Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Reading #SpeculativeBlackness - Prologue

I'm reading Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction by Professor andré carrington PhD, and want to jot down some thoughts after the preface.  (It seems *really* interesting, if you're up for academic texts)

First, prof carrington seems not primarily interested in how "race" is written about in genre.  (I was expecting, for instance, some talk about how monsters & aliens are often standins for "The Other", which is often "black people" or more broadly people of color).  Instead, the book seems like it's going to deal with how race-the-social-construct is portrayed and also constructed in "speculative fiction" texts considered broadly.  (Most of the "texts" look like they're going to be comics/fanzines/TV shows, and rather than trying to define "speculative fiction", the book seems to take an "I know it when I see it & when I see how people interact with it" approach).  These texts are primarily pop culture, and race is a social construct that is to some extent always being renegotiated, so it *looks like* we're going to be looking both at how black culture comes into SFF, but also how SFF reflects/constructs black culture.  (And it seems this'll be in part contrasted with how SFF interacted with gender & the feminist movement in the 60's and after.)

There are two key ideas that jumped out at me (beyond that this is an exchange between texts and consumers who live in a society that's constructing & defining ideas of "race") - notions of Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, and The Whiteness of SFF vs. Speculative Blackness.

Readings - paranoid reading is (essentially, maybe?) reading to find your agenda.  The Sad Puppies pointing to award lists of books and authors who aren't white guys & asserting it's *because* they aren't white guys, and there's a cultural movement to praise not-white-guys.  (My example, not the author's).  Or I have a tendency when reading especially older SFF books to ask "who's not represented?  Why aren't they here?", sometimes at the expense of focusing on what the story is trying to do.

Reparative reading is not necessarily in contrast to paranoid reading. Instead, it's a reading that acknowledges that entrenched power structures mean some stories and storytellers are overrepresented in SFF (*all* of the Farmboys With Destiny told by white men), and seeks to find other stories and storytellers who have been erased or marginalized by patriarchy, white supremacy, eurocentrism, etc. and present a collection of stories and storytellers that repairs the damage done by these power structures in order to present a more diverse (more complete?) picture of the field (if one that does not necessarily map to the demographics of how many books/stories were printed in a given period).  I like the idea of reparative reading a lot.  It appeals to me, and I think I find it a more comforting idea than "making up your own canon" which I've seen thrown around a few times.  I want to sit with it & poke at it & see where it takes me.

Prof carrington (I'm capitalizing as he does in his Twitter bio, fwiw) also talks about The Whiteness of SFF and Speculative Blackness.  I think I'm more clear on the second than the first, so I'll start there.
Speculative blackness basically acknowledges that there are some areas of popular culture (Jazz and other musical trends where I'm woefully ignorant so won't try to say more) where black culture can be more easily seen and defined.  (There's a bit about seeing black culture appropriated, and also culture as either resistance or capitulation and how this is a false binary, but I didn't connect as much with that).  Rather than trying to find blackness in SFF, Speculative Blackness centers black culture, and sees the ways it manifests in speculative texts.  So Afrofuturism which was expressed in visual arts, Sun Ra's performances, and also speculative fiction can be talked about first as the movement and then fit into SFF so it's not a marginal part of SFF but an extension of blackness (centering the black cultural movement rather than SFF).  Afrofuturism, Surrealism, presentation of The Other, and Horror are all movements where black cultural production also appears in SFF.

I think that the Whiteness of SFF connects to reparative reading.  The notion that SFF has been dominated by white storytellers & stories, and so trying to look for blackness in that sea of white would inevitably see it as somehow opposing/subverting/being overwhelmed and set up false dichotomies, rather than seeing speculative blackness as an extension of other black aesthetic movements.

I'm probably missing a lot.  I'm certainly really looking forward to this book, though a bit disappointed that there'll be more non-books in it than I'd first thought, since I don't know much about comics or music.  Still, that means I've got a chance to learn!

I'll be doing a combination of tweets @kingcabbagecast using the #SpeculativeBlackness hashtag and posts like this when my thoughts are too much for a tweetstorm.  If you're reading, feel free to add a comment or tweet me!

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