SF Signal have just published the first part of a roundtable on race in science fiction and fantasy, with David Anthony Durham, Aliette de Bodard, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and Ken Liu:
Q: In what ways do you see readers reacting to the racial content of your work? As a follow-up question, has your race entered into that discussion, and if so, how?David Anthony Durham
Sometimes I think readers assume that I’m writing about race just because I’m a writer of color and/or because I’ve done so before.
With the Acacia Trilogy I’m a little surprised by readers that mention my exploration of racism. Surprised because racism isn’t, to me, much of an issue in the books. I wrote about these topics explicitly in earlier historical novels (like Gabriel’s Story and Walk Through Darkness), but the Known World is free from the racial hierarchy of our history. Sure, there are tensions, but I don’t think anybody in the novels believes that one race is inferior to another. They have national pride and-particularly in the case of the Meins-a desire for racial purity. But that’s a product of having been a proud clan of people that have suffered exile. That’s very different than the hundreds of years that our Western society used science, religion, laws and myth to differentiate the races in the starkest of terms.
I made the Quota/Mist trade one that takes slaves from all races of the Known World. I wanted to contrast that against our history of the Atlantic Slave trade. Anybody’s children are at risk. Anybody can be sent overseas to an unknown fate. And in the later books, I was interested in what that means for those slaves. How do they come to define themselves in their slavery? Not, surely, by their race. Are they more a part of the culture that sold them into slavery, or do they draw their identity from the one in which they’re raised-that of their enslavers?
I find that the readers most likely to engage with this are the ones that have spent the most time thinking about the role of race in their own lives, especially those that come from-or are themselves creating-multicultural identities.
The flip side of this is that some readers don’t notice anything unusual in the multicultural vibe of the books. I’ve heard readers express surprise that I identify as African-American. “I didn’t know he was black until he said so in a blog post.” That sort of thing. I think part of what’s going on there is that some readers expect a black writer to write about race in a certain way, to write primarily black characters and to have a particular platform that’s easily recognizable-and potentially dismissible-to them. I want to believe that what I do is a bit different than that. And, honestly, I’m very glad to be able to have a dialogue with these readers as well. – read the full post.