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Tyrannosaurus Rex
10-23-2012, 05:40 PM
I'm almost 800 words into a short sci-fi story featuring a corrupt government that wants to drive indigenous people off their land to exploit their resources at any cost. My twist is that the invading faction is a Native American reservation. However, they have near-futuristic technology and similar imperialistic, capitalistic, and racist attitudes to the classic European colonizers; their being Native American is an incidental variation rather than a dominating gimmick.

I personally don't think there's anything inherently wrong with having Native American villains as long as you don't define them with trite and offensive stereotypes, but I have met people with the attitude that portraying Natives in any kind of negative light is racist. Their argument is that Natives have been subjected to so much unfavorable stereotyping that they need an uplifting image. For the record, I agree that Native Americans writ large suffer too much from a legacy of racism and could definitely use a more respectful media portrayal, but I also believe they are fallible human beings like everyone else and so shouldn't be exempt from bad guy roles.

I will add that the indigenous under threat are black people who function as the story's protagonists. It's pretty much a classic "heroic aborigines defend their homeland from hi-tech imperialists", but without the intervening Mighty Whiteys.

kuwisdelu
10-23-2012, 06:42 PM
I'm almost 800 words into a short sci-fi story featuring a corrupt government that wants to drive indigenous people off their land to exploit their resources at any cost. My twist is that the invading faction is a Native American reservation. However, they have near-futuristic technology and similar imperialistic, capitalistic, and racist attitudes to the classic European colonizers; their being Native American is an incidental variation rather than a dominating gimmick.

I'd have to ask... why?

Without hearing more detail, it sure sounds like a gimmick.


I personally don't think there's anything inherently wrong with having Native American villains as long as you don't define them with trite and offensive stereotypes, but I have met people with the attitude that portraying Natives in any kind of negative light is racist. Their argument is that Natives have been subjected to so much unfavorable stereotyping that they need an uplifting image. For the record, I agree that Native Americans writ large suffer too much from a legacy of racism and could definitely use a more respectful media portrayal, but I also believe they are fallible human beings like everyone else and so shouldn't be exempt from bad guy roles.

The first problem is portraying a race as villains rather than individuals. The second problem is justifying how the fuck such a far-fetched scenario happens in the first place.


I will add that the indigenous under threat are black people who function as the story's protagonists. It's pretty much a classic "heroic aborigines defend their homeland from hi-tech imperialists", but without the intervening Mighty Whiteys.

It really does sound too much like the stereotypical "hey, what if the oppressed minorities were the oppressors," except you're using another minority as the oppressed instead of the typical majority.

I don't really get it.

ETA: I should also point out there's quite a difference between having "a Native American villain" and having "Native Americans as the villain." This sounds like the latter. Which is bad.

Cyia
10-23-2012, 07:36 PM
I'm almost 800 words into a short sci-fi story featuring a corrupt government that wants to drive indigenous people off their land to exploit their resources at any cost. My twist is that the invading faction is a Native American reservation. However, they have near-futuristic technology and similar imperialistic, capitalistic, and racist attitudes to the classic European colonizers; their being Native American is an incidental variation rather than a dominating gimmick.

I personally don't think there's anything inherently wrong with having Native American villains as long as you don't define them with trite and offensive stereotypes, but I have met people with the attitude that portraying Natives in any kind of negative light is racist. Their argument is that Natives have been subjected to so much unfavorable stereotyping that they need an uplifting image. For the record, I agree that Native Americans writ large suffer too much from a legacy of racism and could definitely use a more respectful media portrayal, but I also believe they are fallible human beings like everyone else and so shouldn't be exempt from bad guy roles.

I will add that the indigenous under threat are black people who function as the story's protagonists. It's pretty much a classic "heroic aborigines defend their homeland from hi-tech imperialists", but without the intervening Mighty Whiteys.


Is this an alter-American setting?

If not, then how are the Native Americans native if the indigenous people are black? Are the black characters of Carribbean / Dominican / other island origin or African?

If the black characters are aboriginal, then how are the non-indigenous Native Americans the ones relegated to reservations? If they're on reservations, then how is it that they're more technologically advanced than those not confined to reservations? Usually reservations and other segregated living areas are far less advanced and funded by design. They're overseen by gov't authorities which would intervene if any sort of advancement were happening. (For example -- if, during the initial push to reservations, one of the tribes had developed their own train system, one that didn't need tracks (since this is superior technology), the army would have been all over it. The people would have likely been charged with sedition as an excuse to take the technology and "safeguard" the rest of the population.)

Also, if it's not an American setting, then how do you plan to get across the idea that they're Native American? You're not calling your black characters African American, which is why I'm wondering about the setting.

RichardGarfinkle
10-23-2012, 07:37 PM
It's perfectly possible to create an alternate history or future history in which any particular culture is the major source of good guys or bad guys.

The question when writing such a story is how does it make the story more interesting? What is gained from this particular configuration of cultures?

kuwisdelu is right about it just seeming like an oppressor / oppressed reversal. The thing is that stories like that were pretty common for a while in this sub-genre, but the shtick itself became clichéd. Now you would need to do something more with it to interest the audience.

There's also a more subtle point. Oppression is a basic fact of history, and the true life stories of oppression are so strong and meaningful that fictions of oppression need to have something other to them than the facts and horrors of oppression itself.

Ideally, such a story would take advantage of the combination of distance and immediacy that fiction offers while accepting the loss of truth that memoir and history have.

In order to do that there has to be a reason, a perspective that the story gives. If you are simply creating an adventure story centered around culture, oppression, and conflict then you might be better off just inventing cultures and peoples rather than having to twist truth too much to meet your needs.

fireluxlou
10-23-2012, 07:52 PM
Reminds of Victoria Foyts novel ... sigh. It doesn't sound like you've planned this well, and it sounds offensive as hell turn the oppressed into oppressors.

As this doesn't really do anything except always justify the MC's hate towards that particular group of people because they are the oppressors in this scenerio so the MC will usually be racist towards them throughout the book and treat them like dirt, and treat the oppressors no different from how they are treated this world. And I don't know how that's any different from the real world really except give the MC a really flimsy reason to be racist.

Only book I've read that it was done well in was Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses because the reversal felt real.

IA with everything kuwisdelu and everyone else said.

Tyrannosaurus Rex
10-23-2012, 08:06 PM
Let me explain my setting: the Native Americans are from our world's near future, but the black people are native to a parallel world similar but not identical to ours. It's a trans-universal conflict. As for making them Native American, I thought if I were going to do a "pseudo-African natives versus foreign invaders" story, I might as well replace the stereotypical white people with another non-black race.

That said, I'm not really married to my villains being Native Americans. Maybe I could make them non-human aliens instead? Not only would that dissociate them from any real division of humanity, but it gives me an opportunity to make up my own species.

kuwisdelu
10-23-2012, 08:10 PM
Let me explain my setting: the Native Americans are from our world's near future, but the black people are native to a parallel world similar but not identical to ours. It's a trans-universal conflict. As for making them Native American, I thought if I were going to do a "pseudo-African natives versus foreign invaders" story, I might as well replace the stereotypical white people with another non-black race.

That said, I'm not really married to my villains being Native Americans. Maybe I could make them non-human aliens instead? Not only would that dissociate them from any real division of humanity, but it gives me an opportunity to make up my own species.

Yeah. "I might as well" isn't a very good reason for this kind of thing.

fireluxlou
10-23-2012, 08:30 PM
Let me explain my setting: the Native Americans are from our world's near future, but the black people are native to a parallel world similar but not identical to ours. It's a trans-universal conflict. As for making them Native American, I thought if I were going to do a "pseudo-African natives versus foreign invaders" story, I might as well replace the stereotypical white people with another non-black race.

That said, I'm not really married to my villains being Native Americans. Maybe I could make them non-human aliens instead? Not only would that dissociate them from any real division of humanity, but it gives me an opportunity to make up my own species.

Yea... ok... like that makes it any better. You need to rethink this.

Williebee
10-23-2012, 08:37 PM
Just a thought? Build your villain (s) as a person first. Then figure out their race. Race is only a part of the equation, and not the individual nature of the character. Good luck.

Modgonne
10-23-2012, 08:50 PM
It's hard territory and is sounding like it's verging on 'Save the Pearls' territory, unfortunately.

The idea itself is not terribly far-fetched. It even has a historical precedent in Scottish history. People who were removed from their land during the Highland Clearances sometimes went on to be the very same people decimating native populations in the South Pacific. People whose homes were burned and families were killed to make way for sheep...burned the homes and killed the families of other people. To make room to raise sheep.

But that's a huge over-simplification of the politics, the historical personalities and the religious (and pseudo-religious) beliefs involved. I've done it no justice at all.

And that's the danger.

Tyrannosaurus Rex
10-23-2012, 09:06 PM
I'm reading the Save the Pearls thread right now and am repulsed. I don't want anything I write to be compared to Victoria Foyt's blatantly racist trash. Ergo, I'm going with aliens.

Jcomp
10-23-2012, 11:08 PM
Only book I've read that it was done well in was Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses because the reversal felt real.



Here's the key when it comes to this sort of material; are you going to do it well? How confident are you that you can do it extremely well. The concept alone isn't, in my opinion, automatically offensive, regardless of which minority race you'd elect to use. But when you venture into this kind of territory you have to be aware that if you don't put out an excellent, intelligent product, you're going to piss a lot of people off and catch a lot of heat. Hell, even if you do pull off the story well, you'll still catch some heat, but of course you're inviting much greater backlash if you don't bring something brilliant to the table.

Without having read any of your work I obviously can't say whether or not you would do it well, but that's the big thing for anyone to keep in mind when looking to tackle controversial topics from potentially offensive angles.

kuwisdelu
10-23-2012, 11:21 PM
I'd say if it's about race and you have to ask whether it would be offensive or not, you're probably not knowledgeable enough to pull it off well.

Jcomp
10-23-2012, 11:50 PM
I'd say if it's about race and you have to ask whether it would be offensive or not, you're probably not knowledgeable enough to pull it off well.

Race, religion, disability, on down the line. But insufficient knowledgability can potentially be remedied with thorough, diligent research, at least. Skillfullness is still another potential issue in this situation.

In short, you have to be up to the task in every dimension. To paraphrase Reuben from Ocean's 11, "If you're gonna [do something that requires unbelievable talent and/or rigorous study to do it successfully], you better g**damn know."

fireluxlou
10-24-2012, 12:47 AM
Here's the key when it comes to this sort of material; are you going to do it well? How confident are you that you can do it extremely well. The concept alone isn't, in my opinion, automatically offensive, regardless of which minority race you'd elect to use. But when you venture into this kind of territory you have to be aware that if you don't put out an excellent, intelligent product, you're going to piss a lot of people off and catch a lot of heat. Hell, even if you do pull off the story well, you'll still catch some heat, but of course you're inviting much greater backlash if you don't bring something brilliant to the table.

Without having read any of your work I obviously can't say whether or not you would do it well, but that's the big thing for anyone to keep in mind when looking to tackle controversial topics from potentially offensive angles.
Malorie Blackman is a black woman writer ETA to me it's apparent when a white person tries to write about these issues, don't know how to explain it myself. She knows the subject matter well, because she's lived it. She said herself that she wanted to express her own experiences through the series and it's evident in the books that knows the subject matter on a personal level, to be able to write it. She says in her F.A.Q about why she wrote the series 'Almost everyone I spoke to about it was of the view ‘Been there, done that, let’s move on.’ But I wanted to write a story about the legacy of slavery. About how attitudes way back when, still influence all our lives and the way we think and live today. I really believe the subject of slavery is terribly important – especially in this day and age. I think it gives a context to modern day Western World thinking and attitudes regarding other races and cultures.' (http://www.malorieblackman.co.uk/index.php/category/books/noughts-crosses-qa/) and what she wanted to portray in the book 'Callum’s family do have a number of ordeals to live through, but some, if not all of these, are issues that ethnic minorities have to deal with a regular basis in real life, i.e. inequalities in education, health, the justice system, employment and access to opportunity.'.

So yes I agree, you do have to know it extremely well to write it. And I also agree with kuwisdelu that 'if you have to ask...'.

Jcomp
10-24-2012, 01:33 AM
I agree as well, to an extent. That said, I think it's preferable to ask instead of just saying "eh, I'm just gonna go ahead and write it without surveying anyone." Everyone's up in arms about V. Foyt and from the looks of things she didn't bother to ask, and the result didn't turn out well for her.

RichardGarfinkle
10-24-2012, 01:53 AM
I agree as well, to an extent. That said, I think it's preferable to ask instead of just saying "eh, I'm just gonna go ahead and write it without surveying anyone." Everyone's up in arms about V. Foyt and from the looks of things she didn't bother to ask, and the result didn't turn out well for her.

I agree. Sometimes one simply has a character whose background and experience are beyond ones experience. It's better to ask and learn than make up and offend for no reason.

kuwisdelu
10-24-2012, 02:16 AM
I agree as well, to an extent. That said, I think it's preferable to ask instead of just saying "eh, I'm just gonna go ahead and write it without surveying anyone." Everyone's up in arms about V. Foyt and from the looks of things she didn't bother to ask, and the result didn't turn out well for her.

Well, yeah, some people are just that dumb. But if you're smart enough to realize it may be offensive but you don't know enough to know whether it'll be offensive or not, then it's a safe bet you probably aren't capable of writing it well at your current level of knowledge. You might be able to pull it off when you've learned more. (And when you've learned more, you'll probably then realize how naive your original thinking was.)

Polenth
10-24-2012, 11:12 AM
Oppression is a complex thing. Having the bad guys be really bad, and the victims be really good, so you can say oppression is bad, is missing what's going on. This is why reversals generally don't work, because they often come with all the subtlety of a brick. This is why sticking in aliens doesn't work, as when they're portrayed with all the same tropes and stereotypes, we know who they're meant to be (even if they look like lime-green jellyfish monsters). And even if you manage to skip the stereotypes, it's still a simplified oppression-is-bad message.

This isn't the first time you've asked a question like this, and I'm not convinced you're learning anything from asking. You have to be willing to tackle your own prejudices and lack of understanding. Otherwise, you'll be asking a similar question next week.

kuwisdelu
10-24-2012, 08:05 PM
So what happens when it isn't white women throwing the charges, but other PoC?

You're not going to last long here with that attitude.

You've gotten some very helpful advice. I suggest you reread it and go read the stickies at the top of this forum as well.

fireluxlou
10-24-2012, 08:43 PM
Yea ok.... Kuwisdelu is right.

There is just so many problems with your post I can't even explain without raging ... and the general manner of your post is just being dismissive of WoC who have a problem with what you say as calling them 'racist white women'.

People usually hark on about 'politically correct' when they get called out for their racism and saying offensive stuff, I'm sorry that people who face it will not put up with you any longer. I will not tolerate it. If you're just going to be dismissive of PoC's concerns and how can you write about PoC?

Tyrannosaurus Rex
10-24-2012, 08:49 PM
So what happens when it isn't white women throwing the charges, but other PoC?
99% of the time I get the charge from white or otherwise non-black women (the one exception I can recall claimed to live in Africa, but then Africa has historically received a lot of immigrants from Arabia, Britain, and the Netherlands). Black women in general have shown support for the black female characters in my art and writing.

fireluxlou
10-24-2012, 08:59 PM
99% of the time I get the charge from white or otherwise non-black women (the one exception I can recall claimed to live in Africa, but then Africa has historically received a lot of immigrants from Arabia, Britain, and the Netherlands). Black women in general have shown support for the black female characters in my art and writing.

Could you explain your Africa argument? Africa is not a country it's a continent made up of approximately 1 billion people with 54 individual countries, it may have a lot of immigrants but black people do live there too.

Tyrannosaurus Rex
10-24-2012, 09:02 PM
Could you explain your Africa argument? Africa is not a country it's a continent made up of approximately, 1 billion people with 54 individual countries it may have a lot of immigrants from but black people do live there too.
She did not specify which country she came from (merely that she "lived in Africa", but my point is that you cannot assume that everyone who lives in Africa is black.

Kitty Pryde
10-24-2012, 09:03 PM
Play nice or I lock the thread. A few notes: respect your fellow author. The best way to not be accused of racism is to not be a racist. Crying "politically correct police!" is a fairly ineffective defense of racist notions. if you don't want your ideas questioned, don't post them on a forum full of smart writers and ask them to be dissected. And finally, don't presume to know who background/identity/experience of your fellow posters.

MacAllister
10-24-2012, 09:25 PM
You know what I've learned about "fetishization"? It's a politically correct veil for racist white women flipping out at white men who like women of color. No white man gets accused of fetishizing blondes, redheads, or brunettes if he shows interest in them, but the moment he appreciates WoC the white chicks throw the fetishization charge at him. The double standard says volumes about who's really being racist.

I must have been mistaken to consult this clique of politically correct, pseudo-liberal racists for advice on offensiveness.

Yeah. We've actually heard exactly this accusation before from the same poster, and it got him a seven day time out, then.

This time, we're all finished. He's now permanently excused from the conversation.

Blarghhh.