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Thoughts on Writing and Privilege

Today's recommended reading: Confirmation Bias, Epic Fantasy, and You

Snip:

Confirmation bias doesn’t cause the phenomenon of Mysteriously Whitewashed Medieval Europe. (Or Peculiarly Denuded of Women Europe, or Puzzlingly Focused On The Nobility Europe, or any of the other bizarre things we tend to see in medieval Europe-flavored fantasy.) Confirmation bias causes the freakouts that occur whenever somebody points out these phenomena, and names them as inaccuracies.

...

Like the Wikipedia entry suggests, confirmation bias is usually worst when a person feels threatened by anything that challenges their preexisting beliefs. Since the preexisting beliefs associated with bigotry are all tied up in identity and privilege, it’s not really surprising that the sense of threat is there, merited or not. Identity and privilege are things of the ego; they’re about what we think of ourselves. Bigotry tells privileged people that they deserve to be privileged; that they should have an easier life and a better self-image and more power because they are special; that the reason less-privileged folks don’t get the same preferential treatment is because they are inferior in some way. Challenging this thinking means saying to people: actually, no, you’re not all that special, or maybe you are but not because you’re [insert identity], and also those other people aren’t inferior at all, they just weren’t “lucky” enough to be born with your identity. For people who get used to being incessantly told “You’re awesome!” being told instead that, “Eh, you’re just okay” is a little bit of a comedown. (But a comedown is not oppression. Anyone who thinks that really has no concept of what oppression really is.)


(One day I am going to fangirl all over NK Jemisen and it's going to be extraordinarily awkward for everyone involved.)

I've been thinking a lot about race and worldbuilding recently because it's relevant to both of my current creative writing projects. Growing up, I didn't think about race in fiction because it's a topic that doesn't come up that much in the classic SF/F I was reading (because everyone was white) or on tv (Star Trek and stuff where it was a utopia and it didn't matter except when funny-looking aliens had issues, and it probably took me way longer than it should have growing up to figure out Those Metaphors). As an adult, I think about it A LOT because I see the things going on with Racefail and the SFWA fracas and so forth. I really wish it was something that could have come up in my writing classes, which were majority white with one Hispanic, and the one Hispanic teacher who actually told me that having my historical printerfic with a black woman printer stretched credulity because it was "too much" (I am never getting over that, ever, ever; "stretching credulity" has since become my unofficial motto).

It's funny to me how we become entrenched in these cultural narratives (Jemisen brings up the loaded "forces of light and dark") but aren't taught how to break out of them (if anyone has some books on the topic, could you rec them?), and only slightly are we taught to even see them. I feel like I keep my reading eyes so wide now trying to find things that I almost can't relax when watching media anymore (I think this is also why I've gotten addicted to Korean dramas, because the cultural narratives are so different that I actually can sit back and enjoy the story; also, I just really enjoy how they exoticize the west, which probably should be a paper sometime).

~

In today's reading here's a lovely bit of a poem by Lady Anne Southwell (1574-1636) who wrote a poem complaining about women writers being criticized by men:

Dare you but write, you are Mineruaes bird
the owl at wch these battes & crowes must wonder,
they'll crittickize vppon the smallest word
this wanteth number case, that tense & gender
then must you frame a pittiful epistle
to pray him bee a rose was borne a thistle.

Comments

( 4 comments — Add your .02 )
sakuratea
Apr. 1st, 2014 02:25 pm (UTC)
I understand what you're saying about narrative and kdrama, that's a big piece of why I've always enjoyed anime and manga. Because they aren't always quite the tropes you've spent forever deconstructing, you can sometimes just enjoy. I think there's more of a potential for your narrative expectations to be betrayed, it adds a little spice to the experience.

In one of the first anime series I watched there was a hilarious season in New York. It was also, always exciting to see our words or logos slightly skewed by the lens of difference. Of course, Western use of Chinese and Japanese characters is absolutely as often full of malapropisms :)

Race in fantasy isn't something I thought much about when I was reading fantasy a lot, but it probably should have been. I've thought more about race and gender in video games, fake medieval or otherwise.
caitri
Apr. 1st, 2014 05:17 pm (UTC)
I think it's easier to think about race and gender in media because it is so obvious because visual, esp. when it's exaggerated as is often the case with video games.

re: kdramas, it's really interesting to me to see when and what context the west or English comes up. One program set in a wealthy high school had a number of white English teachers; in the same series there are several episodes set in California that have interesting set pieces, such as the Korean teenagers fleeing threatening (obese) Americans with ease, but then being really afraid of the muscled black dude (I thought their fear was even more interesting considering no one had weapons). In another program, also with high school students, a wealthy boy comforts a girl by cooking her pancakes, and there is a lengthy and loving montage of mixing eggs and flour for batter, pouring the pancakes onto the pan, flipping them, placing them on plates, pouring syrup, and eating them with forks and knives. FASCINATING!!
anutty1
Apr. 2nd, 2014 04:06 am (UTC)
Girl, preach! When we're writing and teaching, we'll make sure to tear down EVERYONE'S confirmation bias!
caitri
Apr. 2nd, 2014 01:40 pm (UTC)
So I was talking about this with another writing friend (she doesn't do genre though, so sometimes--often--I'll say things and she'll look at me like I'm nuts) and she said, "I think it's cool you're doing that, I'd be more nervous about it since we're both white." And I'm like, Look, it doesn't matter what race or ethnicity you are if you're writing respectfully! That's the point! Not that some people can only do some things--should I only write about white people cos I'm white? Then how could I ever hope to help change things? And I'm sure I'll inevitably screw up, and when I do I'll take responsibility and apologize and do better next time, that's how you learn! /ramble because I have MANY MORE FEELS!
( 4 comments — Add your .02 )

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