Aliette de Bodard on Mixed-race people in SFF

Aliette gave us permission to repost this here, from her blog:

Mixed-race people in SFF

By Aliette de Bodard

OK, because I’ve seen one too many %%% storylines about mixed-race people in fiction (expanded for SFF to include the children of humans and aliens/magical creatures, etc.). For your information:

We are not psychopaths, terminally maladjusted, forever torn between two cultures in a way that will inevitably destroy us. We are not freaks or hybrids or mongrels or circus animals, forever exhibited as examples of what can go wrong in human/alien/magical creatures relationships; neither are we featureless saints exhibited as examples of interracial/interspecies harmony.

We are not special, magical or possessed of numinous powers by virtue of our non-white/non-human blood; we are not the tamed Other, made acceptable by an infusion of white blood and white customs, the “safe” option with only a hint of fashionable exoticism and none of the raw difference of “true” foreigners. We are not a handy, non-scary substitute for diversity in fiction.

We do not have pick sides unilaterally. We do not have to share the identity of our mother or of our father to the exclusion of the other parent (and most of us will find it quite hard to completely reject one half of our heritage); and our parents are not perpetually locked in some cultural war in which there would only be a single winner. We can be raised with love and respect and in a meld between two cultures: we do not have to be orphaned/single-parent/neglected/abused to exist.

Our parents are normal beings, and so are we.

If you’re using mixed-race people in your fiction and feature ANY of those tropes, do please think for a moment of what it is that you’re saying (and I wish I could say it’s not the case, but I’ve seen all of these–yes, even the hybrid/mongrel–at some point in recent SFF, either in print or in other media).

Disclaimer: this is based on my experience and on those of friends growing up (mostly in Europe, and most Asian-white mixed-race). I tend to think a lot of it applies elsewhere, though…


6 thoughts on “Aliette de Bodard on Mixed-race people in SFF

  1. AMEN! While fortunately I haven’t read too many books with characters who fit a similar description, I perceive people might feel this way about me in real life. No, I DON’T have to decide if I’m white or Asian. I’m both. I’m also not a psychopath or “terminally maladjusted.” SFF writers need to keep this in mind; as the world changes, it mixes more thoroughly. Thanks for reposting this!

  2. I do appreciate this post. I am a mestizo and I am married to a Caucasian New Zealander, so I am well aware of the phenomenon, but though we may not like the fact that a majority of the American (and European?) population views us this way – they do. I suppose our fiction reflects that mindset. It would be refreshing to see a story that turned the tropes around, but I don’t think that will happen until we come to understand each other regardless of race, culture, etc. I guess, posts like this will help to do that. 🙂

    1. What’s wrong with “her tone?” Mixed race characters are among the most exoticized, objectified and tokenized in SF/F. De Bodard happens to be of mixed-race origin, so you can see how this might grate upon her. As such, she’s under no obligation to sugar-coat her feelings on the subject…but it does appear that she refrained from calling out writers who do this kind of crap, even though it must make her blood boil when she encounters it (as it does mine). This is a perfect example of someone being very, very police, tactful and considerate when they don’t really need to be. At all. So yeah…not sure what your comment is supposed to mean.

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