Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Tag: racism

Writing Outside Your Demographic: Colonialism

So as I fall deeper down the Writing Outside Your Demographic rabbit hole, it turns out there is a vast wealth of topics and information to process. I’m struggling to choose the most logical order of topics. In the future, expect to see me delve into topics like appropriation, exoticism, Othering, objectification, and stereotype. Several of those are interconnected, much like the tangled web of sexism, racism, ableism, and hetero/cis normativity in which we live every day. Because in 2015, the United States of America is a country that privileges white over non-white, straight cis men over not that, and able bodied/neutrotypical over not that. That’s how it is right now. Things are changing. Part of that change is art. That’s why I’m writing this series.

Okay, now that I’ve justified my own existence in this moment, like you do, I want to move on to today’s topic. It’s a huge theme in science fiction and fantasy from The Tempest to Avatar: Colonialism.

What is Colonialism?

Ahahah, well, I went to look up a dictionary definition of colonialism, and I got a visceral example of attitudes towards it. Google, that ubiquitous American corporation, tells me this:

co·lo·ni·al·ism

kəˈlōnēəˌlizəm
noun
noun: colonialism
  1. the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.
Use over time for: colonialism

The Oxford English Dictionary, yes from Oxford University in England, says this: “The colonial system or principle. Now freq. used in the derogatory sense of an alleged policy of exploitation of backward or weak peoples by a large power.”

Please take a moment and think about the difference between those two definitions.

Although I’d be willing to bet colonialism has been a thing ever since there was more than one human on the planet, one of the times it really heated up was in the Western Hemisphere from the “Age of Exploration” in the 1400s-1500s until the modern countries mostly settled down into their current shapes in the 1900s. Colonialism is not a dead force today, just slightly less of a country-shaping one. In the past century or so it’s shown up in conflicts regarding map lines being drawn in ways that are unworkable for the people who actually live there (see Hutus, Tutsis). There’s a lovely gif of colonialism in action from 1942-2008 here.

How does colonialism show up in the world?

Look at a map of the North America. Look at a map of Africa. Look at the borders. See the bits where there are big straight lines? That’s where the colonizers of these spaces chopped up the land on a map and said “this is mine.”

Map of Africa, modern day.

Map of Africa, modern day.

I am not really exaggerating at all. In the 1884-5, leaders from France, Germany, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain sat down and divided up Africa once and for all. Um. They didn’t want to go to war with each other over African land, you see.

Map of Africa, 1914, a few decades after the Berlin Conference.

Image Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Image ©
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
– See more at: http://www.blackpast.org/gah/partition-africa#sthash.pWyYjsk5.dpuf

In the United States, states in the East tend to be smaller and have more borders that follow natural formations, like rivers. Western states tend to be larger and often have long swaths of straight border. This is because the US (i.e. the former English colony) was bought in pieces from previous colonizers, such as the French and Spanish. In the case of The Louisiana Purchase, President Thomas Jefferson bought 530 million acres of land at about 3 cents an acre from Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803, shortly before the war of 1812.

louisiana_purchase_map_lg

As the actual U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian points out,

“When news of the sale reached the United States, the West was elated. President Jefferson, however, was in a quandary. He had always advocated strict adherence to the letter of the Constitution, yet there was no provision empowering him to purchase territory. Given the public support for the purchase and the obvious value of Louisiana to the future growth of the United States, however, Jefferson decided to ignore the legalistic interpretation of the Constitution and forgo the passage of a Constitutional amendment to validate the purchase. This decision contributed to the principle of implied powers of the federal government.

TL;DR The USA and rest of the world has a long and intimate history with colonialism.

How does Colonialism show up in writing and media?

Having run out of land, now the most pervasive form of ongoing colonialism may well be in the realm of media and ideas. This is more or less the same thing as cultural appropriation, which I will cover in depth next week. Understanding colonialism is a building block to understanding what appropriation is and how it works.

Your actual colonialism is responsible for and/or tied up in a lot of ideas and tropes that pervade media and literature. Some examples: Barbarians. Savages. Noble Savages. Manifest destiny. The White Man’s Burden. Slavery. Native American-themed camps for white kids. The myth that Native Americans suddenly stopped existing. The idea that non-white people are more likely to have magic powers, or to withstand greater amounts of pain, or are closer to nature.

Ask yourself:
What relationship does my world and story have to colonialism?

If your story is set on Earth in a “history as it happened” timeline, think about how your setting has been impacted by colonialism. Think about your characters. Do they think about it? Are they positively or negatively affected by it? Think about how you are affected by colonialism.

If your story is set on alternate Earth or on another planet that isn’t conveniently homogenous, consider how colonialism has affected the history and shape of the world. Think about this when you are drawing maps. Who set forth the borders of your map, and were they they people who live there? Were they about war over territory? Were they about geography? What happened to make the lines go like that?

You story doesn’t have to be directly about colonialism in order to be good, or to achieve great justice in the world. But if you don’t think about what colonialism has taken place in your world, or take into account how colonialism affects your world and characters, you run the risk of straying into territory like cultural appropriation, accidental racism, or even just very tired tropes.

Things To Avoid: Tokenism

This past weekend, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who works in the game industry on the creative team for a well-known fantasy game. He was thinking about how, as a cisgendered, heterosexual white guy, for example, he can write and incorporate all that nifty non-Western/Celtic/Norse fantasy stuff in his work. “It’s something we talk about a lot,” he said.

This is a big conversation and worth more than one post. Today I wanted to carve out a little bit of the negative space around writing good characters outside your own demographic by looking at some things I seek to avoid.

 

Tokenism

Are they the only type of person with that race, gender, ethnicity, or sexuality in your entire fictional universe?

token-south-parkExample: Token, the only black kid in South Park Elementary is a satire of tokenism.

Sometimes being The Only One is relevant to the plot. That’s okay. But be aware of how often this comes up and who the dominant group is in these stories. Is it always the same?

cast of Angel

This show is set in Los Angeles. I love Joss Whedon. But there sure are a lot of white people happening here. No, the green demon doesn’t count as racial diversity. He’s played by a white actor.
(PS: J. August Richards please please play one of the superheros in my comic No Heroes Today when it gets somehow magically adapted for the screen. kthxbai)

 

 Did you make a character or pick a skin?

In games this is a mixed bag. In a fantasy game like Dragon Age: Origins where you are literally picking your character’s skin and appearance down to the smallest detail, then it’s vitally important to have a wide range of options.

dragon-age-origins-character-creator-39However, try not to include a character who’s a different color, say, just to have a character who’s a different color without thinking about how that different color would affect them, particularly if they are the only character of that color in your text.

An unfortunately classic trope in cartoons and games is the distaff character, which is the single female member of a team who is distinguishable because she is a girl.

arcee-dreamwave-thumb-550x375

Love you, Arcee. You and Ms. Pac Man and the Pink Power Ranger can form some kind of uberteam of pink.

How has their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality informed their life?

Talk to a black person who was The Only Black Kid at a predominantly white school. You’re damn right that stuff affects a person. Not only that, but everyone’s experience with this will be different. Gosh.

How to Avoid Tokenism

A simple antidote to tokenism is to have more than one (female, queer, black, etc) character in your work.

This can be in terms of significant characters, but also in terms of crowd scenes. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media did some research into crowd scenes on film. On average, they found, crowds consist of 17 percent women. Geena Davis advises actually writing in screenplays “a crowd of 50% women and 50% men” to avoid this.

Let your work form naturally, then look at it with a critical lens. Have you fallen into tokenism? How many of your characters share your demographics? What would it be like to switch things up on a character, write them differently? Think about it. You work won’t be some perfect balance of every single demographic being represented. It won’t. It shouldn’t be; it should contain characters specific to the story you’re telling and the world you’ve created. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about what kind of characters are in your work. Think about it.

Stock Photo Hell: Panderers, Seducers, and Flatterers

Stock Photo Hell

female demon looks over shoulder of priest with open Bible

Yeah, Lady Demon, I don’t think much of that translation either. What they did to the meter of the original text is shameful.

Circle Eight: Fraud

There is a place in Hell called Malebolge, made all of stone the color of crude iron, as is the wall that makes its way around it. Right in the middle of this evil field is an abyss, a broad and yawning pit, whose structure I shall tell in its due place. The belt, then, that extends between the pit and that hard, steep wall’s base is circular; its bottom has been split into ten valleys.

–Canto XVIII, Mandlebaum translation

So the first half of The Inferno covers everything up until the eighth, and the entire second half of the text is devoted to the final two circles of hell, Fraud and Betrayal. The circle of Fraud, Virgil explains to Dante above, is subdivided into ten little “evil pockets” (literal translation of Malebole), each focusing on a different aspect of fraudulent behavior.

Bolgia 1: Panderers and Seducers

Both left and right, along the somber rock, I saw horned demons with enormous whips, who lashed those spirits cruelly from behind. Ah, how their first strokes made those sinners lift their heels! Indeed no sinner waited for a second stroke to fall or for a third.

–Canto XVIII, Mandlebaum

Yep, these folks are forced to walk around being constantly whipped forward by demons. Demons, whom have been startlingly sparse in earlier circles, and pretty much all over the Malebolge. I wonder if that’s some kind of contra passo (ironic punishment) thing…the fraudulent tried to use other people, and thus spend eternity being used by demons. Hmm.

Anyway, what exactly are panderers and seducers? Well, Dante meets an old friend of his, Vendico Caccianemico, who apparently sold his sister to some Marquis for political favors. Incidentally, we see Dante’s becoming more of a jerk: he’s pretty much like: “Hey. You with the face in the mud. You’re Vendico. What did you do to get yourself landed here?” (literally he says “in such a piquant sauce”) Their conversation is kept short, because a few moments later a demon comes by and is like “Hey jerkface, keep moving: no women for you to con here.” So, some texts call “panderers and seducers” instead “pimps and seducers.”

Among notable folks Dante also encounters: Jason, of the Argonauts. I appreciate this, because I always thought Jason was a major asshole, and that Medea got waaay too much crap. Apparently Dante thought so too, because he says here “for Medea, too, revenge is taken.”

Personally, I imagine this is where all the asshats on the internet who are total bastards to women will go when they die. I’m not putting any links here or anything. But I’m sure you can imagine a few folk (denizens of the comments section, harassers of geek girls, all of 4chan) who deserve to end up here.

Search terms: panderer, pander, seducer, pimp

WELP apparently all my sites know just what a panderer looks like, and it’s this guy:

douchey guy in a fedora hangs out drink in hand in front of a mirror

DANG IT PANDERERS WHY MUST YOU RUIN FEDORAS FOR EVERYONE?!

However, the sites had markedly different results when it came to seducers. Shutterstock was about 80% images of women seducing men or isolated sexy women. Dreamstime was vastly more entertaining with its 80% isolated seductive men, many of whom were…well…

popped collar guy with ridiculous grin giving a thumbs up

SOOOO SEDUCTIVE

For review, culturally, this is a “seductive woman”:

woman sits in deeply silly revealing evening gown on a fancy chair

Actually she has to stick her chest out like that or her dress will implode.

Somehow none of the women were wearing shirts with popped collars, gosh.

Somehow none of the women were wearing shirts with popped collars, gosh.

This is a “seductive man”:

Suit? Check.  Flower? Check. Wink that would make most reasonable people run for the hills? Check.

Suit? Check.
Flower? Check.
Wink that would make most reasonable people snort their drink? Check.

Sometimes a cigar is just...wait...whaa...

Sometimes a cigar is just…wait…whaa…

And as for this, well, I am not actually sure what’s going on with this guy:

This is titled "seducer on vacation." I can only assume that he went on vacation from Mardi Gras to the lake...?! I guess even seducers gotta go fishin' sometime?

This is titled “seducer on vacation.” I can only assume that he went on vacation from Mardi Gras to the lake…?! I guess even seducers gotta go fishin’ sometime?

As for “pimp”…sigh. Lots of scummy dudes in terrible suits. Not all black scummy dudes, though, yay? And sometimes scummy women apparently pimping other women? Oh, wait, there’s the white scummy dude in an afro wig what the actual hell.

ALL ABOARD THE NOPE TRAIN

ALL ABOARD THE NOPE TRAIN

I had to know who could have possibly thought this was a good idea. Turns out this is from a stock photo company out of the Netherlands. Which says something about how American culture is globalized? Or in any case, is pretty weird because this is a white guy dressed up as a racist stereotype of an American pimp in a culture in which prostitution is legal and regulated by the government? Not sure if that makes more sense, or less sense. All in all it makes me feel weird and scummy for having downloaded the image. Well done, Inferno. Now I feel squicky.

 

Next up: Flatterers

Spoilers: Their punishment in the afterlife is…shitty.

Stock Photo Hell: Violence, Part Three

Stock Photo Hell

Road signs for Heaven and Hell

Gosh. Dante, you could have just asked for directions.

 Violence, Part Three: Violence Against God (and/or Nature and/or Art)

I saw so many flocks of naked souls, all weeping miserably, and it seemed that they were ruled by different decrees. Some lay upon the ground, flat on their backs; some huddled in a crouch, and there they say; and others moved about incessantly. The largest group was those who walked about, the smallest, those supine in punishment; but these had looser tongues to tell their torment. Above that plain of sad, distended flakes of fire showered down; their fall was slow as snow descent on alps when on wind blows.”
-Canto XIV, Mandlebaum translation

So what is violence against God, exactly? Some describe the subcircle as “Violence against nature, God, and art,” which I find an interesting conflation of three things. In modern society, one might describe, say, cutting all funding to middle school art programs as violence against art. One might describe drilling for oil as violence against nature. One might not have such a dogmatic and unified view of God as Dante and his 14th century folks did, and therefore opinions may differ as to what, exactly, counts as violence against God.

Virgil’s official definition of what counts as Violence Against God consists of three sins: blasphemy, sodomy, and usury. I’d like to point out that by that definition, all those college loans with absurd interest rates would be considered violence against God/nature/art. But of those three sins, there’s one that sticks in my craw, at any rate, more than the others.

Let’s talk about sodomy a tad, shall we?

The word comes from the Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, that naughty city of perverts where Lot and his wife were like “augh no must escape this giant orgy because God’s gonna scour it off the face of the planet. Quick, throw our daughters into the orgy so we can scarper.” They run away, Lot’s wife looks back when she’s not s’posta could, gets turned into a pillar of salt. Cue sad trombones. Out of this came the word sodomy, which was at one time considered any nonstandard sexual practice or sexual taboo, everything from oral sex to bestiality. (T-Rex interrupts: “Who has no thumbs and can’t come up with a working definition of sex? THIS GUY.” True, T-Rex, sex is hard to define. Good point.) Anyway, in the fullness of the Victorian Age, sodomy became synonymous with butt stuff. And that led to connotations, in the 20th century, of homosexuality. As a reminder, in Dante’s day, homosexuality wasn’t a word that people used. It wasn’t even an identity. There were some terms surrounding homosexual behavior (and some sassy medieval nuns who had a very nice time, I suspect), but not until the 1800s was there a concept of homosexual identity even being a thing. So perhaps I am being a Dante apologist, but dang, sodomy sure seemed to be more about, as medieval art scholar Bob Mills “a range of sexual activity deemed unacceptable to Christians […] every sex act that wasn’t aimed at human reproduction within the bond of marriage.” Focault called sodomy “an utterly confused category” and I tend to agree. Anyway. On to the canto:

The main person Dante talks to in this canto, actually, talks not of God but of Jove, because he’s a Roman warrior/asshole who mainly got his kicks off standing on hills and taunting Jupiter. Turns out he died by being struck by a bolt of divine lightning, gosh. Capaneus, as he is called, is sort of the honey badger of this circle, lounging around in the burning desert and being like, “What? Come at me bro.” The ironic thing is that he’s so determined to not let the Gods have the pleasure of torturing him in the afterlife that he does a pretty good job of tormenting himself. Self-torture out of arrogance. Huh. I bet if you go to the bro-iest bars in your area on a Saturday night, you might see some self-torture out of arrogance. Just saying.

The other person Dante talks to in this circle is his former mentor, Brunetto Latini. Apparently he was more into sodomy than usury? Mostly I find him interesting because he’s a respected friend of Dante’s who’s being punished in Hell.  Dante-the-author put a ton of people he knew–patrons, friends, enemies–all over the afterlife. And yes, that means he put the people who were paying for him to write his epic poems in Paradise. So think about that before freaking out about selling out, you artist types. Ironic thoughts, for this circle.

Gosh, stock photos. That’s a part of this mess. My search terms: violence against God, violence against art, violence against nature, sodomy, usury, blasphemy.

Sodomy wins the “most relevant to medieval times” award:

stone frieze of a dude having sex with a horse

I know, this carving is from a temple in India and actually has fuck-all to do with medieval Catholicism. My other choices were an illustration of two men holding hands, an illustration of a lady making out with a dog, or a terribly cheesy CGI guy who is naked and presumably wanking. I mean, bonus points for covering all the bases, I guess?? Frig.

Usury wins the “silliest acting” award:

guy signs a contract in front of moneylender with suspiciously raised eyebrow

Gotta watch for that evil eyebrow, dude. This is the sort of moneylender you’ve gotta go all Christlike on, i.e. flip the table and walk out.

Blasphemy wins the “sort of nonsensical” award. Lots of pictures of pentacles, the Bible, and political violence. One good picture of the last Pope with a Hitler ‘stache drawn on him. And this:

Jesus flipping the bird.

For reference, this is the incarnation of Christ that Sister Mary Ann Fuckoff worships.

On to the violences. Firstly, “violence against god” got very few results. The silliest and best one was this:

scales with a bible on one side and money/guns on the other side

Perhaps aside from the crack, I feel like these things end up on the same side of the scales in America. Just saying.

“Violence against Nature” got me lots of pictures of leaves, dudes with guns, ladies with swords, barbed wire, and this little gem:

A tree with a crime scene outline of a body taped on it.

I mean, what is this, Daphne: the crime scene?

“Violence against art” was perhaps the most interesting of the three violences, with more results and some pieces of art that stood against violence. (And yes, there were a couple of references to violence against women, but that’s oh so difficult to avoid.) It also wins the “oh god the racism whyyy” award. There were a lot of pictures of women with guns: a white woman and a black woman in photo studio poses with handguns. Perhaps they were more artistic violence than the violence I was searching for earlier? But boy howdy, there sure were some interesting differences between the two models’ poses:

"A middle aged, white, female business woman or teacher holds a semi automatic pistol during this dark photo shoot against black."

“A middle aged, white, female business woman or teacher holds a semi automatic pistol during this dark photo shoot against black.”

"A young beautiful african american female holds a semi automatic pistol during this dark photo shoot against black."

“A young beautiful african american female holds a semi automatic pistol during this dark photo shoot against black.”

 

I tried to pick two poses that were similar: both women are looking at the camera, pointing the gun at the camera while holding it sideways. This is par for the course for the rest of the photos: the white woman looks neutral or pleasantly happy. The black woman looks angry and/or sexual. The captions tell you that the white “woman” is a “business woman or teacher.” The black woman is “beautiful,” “african american” and “female.”

 

Urg. I’m dropping this mic. It got icky again. I’m out.

 

 

Next up: Fraud!
Spoilers: It’s more fun than Violence?!

Stock Photo Hell: Lust

Stock Photo Hell

"MAN LOOKING AT WOMANS BREASTS" [sic]  This just happened to be the "featured image" on Dreamstime when I went to pull the images for this post.

“MAN LOOKING AT WOMANS BREASTS” [sic]
This happened to be the “featured image” on the Dreamstime front page when I went to pull the images for this post.

Circle Two: Lust

“And as, in the cold season, starlings’ wings bear them along in broad and crowded ranks, so did the blast bear on the guilty spirits: now down, now up, now here, now there it drives them. There is no hope that ever comforts them, no hope for rest and none for lesser pain. ” (Canto 5)

In Dante’s vision, the Circle of Lust was a giant whirling tornado, where lovers could see each other, but never touch or hear each other. Dante hangs out with a famous adulteress, among others.

Search terms: lust, lustful woman, lusty woman. Dreamstime assures me that a related term to “lustful woman” is “fancy kitchen sinks.” I am not sure if this is supposed to be a metaphor or what.

The stock photo that best illustrates Dante’s circle I got in some completely unrelated search, though. Still, it’s got a businesswoman, sort of, so one of our Four Chambers of Stockphoto Women are represented:

“MAN AND WOMAN WITH MODERN GADGETS”

Get it? 'Cause they can see each other but not really hear each other or touch each other it's a metaphor let me explain it

Get it? ‘Cause they can see each other but not really hear each other or touch each other it’s a metaphor let me over-explain it asdfasdfasdf

 

Runner-up for being on theme: “MYSERIOUS WOMAN IN FETISH MASK SEDUCING MAN”

mysterious-woman-fetish-mask-seducing-man-16631014

She’s seducing him with cunning use of laying completely motionless.

Runner-up for representing the Four Chambers of Stock Photo Women, because all the sites had a bunch of pictures of women eating fruit (I blame Eve):

 

SO MUCH LUST FOR THIS JUICE RIGHT NOW YOU GUYZE

SO MUCH LUST FOR THIS JUICE RIGHT NOW YOU GUYZE

Runner-up for Oh My God The Racism Why: “A man holding on to his woman with lust on her face.”

 

whyyyyy

no really, whyyyyy

I can’t even. Another photo from the same shoot refers to her as an “American Indian woman.” *pause while my eye twitches* It’s like they’re trying to be politically correct or something. One wonders, at that point, why.

 

Other notable results:

“Lusty woman” involved a lot of pictures of an active and enthusiastic senior lady who had a lust for life, doing things like gardening, crossword puzzles, and having a young person explain her some modern technology.

However, “lustful woman” produced all kinds of gems: “SENSUAL SEXY JAPANESE WOMAN STRIPPER UNDRESSING,” “INTERRACIAL COUPLE PLAYING SEX GAMES ON BED,” “SEDUCTIVE WOMAN TAKING YOU BY THE TIE,” (You know, in case you needed any doubt that the male gaze was at play here) and just to really hammer in the theme, “SEXY WOMAN KNEELING.”

It's cool: she's a businesswoman.

It’s cool: she’s a businesswoman. A stripper businesswoman.

Dreamstime in particular seems to be more focused on photos of a variety of races of folks, not all of which are called out by race. “BEAUTIFUL WOMAN ON BED” is black. However, there’s also “TOPLESS BLACK WOMAN WITH AMERICAN NATIONAL FLAG” and for some unthinkable reason “AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN BY BASKET OF DIRTY LAUNDRY.” Which totally has to do with the keywords “lustful woman” because…uh…er… white supremacist patriarchy?

 

Yeah,  I'm gonna go white supremacist patriarchy, because that's the only connection I can see.

Yeah, I’m gonna go white supremacist patriarchy, because that’s the only connection I can see.

I feel dirty now, and not because of the sexual content. Can I be excused to go scrub out my brain please?

 

Next up: Gluttony!

Spoilers: Stock photo women have a troubled relationship with food.

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