Friday, March 6, 2009

The Race Fail Challenge

Micole asked:

What would it take to change our community from a primarily English-speaking, English-writing community to a genuinely multicultural one? What might that change look like, and what might it bring us?

A significant, telling catch here is "primarily English-speaking, English-writing": I suspect that most members of our community are monolingual. (This being a shameful consequence of educational priorities and values in the US.) To make our community multilingual would require either that most of the people in it be removed and replaced by multilingual writers and readers, or else that a massive educational program teaching monolingual people to read several other languages be carried out.

Since the latter solution would take at least a generation to accomplish and I'm middle-aged and the publisher of a small press, what I'd like to see would be a massive project of translation. The problem with that? It takes money. I have for some time been thinking of all the feminist sf texts in other languages I'd like to make available-- and sighing wistfully without any sense of how to make that happen. There are governments in the world that pay to have texts translated into English, but the US Government has no interest in funding translations of texts from other cultures into English. Small presses like Aqueduct are unlikely to be able to afford to pay for translations, while corporate publishers are required to make profits for their owners, so it is unlikely they can be prevailed upon to undertake a large-scale initiative to do this. There might be a collective solution to this, but it would take a massive amount of effort and organizing to bring off.

And of course there are more general problems. One of the ironies of the Internet is that communities continue to be isolated from one another by both lack of contact and incomprehension. Lanugage is only one important barrier among several. It is worth noting that although the US and British f/sf communities flow into one another, communication is often sketchy. (I myself am often baffled by the frames of reference and priorities of many Brits who are active in f/sf; I know I don't get what they're saying and why. But I sometimes feel that I don't know how I could even begin to remedy that.) And there's even less flow between the US and the Australian f/sf communities. The fact is, for the US f/sf community, chief among the cultural barriers that go beyond language-differences is the assumption that not only is the center of the community in the US, but also that he center is inhabited by a certain set of persons, institutions, assumptions, and texts, and that the rest of the f/sf community must accommodate itself to and privilege that definition of the center. (As we continually see when those assumptions are challenged.)

A multicultural f/sf community would find it necessary to be in touch with other f/sf cultures around the world as intrinsic to its own health and identity. It would see the presence of heterogeneous elements as vitalizing-- and, moreover, as expanding the size and scope of the field. This is such a no-brainer, given the longstanding plaint of people in the field that the readership of f/sf has been shrinking, that one can read the lack of general rejoicing at the increasing presence of people of color writing and reading sf, attending cons, and blogging about sf, as indicative of something akin to the hatred of immigrants (who have contributed so much for so long to the US economy and culture).

A final word: in case you haven't noticed, the idea behind this challenge is that utopian visions can be useful for illuminating the paths of change. Once again, we need to remind ourselves that this is not the way it has to be. 2008 was a watershed year in the US for seeing beyond what is: but given how quickly we humans compartmentalize, we can never have too many reminders that it doesn't have to be this way.


Ide Cyan said...

N'oublie pas la communauté anglophone avoisinante (et souvent bilingue) qui se trouve au Canada.

Foxessa said...

Music. By extension, dancing.

So much history, geography and culture are transmitted via music.

Trained musicians, no matter their birth language, speak the same language around the world. Even non-formally trained musicians can very quickly learn new modes when they are interested in doing so. This is a difference between a war horse symphony orchestra musician and a top of the ratings world music cat -- the latter is interested in many forms that aren't what he grew up with. Classical players, by and large, are interested only in European historic 'art' music.

Music is also a means for learning a new language faster than depending only upon the classroom. Even a little more language knowledge opens doors you never saw before.

Well, that's one idea. It means getting away from the computer a lot, though, which for communities so centered in reading, writing and watching may not be reasonable to expect?

Love, C.

Josh said...

"N'oublie pas"? J'ai lu Kundera il ya longtemps, et je l'ai trouvé très puissant. Alors, Ide, je n'oublie rien et je ne ris jamais.

Ide Cyan said...

T'as pas rapport, Josh. Foutez-moi la paix avec Kundera -- ça ne te donne pas l'air d'un initié quand tu penses à un roman européen quand je parle du Canada. Pis j'écris pas juste en français par affectation. Cultural appropriation context misstep much?