Calling a Spade a Mardonalian (Part 1)

In his essay “Why Blacks Should Read (and Write) Science Fiction” (in Sheree Thomas’ anthology Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora) Charles R. Saunders says, “The human imagination manifests itself in stories. Those same stories become legends, myths, the defining elements of a culture… We need to contribute to our culture’s overall mythology… and provide positive alternatives to the stereotypes that continue to plague us within that mythology.”

This is not to say that writers should only “write what they know” (as SF by definition goes far beyond our everyday experience) or to say that writers cannot accurately or sensitively portray characters outside their personal experience. The best writers can (I’m thinking here of some of the stories by Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison), but sometimes, even the best writers can’t—or don’t.

Sometimes the gaffes can be amusing, as in a “Star Trek” novel (I can’t remember which one) where Geordi LaForge (the character portrayed on film by LeVar Burton) is captured by some villains who are going to do something awful to him, something so awful that, despite his Starfleet training, he is afraid. How do we know this? Because, the writer said, “the color drained from his face” or “he turned pale—” I can’t recall the exact phrase, but it brought to mind those black characters in films from the 1940s who were soooo scared they turned white or the pigment flaked off their skin. (The interesting thing here is neither the writer, the editor, the proofreader, or however many people reviewed this manuscript caught this.)

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Comment by Jervis Horton on July 28, 2008 at 9:03pm
I am commenting on the manifest destiny portion of your commentary. Black people need to take control of our destiny so that we can have one 2 thousand years form now. I am 38 and to a lot of people I am still a young man but the young ones coming up behind me I don't know if half of them are going to make it. In my life time I would like to see our so called Black LEADERS come up with a BLUE PRINT for A GETTOPIAN SOCIETY that will have our childern childrens living in TOMORROW'S black world of the FUTURE. Some black people like living in the GETTHO others don't so there will always be some left behind that's there choice. but for those looking for bigger brighter and better CATE THEIR FUTURE SO THEY CAN GET THERE.
Comment by Ronald T. Jones on July 28, 2008 at 7:17pm
How about the Star Trek: Enterprise series where the Andorans referred to humans as pink skins despite there being a range of complexions among humans. It baffles me how the writers failed to catch that gaffe.

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