White liberal flailing, "ghetto passes," Teal'c

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Title: white liberal flailing, "ghetto passes," Teal'c
Creator: princessofgeeks
Date(s): Aug. 2nd, 2007
Medium:
Fandom: pan-fandom
Topic: Racism in Fandom
External Links: White liberal flailing, "ghetto passes," Teal'c; archive link
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white liberal flailing, "ghetto passes," Teal'c is a post written by princessofgeeks in 2007.

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts

I have, I think, two close friends in fandom who are African American. One I met first in RL, one I met first online in LOTR, and it didn't even occur to me that this person was African American until she brought it up, and then later she occasionally used a caricature/cartoon icon of herself and I could see her skin color there. And of course, because of the nature of the internet fandom, one does not have to inadvertently take notice of the race or the gender of the people one interacts with, right off the bat; those facts become something that is mentioned intentionally. Which, I think can actually be quite cool. I'm no expert on virtual relationships in an academic sense, only in a personal sense, but other people have written quite eloquently on how these relationships can and do differ from face to face ones. What it can mean to get to know someone without knowing what the person looks like. The internet and identity. All that stuff.
(Gender tangent: I remember being totally new to fandom and emailing an LJ friend years ago to gush over her Frodo story and learning that she was female; I had assumed for some reason that the writer of that particular story was male, and she was the first person I recall giving me a quick education about the nature of the slash fandom and to point out that for whatever reason, nearly all of the writers of slash are female. Whether that is important, or is a fact like eye color or like the star on a Sneech's belly, depends on whom you ask. But that was interesting and became a seed from which much metadiscussion has grown, for me. And the point is that the majority femaleness of the slash fandom was not obvious to me until someone told me. I didn't know that or assume it. Very different from the experience I would have had if I had gone to a slash con, you know? This is not to say that men cannot or should not participate in the fanfic or slash-fanfic part of fandom. I believe they so should, if they want to.)
I have gotten involved, to some degree, in discussing and studying the issues of gender and sexual identity in fandom, because that seems to be something much more ... what? That I have the personal cred to talk about? Because I'm interested in slash fanfiction, which is porn and romance and has a lot to do with gender and the dynamic of couples and how that changes if it's m/m and not m/f? That I'm an extremely typical slash fan/writer, in other words, if you do a demographic study and try to make a composite picture of the "average" or "typical" slash reader/writer, I'm right there? Not to say that "atypical" slash writers or slash fans, like, say, men, don't count. Because they count and they are important and I'm the last person to say that TYPICAL equals any form of SHOULD. There are very few SHOULDS in fandom. But in some way, the slash fandom is so my tribe, so all about me? Such that, if someone says, "slash fans do so and so..." I feel competent/qualified/able to evaluate their statement? Of course, I do not intend to discount the approach of slash fans who are not like me. Their opinions all count. I want to make that clear.
But. Because I'm white, I'm sometimes not sure what to say about the race issues in real life or in fandom. Other than to try to act in a way that upholds or demonstrates the fact that we are all equal and valuable. Act as though MLK's dream has arrived, because if I act that way, I am just one person, but maybe it will arrive a tiny bit sooner. So I feel really out of my league when I think about discussing race in fandom; not wanting to be stupid or just blather on. But I have thought about it some, and I have really, really enjoyed talking about fandom and race in private emails and real life conversations with the one of my friends that I mentioned above, and I have learned a lot, as well as enjoyed her sense of snark.

Hmm. When I started thinking, Hey, I write slash, maybe I could write gay romance, since I seem to be obsessed with m/m porn, I went to a really good friend I have in RL who is a gay guy and he read some of my slash and we talked about all this, and for some reason it was very important to me that he felt it was not presumptuous or arrogant of me to try to write gay romance and sell it. He was willing to talk about what he felt the gay community needed from straight people, and the whole solidarity and activism thing, and that was quite fascinating. But I couldn't have that conversation with just anybody; I have known this guy for 20 years and he's family to me and vice versa. So that's interesting, too, in terms of my supporting gay civil rights issues that have very little to do with me personally, but that affect people I love. And at various times I've participated in PFLAG sorts of stuff, signed petitions, done my bit for that issue.... that gets kind of personal, too, but that is also a tangent....

I guess there's a whole other meta here about, when you write SF that involves characters of color, simply doing that becomes a metadiscussion. You see a given SF story or show on its own terms, if you are writing alien cultures, and also you see it as a contrast to our world here, in all its racist imperfection. Writing about Sateda or Athos or the Jaffa as themselves is hard enough. Writing while thinking about how what we are saying looks when held up against USA or Western culture? Now, that's really hard, to be that aware and to have transcended your own perspective, and you have to think, and research, and a lot of our calling out of the PTB on this issue of racism hinges on this -- how stupidly they stereotype the characters of color, or how invisible people of color are in these shows and movies that become our canon. I was involved in a lot of academic reading about race in Tolkien book canon, so I have some familiarity with that whole discussion. To do it right is so necessary and somehow the pop culture finds it so hard. When SF, orig or fanfic, tackles race issues, and it's done well, I applaud. But I don't know that I am a good enough writer to actually do that. But, on the other hand, I really haven't tried yet. There are people in this fandom who have; more, perhaps in the SGA side of the Gateverse. But I'm not one of them. I haven't tried to write any fic that would have race issues as a theme, either in the text or in the meta that would surround the text. But I think I should. Whether I have the skills or the power over the words to pull it off is another thing entirely.

Responses

[rubynye]:

As ever, I love it when you think at such nuanced length. And I want to... not reassure you, that seems slightly off of what I want to say. Tell you that you've always been the kind of friend I wanted to have in fandom, one of the people I'm here to interact with? That you've never been part of the problem, whatever the problem du jour is.

WRT Teal'c... one of the neat concepts I ran into in comics fandom was the literalized metaphor, the feature of a piece of speculative fiction that both is on its own and represents a feature of the culture that produced the piece of fiction. Such as, for instance, teenagers developing superpowers and learning to deal with them as a literalized metaphor for puberty. So writing about him would involve dealing with both the literal different culture of the Jaffa (with all the holes in its Swiss-cheese worldbuilding) and the metaphor of different culture as different ethnicity. No wonder he's difficult to tackle.

As ever, the ways in which you think about things, and that you do think (rather than the proverbial "rearranging one's prejudices") inspires and educates and delights me.

[princessofgeeks]: Yes yes yes -- what you're saying about metaphors is exactly true! The best stories work both as stories on their face, and as allegories, imho.... And in the whole recent controversy there was a lot of discussion about the ways race metaphorically is dealt with by Rowling; the whole Muggle thing and pure Magical families thing as a metaphor for race.
So these literalized metaphors are so powerful. And they work the best when you can read the story without having them slap you in the face, when it works just as a story, and then you go away and go, HUH! That was about me!
I totally agree with you about what people tackle when they tackle the Jaffa, and canon sometimes does it well and sometimes poorly, and some fanfic does it SO GOOD.
[princessofgeeks]: Of course we can look at the Jaffa and Teal'c totally inside canon. Of course we don't have to compare what's going on inside canon to what's going on with other shows, or the other work of the PTB. But my point is that if shows perpetuate stereotypes, which they actually do, we have to address that. I think I disagree with you that Teal'c or Ronon "could have been cast as other races. I think there's something unconscious and stereotypical going on with those two shows and those 2 characters that fanfiction actually does a much better job of transcending than canon. This hasn't been talked about much in SG-1, but there was a big discussion last year about Ronon and Ford and Teyla that was very wanky but also very interesting. I don't have the academic credentials to do the topic justice, but the role that Teal'c and Ronon play, archetypally, if you will, is pretty stereotyped. It's a credit to the actors that they take it to a universal place.

The whole question of the lack of good roles for minorities in Hollywood is extremely important and I think you're right to focus on it. I approach a lot of this stuff through a feminism lens, and there's a lot of similar issues. Women and minorities are still The Scary Other in a lot of pop culture stories, and it's a hard uphill battle to get better characters written for us.

But as I said -- I tend to stay away from these kinds of battles in fandom and just stick with my porn and my storytelling. But sometimes we can't help it.

[tejas]: Interesting entry! First off, I'd say it's much more likely that there's so little, comparatively, Teal'c fic around, not because CJ is black, but because Klingon Jaffa culture is boring. :-) It doesn't help that they barely touched the surface of 'the alien in America' angle, which could have been great from a lot of different angles. I have a feeling that if Rage of Angels goes beyond the pilot, we'll see CJ explore that concept in a great deal more depth.
[princessofgeeks]: yeah, i can count on one hand the Teal'c fic I've read that did not seem like a caricature. "Speak the Living" by paian has to be at the top of my list for making Jaffa culture real.
But Jaffa Land -- it is a very weird pastiche, you are right.
and here's to fandom being fun and happy! for everyone. *cheers*
[holdouttrout]: I, like many of your commentors, am white and have lived mostly in a monochromatic world, but it never would have occurred to me to not take someone as seriously or stereotype based on the color of their skin. I really do not get that at all...

And yet I do it. When I realize it, I wonder where I got such bullshit attitudes and try to cut it out, but it feels really frustrating to find that I'm not as good as I'd like to think.

The race meta that's been going around has really opened my eyes in a lot of ways--this stuff isn't only important in real life, where I work, live, and interact with people of all skin colors, but also in fandom! Because fandom is a reflection of who we all are, and how we interact together. I can't say I give much thought to writing/not writing certain characters, but I do occasionally think about why we don't have more strong, leading characters who also happen to have darker skin. (Or breasts, but different issue).

I hope to keep being challenged and to challenge others--even if it's only by example. Thanks for making me think.

[surreallis]: Good post. The comments are interesting too. I have to say that I don't think anyone has to write lots of Teal'c fic in order to combat racism in this fandom. (Or lots of Sam fic to combat the misogyny among fans AND the tptb), I think just by writing these characters well and with respect when you DO write them shows effort. There's all sorts of reasons for not writing Teal'c, mostly concerning attractions and storylines, all of which might have something to do with race and might not, but either way the key is just to include him as a member of the team and to write him as well as you can. (I think the same thing about Sam in which I feel that if you dislike the character due to how they write her, then subvert the text and write her in a way that makes sense to you instead of demonizing her. At least it'll make people respect you instead of calling internalized misogynism.) (Errr, obviously that's a figurative you and not literal as you.)

You know, and as irritating as it is to hear "Teal'c should have more fic written about him!" from every corner (and yet, none appears), I imagine it would be *really* irritating to suddenly have a bunch of white fans declaring, "I am not racist therefore I shall write MUCH Teal'c fic and it will be grand, and you all will KNOW I am of an open mind."

I think just being true to yourself and doing your own introspection and growing from that? That's the key.

[princessofgeeks]: On the Teal'c thing -- I actually think that if more excellent Teal'c fic got written it would be good on every axis. If it was great fic, I wouldn't mind if the person was writing it to prove a point, or preach or demonstrate their liberal cred. I would read it and enjoy it without meta! :).
I have to say I buy the argument that at least SOME of the reason for the scarcity of Teal'c fic or Aiden Ford fic is that most of the people writing fanfic are white and they are not sure how to write characters of color, or these characters are't on their fandom radar because of the unfamiliarity of the subculture. OTOH, there seems to be a great deal of fic about Ronon and Teyla, so maybe that argument is all wet. I am not in SGA so I am in no position to talk about that, actually, and I didn't follow the last racism in SGA controversy, so I really shouldn't speak to that at all because I'm fairly clueless.
Oh, man, I am in no position whatsoever to make judgments about all the reactions people have to Sam, or to the whole Female Characters in the Slash Fandom thing. I am still scratching my head and trying to understand all that. But as you know, I'm mostly over here trying to, as you say, be true myself and write and learn. Just here for the porn, dude. :).
[findo]: The first time I watched "Changeling" I had a bit of a shock when I realised I fancied T even though I didn't fancy Teal'c. At first I thought I must be nuts - same guy, same face! But then I realised I've always been someone who goes for personality over looks and T was somehow just more appealing than Teal'c (in the same way that I adore Jack O'Neill but don't like MacGyver all that much). In the early seasons of Stargate I loved Daniel best but as time went on, I came to love Jack more because Daniel's personality was becomng less appealing to me. With Rage of Angels coming up and the boys playing very different people, I'm interested to see if people slash Michael and Chris's characters.

Much as I love Teal'c, I have some reservations about the character especially about him abandoning his wife and child to fight for the Jaffa cause. I also find most Jaffa storylines deeply snooze-worthy. I can't relate to Teal'c as easily as Jack and Daniel because their pain is about loss, isolation and self-blame, emotions I've been through, but Teal'c's pain is about the bad things he did for Apophis and I don't have any equivalent experience for that. Sam's pain seems to be mainly about her Daddy issues and I can't relate to that either, so for me it's Jack and Daniel all the way.

I can't say I've ever thought about Teal'c as a black character but now you have me started, yes, there are stereotypes there. As a white person I can be mindful of this but I don't think I'm as qualified to discuss it as someone who has to live with those stereotypes in their life. I'm not a fan of men who tell me what feminism is and I don't want to do that kind of thing to someone else. I also think if we write Teal'c fic purely because of his colour, then we are racist in the sense of treating him differently because he is black. It's a big old pit of thorns and I think it's well worth thinking about but the writers who need to think about it most are the ones who created Teal'c.

I think it's admirable that you're thinking about all this - and getting all of us thinking about it too - but I want to finish by asking you your own question:

"Why should every person of color feel obligated to be the Designated Multicultural Sensitivity Educator, you know? That is so not everyone's calling. And why should it be?"

Well, why should it be yours? Good intentions are fine, good actions are great, but if it's an obligation, isn't that taking it a little far? That said, if you can find some place where it slots into your fiction seamlessly and with meaning, that's a different thing - and what you said about "Memphis" makes a lot of sense. But I hope you'll do it from interest and not a sense of obligation.

[bridgetmc]: I'm not white. I'm Asian and was born and raised in Hawaii which may be the only state in the US where whites are the minority. I grew up rarely seeing non-tourist whites (and technically blacks) until high school which heavily had military brats. I now live on the mainland. That doesn't really mean much except to tell you my background and honestly? I don't even think about race all that much nowadays when it comes to reading fic or reading my flist. Everyone's their icon for me and that is my privilege. I care about reading quality fics and commenting on my flist's posts. I have no clue who is white, brown, female, male, transgendered, and that's fine. I don't necessarily need to know that though knowing it is fine and adds more to the whole like knowing what pairings my flist likes or what they did during their day or how many siblings they have, etc. But knowing someone is whathaveyou doesn't change how I feel about said person, good or bad.

In terms of fanfic - my two big fandoms right now are Harry Potter and Sports Fandom RPF (NFL, NBA, MLB). In Harry Potter, my OTP is Harry Potter/Severus Snape and I stumbled onto that pairing long ago by accident and I never left. Yes, there are a few characters of color in HP, there are TONS of characters period in that fandom, but meh. I can sometimes write other characters not Snarry and I've definitely read non-Snarry pairings/characters, but that's not my thing. It happens.

I once thought, even as a person of color, that hey, why am I not writing characters of color because shouldn't I? They need love to and aren't I part of the problem, even more so being a person of color, because I'm denying them the same love? If I don't give them that love, who will? But in HP, they didn't catch my eye. Lots of characters didn't catch my eye. Snarry's my thing and there really isn't any changing that.

Sports Fandom made me realize that I'm silly for forcing myself to try and write something I wasn't sparking for. Why? Because the best thing about this fandom is that there are athletes of color across the board, which means there are plenty of characters for me to read, write, adore and love. Between the three sports leagues, I ship plenty of characters of color as well as non characters of color (though at that point it gets kind of iffy. Tedy Bruschi of the New England Patriots is Filipino/Italian with a white last name and pale skin. I like to think of him as Asian because, to me, he is *long discussion about Asians and marrying outside their race*, but to others he may not be. That's another issue I have about half/half, but that's something else entirely).

Even still, it's not "oh! He's [insert here] and therefore I must write about him because of his skin color!" Nope. I ship because of the best friend angle or the rivalry or the history or the positions they play (pitcher/catcher, quarterback/wide receiver anyone?). But now I have lots of options across the board that spark for me when in Harry Potter, it didn't.

Though there are other sports RPF that, just by the nature of that sport, wouldn't have very many characters of color to being with, like figure skating ... or NASCAR. You could try to force it, but sometimes you have to own up that yes, you're aware you're not writing about a specific character of color, but you can't help that they're not sparking no matter how much you want it to. Forcing it will just be bleh, because you're writing about the message of "look at me! It's a fic about a character of color!" instead of writing about that character, full stop. And frankly, there are better things to do with one's time (like writing smut! Which I should be doing instead of metaing).

I don't think you're looking for approval or a pat on the head at all. Sometimes you have to write things down to work through the issues, and even if nothing gets "accomplished" you've made that first step.

Oops, this got rather long and I didn't mean to. See, normally I don't comment on race issues either, and I consider that my privilege since race isn't something I have to deal with on a day to day basis, even as a person of color. Ah well.

[...]

I just thought this was rather interesting coming from a fandom point of view. It is really personal and, to be honest, I don't like the popular opinion that people of color are under chains day in and day out because...we're not. At least not all of us. Certainly I'm not and neither are my friends who are colored as I am. Heck, I get more flack from being female than I ever do being Asian.

I brought up my background because it is because I grew up in Hawaii that I am the way I am on how I view things. I wasn't the lone Asian among a sea of white. The picture was complete opposite. So while in my head I am aware I am a minority, I never felt that way, even on the mainland.

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