88 posts categorized "multiracial"

August 10, 2007

A Word Lesson On "Miscegenation"

Regarding this brouhaha:

First of all, some terms, since I've found that most people are really, really sloppy about them:

  1. Monoracial refers to individuals or groups that are considered to have only one race. This refers both to the person's self-acknowledged identity, and the identity assigned to them by society.
    My father is monoracial: white.

  2. Interracial means a relationship between two people who identify monoracially and whose races are different. It doesn't just mean sexual or romantic relationships, either. commerce between two racial groups would be interracial as well. There are also interracial friendships, mentorships, etc. The term suggests bilateralness. It does not refer to individuals of more than one ancestry!
    My white father and Chinese mother have an interracial relationship.

  3. Biracial, when referring to a person means that that person is of mixed descent, the mix being two races. Although this term could be used in a number of ways, it is commonly only used to refer to individuals of two racial ancestries.
    I am therefore biracial.

  4. Multiracial has many current uses. When referring to a person, it means that the person is of mixed descent, the mix being two or more races. A biracial person is also multiracial. There is also a slight political preference towards using "multiracial" because "biracial" excludes people of more than two ancestries.

    When referring to a group, it means either that the group is composed of multiracial individuals, or that the group is composed of monoracial individuals of two or more races. Which meaning will only be clear in context. "Multiracial" is often used to refer to groups which contain only two races. Usually, "multiracial" is used to refer to group situations and "interracial" is used to refer to one-on-one situations, but this isn't always the case.
    I am also multiracial. I have many individual friends who are multiracial: Chinese and white, Korean and Mexican, Japanese and black. My group of friends is very multiracial, including Mexicans, Indians, Filipinos, whites, blacks, Japanese, Iranians, etc.

  5. While I'm on the subject: Multicultural does not mean "multiracial". "Multicultural" literally means of more than one culture and can be used that way, but is commonly used to refer to a society or group composed of people of more than one race/ethnicity/culture. Its connotation is of balanced diversity within a group.
    I live in a society that strives to be multicultural.

  6. Mixed Race when referring to an individual means the same thing as "multiracial", a person of more than one racial descent. "Mixed race" can also be used to refer to groups of more than one monoracial identity, groups of multiracial individuals, bi- and multi-racial relations of all sorts. It's most commonly used, however, to refer to multiracial individuals.
    I am mixed race.

  7. Miscegenation is a noun, unlike all of the words above, which are adjectives, adjective phrases or adjective complements. It is a noun that refers to an action: the action of mixing races, either through interracial marriage or through interracial sexual relationships. The literal meaning of the term, which was coined fairly recently is "mixing origins", which can refer to childless relationships, but the strong connotation is that miscegenation is the production of mixed race children. After all, the dilution of monoracial purity only comes through producing multiracial children, and this is the result that causes the hysteria in antimiscegenation laws.

    The term originated in a hoax pamphlet intended to create anti-miscegenation hysteria (it succeeded) and has been used in an exclusively negative manner. To use it to refer to purely recreative interracial sex is to use the term falsely, unless of course, the kink is for unsafe interracial sex that leads to pregnancy.
    Many people would think my family is an example of miscegenation.

My point is this: the term "miscegenation" serves a very specific purpose. It has not been turned into an adjective or verb, or even an adverb. It has remained a noun for nearly 150 years. It describes a process, an action with consequences, not a simple fact or state of being.

Aside from any questions of offensiveness, using "miscegenation" to refer to interracial sex fetishes is simply incorrect.

There are interracial relationships, there is interracial sex, and then there are people who get off on the perceived taboo of crossing races for sex. What you call that is "Interracial Sex Fetish", not "Miscegenation".

Get it right.

August 07, 2007

International Blog Against Racism Week 07


Oyceter over at LJ is again hosting International Blog Against Racism Week.

Da rulez:

  1. Announce the week in your blog.

  2. Switch your default icon to either an official IBAR week icon, or one which you feel is appropriate. To get an official IBAR week icon, you may modify one of yours yourself or ask someone to do so. Here's a round up of IBARW icons.

  3. Post about race and/or racism: in media, in life, in the news, personal experiences, writing characters of a race that isn't yours, portrayals of race in fiction, review a book on the subject, etc. (Linking back here is highly appreciated!)

You KNOW ima participate. Howzabout you?

Here's Oyce's links roundup so far.

(Cross-posted on Other Magazine blog.)

August 05, 2007

How Do Editors Reach Out to Writers of Color?


I wasn't gonna get drawn into this debate, because Tempy and Tobias were already doing such a good job and saying what I wanted to say, but then I went and read the comments in Tobias's post and now I'm annoyed.

People were--well, one person was--calling out ABW for placing the lion's share of blame on the editors' shoulders for needing to go and reach out to writers of color if they really wanted to diversify the stories in their rags. This someone asked when they were supposed to have the time to do all this outreach.

Are you fucking kidding me?

First of all, arguing that editors don't have time to do their jobs doesn't really excuse anything. It's an editor's job not merely to present the best writing that's sent to her, not merely to make a real, good faith effort to find the best writing that's out there, but to actually encourage writers to produce more and differently--to shape the kind of writing that gets made in the first place. Anyone who doesn't know this isn't really a professional in the field.

And the best editors of the most respected magazines do exactly that. They don't sit on their asses and wait for the transom to emit. They run around like madpeople to conferences and workshops and readings, they collect zines and spend time on the internet and ask their trusted writer/editor friends for recommendations. They talk to agents. They do rain dances, naked.

They also turn to writers and agents and proactively ask them if they have a story on X, or a story written like Y. They do this knowing that word will go around that Editor Z wants X and Y! And tons of hungry writers will step up.

So it's funny that X and Y are so rarely "stuff by writers of color" and "stuff about people of color." All an editor has to do is ask.

2) Given that editors have to do this and also that their time is limited, why don't we poc make things easier for them? I mean, let's start a list of places an editor should go to outreach to those ever-elusive good poc writers. I'll start and maybe members of other communities can pick this up. I'd be happy to host a mini-carnival on this topic, or simply to collect the responses and post them all together at some later date. Please feel free to add resources in the comments, especially if you have a blog that you know poc writers read.

These tips should include:

  1. list servs, forums, bulletin boards, etc. where poc writers are likely to be found

  2. blogs poc writers are likely to read

  3. print and online magazines and newspapers poc are likely to read

  4. real world organizations poc writers are likely to hang out in

  5. poc writers conferences, conferences, festivals (esp. literary festivals)

  6. reading series where poc are likely to participate

  7. undergraduate writing classes at poc-heavy campuses and poc student orgs (yes, they really should be thinking ahead. Someone will be much more likely to START writing if they know they'll be welcome there when they've FINISHED writing something.)

What follows here is a list of all the poc real world and online spaces I can think of to use to outreach to writers of color. NOTE: this goes for literary writing AND for SF/F:

General POC

  1. The Carl Brandon Society (poc speculative fiction writers) discussion list-serv and blog

  2. VONA Voices poc writers workshop, and their email.

  3. Mosaic, an African American and Latino literary magazine, whose lit editor is Sheree Renee Thomas

Asian American
  1. Kearny Street Workshop (Bay Area Asian American arts) opportunities list-serv

  2. Kearny Street Workshop's links page to other Asian American arts and literary orgs.

  3. Asian American Writers Workshop

  4. Hyphen Magazine (national Asian American magazine) blog

  5. Angry Asian Man blog

  6. dis*Orient Journalzine

  7. This listing of South Asian American (Indian subcontinent) journals also includes general As Am markets, some of which might be defunct.

  8. DesiPundit blog, Indian diaspora.

  9. Tiffinbox blog, Indian diaspora.

  10. Resources on South Asian lit.

  1. Galeria de la Raza (Bay Area Latino multidisciplinary arts organization.)

  2. PALABRA A Magazine of Chicano & Latino Literary Art

  3. La Bloga, a Chicano/Latino literary blog

  4. Other Latino literary resources

African/Caribbean American
  1. African American bookstores in the USA.

  2. Black magazines and journals with open submissions.

  3. Publishers with a particular interest in Af/Af Am writers.

Arab American
  1. Links list of Arab writers writing in English.

  2. Mizna, Arab American Journal

  3. Al-Rawi, association of Arab American writers.

  4. Resources and links to Arab American writers.

  5. Angry Arab blog

Native American/American Indian
  1. Native American writers directory

  2. Native Blog, native American/American Indian blog.

  3. Native American/American Indian literary resources.


  1. Here's a links directory of all the accredited Asian American studies departments and courses in the USA. Many of them will have As Am-specific creative writing courses.

  2. Here's a links directory of African American studies departments and courses in the USA. Many of them will have Af Am-specific creative writing courses.

  3. Here's an incomplete links directory of Latin American/Caribbean studies departments and institution in the USA. Some weeding will need to be done.

  4. The University of Michigan's Arab American Studies Center. A bulletin board, newspage, and resources page are all under construction, but you can email them your call for submissions here.

  5. List of Native American Studies programs

April 03, 2007

White Ethnicity Redux


I realized, while I was writing the preceding post about white ethnic blogging, that I've been unconsciously supporting the whole white ethnic blogging as default blogging thing. You see, I have "asian american" as a topic category on my blog, but not "white". And guess what? I'm both Asian American and white.

But because white is default, my only "ethnicity" is Asian, right?

Well, not anymore. I've added a "white" topic category to my blog and will be tagging posts that deal specifically with my white issues or my white ethnic perspective from now on.

It'll be interesting to see if I ever use this tag. I've been thinking of myself as a person of color for so long--and been treated as such for so long--that I don't know if I can think of my perspective as white. But for years I've been saying that I'm not a new category--a multiracial--but rather both Asian and white, whole and complete in both.

That turns out to not actually be true. I'm not whole and complete in being white, and don't know if I can be. We'll see. Experiment begins ... now!

March 03, 2007

Octavia Butler Tribute Fundraiser!!!!


Yes, cows and cowboys, tomorrow's the big day. You DO NOT want to miss this one.

Nalo_1Nalo Hopkinson will be there, she of the interesting hybrid accent, straight from Toronto, author of two of my favorite books: Brown Girl in the Ring and Midnight Robber (wouldn't it be cool if she did a sequel to Brown Girl in the Ring and called it Tralalalala?)

Jewelle Gomez will be there, in all her former grantor glory! Four words: lesbian escaped slave vampires. I know that's enough.

Gomez_penaGuillermo Gomez-Peña will be there, mixing it up, literally, linguistically, futuristically, and poetically. A MacArthur Genius. Heh, like Octavia. Now how often do you get to see geniuses?

Susiebright_1 Susie Bright will be there, erotica'in like there's no tomorrow. Really, do you want to miss the woman who is the nation's true expert on sex fiction? I think not.

MartaacostaMarta Acosta will be there, and can someone please explain to me what could possibly be wrong with Latina vampire chicklit? Yeah, that's what I thought.

DeguzmanJennifer de Guzman will be there. Comix goddess, yes. That's "Woman of Color Comix Editor" to you, sucka, Ms. de Guzman if yer nasty.

So you see why you can't miss out.

Here's the info again:

The Carl Brandon Society presents an

Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser

with readings by

Nalo Hopkinson
Jewelle Gomez
Susie Bright
Marta Acosta
Jennifer de Guzman
Guillermo Gomez-Peña

A fundraiser reading to benefit the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship.
Fabulous fabulists honor one of our great writers and raise funds for the next generation.

Sunday, March 4, 5 - 7 pm

The Starry Plough
3101 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA.

$5-20 sliding scale.

The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship will enable writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops, where Octavia got her start. It is meant to cement Octavia's legacy by providing the same experience/opportunity that Octavia had to future generations of new writers of color. In addition to her stint as a student at the original Clarion Writers Workshop in Pennsylvania in 1970, Octavia taught several times for Clarion West in Seattle, Washington, and Clarion in East Lansing, Michigan, giving generously of her time to a cause she believed in.

March 01, 2007

Black History Month Over

Black History Month ended five minutes ago by my clock and I didn't do what I said I was gonna do. So much for "it's our Black History Month, too!"

I have lots of excuses: exhaustion, being in the middle of a life-transition (no, not menopause, asshats), fighting off viruseses. But during May, API Heritage Month, I'd go out sick and blog something at least every other day, something cranky, no doubt. Bottom line: it's not our Black History Month. Not yet. All rhetoric aside, I still clearly think that it's their Black History Month, not mine, and not my responsibility.

And therein lies the conundrum.

I hinted at it here, when I posted that:

east asians are famous for being afraid of black people, but i steel myself when i see a black man headed my way because that purposeful walk means only one thing: he’s gonna get up into my shit for being asian. 99% of the time, i’m right, too. not all, not most, not even that many black men. just the ones who actually walk towards me that way.

do you know how long it’s been since i’ve taken shit from anyone but a black man for being asian? and yet, every single one of those black men who give me shit are wearing the aura of homelessness or some similar economic desperation on them, and they give me shit while i’m on my way to my fancy nonprofit, bleeding-heart job, or on my way to my mfa creative writing class, stinking of perfumed soap.

in response to Angry Black Woman's question about whether or not blacks can be "racist".

The tension between Asians and Blacks--and indeed between Blacks and all other minorities--exists, is constant, and just never gets talked about.

So how amazing is it that an extremely editorially ill-considered, blatantly racist "column" in an ethnic mag actually gets people talking about this very hidden tension? I'm talking (again) about the Kenneth Eng piece in AsianWeek, which I first saw in Hyphen's blog.

Go back to the article and read down into the comments. There's a lotta stupidity going on there, but it's also the most amazing discussion I've ever seen in Hyphen's comments. Almost every comment so far has said something new. The level of articulateness in these comments is well above par. Why does it take racist assholes to get people talking like this?

Some of the obvious things to say:

  1. Blacks are lowest on the racial totem pole, yet have the strongest racially-based social justice institutions; blacks have more cultural power to defy stereotyped images than all other ethnic minorities combined, yet are probably more judged and worked upon by those stereotypes in real life than all other minorities. This is complicated and difficult to comprehend, and no one who is angry about their lack of privilege will try to understand it.

  2. Fear of blacks nowadays is both the traditional fear of the rampaging negro savage, and the more postmodern fear of the incomprehensibly angry black tongue-lashing. The latter fear has become "racist" because it is so bound up with the former fear, but it is not, in itself, racist. It is the result of racism, where someone holds racist ideas and cannot free herself of them, and is therefore afraid to speak because every time she does, she is taken to task for her racist ideas. I want to separate these two fears because the latter fear is, in part, a fear of giving offense, and it is exactly that fear of giving offense that prevents many people from venturing a racist idea and then being corrected.

  3. I do not know to whom Black History Month belongs. I do not know what to do about it.

  4. Asians and blacks. Oh my gods. I can't even begin to touch that subject until you've listened to Ishle Park's amazing piece "Sa I Gu" on this CD. That's my cop out. There are so many individual crossovers, and so many individual clashes. What there has almost never been, except during the Rodney King riots, or "Sa I Gu", is groups of Asians and Blacks beating on each other, or, actually, talking to each other. I can't say anything.

  5. Except this: the Chinese are very, very racist against blacks, yes, it's true. It's culture-wide, and it's very different from how whites do it. The justifications are different, even here in the States. There's an imbibing of white cultural valus, certainly, but there's also a special Chinese brand of racism all its own, where "ghost/demons" are generally white, but there's a black version as well. Where everyone who isn't Chinese is a monkey, and not in a good way.

  6. And this: Chinese Americans led some of the early Asian American Movement groups and they modeled their protest consciously on the Civil Rights Movement ... for reasons that are obvious now--because they did it--but were not obvious then, when Chinese were considered foreigners, and not somehow "native" lessers, like blacks. It was the consciously taken lessons of the Civil Rights Movement, taken by the Asian American Movement, that enables discussions of parallels and differences, compare and contrast, between As Ams and Af Ams today. We chose to make blacks our model of activism and not whites. As Ams chose to model our Movement after Civil Rights and not the equally accessible and equally powerful white anti-war movement. Everybody needs to stop and think about that.

And here's the Black History Month conundrum:

Blacks don't get the spotlight often, so I should stay out of theirs in February.

But that doesn't mean that I should ignore Black History Month. That would be just as bad.

But it's weird to play an explicitly supportive role, for a whole month. Isn't that weird? And patronizing?

And I have all of this unresolved anger against blacks which is genuine, if vague. And did I mention unresolved?

And I'm angry at this specific black pundit for a stupid comment about Asians and I don't know where to put it to get it out of the way for February.

Plus: Black History Month: not really my deal, is it?

Ohmygod, if I say anything at all during Black History Month everyone will be looking at me and judging me and what if I say/do the wrong thing? It's not like anyone else who's not black is doing anything to take the heat off of me.

Am I really just an insufferable goody-goody?

Plus, now the month is over.

Yes, I'm being partly silly but I'm also deadly serious. I have not given up on My Black History Month. I just don't think it'll happen in February.

February 26, 2007

Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser

Hey all! I know you're all sick or fighting it off, and it's cold outside and raining, and it's still February.

Me too.

So come shake it off and get inspired this Sunday with a terrific reading event supporting a great cause! I'm co-organizing this with Charlie Anders and it's gonna be a great time. Check it out.

The Carl Brandon Society presents an

Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser

with readings by

Nalo Hopkinson
Jewelle Gomez
Susie Bright
Marta Acosta
Jennifer de Guzman
Guillermo Gomez-Peña

A fundraiser reading to benefit the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship.
Fabulous fabulists honor one of our great writers and raise funds for the next generation.

Sunday, March 4, 5 - 7 pm

The Starry Plough
3101 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA.

$5-20 sliding scale.

The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship will enable writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops, where Octavia got her start. It is meant to cement Octavia's legacy by providing the same experience/opportunity that Octavia had to future generations of new writers of color. In addition to her stint as a student at the original Clarion Writers Workshop in Pennsylvania in 1970, Octavia taught several times for Clarion West in Seattle, Washington, and Clarion in East Lansing, Michigan, giving generously of her time to a cause she believed in.

January 28, 2007

Ishoo Wun

So why does hybridity necessarily dovetail with adolescent identity searches?

First, let's quickly define "hybridity". I did this before in a triumphal, let's-change-the-world way. But we need a more working definition. So for now, "hybridity" means the process or product of a melding of two cultures, subcultures, forms, processes, or dynamic structures.

Got that? So you mix, combine or meld two things, and the process is hybridization. The outcome of that hybridization is a hybrid, or hybridity. This could be, for example, American yoga (melding American understanding of religion and exercise with an Indian tradition form), or Eminem (melding white, working class cultural norms and understanding with a "traditionally" black, working class art form), or nanotechnology (biology and robotics), or wholistic (holistic) medicine (western traditional medicine with western science-based medicine with eastern traditional and science-based forms), or the Prius (gas-powered and electric-powered), or me (Chinese and white).

Got that? Okay, let's go.

Hybridity, especially of the racial sort, but of many other sorts as well, is a topic frequently explored in YA (young adult) fiction. That is to say, when authors grapple with multiraciality or hybrid identities, they tend to turn to YA, or Bildungsromane (trans.: Bildung means "upbringing", "education", "personal formation" in German; Roman means "novel"). Most novels of hybrid identity either fall entirely within the scope of YA or a Bildungsroman, or else begin with youth and the identity-forming years.

But that is also to say that when you approach YA novels and Bildungsromane that aren't otherwise about hybrid identities, their form and format very often leads them into an examination of some type of hybridity or hybrid identity. The two---identity search and the exploration of mixing and melding---seem to be closely associated in our cultural thinking ... or perhaps merely in our narrative form.

Of course, all teens are definable as being in the midst of the basic and essential identity search: "finding themselves", who am I? and all that. Given. Teenagerhood is also a process of transitioning from childhood intellectual and emotional dependence to adult independence of same. Dependence on the conceptual constructions of another means necessarily a lack of flexibility. When Mommy says playing with yourself is bad, she doesn't mean (or perhaps she simply didn't say) that doing it in front of other people is bad and doing it when you're alone is acceptable, and doing it when you're lonely is good, and doing it instead of being promiscuous with strangers is virtuous, and experimenting with it is dangerous but exciting. Playing with yourself is just bad. Period.

Which is why we say that teens "experiment" with drugs and sex: not to see what happens when you mix this drug or that action with your body chemistry, but to see what happens when you challenge something Mommy or Daddy told you. The experimentation fractures your understanding of "do" and "don't" into "do sometimes" and "don't do under these circumstances" and "think first because you don't know what to do here." The confusing but comfortingly black and white instruction set of childhood is replaced by an ethical code which requires interpretation. Teens are introduced to the necessity for flexibility, to an ambiguous world in which ambiguity is often what allows you to survive or to be yourself.

For a few short years, teen minds are so soft and flexible that they can literally be turned around overnight. A concept they always held to be sacred can be flipped in an instant. Faith can be killed, or created, in an afternoon. Three different adults can tell them three different things and they can act on all three beliefs simultaneously, while consumed with rage at the contradictions.

Ah, teens.

Adolescence is the moment we come closest to touching ambiguity as a substance, and not just a state of understanding.

I have a tendency to use "ambiguity" and "hybridity" interchangeably because, obviously, this is my experience of being what other people consider a hybrid. But they are not exactly interchangeable. Ambiguity is defined by its use in words and communications. It is "doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention," or "Doubtfulness or uncertainty as regards interpretation," or "unclearness by virtue of having more than one meaning."

What I mean by interchanging them is to underline the fact that certain things about me are verbal or conceptual constructs, and not actualities. Race, for example, is a conceptual--and verbal--construct. I am only multiracial if you consider my race/s to be:

  1. distinct
  2. mutually exclusive
  3. important
In defining me as a hybrid, you are giving me two or more distinct, mutually exclusive, and important values and meanings. Which means that my singular meaning to you, my meaning, being and purpose as a person contains within it more than one distinct, mutually exclusive, and important meaning. Which makes my meaning, and which makes me as a person, ambiguous.

The synonyms of "ambiguity," which is to say, the word's connotations, are "vagueness, equivocation, deceptiveness." Its antonyms are "explicitness" and, oh irony!, "clarity." Ambiguity, the lack of a clear meaning, is, in itself, neither bad nor good. It simply is. However, our culture (and perhaps to a certain extent all human cultures) values clarity, hard definition, and shuns ambiguity. Probably why it is only since the European Enlightenment we have even had adolescence, much less a culturally-understood search for oneself.

Most people in our society go through an extended moment of recognizing that their categories are not, technically, all perfectly dovetailed. The things they thought were hard, neighboring truths about themselves are, when taken to logical extremes, terribly contradictory. And becoming adult means--in essence--acclimating to what seems like contradictions when looked at in this way. Becoming adult means learning to ignore what seem to be personal contradictions--or learning not to mind that one can't explain oneself to oneself. Learning to accept one's own mystery and the mystery of others. Learning to live meaningfully in the absence of a single, clear meaning of life.

Lovely enough, but it's a process that isn't seen at all, being internal. It's a process that's impossible to tell stories about directly because it's manifested mostly in tantrums and acting out.

So, often and often, some sort of obvious hybridity becomes the metaphor for the process of disambiguation (or more accurately, enambiguation) that happens beneath the surface of every zitty teenage skin.

This is often some sort of racial hybridity or hybridity of biological genesis. After all, in our society we permit people to leave behind with rage of adolescence the hybridity of being both parents and children, being both friends and enemies, lovers and fighters, teachers and students, athletes and drunkards, artists and accountants. We move forward no longer seeing that these are any contradiction. We actively avoid the hybridity of male/female, desire and friendship.

What we can't let pass is the hybridity of race. Not in this society, with our racial hierarchy. Such things can't be ambiguous. Whether you're a father or son right this second isn't important. It doesn't impact your status or how a stranger will treat you. But whether you're black or white right this second really, really does. So racial hybridity or hybridity of genesis become the stand-ins for all such adolescent processes.

All Graeco-roman heroes' tales are Bildungsromane, coming-of-age stories. Because the very definition of the hero is a semi-divinity: someone born of a mortal and an immortal parent, who is himself mortal, but possesses superpowers. A hybrid. There is always a near-climatic moment of reckoning with one's hidden parentage. There's always a moment in which the desires and limitations of the human are forced, through action, to meld with the powers of the god; a moment in which the hybrid potential is fulfilled by ignoring the contradictions inherent.

I'm exposing myself to severe flame-action, but that's Jesus' story as well. Son of a human and a god, he finds himself three times: at the temple when he is (no coincidence here) twelve years old lecturing to his elders; in discovering his ministry, which exposes his superpowers of reasoning, persuasion, love, and leadership; and on the cross, where he discovers his superior powers of self-sacrifice. He is in himself a hybrid, but he is also one aspect of the ultimate contemporary western hybrid: the trinity, simultaneously father, son, and holy spirit. (Yeah, and no coincidence, either, that protestant sects violently debate the nature of that hybridity; it is also protestant sects that raised the racial slave trade in North America to an industry, and that went to war over ending that same institution.)

And then of course, in these atheistic times, the hybridity between the natural and supernatural---which makes into story our ability to fulfill our own potential by ignoring categories---becomes more and more abstract and less and less religious. We no longer believe in gods or fairies, so the hybrid coming-of-age story becomes related to what we recognize as fantasy only.

I'm not gonna say that the slide from the more obvious forms of hybridity in our society to fabulist literary forms is seamless. China Miéville points out that the magical races (dwarves, elves, orcs, etc.) in Tolkienesque fantasy are rigidly held to biologically determined character virtues and flaws and that that is profoundly reactionary and bigoted. Obviously, not all swords and sorcery writers think such things about human races. And the hybridity in the YA magical protagonist is not always racial (being half-elf, for example) but otherwise genetic (being of a line of witches, for example). But the connection between the two is an obvious one, and one that is made usually without a great deal of reflection or philosophy.

Which is why you see so many protagonists of Young Adult fiction who have magic in them. Usually, they got it from one parent. Usually, that parent is missing or dead or presumed dead. Usually, that parent turns out to be either alive him/herself, or alive in the form of a close relative with similar aspects/powers. Usually there is a reckoning with that parent, with that parentage. Usually--always? almost always?--there is a moment where the implications are thrown to the winds and the potentialities of both parentages are melded. Always this is the climax. Always it leads to a new hybridity of two old, seemingly mutually exclusive states of being or doing. Always this new hybridity is understood as the becoming of the protagonist, the protagonist's total being.

I can only half-remember examples of the many, many books like this I read when I was young. The albino kid from Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, which was my favorite series, sticks out. Here, the kid (SPOILER ALERT) is raised as an orphan by relatives, and later discovers himself to be the secret son of King Arthur and Guinivere, displaced in time. King Arthur, of course, is a magical being simply by virtue of his position in the imagination.

Or, more recently, there's the Harry Potter series, in which the human racial diversity is a matter of extreme blandness, but a deep discomfort with racial ambiguity is only semi-intentionally displayed through the conflict between Muggle and Wizard families. The main hybridity there is in Harry, whose mother was a Muggle. Harry is raised as an orphan by relatives who obfuscate his magical heritage, and the magic in his Muggle heritage. This hybridity is mirrored, naturally, in Harry's arch-enemy, Lord Voldemort, who was the son of a witch and a Muggle, raised contemptuously by his Muggle family, and "rescued" by Dumbledore and Hogwarts School. Both hero and villain face a reckoning with their mixed heritage, but only Harry, and by implication only, makes peace with both, although he allies himself with the magical world. Voldemort is portrayed as succumbing to evil because of his hatred of his Muggle half--like a half-Jewish Nazi.

There's also a more complex and nuanced discomfort with the whole issue of authenticity and cultural genesis evidenced in Hermione, who is herself a Muggle with magical abilities, an analogy to, say, Tracy Turnblad from Hairspray, who is a white girl with mysteriously black powers of dancing. And then there's Neville Longbottom, who is feared to be a Squib, a pureblood wizard with no magical abilities, the analogy to the Oreo, the black person who is white on the inside---or perhaps to the aristocrat with common tendencies.

An early exchange between Draco Malfoy and Ron Weasley, both pureblood wizards, about the value of mixed-bloods intentionally promotes Rowling's diversity agenda, and unintentionally displays Rowling's discomfort with the idea that there can be a difference in being born to a magical family and being adopted into one, or to being "naturally" magical, yet having to learn magic in school---all racial/ethnic issues rampant in current American and British demographics.

But my favorite example is not considered a YA at all, although I think it has all the markers of one. That is China Miéville's King Rat, definitely not his most popular book, and also his only full-length novel that doesn't take place in Bas Lag. It's not a coincidence that I quoted his notions of raciality in fantastical races above. He's the only fantasy writer I've seen who's created a plausible and effective fantastical scenario, that consciously promotes an actively ambiguous hybrid identity in its protagonist, rather than implying it, or fumbling the ball by calling something hybrid that actually looks only like one of its parts. (I'm sure there are more of these, but I haven't read them.)

The whole structure is there (BIG OL' SPOILER ALERT--and take this one seriously, because this book is worth reading for its own sake): a young man, Saul, raised by his father (his mother is dead) comes home to find his father killed by defenestration. Arrested for patricide, he is rescued from jail by King Rat, the anthropomorphic supernatural spirit of ratdom, who claims to be his uncle. King Rat tells our hero that his mother, King Rat's sister, was a rat as well, making Saul half-rat. Saul is then instructed in the art of being a supernatural rat.

There is the necessary revelation and confrontation of parentage when Saul discovers that King Rat is actually his father, his mother having been a human that King Rat raped. Then there's the moment of melding of identities at the climax, when Saul faces the Pied Piper, who can't compel him by flute because he's half-human, but has melded (hybridized) his flute music with a drum 'n' bass DJ's beats to catch both rat and human in Saul. This is the part that is unusual, because Saul's revelation here is that he is not two halves, but one whole, and cannot be made into a sum of his parts, like the music that the Pied Piper has created. You can't mix human and rat music and expect to catch a human and rat mix. He is something else; himself.

A very multiracial conclusion. The irony is of course that Miéville has essentialized human and rat for the purpose of making the point that races can't be essentialized. But I'll (mostly) let that pass.

A lot of this is implied in more sophisticated fantasy, like Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea, where magic isn't really a result of parentage. It just happens. And the hybridity is actually an entirely internal process of melding virtuous with dark impulses, that LeGuin manifests in a shadow self.

And then, of course, there's Octavia Butler. But I'm not ready to write about her yet. She didn't follow this particular pattern at all. She created her own. That's a topic for another post.

Complex of Ishooz Redux

I proposed a Complex of Ishooz a while ago and then ignored it. Let's get into it again. Let's set 'em up and knock 'em down.

Here were the Ishooz again:

1. Why does hybridity necessarily dovetail with adolescent identity searches?
2. How would an adult or mature hybridity tale look? Are there any?
3. Why does contemporary urbanism necessitate hybridity (besides the obvious, and yes, we will detail the obvious)? What would a homogeneous city look like? (ooo! Zamyatin, here we come!)
4. Why are magic and technology always "other", and therefore a product of hybridity? Why are magic and technology never indigenous or immanent?
5. Why is technology of the city, and magic of nature?

Aaaaaand ... they'roff!

January 27, 2007

Hair Petting

The Angry Black Woman has been pursuing the hair petting issue for awhile.

It breaks down to this: white people feel entitled to touch black people's hair without permission, to ask them if it's real without preamble or reason, and to talk incessantly about it. Angry Black Woman says: don't.

This whole thing makes me cringe for two reasons. Firstly, I have a similar thing, which is that people make a very big and rude deal about my height in terms and in a manner in which they wouldn't make a big deal about the aspects of anyone else's body. No one would walk up to a woman with big breasts and say, "Wow, your breasts are BIG! What's your bra size?" People wouldn't even walk up to someone and say "Wow, your feet are BIG! What's your shoe size?" If they did, they'd be considered at least weird, and definitely rude and obnoxious. But it appears to be okay to walk up to me and say "Wow, you're TALL! How tall are you?" I never answer this question. I always explain that I don't answer and why. But no one EVER stops to think about it. Everyone ALWAYS takes immediate offense, as if my refusing to talk about MY BODY is somehow me deliberately insulting them. MY bodily dimensions, you see, are about THEM.

This being the case, it makes me crazy that when I first met Angry Black Woman I DOINGED HER CURLS. I got permission first, of course, but the fact that I did that to someone who SO OBVIOUSLY has hair that people touch all the time and talk about all the time in an obnoxious way makes me absolutely frustrated with myself. I even remember thinking briefly that I shouldn't do it. But I did it anyway. Being a good person, ABW forgave me and is still my friend. But that doesn't make it okay that I did it.

Sure, I've got other excuses. Such as that I NEVER do the usual black hair thing (I don't); such as that I definitely have a curly hair fetish that transcends race (I do) or that I ask to doing the hair of everyone with corkscrew curls, who usually are Latino or white, not black. Sure, all of that is true. It's even possible that ABW is the only black person whose curls I've asked to doing, since I've been sensitive to this racial issue since a very young age, and that I did it because she was my friend. Lots of excuses.

But then, nonblack curlyhaired people have a similar problem with people touching their hair. It's not necessarily a racial issue, but it's definitely a personal space issue. An issue with people thinking that because you have an attribute that attracts them, or repels them, or is simply different, that your personal space isn't as valid as other people's. It's a difference issue. It's a privilege issue.

It's like we're all a bunch of big babies toddling around grabbing things we've never seen before and putting them in our mouths. Maybe it IS hardwired. Maybe we really CAN'T help ourselves, at least not at first. I've had to deal with more of this than most people because I have both the multiracial thing (which means that there's nowhere I can go where people won't make a big deal about my race) and the tall woman thing, (which, ditto). But I STILL do it to others, even though I should know better.

But even if it is hardwired I think we can train ourselves out of it. The fact that I thought about touching ABW's hair before giving in to the impulse indicates that next time I might be able to stop myself before commiting an annoyance. Or that I HAVE stopped myself ever since before committing an annoyance.

I have a black coworker who wears wonderful, bright-colored scarves on her head. The scarves give me a great deal of visual pleasure and I usually comment on women's attire when I like it, but this is so close to the hair petting issue that I've hesitated, and I'm glad of it. Because, you know what? I comment on my other coworkers' CLOTHES, but not on what they do with their hair. Ever. I don't know why that is. Maybe I don't like the way they do their hair. But I've never commented on scarf-woman's CLOTHES, even though I generally like the way she dresses. It's her headscarves that get my attention. I'm not 100% on why that is, and until I am, I'm keeping my damn mouth shut and just smiling at her to say "good morning."

None of these choices are satisfactory, and yes, it's a pity we can't just go with our impulses. But people, you don't have any gods-given RIGHT to act on your impulses in public, so let's not act as if we do. If your impulse were to pet a woman's breast, no one would have to tell you why you shouldn't do that. If your impulse were to call a total stranger a "cunt", ditto. We control ourselves all day long. This is just another item on the list. Add it.

By the way, it's a good thing the height thing "intimidates" people, because I particularly hate being touched by strangers, and if ABW and I changed places, I'd be slapping people right and left and not being dignified, generous, and funny about it, like she is.

November 25, 2006

SF Story Call for Submissions

I'm calling for submissions for my blog! Okay, it's a new idea, and it may die out very, very soon if I get a great job and can't keep this up, or if nobody submits anything, which is far more likely, ... but here's the idea:

The Idea: Once a month I would like to post an SF story (for our purposes, "SF" means "Speculative Fiction", i.e. science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, magical realism, combos thereof, or etc.) based upon a particular idea, topic, or new technology.

How It Will Work: I will post an idea, topic, or ... thing here, will sit back and wait for submissions, and a month later, will close submissions and post the best story. That is to say, post the story I think is best according to constantly shifting criteria which I will not explicate. The stories must address the topic or technology or thing as an integrated part of their central conceits or plots. That is to say, don't pull some random SF story out of your drawer, add a scene in which somebody talks about or uses the thing, and think that's going to cut it. It won't.

The Purpose: is to get people to write new stories --- and they can be bad, I don't expect them to be great --- to get them thinking about current topics. Also, to get people to write things quickly and not be afraid. You know already that this story won't end up in Interzone (since if I "publish" it, they probably won't take it.) I also want people to get an opportunity to try something new in terms of technique, writing strategy, world, characters, etc. So just let yourself go and devil take the hindmost.


  • Because this is a blog format, we don't want a post that will go on forever and ever. So let's say you keep it under 2000 words, exceptions only for really fantastic stuff (that is to say, if it's 5000 words and the first paragraph makes my teeth grind at night, you will get no benefits, doubt or otherwise, and the delete button will get an early workout.) I don't feel bad about imposing this limit because you're all writing these stories from scratch, right?
  • Once again, the stories must address the topic or technology or thing as an integrated part of their central conceits or plots. Seriously. Don't try to fake it. I will nail you.
  • Please paste the story into an email and send it to seelight44 down yahoo way. This means no funky fonts or formats. Just paragraphs full of sentences full of words. Please put "SF Story Sub" and your name in the subject line.

A Note On "Quality": If I don't get any good submissions, then I just won't post anything. "Good" in this case, does not mean perfect or polished. You only have a month at most and I don't believe that most writers can turn out a perfect story based on somebody else's theme in a month or less. What I want to see is a story that's full of life and energy, full of that juice that makes the world and characters and situations come alive for you, that makes you forget that there's a real world outside your head for 20 minutes or so.

A Strong Desire: Anyone who reads this blog will be aware that I am very conscious of race, class, and gender issues, and have strong words for published writers who use literature to reify existing hierarchies, or simply fail to note the mechanics of said hierarchies and reify them by default. If you have never thought about such things, your new little 2000-word story is a great place to start. Try writing a protag who is much older than you, or a different gender or race than you (with gender, I particularly encourage people to try characters who are transgender or whose gender identities aren't simply female/male but more complex), or comes from a signifcantly less, or significantly more, advantaged background than yours. Try to get deep and avoid stereotypes (you know stereotypes: those easy "ideas" that jump into your head, seemingly as a gift from your muse).

So Here's The First Topic:
"Robotics used to create custom-themed interactive game park rides."
Submissions Due Date: December 25, 2006, Christmas Day.
Will Post (or try to post): Jan 1, 2007.

November 06, 2006

Innnnnteresting ...

Yeah. Um ...

Checking my web stats, I found that someone linked to my Why are interracial relationships important to society? post from this webpage (WARNING! NOT SAFE FOR WORK! DO NOT CLICK IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED!

It's a large, large life.

October 09, 2006

Why Are Interracial Relationships Important to Society?

Some people have been linking to this blog via an ask.com search on "Why are interracial relationships important to society?" So I'm going to address this question (again) directly.

Q: Why are interracial relationships important to society?

A: They're not.

Yeah, that's right. They're not important to society. Period. Know why? because interracial relationships are relationships, not government-sanctioned social tweaking, like affirmative action. Interracial relationships are romance, family. It's important to accept them, yes. It's important to society that you accept interracial relationships, because then your society will be less racist. But your society will be less racist if you accept interracial relationships not because interracial relationships perform that all-important deracifying function on society. Your society will be less racist if you accept interracial relationships because you are being less racist.

You have frequent opportunities throughout your day, week, year, and lifetime to be more racist or less racist, and to affect your society, to make your society more racist or less racist. People partnering interracially and entering your public space create opportunities for you to be more racist or less racist. But if no one partnered interracially, you'd still have opportunities to deal with race; you'd still be forced to deal with race.

People partnering interracially are not doing it for you, and they're not doing it for society. They're doing it because they're in love, or because they make each other hot, or because the sex is fantastic, or because every day is a delightful surprise, or because they have a fetish and this person is the perfect embodiment, or because they're feeling adventurous, or because they have something to prove, or because they want to piss of their parents, or because they're abroad and they're really, really homesick and this person is comforting, or because they learned the language and wanted to practice it on somebody and chose the wrong person to try to practice on who then lambasted them about how they were actually American too and didn't speak the language but their lips were so mobile as they said it and they did such a cute thing with their hair that one really couldn't help oneself, or, okay, maybe because they think they should or because it reflects their values. But they're not doing it for you, and they're not doing it for society, and turning their relationship, their sex, their dating and fucking and having brunch and arguing over the remote into an important societal function is just plain stupid.

People do what they do, the world changes, and you adjust. Or you don't adjust. Interracial relationships are a symptom of the world changing, not the cause. They are not important to society. Your response to them is important to society. They're not the problem, but you might be.

October 02, 2006

A Defense of "Heroes"

I've heard some bad feedback on the new tv drama "Heroes" and I'm a bit confused. What's so bad about it?

I've only seen the pilot, and not subsequent episodes, but the main issues I've heard of so far have been that it develops too slowly, that there are too many characters, and that the characters are stereotypes.

The show is about a buncha people who discover that they have superpowers; I think there are supposed to be ten main characters. So far in the pilot we've only met nine of them. Okay, it's traditional to intro all your main xtrs in the pilot, but why do you have to? Answer: you don't. I've had no trouble keeping the xtrs intro-ed so far in order, so I'll have little problem adding one more, if that's what it takes. My favorite shows (Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, not mention my less-favorites like Lost) all have ten or more major characters to keep track of and no one seems to have any trouble with this.

I think the problem here is that if each of the xtrs has a superpower, then each should have equal weight in the show. In other shows, only two or three xtrs are presented as main xtrs and the rest are supporting. So, because there's a hierarchy, no one has trouble keeping track, even if all of the xtrs have equal time. Actually, it might be a cognitive thing: I seem to remember reading somewhere that you can only focus on so many things at once, but you can note and follow a much great number, provided all these things are given different priorities. Does anyone know anything about this?

As far as the pace goes: most of these characters are only just starting to discover their powers. I've heard complaints that they're taking too long, but discovery of and learning to use their powers appears to be the narrative arc of the first season. Is half the story supposed to take place in the first episode? That's a lot to ask of a show. I'm a big fan of "Unbreakable", which I understand a lot of people hated. I think there's going to be a similar division for this show: people who loved "Unbreakable", the mature pacing and novelistic examination of character, will enjoy this show and people who hated it because it isn't a fast-paced action flick will not enjoy this show.

Yes, some of the characters are riding the edge of stereotype. The Japanese xtr is a Star Trek geek. The Indian xtr is a science prof. The two women heroes (so far) are both blonde, and one is a stripper, one is a cheerleader. Where's the ugly geek girl? Didn't they make so many xtrs to have diversity?

On the other hand, the stripper is the mother of a biracial genius-boy. Yes, the show gets points just for including a multiracial child, extra points for not falling all over themselves to explain his presence ('cause, really, how multiracial children come about is pretty fucking obvious.) There's another, unremarked, interracial relationship on the show as well, and points for that too. Points for the token black being a beautiful woman--possibly a damsel in distress--and not one of those mysteriously-ebonics-speaking-yet-completely-isolated-from-the-African-American-community-and-happy-to-be-a sidekicks. Am undecided about the Latino being an artist; seems like a latent stereotype.

But some of the superpowers seem designed to complicate or subvert the stereotypes of the xtrs. The cheerleader is the strong, unbreakable one (not that we haven't seen that before); the victimized stripper is the vicious killer; the male nurse can fly (maybe). Basically, there hasn't been enough time spent on xtrization to make any definitive statements about stereotypes yet. Wait and see.

Altogether, I'm excited about this show. There are enough smart, culturally savvy elements here to keep me watching for awhile, and since Lost lost me (yes, there is such a thing as too slow, even in my "Unbreakable"-lovin' world), I need something to take its place.

August 25, 2006

Reading Update

Now I'm reading Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. Finally. Will keep you all apprised.

Have also read Adolfo Bioy Casares' The Invention of Morel, which his cronies called a perfect novel and all that. I wasn't terribly impressed. I'm glad he wrote science fictiony 'n' all, but I can't be relied upon to give a shit about any of the 5 million 20th Century novels that set unsympathetic protagonists to fall in love with beautiful, but unresponsive women, and show off how despicably they can behave. Why does modern and contemporary fiction have to be about malaise? Why can't it be about energy?

I've started Sesshu Foster's Atomik Aztex, which I'm sort of reading as a companion piece to Hogan's High Aztech. Both reference Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo, which rocked my world and blew my mind when I read it only about two years ago, but the details of which I've already mostly forgotten. I will have to read it again.

I'm thinking of Mumbo Jumbo and derivatives as a sort of descent line from the American "ethnic novel": one line of descent therefrom. There are, of course, others. I'm thinking of Delany as another descent line, but it could be that he's just unique. I mean, really, who writes like him? More on all this later.

July 30, 2006

Vin Diesel Breakdancing

I'm pretty sure most of you won't care, but here's a video of a very young Vin Diesel break dancing for an instructional video.

I heart Vin!

July 23, 2006

An Asian American and Multiracial Reading List

I didn't get my understanding of the world and my knowledge of the racial/ethnic landscape of the US entirely by osmosis, but it often feels that way. I chose to enter into and live in activist poc spaces, and from this vantage point, it's sometimes hard to remember how I learned what I learned.

Most of it I got from being there in those spaces: having those discussions (ad nauseum) either in person or online, or seeing the discussion played out in writing (essays, stories, poems), art, performance, film. A lot of it I got just from watching dynamics and interpreting them from my vantage point.

Also, creating a voice for yourself necessitates having something to say. Writing articles for my friends' zines, creating online fora for discussion (which I've done many times), creating in-person fora for discussion (which I've also done a great deal of), and especially, starting a magazine, all meant that I had to go scrambling for content. That also forces you to open up your eyes, ears, and mind, and see what's going on. It forces you to go digging, to do research.

All of these are sources of my knowledge and understanding, sources of my vocabulary. But, of course, I've done some study and reading as well, and I should be able to share some print sources with you. And because it's amazing how difficult it is for a google search to occur to the ignorant (I'm complaining about myself as well; I'll go halfway around the world to ask a friend a question before I'll sit down and do a google search about something I'm ignorant of) here's a non-threatening reading list of things that might help you share the current common understandings that shape the activist Asian American and Hapa spaces in the US today. Basically, I'm providing this (as my last post for IBAR) so as to give no one who reads this an excuse for not knowing. These are my reading recommendations. You can start here and let the reading itself guide you on.

This is not any sort of definitive reading list. It's not even the list of books you should read for the best information. It is, instead, the books I've read that have helped me shape ideas. I've deliberately chosen things that are narrative and interesting to people who read novels and stories, and not heavy on the theory and dry academic language. So, of course, most of this is fiction or memoir. Some of this stuff is "radical" though, and holds its fists high, so you'll need to swallow your pride and sense of personal injury before partaking.


Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian American Writers
by Frank Chin, Jeffrey Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, Shawn Wong
This was the first Asian American literature anthology, published in 1974, and phenomenally important to the development of Asian American identity and thinking. The introductory essays will ground you quickly and brutally in the politics of the 60's and 70's Asian American Movement better than pretty much anything else can. The excerpts included in the anthology will give you an impression of how new the current monolithic As Am lit establishment really is. A warning: the editors' stance is pretty macho, and their attitude toward some of the influences that have shaped subsequent As Am lit (including Maxine Hong Kingston, David Henry Hwang, and Amy Tan) are at times positively sexist. Keep in mind while you read this that they're drawing their understanding of As Am history from the "bachelor" society that prevailed in American Asian enclaves since the gold rush, and that were intensified after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented men from bringing their wives and families over. These guys are the children of people who came over in that atmosphere; subsequent generations of writers are the children of post-Exclusion Act immigrants.

Bulletproof Buddhists
by Frank Chin
Chin is one of the "Aiiieeeee! boys" and most definitely the most controversial. He has no problem attacking people in print (his public feud with Maxine Hong Kingston is legendary; she wrote Tripmaster Monkey about him) and burns bridges right and left. His critque of Kingston and other As Am writers of her generation is unjust and blind at best. On the other hand, he's one damned smart cookie, and the essay "Pidgin Contest on the I-5" is the best defense of politically correct speech I've ever read ... and also an interesting take on the Rodney King riots.

No-no Boy
John Okada
One of the novels excerpted in Aiiieeeee!, this tells the story of a "no-no boy" (Japanese American man who answered "no" to the two most important questions in a loyalty questionnaire administered to JAs in the internment camps--which meant he refused to be drafted) and his rejection by his JA community after returning home from prison (for refusing the draft) after the war.

Eat a Bowl of Tea
Louis Chu
Another novel excerpted in Aiiieeeee!. A funny and weird portrait of 50's New York City Chinatown tells the story of a young Chinese immigrant who begins to have problems with impotence when his father arranges a marriage for him and all of bachelor Chinatown begins watching his wife for signs of pregnancy.

America is in the Heart: A Personal History
Carlos Bulosan
Yet another novel excerpted in Aiiieeeee!. This one is more of a memoir of a Filipino American migrant laborer. Also a portrait of a life we only know a little bit of through Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, part of an oeuvre that whitewashed California labor dynamics.

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts
Maxine Hong Kingston
Read what Frank Chin fulminates about. This book is groundbreaking in a number of ways: Kingston introduces and simultaneously remakes Chinese legend in a fantasy sequence that expands the meaning of memoir. She also created the context and set the scene for the Asian American lit genre popularized by Amy Tan in The Joy Luck Club.

Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment
by Jeanne Houston, James D. Houston
A memoir. The title pretty much says it all, but this is the classic memoir of internment.

Bharati Mukherjee
A collection of stories that opened my eyes to some of the dynamics happening right under my nose in middle-class immigrant communities, both in Canada and the US. Just plain good writing.

The City in Which I Love You
Li-Young Lee
Poetry, but reads something like a narrative. An excellent introduction to the issues and experiences of the "one point five" or the "1.5" generation immigrant, who was born abroad but raised partly in the United States, a very common demographic in postwar Asian American immigrants. Also, Lee's family is just interesting in itself and he spends his first two books obsessing on it.

Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction
ed. Jessica Hagedorn
The first such fiction anthology, came at just the right time to collect exemplars from writers of both the pre-Aiiieeeee!, the Aiiieeeee!, and the Amy Tan generation as well as those shut out of the mainstream acceptance offered to the Amy Tan generation (like R. Zamora Linmark.)

Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home in the World
ed. Jessica Hagedorn
The sequel, published a decade later, that demonstrates loudly and viscerally how much As Am lit, and the As Am self-conception, has changed.

Dust and Conscience
Truong Tran
Also poetry, this is an idiosyncratic, as well as archetypal take on the experiences of a Vietnamese American who fled as a refugee at the end of the war and returned to his "home country" as an adult. This was inspired by an actual trip Tran took. Don't expect your common identity/finding yourself narrative here. Among other things, the narrator falls in love with his traveling companion (another Vietnamese American man), and embodies his ideas in the shape of the creatures of fable, which then verbally entice and abuse him.

Hyphen magazine
The only current national Asian American news and culture magazine. This one is expressly progressive and represents the prevailing progressive pan-Asian American viewpoint. Yes, I co-founded it. That doesn't mean what I said about it is incorrect.


The Multiracial Experience: Racial Borders As the New Frontier
edited by Maria P. P. Root
Root is the preeminent scholar of multiraciality. Yeah, it's academic stuff, but her introductory essay, including the Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People, rocked my world when I first read it.

My Year of Meats
Ruth Ozeki
First of all, a terrific novel about a Japanese/American hapa tv producer traveling the United States producing a show to promote beef consumption in Japan. Secondly, this book tackles so many turn-of-the-millenium demographic issues, I can't even list them all: 1.5, multiraciality, internationalism, transracial adoption, queer adoption, bilingual/bicultural, third culture kids, etc. etc.

Mavin Magazine
The multiracial magazine, based out of Seattle. Publishes irregularly and is of uneven quality, but is completely earnest, heartfelt, and open to a variety of understandings of race (as a multiracial magazine should be.) (By the way, whatever you read, do not take "Interracial Voice" seriously.)

That's all for now. I might update as things occur to me.

update for the hapa list:

Paper Bullets
Kip Fulbeck
I was wracking my brain trying to come up with hapa narratives that are representative, or that offer ideas and "philosophies" ... but I guess that's part of the point of hapa narratives is that they are all necessarily idiosyncratic, since The Mix is always particular, if not peculiar. Kip Fulbeck's book is probably the closest I can come to "representative", and that because Fulbeck's entire oeuvre (of videos, artwork, performance, etc.) is geared toward examining the East Asian/white hapa male experience. It's a "fictional autobiography" that uses Fulbeck's life experiences as object lessons in understanding the intersection of racial and gender issues. It's deliberately, slyly, (and probably also less than deliberately) self-indulgent, as well as underhand macho (acknowledging feminism as a way of making yourself seem more of a man.) An eye-opening read.

The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee: Observations on Not Fitting In
Paisley Rekdal
A collection of personal essays that will give you an excellent view of the contortions hapas of my generation went through to find an identity that would stick internally and make sense externally. And yes, her mother really does meet Bruce Lee.

July 20, 2006

Hybridity vs. Colorblindness and Cultural Appropriation

See? For my main International Blog Against Racism Week (IBARW) post I'm bringing aaaaalllllll the catchphrases into my title.

First, some definitions (caveat: these terms have been used in many different ways in many different contexts. I'm just defining these for me, and for this blog post. You may disagree and use them otherwise.):

Race: 1) biologically based group status denoted by phenotype; i.e. the idea that people who all bear the same or similar phenotype markers (physical size and shape, skin and hair color and texture, shape and size of facial features) all belong to a particular group (and the phenotype markers, such as skin color, can be so faint or conceptually-based as to be nearly imaginary). 2) the idea that people from the same region (usually a continent or half-continental region) bear the same phenotypical markers. 3) this is different from "ethnicity" since race bases itself on biological realities (yes, people from sub-Saharan Africa do tend to have darker skin), although in practice these realities are stretched so thin as to become transparent. 4) this also differentiates from "ethnicity" in that a taxonomy is created where race is a more general grouping and ethnicity more specific. E.g.: "Asian" is the race and "Chinese" is the ethnicity; "African" or "black" is the race and "Bantu" the ethnicity; "Latino" is the race and "Colombian" the ethnicity.

Ethnicity: 1) culturally based group status denoted by common cultural markers and often by racial characteristics; i.e. the idea that people from the same region or culture will behave distinctively, including language, dress, gesture, values and uses. 2) ethnicity tends to be more specific than race (although not always) and gets much nitty-grittier about specific cultural uses and how these differentiate one group from another, even in the same region. 3) usually used to refer to cultural groups who are in the minority in a certain culture; i.e. the idea that a non-dominant culture is "ethnic", or has a special cultural quality that the dominant or mainstream culture or ethnicity does not; the idea that dominant or mainstream ethnicities are not "ethnic" at all.

Nationality: although usually used interchangeably with race or ethnicity (many people think it's a nicer or more pc term than race or ethnicity), I actually use it only to refer to a person's national status, i.e. what country you are a citizen of. This has more cultural and ethnic relevance than Americans like to think.

EXAMPLE: In terms of race I am multiracial Asian and white; In terms of ethnicity I am multiethnic Chinese and white; my nationality is American.

Melting Pot: This is an American concept from the first half of the century that has all racial/ethnic identities melting together like a metallic alloy, each losing its distinctive characteristics and becoming a new whole that everyone shares from equally. This is debunked and continues to become more problematic with each passing year. Why? The melting pot ignores the integrity of culture as well as how cultures actually mix. It ignores the importance of identity to "minorities" and ignores the impossibility of equally mixing privileged and non-privileged identities (because privilege would have to be given up to achieve this.) Ignores the human fear of losing one's identity. The Borg are the ultimate melting pot type. 'Nuff said.

Multiculturalism: This is a concept from the 70s and 80s that has races and ethnicities mixing not like a soup in the melting pot, under heat and pressure, but like a salad, cold and easy, where each identity maintains its cultural integrity but exists, piece by piece, side by side with all the others. A patchwork quilt. A mosaic. This concept ignores that to maintain absolute cultural integrity, cultures must be isolated from one another, because cultures inevitably syncretize when they come into contact. Multiculti assumes that "respect", "understanding" and "celebration" of other cultures will result in the integrity of each and the happy forward motion of all. It doesn't take into account that the inequality of cultures will result in the dominant culture raiding and exploiting the minority cultures, which then lose integrity without gaining validity in the process. It ignores that minority cultures will either adopt aspects of the dominant culture for the sake of the privileges it offers, or harden their borders with the dominant culture to express their displeasure at the lack of privilege. The display of integral cultures on the bridge of the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation is the perfect example of what multiculit looks like. But have you ever seen this in real life?

EXAMPLE: Under the melting pot regime, I am to ignore particularities of both of my heritages and assimilate to American mainstream culture. Also, I am a salutary step toward the full melding of all cultures (and races). I am to be viewed as an undifferentiated "American", and not to claim any ethnic identity at all. Under multiculti I'm a bit problematic. I am simultaneously evidence that multiculti works (my parents living harmoniously side by side) and a threat to cultural cohesion. Under multiculti I'm either a third category, multiracial, or two things simultaneously (at all times) Asian and white.

Colorblindness: Refusal to acknowledge racial (and by extension, ethnic) difference. Runs against both melting pot and multiculti. It is a fear of noticing color/racial/ethnic-based differences because in noticing them you might notice 1) that things are not as they should be and 2) that you are occupying a privileged position. Colorblindness is in itself a privilege. You never hear people of color claiming color blindness unless they have been raised in mostly white communities or now inhabit and wish to continue to inhabit mostly white spaces.

Cultural Appropriation: The unhealthy aspect of multiculti, where a more powerful culture raids a less powerful neighboring culture (neighboring in the salad sense), and appropriates aspects of that culture without proper acknowledgment of the "home culture" or understanding the cultural context from which these aspects spring. Examples: yoga, Buddhism, hip hop and AAVE-derived slang, graffiti art, etc.


All of which brings us, finally, to "hybridity". It's not yet a term being used with any sort of common consciousness, with any consciousness of it's being a term for a new idea about race or ethnicity. So it's still free, still amorphous, still ambiguous in meaning and value. Which is exactly what it means to me and exactly the way I like it.

I present "hybridity" as an anodyne, an antidote, and antithesis and synthesis and thesis, against and after all of the previous ones. Hybridity is none of the above and partakes of none of the above. It is about neither melting together and losing all sense of original differences, nor existing side-by-side without cultural "bleed".

It is, instead, a way of proceeding in knowledge, thoughtfulness, and awareness. It is a combination of knowing the history of all of your cultural sources, understanding the dynamics among different groups, accepting and honoring both your disadvantages and privileges, and -- and here's the most important part -- allowing cultural mixing and progress then to happen the way it happens, without prescription, and with understanding of the mechanics, aesthetics and feel of it.

Hybridity is about fascination with culture, about studying people and how they become themselves, and how this becoming changes when they come into contact with other people. It's about the joy of being human and how we express this in our various ways, and how we take joy in others' expressions and let those influence us. It's about being open to others and also letting yourself flow outwards to them.

Hybridity requires flexibility in the observer. It requires, more than anything, comfort with ambiguity. You must be able to recognize that human identity is ultimately mysterious and that you can only grasp a small corner of anyone's identity at any given moment. You have to let go of your need for hard-lined categories.

You also have to recognize the ambiguity in yourself. This is more difficult for whites than for anyone else. Whites like to try to understand hybridity in ethnic terms ("Well, I'm Swedish, Dutch, and French, so I'm hybrid, too!"), which is false and misleading. White America was a hybrid identity before mid-century. Now it's monolithic in its self-conception. Also, if you're white, your ethnic integrity is not affected by the minor appropriation of small cultural objects from "other" identities, becuase "white" is a culturally absorptive identity, not an orthodox one.

If you're white, your hybridity can be best understood in terms of gender, sexuality, familial roles and social/professional roles. You are both daughter and lover, mother and employee. You are both volunteer and boss, annoyance and hero, father and brother. To different people at different times and in different situations, of course.

There are times when your love for your best friend takes on the intensity of romance. There are times when you choose to walk like a man, or listen like a woman, and secretly enjoy it. There are times you masturbate to the thought that you are of the opposite sex, receiving from someone like yourself. Every time you get bored with life, you do something that surprises you about yourself, and usually it is something that scares you. You didn't know you could drink that much. You didn't know you could behave that recklessly around the kids. You didn't know you were such an asshole. You didn't know you thought that way. You didn't know you'd leap so quickly into action. You didn't know it would be so easy to say no. You didn't know it would be so hard to be happy.

That's what it's like.

EXAMPLE: Hybridity simply acknowledges that I am what I am when I am it. It's the simplest concept for identity because it has no problem with complexity and does not try to organize complexity into something simpler and easier to grasp. It just lets things be and become. If one week I talk about being multiracial, another week I can emphasize being biracial, and the next day I can speak for all Asians, and later that day be specifically Chinese, and then wake up the next morning white and privileged --- and all these things are consistent and coherent with who I am and require no accounting or schema.

I just made this all up, but we need a new way to think about race, so here's mine.

June 12, 2006

The Long Overdue Cultural Approprittymatationing Post

Pam, who was at Wiscon but I dint get to (finally!) meet, says almost everything about cultural approap that I would want to say, but better, as usual.

Therefore I will neglect to control myself and add a few items:

1. One thing no one wants to say, so let me be the first: yes, having been marginalized does give me privileges in this question. So there!

No I'm not gonna play duelling discomforts. Any white American man with a stutter or an empty bank account probably had a worse childhood than I, granted easily. But any white American man growing up on American soil got to see himself reflected a million-fold in the forms of family, language, and uses around him, in media, in school, and most especially in precious, precious fiction. And I, quite simply, did not. The first media creature that anyone in my neighborhood ever compared me to was the bleached blonde Chinese girlfriend in George Michael's "I Want Your Sex" video (I was fifteen). I always felt a great yearning toward David Carradine's character in "Kung Fu", because, until the last ten years or so, he was the only Eurasian media character I ever saw. They wouldn't even let me have him, though: I was too foreign, and waaay too uncool.

Some of the best storybooks I read as a child -- Mulan and bandit stories, bilingual comic book versions of "Journey to the West" -- were things I couldn't share with friends. They wouldn't have been interested in an immortal monkey when there's a superman around. Plus, I didn't need to be distinguishing myself even more. I was too busy perfecting my ability to memorize song lyrics after three hearings, an ability I developed to make up for my inability to pick out slang and idioms from the rock-star-slurred lyrics, a skill that is pretty much the last thing you pick up when learning a second language. I was too busy consciously regulating the rhythms of my speech, something my friends did without thinking; too busy covering my embarrassment when I blurted out the wrong expression and everyone, once again, laughed at me; too busy scrabbling at the gates my friends didn't even know they were keeping.

So no, you don't get to have Mulan now. Don't even try it with Monkey King. Don't show me your tai chi moves, mofo. I don't care how many semesters of Mandarin you took in college, or how many years you taught English in a little village a hundred li west of Guangzhou. I don't care that your Chinese is better than mine, or that my "familiarity" with the muddercountry is less recent than the building of skyscrapers in Shanghai. And go scrub that stupid tattoo off your arm, here's some steel wool. Yes, I am the fucking arbiter of all things Chinese, as far as you're concerned, and if I don't give you a pass, you're a fraud.

You don't get to have the whole world and my little piece of it, too.

2. Pam says:

To me, writing is three things:


and to that I'd have to add: talent

In our relentlessly middle-class way, we want everything to seem egalitarian. But everything is not equal. The one thing the Art-screamers (those who celebrate Art with great passion and ignore Responsibility) love to avoid is the thing that sheparates most of 'em from the goats. People can try, with great willingness and honesty, to be respectful of another culture in their writing, and simply fail because they don't have the talent.

Geoff Ryman creates a fictional, third-world, "other" country in Air, which succeeds because it's so damned alive, because we can almost hear the characters breathing in the next room. Someone of lesser talent could try almost the same thing and offend nearly everybody simply because their world-building and characterizations fall flat through choplessness. (And no, I ain't gonna name names.)

The POC (people of color) in this current debate are busy trying to reassure the Majority Types (lessay, "MT's"?) that no one is trying to bar anyone from the field permanently. So let me take an utterly sober moment to say that people who suck at writing should be barred from the field permanently. If you've got your little elven-sword-Bombaday formula down and you're serving the 13-year-olds and no one's getting hurt, then stick to it. If your planet-hopera has no people of tint, but you're also straight-to-mass-market and not getting reviewed, be my guest. No one cares. Find your level.

Writing the Other takes skill, sensitivity, perfect pitch, oh, and talent, and -- just as I would not entrust my tumor-riddled brain to a mediocre surgeon to learn on -- I will not entrust my precious few reading hours to a lesser talent to mangle an "other" culture. I want Geoff Ryman, Maureen McHugh, Ursula Ursula Ursula, and oG help me, before all others, I want my Octavia, Nalo and Chip.

Yes yes, everyone should have to take a Writing the Other class early on in their writing development so that they learn early that it's okay and yes there are ways to do it. Then the ones with the inner tuning forks should be petted and kicked by turns, and the ones with the tin ears ruthlessly culled. Licenses should be issued ... and denied.

3. All hair-splitting triumphalism aside, those who write without Responsibility are just plain bad writers. The best writers -- both the ones who really turn me out, and the ones consistently rewarded with Appropriate Prizes -- spend a great deal of time and skill in their works cultivating and developing their audience. They use their books to teach you how to read their books, to teach you the language they wish to use, and to bone you up on the terms of their discourse. Their books end, leaving you, not sated, but full of intelligent, knowledgeable questions, full of Things To Talk About. The best writers do not write to please -- either themselves or their audience. The best writers serve their audience -- and themselves.

Such writers can certainly be, and often are, huge, squirming assholes in person: arrogant, faithless, vindictive. On the page, though, they hold to their duty like it's sacred. Truly good writers may in interviews spout arrant hooey about the Muse and Sacred Art, but they are workhorses, yolked and patient and, between the lines, even humble for the exigencies of making their work what it needs to be. Good writers will not, just now, because of the shrieking of bloggers recently returned from Wiscon, be waking up to the problems of cultural appropriation. Because of their acknowledged and already engaged responsibility toward their work and towards their readers, they will have spent a great deal of time already working through these questions.

And it'll come out in the work, quietly, loudly ... somehow. And I will read their work with quiet satisfaction, feel my intelligence shuffle forward immeasurably ... and then turn screaming back to the cult approap debate, leaving them out of it.

Happy Loving Day!

Loving Day is a new holiday promoted by this organization to celebrate interracial relationships. Loving vs. Virginia was the historic Supreme Court case that overturned all antimiscegenation laws in the US. The date of the decision was June 12, 1967 -- that's right, less than 40 years ago, it was still illegal in 17 states to marry across racial lines.

This date is particularly meaningful to me because it was my parents' third anniversary: they got married on June 12, 1964. Also, the decision came down only a few weeks before my older sister was born. It makes a great difference to me that my parents dared to start a family before the morality of their relationship had been acknowledged by the highest court in the land ... but that my sister and I were born afterward, into a new world, as it were.

Please take some time today to think about the unjust marriage laws that are still in effect in this country, and the bigotry that is passing new unjust marriage laws as we speak. Take some time to think about the couples you know whose relationships happen across strong social dividing lines. Your friends don't need your approval today, or even your sympathy. Not today or ever. But you could give them your acknowledgement -- your recognition -- by wishing them a Happy Loving Day.

And a Happy Loving Day to you too, however you love!

May 19, 2006

More on Map of Spec Fic

Okay, before I get into this, can I just complain for a sentence or two? Can't you all use trackbacks or comments? I mean, I have to go to my stat counter and troll through the "came from" urls to find out y'all are talking about my genre diagram behind my blogack? Geez.

Okay, that and itchy ears out of the way, you guys are great. You'd be the perfect students for my spec fic class if you didn't already know more about spec fic than I do. I love that there's a leetle discussion on this, and agree with most of the criticisms of the diagram. I did realize, however, that I didn't make my explanation perfectly clear, so I wanted to clarify (claireify):

1. Lemme just reiterate that this diagram was created for a specific pedagogical purpose. That purpose was to introduce people who were largely ignorant of speculative genres to the general thinking about them. This was both from an insider and from an outsider perspective. The insider perspective, which took for granted that spec genres are valuable and interesting, was simplified by the outsider perspective (which tends to categorize oversimply) so as not to overwhelm newbies with the endless details of the insider arguments about the fluid borders of genre.

The choice of basing my definition of speculative vs. mimetic (itself an oversimplification) on the (oversimplified) notion of the novum came from the fact that the novum offers an easy (and I would argue, extremely useful) way to understand the generic differences without offering judgement on the quality of writing in each genre. Saying that only one element (albeit a very important one) seperates the two areas of fiction levels the playing field between them -- and renders either both, or neither, genre. Also, using the novum, rather than laying out traditional genre tropes, as a definition is an easy way of including spec fic that deliberately subverts or ignores genre tropes.

That having been said, any categorization begins to break down the moment you understand it. As fluid a thing as literature can't be contained, even for a second, within a diagram. The purpose of this map was to create, quickly, a common understanding of the general areas of spec fic, so that everyone in the class could immediately begin arguing about them. It's no surprise that people who have a much more sophisticated understanding of the field than I do would have a lot of just criticisms about this map.

2. Nick Mamatas sez:

Two things immediately jump out at me. Metafiction is ridiculously placed — there should be a little gray dot within every other circle, at the very least. And horror should be much larger, indeed finally bleeding off the page. It's a tonal genre and thus need not be fantastic or have any particular setting or even particular content, as was proven in practice by David Searcy's Ordinary Horror. There's plenty of horrific SF, horrific realist fiction, and horrific non-fiction (e.g., the narrative journalism in "true crime" books that ape the form and content of the horror novel).

Nick's right, I do have to rethink metafiction for this diagram. I disagree that it should be a dot in each circle, though, since the purpose of the diagram is to break down received notions of genre divisions and reorganize them according to a different principle. So, to feed the idea that all genres can be aligned or not according to a few simple principles, I'd reform the diagram so that all the small circles line up on one side of the larger circle. Then I'd make the "metafiction" gray not a circle but a rod that starts outside the fiction circle and penetrates each genre in turn, all the way to the center.

Regarding horror, this is horror fiction not horror in general, just as all the other genres are fiction, not nonfiction, which is why nonfiction finds itself nowhere on the diagram. So to talk about nonfiction whose intent is to horrify doesn't have a direct place in the discussion of this diagram. I agree that horror overlaps all the genres, though, since it is less about novum or no-novum than it is about the effect on the reader that it's going for. Again, if I realigned all the genre circles on one side, then I could have lozenge-shaped horror thing that intersected all of them but did not breach the skin of fiction.

3. Nick Mamatas also sez:

Implicit in the chart is a literary version of the "blood quantum" racial theories so beloved by Americans. If you write plausible SF, including even the possibility of a ghost or some sort of cosmic awe and dread at infinity in your little book, puts you into the fantasy camp.

First of all, the tack Nick takes, that of the outraged person of color smacking down an ignorant racist with fancy racial theory is what in a race discussion would be called "playing the race card". This is something I've, in fact, done in the past, often with justice, and just as often not. (It's something I'm going to do in the next paragraphs, albeit somewhat subtly.) Nick is playing the genre card. The problem with playing the race card on a person of color is that they can play it right back. Same problem with playing the genre card on another (albeit less experienced and knowledgeable) genre writer. I've created this diagram artificially seperating out the various genres to make the field more clear to people almost entirely ignorant of it. I've done so knowing that this diagram makes no place whatsoever for my science fiction/fantasy/alternate history/"literary"/ethnic novel. And I don't care.

Likewise, I have very often artificially categorized the racial landscape of America, and the ethnic landscape of Asian America in particular, to an unacceptable degree, for the purpose of making the outlines of those landscapes perceptible to people almost entirely ignorant of them. And I have done so knowing that I myself do not fit into the verbal diagram I'm creating. Doesn't matter. What matters is that people start to understand. I leave the sophisticated discussions to my colleagues over at Hyphen magazine, who know what goes on already.

Secondly (and I can't believe that I have to say this, but here we are), comparing genre to race is both obvious and offensive. Comparing blood quantum to a diagram on genre that speculativizes any writing with a teeny bit of novum is specious. Blood quantum is problematic because the consequences of a person being aligned with a racial group which they share only biological heritage with (i.e. not culture or community) are dire -- dire economically, politically, socially, psychologically, professionally, sexually, and personally. Aligning a mostly mimetic fiction with speculation because it might have a ghost or something might stigmatize it in some readers' minds. In an extreme case, it might affect sales if someone takes the recategorization too seriously and mis-shelves it in the bookstore. But mostly, all it does is cause some hot arguments on the blogosphere. It just doesn't matter that much. It's just words on paper, and how we shape them in our minds. It's not about projecting our faulty abstract ideas onto people's bodies and lives.

4. And:

The chart, and Light acknowledges this, also "set[s] up an artificial distinction that grouped the 'realism' of literary fiction with the exaggerated, but nevertheless 'realistic' (because they do not deal with nova) genre tropes of romance, mystery, thriller, western, etc. This in itself is pretty cool, because it forces literary fiction into bed with dirty genre (as if all characters thinking and speaking in poetic, revelatory, Joycean diction were 'realistic' rather than generic.)"

Yes, it may be cool (I don't really think so), but what's clever and what's true are two different things. It may also be cool to set up a disctinction that groups fictions into those stories that contain characters being swallowed and potentially consumed (because we find such a thing sexually exciting) and those that don't, but we end up with The Bible and Anaconda-Davida in one group and The Recognitions, The Naked Sword, and Kiss My Fist! in the other. We don't learn anything, except that some people jerk off to the thought of being swallowed.

I won't argue the coolness factor because that's entirely subjective, but I would refer Nick back to my pedagogic purpose above (which I admit was not fully explained in the original post.) What I find cool is that the novum definition very neatly, and I think plausibly, aligns what my students would seperate out as "literary fiction" (and consider "high art") with a number of genres they openly denigrate, even in the context of my class. This is not something that happens just in my class. It happens pretty much all the time in mainstream literature discussions that occur when the literary "establishment" is forced to pay attention to genre for a second. Like Malcolm Gladwell's dismissal of the Kaavya Viswanathan scandal on the basis that Opal Mehta is genre and all genre is more or less plagiarized.

I can't repeat enough that "literary fiction" is itself a genre and needs to be treated as such if fiction and literature in general are not to remain in the stagnant pond they've been algaeing since Eggers first published and people started lining up to write like him. Novum/no-novum places Opal Mehta in the same generic camp with Updike and Cheever, as well as the somewhat more intuitive Jane Austen and Edith Wharton, as well as the obvious Jennifer Wiener and Kim Wong Keltner. And it does so, in my opinion, with plausibility. I think that's cool and worth discussion. I also think it's a much larger and more important distinction than fiction depicting people being swallowed. It was a funny comparison, but not a just or illuminating one.

(Nick's slicing of ever finer bits of "novum", however, is smart and funny and definitely worth a read. And go through the comments to his post, too.)

4. Andrew Wheeler sez:

I do think any flat map will somewhat misinterpret the territory, and I have some mild complaints about this one. Putting Spec Fic in the middle is a nice trick for pedagogical purposes, but I don't think a bull's-eye is the right shape to begin with. (On a more minor point, I'll add that Alternate History can be Fantasy as easily as it can be SF -- and, as practiced under the name "counterfactual" by historians, can also be even more like non-fiction.)

I generally prefer to pull out two or three axes (not binary choices, but continua along which a work can fall) at a time -- there are probably at least a dozen that could interestingly sub-divide the world of literature -- and use those to present any particular case, while being clear that any such interpretation is a very simplified view.

He goes on to list a few of the axes he would use. I have very little to say about this because, frankly, I agree with pretty much everything Andrew says. (And no, it's not a coincidence that his post is mostly complimentary to me :) ) I find the idea of a 3-D map of genres thrilling and hope that someone more savvy with the 3-D image-generating stuff will undertake this, just to keep us arguing.

In fact, I seem to remember Scott McCloud creating a (2-D) diagram with more than one axis to address abstraction and realism in comics. Lemme see ... here it is. I think I oughter blog about this over at atlas(t). I'll cross-post if I do.
Okay, that was long, let the counter arguments begin!

May 11, 2006

Hybridity V

"Obediently, she went to it, stood close to it so that the tips of what looked like moss-covered outer twigs and branches touched her bare skin. She wore only shorts and a halter top. The Communities would have preferred her to be naked, and for the long years of her captivity, she had had no choice. She had been naked. Now she was no longer a captive, and she insisted on wearing at least the basics. Her employer had come to accept this and now refused to lend her to subcontractors who would refuse her the right to wear clothing.

This subcontractor enfolded her immediately, drawing her upward and in among its many selves, first hauling her up with its various organisms of manipulation, then grasping her securely with what appeared to be moss. The Communities were not plants, but it was easiest to think of them in those terms since most of the time, most of them looked so plantlike.

Enfolded within the Community, she couldn't see at all. She closed her eyes to avoid the distraction of trying to see or imagining that she saw. She felt herself surrounded by what felt like long, dry fibers, fronds, rounded fruits of various sizes, and other things that produced less identifiable sensations. She was at once touched, stroked, messaged, compressed in the strangely comfortable, peaceful way that she had come to look forward to whenever she was employed. She was turned and handled as though she weighed nothing. In fact, after a few moments, she felt weightless. She had lost all sense of direction, yet she felt totally secure, clasped by entities that had nothing resembling human limbs. Why this was pleasurable, she never understood, but for twelve years of captivity, it had been her only dependable comfort. It had happened often enough to enable her to endure everything else that was done to her.

Fortunately, the Communities also found it comforting—even more than she did."

-- Octavia Butler "Amnesty"

May 10, 2006

Hybridity IV

'Heterosis is increased strength of different characteristics in hybrids; the possibility to obtain a "better" individual by combining the virtues of its parents. This is commonly known as hybrid vigor or outbreeding enhancement. It is often the opposite process of inbreeding depression, which increases homozygosity. Heterosis is an example of heterozygous advantage. The term often causes controversy, particularly in terms of domestic animals, because it is sometimes believed that all crossbred plants or animals are better than their parents; this is untrue. Rather, when a hybrid is seen to be superior to its parents, this is known as hybrid vigor. It may also happen that a hybrid inherits such different traits from their parents that make them unfit for survival. This is known as outbreeding depression, typical examples of which are crosses between wild and hatchery fish that have incompatible adaptations.'

-- Wikipedia, entry on "Heterosis".

May 09, 2006

Hybridity III

"Political correctness" seems to be a too serious and fascist, demagogic way of saying "civil language". Of course, when civility is not our purpose, there are other languages and vocabularies available to us. With the need for a language of civility and doing business with strangers without betraying our secrets or slashing our wrists or starting a war in mind, I suggest PC stand for "pidgin contest".

Civil language and tolerant behavior can't be imposed from the top without exercising heavy police-state censorship and driving everyone with a discouraging word underground. But in the bustling, competitive, passionate marketplace atmosphere of a port city or corner store, civil language and tolerant behavior are invented, or you go broke, brah."

-- Frank Chin, "Pidgin Contest Along I-5".

May 08, 2006

Hybridity II

'The idea of nation is often based on naturalised myths of racial or cultural origin. Asserting such myths was a very important part of the imperial process and therefore an important feature of much imperial writing and indeed postcolonial writing. The need for commonality of thought to encourage resistance became a feature of many of the first postcolonial novels.

... More recently we have become aware of how problematic such accounts are. The simple binaries that made up imperial and postcolonial studies have in some way become redundant with regard to later literature. As Mudrooroo has said of the Aborigines , they were a tribe like any other, susceptible to change and influence from outside forces. He says; “the Aboriginal writer is a Janus-type figure with a face turned to the past and the other to the future while existing in a postmodern, multi cultural Australia in which he or she must fight for cultural space”. ...

One of the most disputed terms in postcolonial studies, ‘hybridity' commonly refers to “the creation of new transcultural forms within the contact zone produced by colonisation.” Hybridisation takes many forms including cultural, political and linguistic. ...

Robert Young a widely written commentator on imperialism and postcolonialism, has remarked on the negativity sometimes associated with the term hybridity. He notes how it was influential in imperial and colonial discourse in giving damaging reports on the union of different races. ...

However, the crossover inherent in the imperial experience is essentially a two-way process. According to Ashcroft most postcolonial writing has focused on the hybridised nature of postcolonial culture as a strength rather than a weakness. It is not a case of the oppressor obliterating the oppressed or the coloniser silencing the colonised. In practice it stresses the mutuality of the process. The clash of cultures can impact as much upon the coloniser as the colonised. ... Ashcroft says how “hybridity and the power it releases may well be seen as the characteristic feature and contribution of the post-colonial, allowing a means of evading the replication of the binary categories of the past and developing new anti-monolithic models of cultural exchange and growth”.'

-- The Imperial Archive: Key Concepts in Postcolonial Studies, entry on "Hybridity".

May 05, 2006

Hybridity I

"... the trickster of mythology—Hermes among the Greeks, the Northmen’s Loki, the Native Americans Coyote and Raven and Rabbit, the Africans Eshu and Legba and Anansi (who reappear in our own folklore in slave stories of High John de Conquer and Aunt Nancy), Krishna, the peach stealing Monkey of the Chinese, and our own friend Satan, shouting out who killed the Kennedys, when after all it was you and me. Trickster is the stealer of fire, the maker of mischief, teller of lies, bringer of trouble and upset and, above all, random change. And all around the world—think of Robert Johnson selling his soul—Trickster is always associated with borders, no man’s lands, with crossroads and intersections. Trickster is the conveyer of souls across ultimate boundaries, the transgressor of heaven, the reconciler of opposites. He operates through inversion of laws and regulations, presiding over carnivals and feasts of fools. He is hermaphrodite; he is at once hero and villain, scourges and benefactors. “He is the spirit of the doorway leading out,” as Hyde writes, “and of the crossroad at the edge of town (the one where a little market springs up).” For Trickster is also the god of the marketplace, of the city as intersection of converging roads and destinies, as transfer point, and perhaps that is why cities, Indianapolis excepted, have always been built at the places where incommensurates meet—sea and land, mountain and plain, coast and desert. Trickster goes where the action is, and the action is in the borders between things."

-- Michael Chabon "Introduction to McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories", (courtesy of Marrije.)

April 27, 2006

What He Said

Regarding cross-race identification in the Duke Lacrosse rape case, Malcolm Gladwell writes in his all too intermittent blog that:

The problem seems to be that when we encounter someone from a different group we process them at the group level. We code the face in our memory under the category black or white, and not under the category of someone with, say, an oval face and brown eyes and a prominent chin. Race, in other words, trumps other visual features that would be more helpful in distinguishing one person from another. Why do we do this? One idea is simply that it’s a result of lack of familiarity: that the more we “know” a racial type, the more sophisticated our encoding becomes. Another idea is that it’s a manifestation of in-group/out-group bias. The thing about coding by group and not by facial feature is that it’s a lot faster. And from an evolutionary standpoint, you’d want to use quicker processing methodologies in dealing with those who come from unfamiliar—and potentially unfriendly—groups. The bottom line is that the adage that “all blacks look the same” to whites (and all whites look the same blacks) has some real foundation.?

Hey, didn't I say something similar? Oh yeah, in this long-winded debate with Jose in the comments to an earlier post.

Anyway, what he said.

April 26, 2006

More Bullshit About Hapas

They just won't leave off, will they? Via Mixed Media Watch I got to this article from Psychology Today, annoyingly titled "Mixed Race, Pretty Face?" The article rehashes the experiment from last fall that "found" that hapas were (scientifically) more attractive than whites or Asians. However, this article gives a detail about the study that the articles I read last fall did not:

The experiment by Gillian Rhodes, a psychologist at the University of Western Australia, found that when Caucasian and Japanese volunteers looked at photos of Caucasian, Japanese and Eurasian faces, both groups rated the Eurasian faces as most attractive. These visages were created by first digitally blending a series of faces from each race into "composites" to create average, middle-of-the-road features typical of each race. Past studies show that "average" features are consistently rated as more attractive than exaggerated features—such as an unusually wide forehead or a small chin.

Okay, I'm just gonna give you guys a quick chance to consider the proposition above and see if you can find the 800-pound gorilla in the room. (Don't feel bad if you don't. Not even the perennially annoyed Mixed Media Watch gals caught this one.)

Yep, that's right, they based the study not on real photographs of real people, but on digitally "morphed" photos created to present "average, middle-of-the-road features typical of each race."

Why is this problematic? Let me count the ways:

1. There are no "typical" "Caucasian" features. Duh! "Caucasian" refers to everything from Icelandic, to Serbian, to Greek. In fact, if you showed photos of "typical" Greeks, southern Italians, or Portuguese, nowadays your respondant might be just as likely to peg them as "Arabs". Many Spaniards and Frenchpersons would be pegged as "Latino". And many Icelanders, Lapplanders and the like would be pegged as ... "hapa". What is considered "average" or "typical" "Caucasian" is basically Anglo and/or Nordic/Germanic, and/or Slavic. That is to say, what is "Caucasian" in America is entirely socially determined -- and not at all biologically determined -- by which Caucasians dominate the public image. Presumably, what is "Caucasian" in Australia is even more limited by Australia's immigration history. So the big question is, when choosing faces to morph, which "Caucasian" ethnicities did they choose? Hmmmm?

2. Given the above fact, by digitally creating faces, the experimenters were not merely smoothing out those annoying flaws reality provides, but actually creating a new, completely nonexistent race, called "Caucasian". Groundwork had already been done for them by magazines, which do not morph features, but do remove "blemishes" and control features. So the test subjects were prepared to "read" these faces as something approaching reality. They are not. They are nothing approaching reality.

3. This is just as problematic when you consider the morphed "typical" Japanese faces. Who decided what "typical" Japanese features are? Who chose which faces to morph? What race, upbringing, class, immigration status were they?

4. The "Eurasian" faces were morphed, too, from composite Japanese and Caucasian faces. Okay, first of all, my parents, both attractive, do not look like morphed photos. Guess what, neither do your parents. I, of course, just like you, am a certain combination of my parents' features (and attitudes). However, I, just like you, am not a perfect morph, a perfect 50/50 compromise, between the two. And I, just like you, do not look like a morphed photo. I'm assymetrical, I'm idiosyncratic.

Rhodes, the "scientist" who conducted the study, has found in previous studies that people find "average" faces more attractive than idiosyncratic faces (she attributes the preference for symmetry and average to the desire for health in a partner, and the aversion to idiosyncracies an aversion to potential disease.) This may all be true, however real "Eurasians" are not any more "average" or "symmetrical" than real "Caucasians" or real "Japanese". Saying a morph of a morph is considered more attractive than just the morph may well be true and provable ... but it says nothing about how attractive real Eurasians are.

In addition to these hard problems, the way the article was reported raises additional questions: Who were the test subjects? The article just says that they were "Caucasian and Japanese volunteers". What the fuck does that mean? Were they Australian Caucasians or Europeans or Americans? Were they Japanese Australians, Japanese immigrants to Australia, Japanese in Japan? Maybe even Japanese Americans? Was there any controlling for socialization in this study at all? Well? Was there? How old were they? What was their exposure to media? To Japanese media (which currently fetishizes hapas)? To Australian media? To American media? Who have they been dating? Who are they married to? Do they have mixed kids?

Obviously, the journalists reporting on this study have no interest in its scientific legitimacy (of which there can be little.) It's just another juicy episode of Halfbreeds-will-save-the-world. Frankly, I'm perfectly happy to be of average attractiveness. I don't need to be told that I'm more beautiful than everyone because I'm mixed. Being told on the one hand that I'm supposed to be more beautiful, and then being treated as an other, a foreigner, by everyone, every day on the other hand, really doesn't create the happy rainbow future. I prefer mixed race, not mixed messages.

(Cross-posted on Other Magazine's blog.)

April 24, 2006

Complex of Isshooz

It's almost 2 am and I've had a whole bottle of red whine tonight (yay tolerance! yay PMS! yay too much information!) but I've been thinking about all these things a lot and I'm going to stick my neck out here.

To wit:

I'm not satisfied with the catch as catch can nature of this blog so far. I really liked posting "Strunk and Light" as a series because it brought a sort of continuity to the blog that I don't see all that often. (Not gonna get into the necessity of continuity in blogs here because, well, there is no necessity.) So I'm thinking that I'm going to commit to a thinking project here over the next few weeks. I'll still post randomly, but when I don't know what to post, I'm agonna hit a complex of issues that I've been thinking a lot about.

To another wit:

Hybridity, Urbanizm (yes, we needed the "z"), and Fabulism. ("Fabulism" including science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and, where applicable, horror.)

Possible topics include:
1. Why does hybridity necessarily dovetail with adolescent identity searches?
2. How would an adult or mature hybridity tale look? Are there any?
3. Why does contemporary urbanism necessitate hybridity (besides the obvious, and yes, we will detail the obvious)? What would a homogeneous city look like? (ooo! Zamyatin, here we come!)
4. Why are magic and technology always "other", and therefore a product of hybridity? Why are magic and technology never indigenous or immanent?
5. Why is technology of the city, and magic of nature?


Feel free to suggest topics or discourse or write your own essays ... or be hybrid, or live in a city, or be fabulous.

March 26, 2006

Multiraciality 101

This is cross-posted at Other magazine's staff blog.

Other magazine staffer Gregory Dicum linked to this article on his website in the Other magazine blog last week. It's an overview of the situation of multiraciality in the United States today, general attitudes, and multiracials' response to general attitudes. Check it out.

It's a solid overview, but, once you've read it, I want to add some arguments/complications. The article was written in 2003 and, in the short space between then and now, some things may have changed. (I also realize that he may not have addressed some of my concerns simply because they fell outside the scope of his article.)

Dicum identifies a number of responses to multiraciality:
1. multiraciality will end race and racial divisions -- an approach typified by Interracial Voice
2. multiracials create a solid, fixed "multiracial" identity that is other than the monoracial identities from which they derive -- an approach typified, according to Dicum, by "The Hapa Movement".
3. the mobile paradox/code switching at will -- an approach impossible to codify in an organization

Firstly, I'd like to add some critical distance in the discussion of each of these approaches.

As I noted in my othermag/blog post on interracial families, the "multiraciality will end race" approach is extremely problematic. The Interracial Voice community that typifies this approach supports the politics of Ward Connerly, who helped end affirmative action at a number of universities all over the country, and tried to outlaw the collection of racial data in California -- including data on the race of people drawn into the justice system, and data on the race of people treated for certain diseases. (He failed, thank gods.) The idea of using multiraciality to end racial divisions is compelling. But because, according to the Interracial Voice community, multiracials will inevitably end race, they declare racial abolition a fait accompli. Often these advocates claim that the vestiges of racism we still find in our country are caused by identity politics, rather than identity politics being a response to lingering racism. I think these attitudes need to be noted in any discussion of this approach.

Regarding "hapa nation": the idea that a discrete "third" or other multiracial identity can, or should be created (and I dispute that that's what the "hapa movement" is about below) needs to be critically examined. Dicum touches on the absurdity of creating an ethnic identity out of ethnic diversity. He doesn't, however, discuss how creating yet another racial or ethnic identity for multiracials actually reifies multiracial outsider status, as well as the racial taxonomy that gave rise to it. A new "multiracial" or (especially) "hapa" racial category would let a lot of racists off the hook, offering them a new group of "people of color" to interact with; a group they might find to be more comfortable than monoracial people of color. This would create yet another model minority to buffer the privileged from the underprivileged. In this discussion, therefore, it would be not just be useful, but crucial to measure the amount of energy and resources that would be expended creating and acquiring recognition for a new racial category against the energy and resources used to combat racism and ignorance from the vantage point of multiple identities.

Regarding the "mobile paradox" approach, where multiracials take on whatever identity is most convenient in a given situation (also known as "code switching", which you might have heard used by African Americans to refer to changing their idiom depending upon their context), Dicum gives as examples a person inventing identities, or falsely agreeing with the wrong identities attributed to her by strangers. While lying about your identity can be fun for some and makes for amusing stories (always amusing at the ignorant stranger's expense) I'd really like to hear more discussion about why no one should be forced into a false position apropos his identity.

To be direct: I don't want to lie about who or what I am. I've had to fight so hard, for so long, to have my self-definition recognized and validated -- even by friends and sometimes even by family -- that I am not eager to give up that hard-won identity to my own whims, much less those of strangers. The mobile paradox is not always (and for some of us, not ever) the "playground of identities" that Dicum makes it out to be. It is often absolutely necessary for social survival to be able to take on a particular fixed identity that makes converse between you and those around you possible, and then to switch that identity for the next context. It may be empowering for some to view this situation as a playground, but beyond the playful level of sociable small talk, if you want to make friends, be lovers, get a job, or become politically effective, you can't build your house on sand.

Recognizing and performing the reality of an ambiguous racial identity will always, at some point, become deadly serious. It is in the shallow interactions with boorish, questioning strangers that multiracials practice their responses and rehearse identities. Some, like Dicum apparently, use these situations to relieve tension. This is perfectly legitimate, if condescending to strangers (who risk being condescended to by intruding on others.) Others (like me) don't, because the underlying seriousness is always present, and because we (or at least I) believe that it is better, or more instructive, or more honest, or more just, to simply refuse to allow myself to be engaged by strangers about my race. Rather than being forced into some position -- true or false -- by a stranger, I force that stranger to deal with me and my racial ambiguity without my cooperation. This is, in fact, a fourth distinct approach, but one which, by its very nature, is impossible to codify as a trend, or even to discuss with those who use it, unless they choose on their own (like I have here) to address it.

(Note: the term "mobile paradox" itself encodes a problematic atttitude: discomfort with ambiguity. If racial categories really were unmixable, then code switching would be a paradox. But racial categories are not unmixable, and code switching is not a paradox. You can be two things at once, or three, or four.)

Secondly, what Dicum calls "the Hapa Movement" or "Hapa Nation" (with a capitalized "hapa") may not actually exist. I was closely involved with Hapa Issues Forum between 1999 and 2002. At that time, and I think, still, Hapa Issues Forum (HIF) was the only national organization created around the Asian/Pacific Islander part of multiracial identities. (There has been, starting in the mid-nineties, an increasing number of API or hapa-based multiracial groups on campuses. Some are started by HIF, some start themselves and join HIF as a chapter, and some maintain their independence. There have also been a few community-based hapa orgs. As far as I know, all of these are now fallow.)

The need for "hapa", as opposed to general, non-API-specific multiraciality, arose from the fact that mixed race Asians/Pacific Islanders in the US (mainland, of course) were only a small proportion of the overall multiracial population. Many of those hapas who joined multiracial organizations found their voices and concerns overwhelmed by the majority, who were black/white. Black/white multiraciality is fraught with the history of slavery, the "one drop rule" and the severe stigma of being of African descent in our society. API multiraciality doesn't always contend with these issues, and furthermore, has to deal with immigrant, colonization, and foreign language/culture issues. Not falling into the black/white dichotomy meant hapas had little to contribute to the largest discussions, and that few had anything to contribute to hapa discussions. So creating a space around not just multiraciality but primarily around API multiraciality privileged the API aspect for the first time. It also gave hapas a power base from which to negotiate entrée and membership into Asian and Asian American groups who often dismissed them -- a very important consideration.

All of this is to say that the promotion of the term "hapa" wasn't necessarily a group effort to create a "third" or other identity separate from the monoracial identities from which hapas derive. It was rather a term that needed to be invented: 1) to distinguish the issues around API multiraciality from general multiracial, or black/white multiracial issues, and 2) to honor and distinguish API multiracials within their monoracial API communities.

The "hapa" in "hapa community" is not capitalized because "hapa" is a noun, adjective, or complement, and not a proper noun, nationality, or ethnic designation; "hapa" is grammatically like "white" or "black", and not like "African" or "Asian". The "hapa movement" is not called such by most of those involved, because of our awareness that there was no common mission among all hapas, and that the word "hapa" needs to be protected as something that anyone can use without declaring a political stance. (Naturally, this means that some hapas do capitalize it, and use it as an ethnic designation.) Rather, those involved called it the "hapa community", recognizing that a community shares certain things while tolerating a great deal of difference.

That is what the organization of Hapa Issues Forum was about: not a new, monolithic "hapa" identity, but rather creating a space for discussion around issues of multiraciality. At the time that I was involved, the very idea of the organization was to protect every participant from being coerced into a particular stance by someone else's racial agenda. Wei Ming Dariotis, whom Dicum quotes in the "hapa nation" segment of his article, has dedicated her career to examining this issue, and her ideas should be listened to. But her "new hapa identity" approach is different from mine, and when I helped her run the San Francisco chapter of Hapa Issues Forum, there was plenty of room for both of our approaches therein.

Additionally, in the past three years or so, the community (adults and families) chapters of HIF seem to have collapsed or gone fallow, while the energy and emphasis has returned to the student chapters. When adults and parents do take an interest in multiracial organizing, it seems more often to be with general multiracial organizations, which (with the coming of age of post-1965 Immigration Act hapas) are much more diverse now than they were 15 years ago. This would seem to argue for the failure of the idea of a discrete hapa identity, if that was ever a ruling idea.

March 21, 2006

Octavia E. Butler Scholarship

The Carl Brandon Society, an organization for writers of color in science fiction, fantasy and horror genres, has just announced their new Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund. The scholarship will send writers of color to one of the annual Clarion workshops.

Intended to bring talented writers into professionalism in the field, the Clarion writers workshop program has been called a "boot camp" for writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror. It lasts six weeks. Each week, you get a different instructor, who is a well-known writer or editor in the field (my year at Clarion West we got Nancy Kress, Kathy Goonan, Liz Hand, China Mieville, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and ... drumroll, please ... Chip Delany.) Each week, each of the 17 workshoppers turns in a story. That's six stories in six weeks that you write, 96 stories in six weeks that you read and critique. It's exhausting. It breaks up marriages. It's a sinkhole for gossip and misbehavior. It forces you into a state of ecstatic depletion, like the last few miles of a marathon, in which your inner critic gets bludgeoned to death, and your inner professional is born. It's amazing.

The original Clarion writers workshop, which Octavia herself attended, is now defunct, but so influential was it, that it has spawned three successors: the new Clarion in Michigan, Clarion West in Seattle (which I attended in 2003), and Clarion South in Australia. Octavia taught at both of the American successors. So it's appropriate that the Carl Brandon Society is using this opportunity to honor her. It's especially appropriate given how few writers of color there are in the field, and how incredibly high an impact Octavia had -- even before you read her books -- simply as a figurehead, as a black woman in a white male field. Many, if not most, of the SF/F/H writers of color I know started writing at least in part influenced by Octavia.

Please consider making a donation to this fund if Octavia meant something to you and you'd like to honor her in a substantial way. Thanks!

March 16, 2006

Elegies to Octavia (Continually Updated)

I've been collecting these since she died. The visceral experiences caused by reading her books are amazing. Please post any writing on Octavia in the comments, or send them to me and I'll update the post itself with a quote.

I am sad beyond words. Stunned. One of our most perceptive and talented, brave writers has crossed over, but what a gift she has left us. Such a fine and broad body of work for us to remember and explore. I've learned so much about myself simply from entering her words on the page ... Octavia's impact on my life is personal, deep, and I have heard the same from so many other readers who felt that their lives had literally changed after experiencing her work ... There is so much I could say, but I would just invite you all to revisit her work and pass it on to a new friend, pass it on to a growing reader. --Sheree Renée Thomas

I remember when someone mentioned to me that Samuel R. Delany, the author of the award-winning novel Dahlgren, happened to be black. I was as stunned as a young, African-American, science-fiction-loving geek could be. All my close friends were big into science fiction, and not all of us were such pootbutts that outside of a library we spent our time cowering from gangbangers, though that was often the case. Science fiction explained our weird-ass dysfunctional lives better than any social realism, but I don't think any of us thought we should or could write science fiction about our lives ... So when I first heard of Octavia Butler, it was like hearing about a black hockey player. -- Jervey Tervalon

Summer 1995, was a wild summer because it ended a chapter of my life thanks to a tropical storm and two hurricanes passing through, the last one trashing the boat I lived aboard and forcing my family to move to Ohio ... that night I lay huddled up in a sleeping bag and a flashlight reading "Wild Seed" as the Hurricane battered the house we stayed in, and I made it all the way to the eye of the hurricane having not paid a single bit of attention to what was going on on the other side of a brick wall several inches away from me. -- Tobias Buckell

At the time in the workshop, I was writing a story about an Efik woman in Nigeria who learned to fly. The story was set in the 1920's. This character was mean, selfish, promiscuous, strong willed and quite frankly, she disturbed me. When I read Wild Seed, I practically cried. There, in the book's pages, living in a remote Nigerian village long ago was Anyanwu, complex, Nigerian and mythical. It was after reading that book that I went through my own "transition" and started to call myself a writer of science fiction and fantasy. -- Nnedimma Okorafor Mbachu

I sensed a deep loneliness in Octavia, but also humor, vast intelligence, and a level of investment in her craft that was simply phenomenal ... What does it take to be a writer of such depth and courage?  I say, the capacity to dig into your own wounds, to fold yourself, concentrate yourself so purely into the work that your own life is eclipsed in comparison.  To live in the penumbra of your own work.  There are costs to this ...  -- Steven Barnes

"People really need to think what it's like to have all of society arrayed against you," she once said. But her work went far beyond simply mourning the victim. She showed us why repulsion cannot be avoided, why we often resemble what we hate, and why it is sometimes our best qualities that prevent us from accepting the differences of others. Her ability to both understand the outsider perspective better than others and then to invert it, places Butler above her science-fiction-writing peers. She is a disturbing and important writer... -- Tyler Cowen

I haven't read any of her books, but yet, I find myself sitting in front of the computer almost in tears...I thought I had time! I thought I had time to get to know her style, form a critique, maybe see her at a speech and then maybe walk up to her, pages in shaky hand, mouth dry, and ask her to look over my stuff ... it's just not fair, goddamn it, each new generation of radical women of color writers must learn the lessons, fight the fights, write our souls, without the mentorship of the very people that inspired us and gave us strength to write in the first place. -- brownfemipower at Women Of Color blog

My clearest memory of her is from a BayCon in the 1980s in San Jose. I had recently read C. S. Friedman's In Conquest Born, and thought it a mildly enjoyable first novel. Butler came by the table where I was selling books and said, in her distinctively beautiful gravelly voice, "That's the most racist book I ever read."
"Really?" I said. "Why?" (After all, everyone in it was white.)
"Because," she said, "the whole culture is built on valuing people by how they look."
*zap* *pow* *right to the heart of things*. -- Laurie Toby Edison & Debbie Notkin

I don't think many in the field ever realized how transformative she was ... Whenever people run that line about the period "before cyberpunk" being fallow and tame, I shake my head and realize how much farther we have to go. When Butler wrote about the effects of misused power on individuals, she blew those boys out of the water on every single page. She could be truly scary, in a way that splendidly illuminated this truly scary world. -- Scott Westerfeld

There was nowhere she wasn't willing to take you. She had a particular fascination with relationships of dominance and submission, master and slave, predator and prey. Though she always positioned herself on the side of the victims, she frequently focused on complicity, portraying such interactions as complicated and intimate. One cannot be eaten or raped without being touched. There was sometimes a narcotized pleasure built in on one side of the relationship or both. -- Karen Joy Fowler

I can't describe the look on her face but I know it well. Every woman I have loved and admired is capable of that look: the one that says "that's not good enough" and "I know you can do better," in a single glance. The perfect balance of disappointment and optimism that makes you understand it's only *you* selling yourself short. Then she said it out loud so I knew she REALLY meant it. "That's too bad," she said. "I'd like to see what else you can do." Sometimes I wonder why those words didn't crush me. Of course they were never intended to: she hit my "challenge" button with a vengeance. -- Eddie at "The Write Grrrl" blog

I’m sure most of us know the statistics of her career — the awards she won for her novels and stories, the fact that she was the only science fiction writer to win a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “genuis grant.” But she was so much more than that. She often said that a lot of her work wasn’t science fiction. “You could call it ‘save-the-world fiction,’ but it clearly doesn’t save anything,” she said. “It just calls people’s attention to the fact that so much needs to be done, and obviously the people who are running this country don’t care.” -- Leslie Howle (and check out this link for other remembrances of Octavia.)

She was wickedly funny in a dry way that you could miss if you weren't paying attention. She was unfailingly courteous and kind. I think Brad Denton (2nd week) found us a little wild at times, Nalo (3rd week) found us almost sufficiently wild, and Connie Willis (4th week) would holler at us, in her fifth-grade-teacher voice, to "Settle Down!" -- but we didn't pull anything with Octavia, I can tell you. Not because we imagined that she would chide us (she wouldn't have) nor because we thought she might be wounded (ha! like we could wound her!), but because her dignity filled the room. You had the sense of what a crime it was to waste this life, to waste whatever God had given you. -- Benjamin Rosenbaum  (and check out this link for other remembrances of Octavia.)

Blessed with an I.Q., grades and S.A.T. scores good enough to get me into any college in the country, but unable to solve three-dimensional emotional issues with a one-dimensional 17-year-old mind, I found myself in a dark corner, in a basement, on a dingy yellow couch waiting to conduct what I’ll refer to now as a “business deal”.  ... As I sat there looking around the room and waiting, I noticed a small paperback book on a wobbly wooden table in the corner.  The cover had been ripped off and the pages were tattered and worn.  I started reading and before I knew it, I had followed Dana Franklin back into the early 1800’s – the book was Kindred and the author was Octavia Butler.  And there in that moment, I found a greater purpose – and what was, for me, a higher calling. -- D. Lee Hatchett

(And here again is my own blog entry about her.)

March 06, 2006

Multiracial Rant

Hey, that was quick! I did the podcast with Carmen Kerckhove of "Addicted to Race" last week and it's already been posted on the "Addicted to Race" site. (It's about halfway through the podcast.) I was originally supposed to rant alone about the subject of a ranty article I wrote recently, but writing the article had de-ranted me. So I asked Carmen to interview me instead. (Plus, I get to talk about porn! Pron!)

As usual, my voice sounded weird to me and it took a while for me to recognize it as my own. I did an exercise on writing "voice" with my high school students two years ago, where I brought in a tape recorder and had everyone read into it. Then I played it back and had everyone respond to how their recorded voices sounded to them. Almost no one liked their voice and most wrote that the reason was that their voices sounded either higher or lower than they had thought they were. No one said their voice was thinner, or richer, or dorkier than they thought. Just higher or lower.

That seems to carry a lot of meaning. The pitch of your voice, that is. Some of the students connected a higher pitch with less confidence and were surprised that they sounded so wimpy; or a lower pitch with masculinity or aggression and were surprised that they sounded so.

This is all by way of saying, I wasn't surprised at the pitch of my voice. I've done a lot of public readings in the past two years and so I've done a lot of rehearsing at home with a tape recorder. I'm not surprised by how my rehearsed voice sounds. I am surprised, though, at how dorky I sound. And I had no idea I said "um" so often.

March 02, 2006

A Podcast! A Podcast, I say!

I'm really, really excited about all the new technology. It's sooo kewl! Makes it possible for me to work my way through the different media (please don't ask me to use the non-word "mediums". It hurts) on a purely amateur basis. Frex, last September I got to read part of a story on the radio (I'm in the last five minutes of the show)! Now I'm bloggin'! And next week, I will be cast to pod!

Carmen Van Kerckhove and Jen Chau (both multiracial) have teamed up in the past few years to produce several vital projects dealing with multiracial and interracial relationship issues including New Demographic (a diversity training company that does more than just spin your wheels and reinforce positive stereotypes), Mixed Media Watch (a blog about media representations of mixed race people), and Swirl, Inc. (a nonprofit Jen started in New York City to address multiracial issues.)

Their relevant project here is Addicted to Race, a regular podcast on multiracial and interracial relationship issues. They do rants and interviews, and have guest commentary, and in Episode 15, they have what must be one of the last interviews with the late Octavia Butler. These two really keep their eye on the ball (well, it's their job), so if you have any interest in a non-traditional take on race issues, subscribe to Addicted to Race.

In any case, with regard to their eye on the ballage, Carmen and Jen caught my Pop and Politics article on the falsehood of the dream of ending race through fucking interracially until everyone is kinda brown. So Carmen interviewed me by phone yesterday on the subject and the thing will be part of their podcast sometime next week. I'll let y'all know when. Until then, do check out their other stuff. Much worth a look!

February 27, 2006

Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler died on Saturday.

As a reader, you get many, many authors who dazzle and challenge you, who turn you on, who piss you off, or make you think, or reveal to you what a book can be. But if you're a writer, you only get one author who turns you out. It's not mystical; it's a function of timing. At that moment when your metaphorical pen is poised, and the world is about to come into focus for you and begin emitting stories, there will be one author who shows up, smiles at you, and opens the gates.

My friend Russell turned me on to Octavia Butler in early 2001. I had been working in the Asian American arts community for a couple of years and I guess he thought it would behoove me to get another view of what an "ethnic" literature could be. I bought "Parable of the Sower". Two days later I went to the bookstore and bought every other book of hers I could find on the shelves. It took six months of searching local new and used bookstores, but I devoured her entire body of work (except her disowned novel "Survivor", of which there are now three used copies available on Amazon, for $50 - 85.)

Since I first read her, the surface upon which my knowledge and cultural understanding float has been disturbed. The books I read were debris floating across my consciousness: some, like icebergs, with more bottom. Octavia Butler dropped an anvil out of the sky and it did not float. See, everything I had read before her had been a trigger to that fugue state in which archetypes lived and had tea. Octavia didn't truck with fugue states. She reached a broad hand inside and dragged those fairy/robot/hybrid motherfuckers out into the cold light. They dropped straight down through my fears for the future, my bitter, narrow-browed suspicions about the present. They collected on the sea floor, a junkyard, an indication of where the weight is.

For six months, it was raining anvils. When I was done, I sat down and wrote my first science fiction story. It was melodramatic, overblown, clichéd, presumptuous, smug, silly, and pulpy. But it was good. It had one toe on the ground.

See, we can't write an ethnic, a hybrid, a violent, a displacement, a scary story directly. There are too many Thanksgiving tales, and immigrant stories, and freedom stories. There are too many food stories, and wise grandparents, and mafiosi. There's too much rising up, and falling into degradation. There are too many ruts of structure for us to fall into that channel us away from the story we started trying to tell. Too many well-worn channels that pervert our stories into something comforting, confirming, conservative. You cannot write the story you are writing. Octavia's time-travelers and aliens and demons and vampires are not symbols for us, or representatives. They are us, with the bullshit pared away. Her fabulism is the most direct speech.

I only really met her once (and she was kind and gentle and very, very smart, and she invited me and my friend into her house, and gave us books and a little of her company.) But she was my mentor, my model and my muse. She made writers real to me, she made writing real to me. She performed a duty for me that all apprentice writers have to have performed for them: the opener of floodgates. She was mine, I only get one, and she's gone.

It kills me that she lived such a lonely life -- such a solitary one -- in which the difference to other people between "lonely" and "solitary" is perhaps dignity and perhaps product, but the difference to yourself is essentially nil. It's nothing like pity or sympathy; it kills me because my novel I'm working on -- at once the most, and least worthwhile thing I've ever spent time on -- points ahead to a selfish, internal, solitary life, with no promise of any rewards beyond those of merely being able to write. There's no promise that I'll have any of her power, any of that iron weight to balance out the self-absorption and distance my life is shaping up to be. How did she do it? Was it all compromise? Was it worth it to her? And who will hold down the ground now?

February 23, 2006

Borg Eyes

I am Borg. No, I really am.

Translation for cave-dwellers: I'm talking about the pathologically aggressive alien species on my favorite Star Trek shows, i.e. "Next Generation", "Deep Space Nine", and "Voyager". (The original, Borg-less series is only good if you were watching it back then, or if you didn't get the memo about the death of irony; and "Enterprise" can suck my ass.) Aside from the lovely sci-fi-iness (and the increasingly good writing and characterization in each show as it went into later seasons), my main fascination with NextGen Trek was its lovely obsessions with multiraciality, as expressable in aliens, robots, and especially mixemup, mixemup cyborgs.

The Borg, did not reproduce, they grew their numbers by assimilating other species. Assimilation involved penetrating the victim's body with knuckle-tubes to the neck (all rape-y and vampiric and knuckle-sandwichy like that) to implant/infuse them with little bitty nanobots. The 'bots built cybernetic implants in the body, which then came bursting all metal-plantlike and horrifying out of the host's skin, reinforcing, rewiring, or just plain replacing the original organs. The brain was hooked up to a galaxy-wide, wifi internet system -- a hive mind -- and the host put into a "maturation" chamber so that his/her/its psyche could be brought to heel through mental enculturation. In return, each new assimilated species' brains were mined for information about their indigenous culture and ideas, and these added to the consciousness -- and techno-cultural arsenal -- of the collective.

Okay, from that description alone you can see how much symbolism and analogy to imperialism, colonialism, multiculturalism, totalitarianism, political correctness, cultural appropriation, sex, rape, blah, blah, blah can be mined in the Borg episodes. The Borg were wildly popular on the show from the time they first appeared in the second season (spring 1989) until suck-my-ass "Enterprise" ended last year-ish, and it's no coincidence that the rise of their popularity coincided with the end of the cold war, and the sudden American need for a new enemy. The Borg tapped into a number of terrifying archetypes, recalled a 500-year history of global expansionism, and shrewdly extrapolated the less desirable implications of all of our New Technology. Plus, they added their name (now a synonym for "fascist automaton") and the phrase "resistance is futile" to our mainstream pop vocabulary.

The concept of the Borg was already satisfyingly complex and, as early nineties history moved on, the show's relationship with the Borg grew more complex. Inevitably, reclaimed Borg characters began to appear, providing frameworks for discussions about: free will and cultural choice (Hugh), the corruption of diplomatic and military life (Locutus), and most tellingly, the painful conflicting values of bi-nationality (Seven of Nine). It's no coincidence that of all the multi-species (i.e. multiracial) characters on Star Trek (Spock, Worf, Data, Alexander, Sisko, Dax, B'Elanna), I identified the most with Seven of Nine. First of all, she was hott. But she, of all the culturally conflicted mixies on Star Trek, was the only one whose struggles did not come with a black and white tagline. She chose, moment by moment, which set of values (and hardware) she would use for which situation; her choices were often counterintuitive to the average viewer. And, as she grew more "human", she reclaimed her Borg virtues more and more articulately and confidently.

In Seven of Nine, culture was manifested physically in her implants, but it was also just culture. That was probably the best thing about the Borg, in its way: how much their cybernetic enhancements could suggest -- and how friggin' cool they looked. Cool and cold, both. They were the one truly frightening visual element in all the NG Treks, a hybrid of zombies, robots, vampire bats and storm troopers. And yet, they were always being talked about -- in voices of horror and fear and disgust -- using the language of virtue and superiority: they could "adapt" and "assimilate", their exoskeletons made them stronger and their inner computers made them smarter and faster. Plus, they had personal energy shielding. But their best visual was their simplest: they had one human eye, and one red laser beam, usually replacing the right eye. When they turned toward the camera at a certain angle, the laser hit the camera-eye in such a way that the whole screen lit up red for a moment. They were mindless drones until you annoyed them, then they turned and pinned you with their laser beam. That's just cool.

I can do that.

Well, not really, but I can do something close to that. See, about ten years ago I was diagnosed with cataracts, a progressive condition where your natural lenses, located behind the cornea, cloud up. Eventually the cloudiness is such that you can't see through it anymore. There's no cure, so what they do is wait until it gets really bad, and then remove your natural lenses, replacing them with plastic implants. That's right implants. Although only by the stretchiest stretch can my lenses be considered mechanical, you can still say that some of my organs have been replaced with technology. Mm hmm. I'm a cyborg.

And, although it sounds like it should be, this ... enhancement is not invisible. When the light strikes me just so -- usually when it's sort of dark and there's a strong light source coming at me from the side -- my plastic lenses light up. So if you're looking at the right moment, you'll see my pupils glowing white. To you it looks like ghostly cats' eyes. To me it looks like being zapped by an albino Borg. Since the operation six years ago, I've grown used to people stopping, looking at me more closely, and going, "What is that? That is so cool!"

But that's misleading, that I've grown used to it only in the last six years. I've been used to it much longer, because all my life, people (even people who know me quite well) have been stopping me suddenly and looking intently into my eyes and saying things like "Your eyes are blue. That's so cool!" or "Your eyes are green. I never noticed before!" Yeah, no, my irises aren't Borg. And the moment of revelation usually has something to do with the light, and the angle at which it's striking my eyes. My irises, like many, many others', are made up of concentric bands of three or four different colors, which means that the light, the room's walls, the shirt I'm wearing, my mood, the drugs I've taken, etc. etc. will affect which color dominates at any given moment, and how it looks to a viewer. (Most of the time they just look dark, though, so don't get all excited.)

The laser-eye moment is the one in which you begin notice something strange about somebody, and then somebody turns towards you and zings you with their full-on "strangeness". But strangeness, or coolness, is all about context: there should be an eye there, not a laser! pupils are black! yours shouldn't be reflecting like a cat's! you're Asian-y, your eyes shouldn't be blue! The power (and popularity) of the Borg culture on Star Trek lay in the delightful shock they produced every time they appeared on screen. As we grew used to this shock, the show produced ever greater shocks: Cubes, Spheres and lollipops! Human, Klingon and Romulan Borg! Jean-Luc Picard Borgified! Baby Borg! I was a teenaged Borg! A hot Borgy blonde with big boobs! Yeah, 'cause once you've invented a sufficiently complex analogy for human hybridity, you'll find that hybridity never ceases to surprise you. Half-breeds are never what you think, when you think it, and it's a narrative just getting through the day with them.

I got one of my Borg eyes laser adjusted at the doc's yesterday, and yes, the laser was red. I was laser-zapped in one eye for ten straight minutes, so half my vision was red red redred red red redredred red, while the other half was normal. And then for an hour afterward I was seeing blue in the one eye. But this morning, just in time for my birthday, I can see again. I can see! Having actual hardware in my face is still exceedingly creepy, but much cooler than not having it and being blind. In fact, the tiny facial manifestation of my cyborg self is rather more cool than not. It gives me something to talk about, something that I didn't much have a choice about (unless I chose to go blind) but something that felt like a choice. I didn't choose the irises, or any of the physical and cultural shit around them, and I can claim and reclaim and boost and celebrate all I want ... at the end of the day, I didn't choose, and I don't get to control when people lean in and notice, hey! you're even more different than I thought!

I chose to get the implants. And as I get older and more pieces fall off, I'll choose more hardware, more and more hybridity -- I'm already looking forward to the next add-on -- and I'll be ahead of the game. I can already assimilate better than you. And with hardware I get to choose what you see. Hardware's where it's at. All the rest is just organics.

February 22, 2006

Tip Jar

Another new feature is that I've added a tip jar to the upper left. This means you can give me munny!

Unless otherwise specified (yes, you can say that you want me to have the munny!), tips to the SeeLight Tip Jar will go to the Carl Brandon Society, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction.

I'm a member of the CBS steering committee. You can read more about CBS here.

Our programs currently include two annual literary awards, and two annual writing workshop scholarships.

ps. I'm actually posting this on November 18, 2007, but I have to put it on the blog's first page for stupid administrative reasons.

February 21, 2006

Frequently Asked Questions

How tall are you?

This tall. If you would like actual numbers, you can upgrade to an executive account for just $195.95 per month (limited time offer)! Minimum membership period one year. Standard nondisclosure agreements apply. Restrictions vary by region and mood. You may be eligible for a discount if you are: my doctor, my tailor, my mother, a very hot man who wants to buy me a pretty dress, the hangglider pilot on my tandem flight who has to make sure we both stay in the air.

I only ask because I [have a (friend/cousin/boyfriend's other woman/neighbor)] [met a (woman/girl/anthropomorphic object) the other day] who is [number here] feet [exaggerated number here] inches tall!

I have no response to that because I sincerely don't give a fuck.

How did you get so tall?

I grew.

Where are you from?

San Francisco.

Oh, you grew up here?


Um ... I mean, what's your nationality?


No, I mean what's your ethnic background?

I don't feel like telling you today. Now, examine why you are insulted.

You don't need to be ashamed of your height/your ethnicity. It's beautiful!

You don't need to be ashamed of your ears. Despite what everyone says, that shape and size is beautiful! Just ignore what everyone says! Oh, you don't know what everyone says? Well, just ignore it! You don't need to be ashamed! Your ears are exotic and striking and beautiful! Yay your ears!

And what do you do?

Field intrusive questions from strangers, passive aggression from women, and aggressive aggression from men. I also surf sometimes.

No, I meant what do you do for a living?

That's such a peculiar phrase "do for a living", don't you think? What I do to live is breathe, then drink water, then eat, then wear clothes ... but on a more metaphysical level, what I do to live is think about myself, other people, the world, and our place and position and structure relative to one another. Then I express my thoughts in various ways. Then I attempt to enact some sort of ethical performance (called "life") based upon these thoughts. And I sing karaoke sometimes.

What is/are your karaoke song/s?

"Smooth Operator", and "Dreams" (by Fleetwood Mac). Also, the art director at Hyphen magazine has arbitrarily assigned "Hopelessly Devoted to You" to me. I don't remember why.

What are your favorite books/authors?

If I paint my naked breasts with woad and do an hour-long shimmy over your head to the song stylings of David Hasselhof, will you promise never, ever to ask anyone that question ever again, ever?

What are your favorite movies?

"The Sum of All Fears", "Chronicles of Riddick", "Castaway", "The Net", "Brokedown Palace", "Escape from Witch Mountain", "The Man With the Golden Gun" ... that's all I can think of right now. Oh, and "Parenthood".

What are you like?

Bullshit! Nobody asks that! Nobody ever asks that!

I'm asking now: What are you like?

I'm a bitch.

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