Monday, December 21, 2009

Race Fantasies, White Guilt and Sci-Fi Narratives [link to an article]

I stumbled across an article by Annalee Newitz today. I am still surprised (rightly so?) when Mr. Me post-colonial, anti-colonial, person of color in a white town, writing a thesis about race premised on intellectual and political race-fantasies of my own, reads something that makes something snap inside me such that I go: "Holy crap! How come I've never thought about it this way before?!"

And when I stumble on something that gets me to think out-of-the-box, I love sharing it! This article (link here) discusses white guilt and white racial fantasies within popular cinematic sci-fi narratives. I personally think it is a very interesting take. If you have any (differing) thoughts, I would love to hear them.

"Critics have called alien epic Avatar a version of Dances With Wolves because it's about a white guy going native and becoming a great leader. But Avatar is just the latest scifi rehash of an old white guilt fantasy. Spoilers...
Whether Avatar is racist is a matter for debate. Regardless of where you come down on that question, it's undeniable that the film - like alien apartheid flick District 9, released earlier this year - is emphatically a fantasy about race. Specifically, it's a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people. Avatar and scifi films like it give us the opportunity to answer the question: What do white people fantasize about when they fantasize about racial identity?"
Read the full article here.


Pascalou said...

(Sorry about such a long comment, I did not realize I had so many things in mind when I started typing.)

I remember making an essay at the end of Junior high on sci-fi. You had to pretend you were a chief redactor in a magazine and, in your column, you had to give a "political" opinion on a cultural subject. I wrote something clumsy about sci-fi movies being racist, because it was always about bad weird-looking, aggressive invaders.

My opinion was that now it was frowned upon to make menacing arabic characters (yes, white guilt, in southern France, focuses on Maghreb more than sub-Saharan Africa), well we reported our natural hatred of the "unknown" on aliens.

The headmistress liked it but regretted that I had qualified these ideas as "far-right" >> meaning, in my mind, "racist", especially because the French nationalist party had just created a drama with their breakthrough at the 2002 presidential elections, throwing away the socialists for the first time in thirty years. And the Sacré-Cœur school did not worship socialism.

White guilt will not disappear so easily. I was raised with it in mind, in a village where arabic children took different buses to go to the faraway barracks they had to call home. There were two sinks in the courtyard where kids could drink, and one of them was the "robinet des arabes" where the french-born kids never drank for fear of getting a disease or something. This was, of course, no initiative from the teachers, but from the children themselves. Racist jokes were daily ways of expression, although we all had an arabic friend somewhere in the school, and sometimes we made those jokes in their presence, saying at the same time "well, except for you, Ismail, you're not like this, haha", and Ismail laughed for better integration. [South Africa, apartheid, 1960s ? No. Southern France, 1990s.]

In this context, my family forbade these jokes and behaviors; parents taught us that racism was the worse thing ever, that we should love and respect everyone in the same way.

As I was the one in school who always got mocked and laughed at because I was weird (understand: gay, but not knowing about that yet), I was bullied by nearly everyone. I always shouted and hit back, which made me even more attractive as a victim because there always was some show.
There was this one boy I did not hit back, though. I nearly gave the other cheek as a present. He was Walid and lived behind the hill, where most arabic families had moved to after the barracks were dismantled. And I did not hit back because I thought: "He's arabic, so he must be poor and be a victim of racism from white people like me. I gotta show him I'm different". (I didn't know at the time, that Walid was rich as hell with a big villa and a pool).
I was nine, he was seven, I had never heard the word "colonial" in my life. And still, as Walid would kick me hard in the leg, slap me in the face and smile, I barely made a move.

So, getting rid of "white guilt" may take some time, especially in France where President Sarkozy would like to highlight the "positive effects" of colonialism in the French History schoolbooks.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you read this, and are sharing it! I found it via Racialicious, where they also seperately reposted one of the comments from the original article, which is a beautiful rant that the folks at Racialicious have declared "Moff's Law". In summary, this rule states that anyone whose response to any critical analysis is anything close to "Gee, why can't you just relax and enjoy something without thinking about it so hard?" should SHUT UP. I loveloveloveLOVE it!

whorlsofjazz said...

I've only recently begun to see how sci-fi poses ethical and moreal questions. V interesting read, M. Amak!

Astraeus said...

thanks for sharing this! B put this up on his profile too and i read it there.
Makes us think