We will be seeing this debate over and over through the next few years. Obama's presence in the White House keeps bringing it up, a grain of sand in the American psyche that itches many towards contemplating the fact that the experience of the world may be different for someone else due to their race or gender or economic class or sexual orientation or physical abilities or a thousand other categories.
For many of us, we no longer outnumber the Other in quite the same way psychologically. Our relationship to it has changed. For others, we have always been conscious of being an Other: through race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and so forth.
Many of us who have spent time thinking about this have seen extended discussions of race, the Other, oppression, and cultural appropriation come up in various arenas (often those academic disciplines so often stifled or decried -- women's studies, queer studies, black studies) and be dismissed out of hand in a variety of ways. We may have ventured opinions and seen them cried down with arguments that are echoes of the approaches currently being used in the spec-fic community.
- "This debate is just too big/scary/energy-draining for me! I'll be over here hiding from it!"
- "This is just more PC craziness. Ignore it and it'll go away."
- "You're stifling my writing ability by attacking me/making me think about my writing/saying I can't write about certain things/distracting me/etc."
Kynn talks about a lot more of them eloquently and well here: http://kynn.livejournal.com/
Is anyone saying that works that do not confront race (or class or sex or gender or Otherness) are categorically wrong or dishonest or Bad? No.
But many people, including myself, are saying that works that factor in such things are a valid way of writing, and perhaps should be the norm rather than the exception.
And many of us, including myself, are suggesting that the benefits to factoring them in far outweigh the many straw men erected around the idea of ignoring them. If you deliberately choose to avoid race and other categories in your fiction, I think that's fine as long as you're doing it from a position where you know what your options are, rather than just falling into the normal stereotypes. The latter is lazy writing.
I personally believe that if you're not thinking about race and class and gender as factors that affect your personal existence on a daily basis, that if you see things as invariably binary, always black/white, up/down, Good/Evil, you are deliberately blinding yourself, depriving yourself of another way of perceiving the world. Such perceptions end up changing things, moving you out of painful binaries to a more joyful, creative, mindful existence. And I think as a writer, such modes of antiquated thinking turn your back on many of the possibilities of your craft.
Where do I stand in this debate? Am I saying I'm not racist, either as an individual or writer? Goddess, no. Like every other being on this planet, and probably this universe, I have a difficult relationship with the other. We are all primates at heart, and when a different looking creature walks into our camp, we want to throw feces and bare our fangs at them first. But the lovely thing is that we are all self-aware, and we can look at that reaction and (often) move past it in a way rewarding to both sides.
For (hopefully) a few of you, this is something you have never thought about or that you've dismissed out of hand. I'm sorry to say, but I think this is no longer a debate you can ignore.
Some reactions to the debate seem to originate first and foremost in defensiveness. I know it is painful to have your worldview challenged -- believe me, I feel for you.
At the same time, I think it's necessary surgery and that once folks start adjusting to the idea that it's no longer black and white but rather a rainbow of possibilities, we can put aside some of the energy-wasting bullshit and move ahead together to a better world. Yes, I'm well aware that I sound like an idealistic idiot, because I also believe that we make things possible through idealistic idiots such as the Abolitionists, the Suffragists, and a thousand other varieties of philosopher and activist being willing to express and live their beliefs.
I firmly believe that we can become better people by contemplating our actions, by seeing where they are shaped by outside circumstances, and trying to make an informed decision based on what we learn from that contemplation. Race -- as well as other factors -- are an odd combination of our outside circumstances as well as our internal state. To know a character's circumstances is to have more profound knowledge of the character. As a writer, I believe this sort of examination results in finer, deeper, truer writing.
If you are feeling hurt or attacked or shamed or embarrassed by this debate, that is sad and too bad, but honestly -- get over yourself. No one is interested in making you feel bad. What people would like to do is move along down to where the debate is productive, where it begins to change outmoded/racist/sexist/ablist/