Black Marginalization in Mainstream Science Fantastic Fiction

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Throughout its history, science fiction is associated and dominated by white male writers, readers, editors, and protagonists (Salvaggio, 1984, p. 78). Carrington (2016) has used the expression “The Whiteness of Science Fiction” to refer to two things: first, “the overrepresentation of white people among the ranks of SF authors,” and second, to “the overrepresentation of white people’s experiences within SF texts” (p. 16). The white science fiction author, Edgar Rice Bourroughs has assumed that “White men have imagination, Negroes have little, and animals have none” (as cited in Testerman, 2012, p. 45). Charles R. Saunders, a black science fiction author, provides a sharp comment about the situation of the genre. According to him, science fiction is “as white as a Ku Klux Klan meeting,” and “a black man or woman in a space-suit was an image beyond the limits of early science fiction writers’ imagination” (as cited in Jarret, 2013, p. 361). This is, to a great extent, due to the marginalization of blacks from the genre. Saunders has criticized the Golden Age of science fiction, considering it as a period where “science was a king whose court was closed to blacks” (as cited in Jarret, 2013, p. 399).

The tropes that reflect the colonial gaze towards the other exotic cultures started to emerge and developed when the European countries started to implement their imperial projects in the non-western countries; “Science Fiction has been an uncanny site of encountering others” (Myungsung, 2017, p. 8). In an encounter with an alien in mainstream science fiction, the alien is depicted as an “other.” In many situations, this “other” is represented as an “Enemy.” In other words, he/she is portrayed as “a source of imminent danger, even extinction, for human race” (Edwards, 2011, p. 3). However, a question comes to mind about the nature and the identification of this alien other. Helen Marrick elucidates that the alien can “signify everything” that is “other to the dominant audience” including blacks (as cited in Edwards, 2011, p. 3). Adam Roberts (2000) explains that the depiction of the other is predominately linked to blackness. He demonstrates that in Ridley Scott movie, Alien (1977), the alien is “a black-skinned monster” which kills “via a ghastly combination of rape and violence.” He concludes that it does not “take much cultural decoding to see this as an expression of white middle-class fear at the potential for distrust of an alienated black urban underclass” (p. 119). In Predator by John McTiernan, the alien is represented as a barbarous hunter who has dreadlocks, which is a clear indication of blackness. He is living in a jungle and he violently kills the Western colonizers. This disguised way of representation has become clearer in the sequel when the action moves from the jungle to a new place which is the urban battlefield of Los Angeles, “another more politically loaded location for white fears of black violence, with the alien joining in the gang war” (p. 120).

In western science fiction, the Machines signify in a particular way a racial allegory. These machines “serve as a medium for their representation in the guise of exotic automata.” (Russell, 2018, p. 92). The androids refer to the non-whites who are the symbols of rebellion and menace: The androids – that’s another thing. Just like the Negroes […] they must be kept down at all costs, never a moment being permitted to regard themselves as equals to the white man. Because if they did, they might get it into their heads to demand equal rights, and that would mean the end of the white man’s supremacy (Russell, 2018, p. 92-93).

The black science fiction writer Samuel Delany explains that the major problem that faces black writers is the exclusion from the science fiction community. In Racism and science fiction (2000), he explains how racism is still persisting in the science fiction community: Racism as a system. As such, it is fueled as much by chance as by hostile in tensions and equally by the best intentions as well. It is whatever systematically acclimates people, of all colors, to become comfortable with the isolation and segregation of the races, on a visual, social or economic level which in turn supports and is supported by socioeconomic discrimination (p. 394).

African-American writers are the victims of the publishing policy because the European-American culture is dominating the scene. Delany has experienced a sense of racism within the science fiction community. When he has finished his novel, Nova, he has submitted it to Analog magazine of science fiction. The editor John W. Campbell has told him that his story is great, but his black protagonist will not be convenient to the readers, “for heaven’s sakes, he’s got a Negro for a protagonist! It’s a good book, but our readers aren’t going to be able to identify with that” (as cited in Jarret, 2013, p. 361). According to Campbell, the mother of the character is from Senegal, so the readers can notice that the character is black despite the fact that his father is from Norway (as cited in Testerman, 2012, p. 49). He has refused to publish it. However, Delaney sees that he is right by presenting a black character: “I wanted to write about worlds where being black mattered in different ways it matters now.” After one year, the same editor has written a letter to Dean Koontz, a horror writer, in which he explains that “a technologically advanced black civilization is a social and biological impossibility.” There are two white science fiction writers who have labeled Delany by sarcastic expressions, such as “a merry Negro” by James Blish, and “handsome Negro” by Judy Merril (as cited in Edwards, 2011, p. 11). In an interview with a black science fiction writer, Steven Barnes claims that “White control the publishing industry and are the majority population. Like everyone else, they love the idea that the world revolves around them, and support those image systems that reinforce that” (as cited in Testerman, 2012, p. 6). Science fiction community was and is still divided by race and skin color (Edwards, 2011, p. 11).


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