selenak: (Guinevere by Reroutedreams)
[personal profile] selenak
In the near thirty years I've been drifting into and out of various fandoms, or remained, I learned a lot regarding race and ethnic minorities: I became conscious of the way they were represented, or NOT represented, in books, tv shows, movies, about my own subconscious assumptions when a character's etnicity isn't spelled out, about how certain narrative patterns in pop culture keep coming back. How important representation (as something other than the sidekick or corpse at the start of the tale) is. And I'm grateful for what I've learned, just as I am sure there's a lot I'm still missing, being a white privileged person.

However, I've never felt comfortable using the "person of colo(ur)r" or "character of colo(u)r" tag for any of my fanfiction featuring characters of color, and I don't think I'll ever do it. My reason is a personal one, and doesn't apply to anyone else. I'm sure most people tagging their stories this way do so because readers who want to read about characters of color in a prominent position in the story (as opposed to showing up only briefly) can find them easier this way.

But the thing is: if I were to tag my stories this way, I'd feel like something of a hypocrite trying to earn social justice brownie points, since I didn't write a single one of them based on the thought "characters of color should get better representation" or any variation thereof. I wrote them because I was interested and/or moved by these particular characters and wanted to explore them more. Sometimes, that obviously meant dealing with how someone of their skin color has to live like in their particular era and place (James Hemmings). But often their ethnicity is irrelevant to the story in question. (Jake Sisko in my DS9 story Abraham's Son, Julian Bashir in the DS9 stories featuring him, Gwen in any of my Merlin stories featuring her, etc.).

Not completely unconnected: moreover, the definition of who is and who isn't a character of color seems to be to be often very USian. I remember reading an interview with Antonio Banderas in which he mentioned that the first time he ever visited the US, he was asked about his race in his visa paperwork, checked the box saying "white" and was lectured that he wasn't white, he was Hispanic (or Latino, I forgot which one they told him). This, as a member of "the original conquistador nation", as he put it, amused him and led him to the conclusion that Americans are v.v. weird about their race definitions. I also remember BNF Jennifer Oksana in a post about white washing bring up the example of Martin Sheen, real name Ramon Estevez, having to play President Jed Bartlett as a product of white New Hampshire, and why couldn't have Sorkin & Co. make Jed a Latino as per ethnicity of actor etc.; I don't remember whether someone pointed out to her that between Martin Sheen's father being Spanish and his mother being Irish, he most certainly is not Latino and definitely would be considered as white in Spain and Ireland both. (Doesn't mean that The West Wing couldn't have included more Latino characters, of course, but well, this particular example was a bad one.) The subconscious assumption that Spanish Name = Person of Color just strikes me as very North American. And that's another reason for me to avoid this tag.

The other days

Date: 15 Jan 2016 12:07 (UTC)
ratcreature: RatCreature is thinking: hmm...? (hmm...?)
From: [personal profile] ratcreature
Yeah, I'm ambiguous about the label as well, because it sort of flattens the complexities of identities and discrimination and minority experiences. I mean, in some ways it makes sense, because no matter what other ethnicity or nationality labels are central for identity in a place, it's almost universal that skin color will be also laid over that and that broadly all other things being equal you'll be worse off the "darker" you are.

Like, if you had two people of Romany descent in Germany, both would face discrimination for being Romany no matter how light skinned or "Caucasian" looking they were, but I'm fairly sure that if one was darker skinned than the other it would be worse for them on top of just being Romany. Incidentally I've always found the US term "Caucasian" puzzling as synonym for the concept of "whiteness", because it's not like people who are actually from the Caucasus region, say Azerbaijan, would not face discrimination for not being quite "white" enough, at least around here, where media constantly use the term "südländisches Aussehen".

(Though that is not quite as bizarre as the descriptions that posit some sort of Eastern European look, while speaking accent-free German no less, because frankly I have no idea how you would tell, say, an average ethnic Polish person from an average ethnic German one based on look, not even those Nazi racial sub-classifications managed that -- I once read the Rassenkunde chapter in my dad's old school book and the contortions they went through to pin down differences would just have been hilarious if they hadn't been the underpinning for mass murder.)
Edited (typo) Date: 15 Jan 2016 12:07 (UTC)

Date: 15 Jan 2016 15:09 (UTC)
ratcreature: RatCreature's toon avatar (Default)
From: [personal profile] ratcreature
True, there are some people from the Caucasus region who are very light skinned, maybe the term originates from those, though stereotypically I have to admit I don't think of them when thinking of that region. I mean, considering the Caucasus is one of those border regions where probably even more groups met over time than is usual in Europe or Asia, it only makes sense that the people have diverse looks, but in the stereotyping and perception that goes out of the window as soon as they are othered. You see the same with Iranians or Afghans or really any of nationalities/ethnicities.

Date: 16 Jan 2016 03:52 (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
And even with the almost-universal trait of being worse off the darker you are, there's exceptions: the Stolen Generations in Australia was primarily targeted at lighter-skinned Aboriginal children because it was thought that they must have some white ancestry (not necessarily the case, especially in south-eastern parts of the country) and were therefore able to be "civilised". There's lots of heart-breaking stories of parents painting their children darker so they won't be kidnapped and institutionalised, or having to choose which of their kids to hide based on guessing what level of "whiteness" counts this time.

More recently, there's a lot of aggression and racism aimed at lighter-skinned Aboriginal people as "not really" Aboriginal and getting "advantages", even though many of the lighter-skinned people have been through tremendous family trauma in addition to the usual levels of racism. So not even colourism is reliable around the world!

Date: 16 Jan 2016 08:36 (UTC)
ratcreature: oh no! (oh no!)
From: [personal profile] ratcreature
Yeah, there's also the matter of albinism being considered bad in some regions, and can get people ostracized or killed, even while "regular" white people aren't, so it also matters why your skin is pale.

And kidnappings like that are particularly twisted, because I guess the perpetrators thought they were doing something good for the child victims, if not ther parents. The Nazis did that as well to children in Eastern Europe that looked "Aryan" enough for their messed up breeding program. (Only they perversely still killed a good number of them, because they ended up not conforming to some racial classification table or something after all, iirc.)

Date: 15 Jan 2016 12:22 (UTC)
endeni: (Default)
From: [personal profile] endeni
/But often their ethnicity is irrelevant to the story in question./ - Which isn't a bad thing in of itself, right? It's like writing about women but thinking about them as people first.
/the definition of who is and who isn't a character of color seems to be to be often very USian/ - That, is indeed very problematic. I'm Italian and I'm blonde and have pale skin but I am as much an Italian as those friends of mine who have a darker/Mediterranean skin tone. We're all descendants from Greeks and Romans and Barbaric Invasions and whatnot anyway, it's not like there's one definite type of Italian. I really don't get this American obsession for skin tone. *shakes head*
Or maybe it's confusing to me because the racist issues we have here are all very much based on ethnicity (what with the migrant crisis and all) rather than just skin tone.

Date: 15 Jan 2016 13:55 (UTC)
tree_and_leaf: Isolated tree in leaf, against blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] tree_and_leaf
/But often their ethnicity is irrelevant to the story in question./ - Which isn't a bad thing in of itself, right? It's like writing about women but thinking about them as people first.

*nods* Part of what people talk about when they want more diversity is that they want all kinds of stories, not just the "Very Special Episodes". Most of the time Ben Sisko's race was irrelevant to the story of DS9, because he lives in a society that's got past racism (as opposed to speciesism!), but it's still significant to the audience that the writers and producers cast a black man in that role.

Date: 15 Jan 2016 17:25 (UTC)
endeni: (Default)
From: [personal profile] endeni
Yes yes. I mean, the ethnicity/race/gender of a character and generally the degree of privilege they enjoy will always influence the way a character acts and rightly so but those traits aren't the only things defining us, right?
Edited Date: 15 Jan 2016 17:31 (UTC)

Date: 15 Jan 2016 13:50 (UTC)
tree_and_leaf: Isolated tree in leaf, against blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] tree_and_leaf
American usage of 'Latino' is very muddled. According to some official descriptions, Martin Sheen is Hispanic (of Spanish descent) but not Latino, which makes sense, but people tend to use the terms interchangeably. (The one bit of consensus is that, officially, neither 'Latino' or 'Hispanic' are terms describing a race, but an ethnicity - like being ethnically Jewish).

On the other hand, the reason Martin Sheen goes by Martin Sheen is that he had to pass as Irish-American in order to get invited to castings. So arguably, the mere fact of having a Spanish name can cause you to lose some of your white privilege in the States, and makes you a member of a less-privileged minority. And I'm not sure how much the distinction between race and ethnicity matters in practice.

It does illustrate how incoherent and arbitrary racism is, though.

Date: 15 Jan 2016 21:20 (UTC)
minim_calibre: (Default)
From: [personal profile] minim_calibre
He did go into directing pretty early on and also had more early acting success than Charlie did.

Date: 15 Jan 2016 14:35 (UTC)
londonkds: (Default)
From: [personal profile] londonkds
Similarly, Oscar Isaac's role in The Force Awakens has stimulated some geek anti-racist blogs to quote his comments in an interview that he dropped his actual surname of Hernández because it would have led to him being offered nothing but "street gangster" or "drug lord" roles.

Date: 15 Jan 2016 15:12 (UTC)
tree_and_leaf: Isolated tree in leaf, against blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] tree_and_leaf
Well, that's depressing.

Date: 15 Jan 2016 21:21 (UTC)
minim_calibre: (Default)
From: [personal profile] minim_calibre
James Roday changed his name from Rodríguez for the similar reasons.

Date: 15 Jan 2016 21:32 (UTC)
minim_calibre: (Default)
From: [personal profile] minim_calibre
The conflation of race and ethnicity in discussions of Latinx and Hispanic actors drives me up the wall because it reduces the complexity of experience tremendously. Ricardo Montalbán was the Mexican-born son of Spanish parents. He was an ethnic minority in the US, not a racial one, which is part of why he was able to lobby successfully for Hispanic actors.

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/louis-c-k-im-an-accidental-white-person-20130411

In many ways, I think Louis CK sums a lot of it up here.

Date: 16 Jan 2016 12:53 (UTC)
From: [personal profile] wee_warrior
Race vs ethnicity, some anecdotes from my studies: I did a fair bit on colonialism at uni, both in Anglistik and Sociology/History, and the differentiations used historically in South America were mindbogglingly complicated (and frequently completely absurd. What the Nazis brought to a horrifying conclusion, the Europeans definitely started ideologically in their colonies). For example, your race was determined not only by the race of your parents, but differentiated by their gender - i.e., if your father was white and Spanish, and your mother black, you were "whiter" than a person where it was the other way round. And that's before you throw the indigenous population into the mix. This whole element of human thinking is so seriously fucked up.

Date: 16 Jan 2016 19:58 (UTC)
sabra_n: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sabra_n
I remember the first time I had to fill in a "what's your race" form at school after moving to the U.S. That was...odd. I didn't know what "Caucasian" meant, and I thought maybe "Asian" was right, since Israel is in Asia? Nonsense, all of it. (And of course there are other matters, like, hey, Americans, if I'm half Sephardic and that part of my family grew up speaking Ladino, am I suddenly part-Hispanic now? Thank goodness for the "decline to state" option.)

Date: 18 Jan 2016 02:09 (UTC)
nenya_kanadka: BB8 peaking around the corner (SW BB8)
From: [personal profile] nenya_kanadka
I feel more comfortable using tags like "Canon Bisexual Character" (for an identity I share) than for something I'm not. But even then it's something I've done in the past because I went "ooh, new shiny applicable tags! tag ALL the things!" and don't really do anymore.

With "Character of Colour" it would kind of feel like I was patting myself on the back. Not that writing characters of colour has to come from a self-righteous place--obviously it doesn't--but I would feel awkward about the tag itself.

And in the current climate of "my ship is more progressive than yours even if they both have the same black man in them, because I said so" (some of the recent Star Wars wank) I'm even less likely to touch it with a ten-foot bargepole.

Date: 19 Jan 2016 20:20 (UTC)
sistermagpie: Classic magpie (Default)
From: [personal profile] sistermagpie
Just had to comment on this because I think I remember the post about Martin Sheen you were talking about and I thought it was one of the weirdest thing I'd ever read. Not just regarding what Martin Sheen's race is or should be, but the idea that actors would actually appreciate being told that they can't play anybody of a different ethnic background than they were.

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