Talking Points: Decolonizing and World SF

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On May - 21 - 2012

There were several posts that went up last week dealing with matters that will be of interest to Philippine SF writers and readers. Couple this with the recent discussion on diversity, and you’ve got a very enlightening series of articles on the state of the genre. Check them out:

  • World SF Blog‘s Non-Western SF Roundtable (Part One) (Part Two). Participating authors are  Aliette de Bodard (France), Joyce Chng (Singapore), the controversial blogger known as Requires Hate (Thailand), Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (Philippines/The Netherlands), Ekaterina Sedia (Russian/USA) and Rachel Swirsky (USA, in Part 2).

Excerpts:

Aliette: … There are lots of factors at play that explain why outsider narratives are more popular; but one of the main reasons is one of audience: as Ekaterina mentions in her blog post: at this junction in time, the dominant audience in the field is Western (of US/European culture), and outsider narratives have a better grasp of how to present (ie exotify) elements of a setting in a digestible manner for the mainstream (White) audience. This is very much regrettable, and I really do wish that people would stop using the word authenticity altogether, as it’s either used as an exclusionary factor, to police who within a community has the right to write about the culture (something I find utterly fraught with problems); or as a well-meaning but somewhat hollow reassurance that the writer’s world feels real (the only ones equipped to judge authenticity of, say, a story set in Brazil are Brazilian people, and I certainly would never dream of qualifying someone’s story set there with that word!).

xxx

Ekaterina: Another point is that the insiders will disagree. Some will like it, some won’t, and some will hate it because it is by an outsider. And the lesson for the writer there is not to say “Well, screw it, haters gonna hate, I’ll just write whatever because you cannot please anyone”. You’re still responsible for doing as good a job as you can. And accepting that your best might not be good enough for some people, and their opinions are also valid. Don’t trot out the natives who loved your work, don’t tell people who dislike it that they’re wrong because another person from the same culture liked it. So really, if you want approval, stay out of other people’s cultures. Nations won’t get together to sign waivers that say that you are free to appropriate whatever and no one can say anything about it ever. People will be angry, and they will be right to be angry. If it upsets you, reconsider your motivation.

Rachel: … Speaking as a western writer, and as someone who has attempted to engage in writing with other kinds of privilege, I am inclined to agree that it’s inescapable that a privileged person will write a narrative that is rooted in their privilege. One can minimize exoticism, I hope, but I don’t think it’s possible to erase it.

As a writer of science fiction, particularly, though, I see myself as having an obligation to present a future that is, as Joyce says, for everyone. As I should have said in the other roundtable, despite the American propensity (including mine) toward tunnel vision, reality is global, and (barring certain speculative scenarios), the future should be global or globally influenced as well. I think there’s an obligation for Western writers who work within science fiction to engage with both western and non-western cultures. Otherwise, we do end up with white-washed (western-washed) futures and I think that the effect of this on the cultural imagination is wholly negative; the future isn’t just for white westerners. I think it’s a particularly pernicious form of erasure.

Excerpt:

In “Betraying the Babaylan,” Araneta Cruz describes the technique of divide and conquer which the Spanish employed to disempower the Babaylan and effectively erase them. The first thing that the Spanish did was to alienate the effeminate Babaylan from the women priestesses. They also gained the support of the tribal elite in their cause to wipe out the Babaylan through the use of bribery and promises of power. With the male Babaylan and the elite on their side, the Spanish friars went on to accuse the Babaylan of being of the devil and of practicing witchcraft.

While I narrate events that are specific to the Philippines, I find myself wondering if such events were also mirrored in countries that were colonized by foreign powers. How pervasive is that other culture? How much has it stolen from or killed of the original culture?

When I look at my country, I see how much these things have harmed our psyche and I also see the resilience of our culturebearers who employed whatever means was at their disposal to preserve our culture. Even so, the wounds have spread deep and there are certain things that demonstrate to us how deeply rooted colonialism is.

Even to this day, we see young women buying whitening creams because white is perceived as the ideal color. I long to tell my fellow Filipinos, there is nothing more beautiful than kayumanggi (brown).

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