I’ve been waffling on making this post, because by nature it’s gonna be political, and I know a lot of folks have been conditioned to cut people out of their lives if they don’t agree with them politically. I’m not trying to sway anyone’s opinions on politics because a blog post prooooobably won’t do that, so instead I’m just gonna tell it like it is for a person of color (or half).
Caveat 1: I’m a halfie. Two or three hundred years ago I probably would’ve been killed or enslaved at birth, and to this day, halfies are pretty well demonized in some Asian cultures. If for some reason you don’t think halfbreeds count as people of color, you’re free to believe that. In the end, the most any of us can do is to talk about our own experiences and let others reflect on them.
Caveat 2: I’m often (though not always) guilty of “trying too hard to see the other side,” partly because my work often involves a lot of critical thinking and thinking “outside the box.”
November 2016 I decided to jump genres and do a science-fantasy project for NaNoWriMo. Conveniently enough, there was also a contest run by Fiyah Literary Magazine where writers of color would submit their word counts, best lines, and greatest hurdles for the week. Fiyah is a magazine for writers of African heritage, but in the interests of diversity in fiction, they opened the contest up to all people of color. Man, it was sort of a pleasure to type that sentence.
All of October, I prepped characters, world, timeline, plot points, etc. for my NaNoWriMo project. November hit, and I lagged behind schedule, as expected. I think a writer has to “get to know” their own characters, world, story, etc. and the start of any new project is slow because of that, and that’s ok. NaNoWriMo’s schedule isn’t bad once you get going, but I think a lot of people get bogged-down in that starting phase and just give up because they’re so behind schedule. But I digress.
November 8th was the election, and while I saw a lot of disappointment and sadness, I saw a lot of fear in my friends who were not white, or female, or transgender, or disabled, or homosexual, etc. Twitter and Facebook buzzed with the same sentiments from the same types of people. “Give him a shot,” I thought. “Alfred Nobel was a piece of shit until he realized how people were going to remember him, maybe this guy will get it together too.” See caveat 2.
Even I was a little afraid. While Asians get to fly under the racist radar most of the time, I’m still one North Korean nuclear strike away from being shoved into an internment camp like the Japanese were in WWII. “But no,” I think, “that can’t happen here, can it?” Bitch that DID happen here.
On the writing front, I didn’t get a lot done that night, and I don’t think I was alone. The feeling I got from twitter and my friends of color was that all the progress we’ve made towards equality in the past couple decades was about to be undone, possibly in a violent way. Fiyah sent out its contest updates and the numbers were appropriately depressing. Even lagging like I was, I was ahead of the curve. What was the point, right? Would anyone give a shit what we wrote? The country had given an overwhelming amount of representation to white dudes, and in particular, one white dude who said some pretty caustic remarks about minorities during his campaign – why would anyone give a shit about a person of color’s perspective? “He didn’t mean those things,” people said in his defense. Ok, maybe they were right. See caveat 2.
My crit group was packed the next night, partly because people needed a support group. A lot of them are women, or people of color, or homosexuals, and even the white males among them lean towards a more liberal stance. Even some old-timers we hadn’t seen in a while stopped in to say hi. It was like a great trauma brought people together. Afterwards, in standard fashion, we went out to eat, and there was a moment when I looked around and realized that when the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan was when I would get to see who my friends & allies really were – they were there at the table with me.
The message implied by the election was “you don’t matter,” and I was writing a story about the futuristic version of a half-Korean who was chasing the carrot on a stick of genetic therapy so she could become white. As offensive as that might sound, that’s a real plot line in the story, because in that universe, white folks still control the media and set the standards of beauty. She loses the carrot though – it was how the villain gets her to work for him. The grand federation of humanity and several other races splits because of her actions, and a new “humans-only” club run by white supremacists declares civil war. You can probably guess where my inspiration for all that came.
I kept going, kept writing, and I’m not entirely sure why. Partly because I had a story in me that I wanted to get out, and I’d kinda fallen in love with the protagonists and world. I’m sure the external accountability of the Fiyah contest helped even if only a little. If I’m being honest though, I kind of wondered how much longer I would have a voice for, so I’d better say what I had to say while I had the time.
I think the emotions at the root of that were anger and fear. The only real means of resistance I have are my words and stories, and even if nobody ever reads them, putting them out in the world makes them far more real than leaving them bumping around in my head.
Fiyah numbers came out for the next week and they were still pretty depressing. The Fiyah twitter also posted a lot of “tell us about your story / plot / characters” prompts. Some went unanswered, some had great answers. Writers were still writing. I was too, and I don’t know why. Maybe momentum? Maybe creating art as defiance? Art as eulogy?
Why though? Would anyone give a damn? ScarJo was gonna play Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell. Game of Thrones doesn’t feature any people of color in leading roles. They’re re-releasing Birth of the Dragon, which is supposed to be about two Asian dudes, but spends a lot of time on some white guy they made up so they could throw him in. Maybe all people really want is the same King Arthur story being re-made into a movie over and over again.
Time rolled on. NaNo rolled on. People invested their hope in things like recounts and allegations of foreign involvement. Fiyah numbers remained low. But there were still numbers.
People of color were still writing.
Why though? I wish I knew. I wish I had one reason I could point to, or a magical and witty snippet of truth which could fill in the blank here. I’m betting everyone had their own answers to that question, but I’m also betting those answers all shared a common root – refusal to simply roll over, give up, and die. Maybe everything comes down to fight or flight reactions, some huge, some microscopic. In my opinion, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, you should almost always choose “fight” when art is either your medium or the thing that’s at stake.
At the end of November, more than a few folks finished NaNoWriMo and the Fiyah contest. Some may not have made it to 50k, but they kept slapping those keys and turning in progress reports. For me, finishing was a badge of honor, a personal test, a big middle finger in the face of current events.
Those aliens and non-whites in my story? They band together to defend a planet full of billions of innocent humans, some of which are separatists and would take up arms against them if they could. More than a few white folks stand with the aliens, and everyone gets to see who their allies really are. Differences of anatomy and genetics and sex are set aside for the greater good. Maybe it’s just a dream or a far-fetched fantasy world, but to me it’s an ideal worth writing about, and by “writing about,” I mean “fighting for.”