes are often too scared, too well-meaning and too big hearted..." Oh fine, I'll take the bait. Why do we care about non-minority authors' perspectives on minorities rather than supporting minority voices full stop (as in Tempest Bradford's reading challenge)? Seems like a wrong-headed focus. I for one am not super excited when some dude explains to me what feminist women are supposed to think. Why would I assume that MY voice is the one that's needed here? I don't think fearing my own ego is a bad thing--I think it's necessary, and I wish more people had a healthy fear of self-aggrandizement.

    1. TBH, I did knock this out pretty quickly- one of those 'hot take' thingies which perhaps I'd be wiser to avoid.
      But of course I support minority voices: take that as read, in the bag etc. Trouble is, I haven't much to say about the minority perspective because that's not who I am o'course and a billion others do it better. But what I *can* natter on about is the non-m perspective. And, yep, while it's not *the* focus it is *a* focus and, yep, quite an important one, ultimately.

      Why? Because we're racing toward a diverse, global society with a diverse global literature. And, right now, I get the impression that all the relevant progressive voices see only so far as a world where everyone in their little identity boxes cheering on all the other little boxes. That's an important, nay, vital, stage but its not one that can hold, it isn't the final destination. Not nearly. What comes next requires everyone's voice, quiet and loud. It requires all our voices to mix it up and get dirty. I mean big-style, 100MPH *sexy* dirty. To get there it mean's- from a non-minority perspective- being capable of listening (and giving space to) to minority voices whilst simultaneously not being afraid or ashamed of one's own, of having an instinct for both.

      I recognise fear of my own ego is a good thing, but sometimes I fear it being the *only* thing. Because fear alone doesn't help multiculturalism. Successful multiculturalism takes guts. It takes risk, and, TBH, I don't always get the risk-taking vibe from the present SF situation (that said, I read a wonderful Tade Thompson piece on Safe that articulates everything I'm gibbering on about a lot better). So it's about a middle way between due respect and informed audacity.

      Man, this coffees strong... :)