Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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White Feminist’s Burden

The indefatigable Jane Sand returns to contend with me over the literary merits of Ursula Le Guin’s Playboy appearance:

The character Alvaro is not just mentioned as dark-skinned and no other significant individual trait. He uses both his patrilineal and matrilineal family names to introduce himself, which shows the discerning reader that that old Spanish custom still exists in the far off future. He is bilingual, speaking English and ‘Argentinean,’ defined in the story as a future descendant of Spanish. Most importantly, his friend, Owen Pugh, the Welsh commander of the mission, has learned that language and speaks it with him at times for reasons of friendship, and later to speak confidentially to him without danger of eavesdropping from the third main character. This tells POC readers that not only is their darker skin acceptable in the future, their cultural differences are also appreciated and useful. This may not seem like much to you, but to POCs who have been discriminated against for those traits in the present, seeing people like themselves represented as equals in the far-off future by this author can mean a hell of a lot, especially seeing so few similar characters in the SF of the time.

Spoken like a person that has no experience whatsoever with non-white people in the real world. I mean it sounds all tender and sweet in theory, sure. But people tend not to be flattered when their bosses adopt the vernacular of their subordinates. Heck, people have to be so careful working with people from different cultures that corporate diversity training of today instructs people to not even ask other people where they are from.

Ursula Le Guin could be forgiven for not knowing anything about this. She hails from not just a time when America was much whiter. But she also comes from a region of that country that is notoriously white to this day. Truly, Portland is ground zero of Stuff White People Like™. But her science fictional “It’s a Small World” moment is not near as effective when it’s placed side by side with her hatred for not just the millions of Irish people, but the billion Roman Catholics in the world.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Le Guin is one visionary that could stand to expand her horizons just a touch.

Meanwhile, Alexandru Constantin of Barbarian Book Club puts in his two cents on all this:

That has always been my question when seeing a bunch of middle-class white chubbsters patting each other’s backs over diversity. Who the [heck] are you writing for? Do you know any “diverse” people?

As a Romanian born immigrant, I don’t want or need somebody else to tell my story, my peoples story, or anything. I would be pissed if anybody turns my life experience into a fantasy tale.

Sort of like how China is not going to be one whit more interested in Star Wars just because some white feminist in America does them favor of incorporating a southeast Asian woman as protagonist. Kathleen Kennedy is nobody to them. Yet she acts like she’s some sort of plantation grandee doling out favors to the poor and benighted. Which is ridiculous when everyone from Bollywood to Hong Kong has their own means of culture production.

Normal people care nothing about this diversity stuff. What do they care about? Stuff that Ursula Le Guin despises and repudiates. Not the least of which would be heroism.

Watch the video below and see for yourself. People of all races, backgrounds, shapes, and sizes are outraged when the sort of “politics” Ursula Le Guin advocated for turns up in their epic fantasy. Really, it doesn’t matter if you do something “nice” for a supposedly helpless brown person if you’re simultaneously taking a great big dump on what it means to be human.


6 responses to “White Feminist’s Burden

  1. Alexandru Constantin February 11, 2018 at 7:48 pm

    The grossest thing about these people is that they take away all agency and personality from the minorities they claim to represent. All cultures have both negative and positive elements, for example Chinese culture is ancient, rich, and has a detailed history filled with outstanding cultural achievements. It’s also filled with massive warfare, slavery, corruption, subjugation of women, and death camps that lasted well into the 20th century and possibly go on today. The SJW hollers for representation for minorities, yells for DIVERSITY IN SFF but their cry is meaningless because they don’t want honest diversity. What they want is a neutered sugarcoated version of diversity, basically the El Torito of Mexican Food in story form.

    One of the reasons many authors avoid non-European settings is because Europe is safe. It’s safe for criticism. When we write in the pseudo-Europe we are allowed to show the grandeur of the culture, the Cathedrals, the individualism, the chivalry, and most importantly we are allowed to show the dark underside. The religious persecution, the filth, the misery, the dark sides like the pogroms and the inquisition. We can portray pseudo-European culture as a multi dimensional whole.

  2. jaynsand February 11, 2018 at 8:17 pm

    “Spoken like a person that has no experience whatsoever with non-white people in the real world. ”

    Who are you calling white, Jeffro?

    Para que sepas, gran pendejo, mi mama es suramericana, yo soy completamente bilingue, y se de lo de los dos apellidos porque pase la escuela secundaria en Suramerica, y tuve que aprender a escribir el apellido de mi mama y mi papa al firmar porque cuando escribi mi nombre con solamente apellido paterno tal y como me lo habian ensenado en los Estados Unidos, los otros estudiantes pensaron que yo era ilegitima.

    Roughly translated: Just so you know, ya big dumbass [the word is usually used in that sense, though fascinatingly, its literal translation is ‘pubic hair’], my mom is South American, I am completely bilingual, and I know that thing about the two last names because I spent high school in South America, and I had to learn to write both my father’s and my mother’s surnames when I signed things, because when I wrote my name with just my dad’s last name as I’d been taught in the USA, people thought I was illegitimate. (Sorry about the lack of proper tildes).

    It’s breathtaking how confidently you assume things that are wrong…though not quite as breathtaking as the confidence with which you assume that ALL POC find Le Guin’s POC characters ‘bland’, without actually checking what POC anywhere actually think of her:

    “There’s a blandness about her non-white characters… as if their skin color is just painted on….Are there really non-white people out there that are honestly embracing her work, praising her, and thanking her profusely for creating visions of the future and mythologies of the past that include them…? I doubt it.”

    Junot Diaz, for example, told the New Yorker, “I read her nonstop, growing up, and read her still.” Zadie Smith, N. K. Jemisin, Nisi Shawl, Ken Liu, Nalo Hopkinson, Tananarive Due, all paid homage to her as an inspiration to their writing. And if you brush these people off as mere anti-Puppy conspiracists, then read this appreciation written long before the first Puppy yipped about the Hugos.

    Or maybe just read tributes from around the world, from people who found that Le Guin’s stories inspiring and identified with their characters:

    As for “…people tend not to be flattered when their bosses adopt the vernacular of their subordinates…” if you’d actually READ the story you’d see that while Owen is nominally the commander, Alvaro treats him completely as his equal (including telling him to ‘shut up’ twice on the first page when he’s being annoying) and no orders are given throughout.

    Also, Le Guin wouldn’t have cared for “The Last Jedi” either – she was more of a Trekkie.

    Let me suggest something – the relative lack of ‘likes’ and responses on this post indicates that you’ve hit the stage of diminishing returns in attacking a writer you transparently haven’t a clue about, nor have the least interest in learning more of. You’ll garner even less interest from your readers in arguing with a complete nonentity like me. I suggest you put down Le Guin and toddle back to Appendix N. It has some fine literature in it – Le Guin wrote a lot in her essays about her admiration for Dunsany and Tolkien. And if in thirty or forty years you might want to expand your horizons beyond that and actually give her writing a REAL try – I suspect she’ll still be in print, waiting for you, as all immortal writers do. ;)

    • Nathan February 11, 2018 at 9:07 pm

      In thirty to forty years, Earthsea will only be remembered for Miyazaki.

      • jaynsand February 11, 2018 at 11:38 pm

        Well, if we’re both still around then, one of us can collect on that bet.

      • jaynsand February 12, 2018 at 9:34 am

        Though come to think of it, it’s peculiar that you think Miyazaki is such an artistic genius that his works will survive that long, and at the SAME time you think he’s so artistically dim that he chose an utterly unworthy story for his work. Seems to me you can’t have it both ways?

        BTW, Earthsea was done by the SON of Hayao Miyazaki, Goro. Hayao is the widely acknowledged genius who had originally asked for the rights to Earthsea, but Le Guin had been so many years hesitant in granting them that Hayao was retiring by the time Studio Ghibli got the property. He handed the movie to his son to make, but expressed unhappiness with the results. Do you think Goro’s work the equal of Hayao’s?

  3. Twila Price February 12, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    Late because wordpress would not let me post yesterday. So.

    Jeffro, you say that everyone hated the Last Jedi because it was “SJW” fodder. Untrue. I, and many of my friends, enjoyed it quite a bit, and several of them are Trump supporters who are definitely not sjw in any way shape or form. It was a fun bit of fluff, same as all of the other Star Wars movies have been. I was sitting in theaters as a 19 or 20 year old when Star Wars came out and it was okay fun, but I had been reading pulp sf and watching the old serials so it was just a nice cute homage. Nothing world-shattering or even all that exciting. I have watched all of the movies as they have come out, and I know many people who love the movies and the characters. So while you may dismiss the Last Jedi as some “feminist” or “diversity” special pleading, that’s not a universal reaction. No matter how many people on youtube post rants.

    Secondly — sigh. I can’t see any racism or anti-Catholic sentiment in what Le Guin wrote here. It’s a post-apocalyptic world in which overpopulation caused famine and rationing. It was a fair speculation, going from known real-world facts at the time, that Ireland would follow the Catholic church’s teachings on birth control, and that since it has had severe famines in the past and certainly doesn’t have even as much farmland now as it did in the 18th century, that the people would either stay and starve or emigrate and thus, no more native Irishmen. Given that the protagonist who says those things is British/Welsh, he might well be prejudiced against Roman Catholics, as it was policy in England for many years to be anti-Catholic. However, the other man is stated to be Portuguese/ of Portuguese descent and thus may be assumed to be Roman Catholic, as Portugal has historically been RC. So where does Le Guin dis him? She doesn’t.

    Thirdly — from your series of posts, I see that you dislike Ursula K. Le Guin, but I don’t understand why you are making such a big deal out of it. She wasn’t your cup of tea. Fine. Not every reader has to enjoy every writer. However, she wrote books that did inspire others — because, in her stories, she celebrated the heroism of those who aren’t fighters, aren’t Big Damn Heroes, but who go on day by day, trying their hardest to be the good person they wish to be. And that’s heroism, too. Maybe not flashy, but much easier to give hope to a person who sees the world going to hell in a handbasket and can’t be John Carter, but maybe can be Genly Ai.

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