In 2012 a roundtable at the World SF blog focusing on non-Western cultures in speculative fiction asked the following question: What are the problematics of some Western writers tackling non-Western settings for their novels, and do they result in exoticism?Irony, definition: people claiming to tell authors how to write who use the BS word "problematics".
One of the panelists, SFF author Joyce Chng (Singapore), spoke on these issues of “othering” and the Western gaze:Serious question: do these people have a form of Tourette syndrome that makes them confuse adjectives with nouns and verbs?
Answer: yes. And it's called Political Correctness.
“People in the West tend to have fixed ideas of how and what we should look like or behave. The East is exotic. The East is mysterious…. The East is scary, but exhilarating….. These “Western narratives” hurt us at the end and have damaged perspectives regarding non-Western narratives. The dominance of Western narratives has silenced non-Western voices, reducing us to nothing else but something out of a travel guide.”The patient presents now only unintelligible verbal tics, but exhibits magical thinking. Unless she's just trolling, she truly seems to believe that James Clavell wields the power to "silence" non-Westerners.
You know what did empirically silence tens of millions of people in the East? Eastern governments of the kind the PC police feel wistful nostalgia toward.
They do graciously throw us culture-appropriating oppressors a bone by permitting Westerners to write about the mysterious Orient if we must, BUT ONLY IF WE DO IT EXACTLY AS WE'RE TOLD!
This is about the part where someone asks, “So are you saying that Westerners and whites can’t or shouldn’t write about non-Western/non-white cultures or people in fantasy?” And the answer is one big eye rolling, of course not. Don’t be dense.If you're often accused of saying that Westerners/whites shouldn't write about non-Westerners/non-whites, the people asking you might not be dense. You might just be a pompous bigot. And also a pedophile.
Writers and creators should explore the full breadth of human diversity in fantasy, if simply to break the Eurocentric norm. Does this come with risks? Yes. You may go out and create more diversity in your fantasy with the best of intentions, and find yourself being criticized for such things as “othering.” Yeah. Thems the breaks.Why stop at the East/West binary? How about pointing that wagging finger of yours at Chinese authors who write Indian characters or Japanese authors who write Chinese characters?
Oh, right. Because this is about systems of oppression according to Critical Theory. The Critical Theory that sprang from the same ideology whose adherents murdered 45 million Chinese.
About to throw up your hands and declare, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?” Don’t give up so easy. If Frodo could get that ring all the way through Mordor, you can survive this.I take exception to the OP writer's brazen cultural appropriation of Tolkien.
I do not subscribe to the school of thought that it is solely up to PoC to write diverse stories.How magnanimous.
That argument in my opinion is a cop-out that conveniently leaves PoC holding the responsibility bag. It lets white-dominated speculative fiction in the mainstream continue on doing what they do–while PoC are relegated to smaller enclaves that get little to no popular visibility. We’re all responsible for creating not only more diverse world, but also ones that challenge our past (and modern) stereotypical tropes.Swing and a miss.
This guy clearly missed the memo that the tradpub gatekeepers' power to hand out success and popularity is gone. Broken. Dead as Castro. No more Manhattan sugar daddy to bestow the gift of mass appeal. You want popular visibility? Go write good stories (never mentioned in the original post), build a platform, and earn it.
Them's the breaks, snowflake.
For what it’s worth, some pointers:I'm sure they'll be good for a laugh.
(1) Read the greats like Tolkien, Miller, GRRM and other traditional Eurocentric writers. Watch Game of Thrones. Count the stereotypes, “othering” and moments of wince-worthy racialization. Catalog and study them. When you see your writing drifting in that direction, change course.I'll leave it to my Pulp Revolution friends to point out the glaring omissions in the OP's index of problematic books. For now, what's truly wince-worthy, besides the mangling of the English language (cultural appropriation: second offense!), is the thought of anyone taking these pointers seriously.
(2) Read the guys who seem to get it right. Read fantasy works by PoC and non-Westerners, set in non-Western cultures. Notice the distinction between depicting varied cultures and people as different versus exotic. It’s tricky, takes some serious research, but eventually you begin to see it.I urge all aspiring SJW authors to take this sterling advice. While you're running in mental circles in a vain effort to conform to ever-changing PC dogma, I'll be honing my ability to write stories that entertain people.
(3) Can you stand by your creation? No one here is about censorship. If you feel you really need to make one of your characters in the mold of the noble savage, go right ahead. But ask yourself if your reasons are really valid for your storyline, or if you’re just falling back on an easy stereotype. And when the criticism comes down, don’t act all brand new. You knew what you were doing. Own up to it and deal. If you can handle that without filling up my white tears mug, go ahead. If you can’t though, then do better.The OP wants you to know that he's not about censorship--but if a hate mob lands on your head, it's your fault for ignoring his arbitrary diktats.
Actually, it'll be your fault for taking advice on race relations from a guy with a white tears mug.
(4) Spend a brief bit of time brushing up on some postcolonial theory, or at least a bit of critical race theory. Sometimes simply “not knowing” is a big reason for some well-meaning blunders. But in this information age, ignorance makes for a poor excuse. SFF author and scholar Jaymee Goh’s Rules Before Engaging is a great start.Again, critical theory = Communism = murdered millions of Asians = the OP has zero moral authority.
(5) Being a PoC doesn’t grant an automatic pass. Because this isn’t about “good or bad people,” it’s about a structural system that affects all of us. Many of these “othering” notions are transnational and no respecters of borders or backgrounds. I’ve read fantasy by PoC that skirts the line, or goes trudging headlong into exoticism, “othering” and other disturbing tropes—because it’s what was learned. Be self-aware.Wrong. It's about good or bad writing. (Hint: buying into this PC bullshit will make your writing bad.)
(6) Beyond issues of race and ethnicity, there are ways of mishandling or stereotyping numerous types of differences, not limited to gender, sexuality, religion, disabilities, etc. It wouldn’t hurt to examine when and where you’re going down the stereotype hole in addressing any of these. A great primer is Nisi Shawl’s and Cynthia Ward’s, Writing the Other: A Practical Approach.Translation: "Character, conflict, and pacing are of distant secondary importance compared to this ever-growing list of boxes that your work must check, or else the PC literati will line you up against the wall."
They wonder why traditionally published SFF is dying?
(7) Even if you try your best, you might still “Do It Wrong.” Sorry. Life ain’t fair.You're about to learn just how unfair life is. Just wait till B&N goes bust.
You can minimize your risk of doing it wrong by thinking about what you’re doing–or as a friend of mine likes to say, just deciding to give a f–. This might mean you look for friends, beta readers and writer’s groups with some diversity. Others might pick up on troubling things you may have missed.As it happens, I give zero fucks. Thank you very much.
But criticism may still fly your way, warranted or not. Don’t get defensive. Remember, people are placing whatever you wrote into a much larger historical context. It’s bigger than you. See it as a teaching moment, and next time just strive to do better. The decent act of actually “giving a f– ” will inevitably earn you some praise.Here, at last, we reach the heart of the matter.
SJWs write to earn praise from the PC cult.
Real authors write to please readers and GET PAID!
The dear little lambs truly have no idea what's coming. The whole system that rewarded them for having the currently fashionable skin color, sexuality, and sociology degrees is crashing down around their ears.
Sometimes I almost pity them. Then I read authoritarian, smug schoolmarmish dreck like this.
The PC cult don't fail because they're systemically oppressed. They fail because, as their own words show, they hold their readers--and themselves--in contempt.
I, on the other hand, love the readers who are my patrons and lords. My work reflects that love.