Supporting Racial Inclusion in Science-Fiction Literature

Victor Habbick Visions/Science Photo Library

Victor Habbick Visions/Science Photo Library

Inclusion in entertainment is a hot-button issue right now. Recently, the University of Southern California tackled this issue head-on by taking a look at the Hollywood entertainment industry. In their report, Inclusion or Invisibility, gender, race, and sexual orientation were taken to task. On average, most industry professionals in film, broadcast, cable, streaming are males—outnumbering fellow female industry colleagues 2-to-1. Racial inequities are not any better. By and large, White professionals received most on-screen roles, amounting to a whopping seventy-one percent. In contrast, underrepresented minority numbers paled in comparison—Black (12.2%), Hispanic/Latino (5.8%), and Asian (5.1%). Furthermore, portrayal of LGBT characters is at an abysmal two percent with gender and racial inequalities in this category following suit.  

Behind the camera, these numbers are worse yet, demonstrating that some of the major television and digital distributors--21st Century Fox, CBS, NBC, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix--currently operate in a non-inclusive environment. It is easy to imagine how this might create a White male heterosexual bottleneck in terms of the content that we as a nation consume. It is not to say that this content doesn’t have its place in society—of course it does. However, the industry demographics do not represent the diverse people of our nation, who engage in their content. The intention of the Inclusion or Invisibility report was to steer the already happening climate of awareness to a climate of action. In the coming years, it will be interesting to see how the paradigm shifts. Importantly, the report highlights a key area to focus on in the future--to drive underrepresented communities into decision-making roles off-camera that will inextricably lead to increased roles on-camera. The literary industry, which in some cases inspires film/television, is not immune to exclusivity and decided taking action many years ago.

In the 1980's, The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), who keep publishing records based on race/ethnicity, determined African Americans writers did not write most books about African Americans. This may be a troubling statistic; who better to tell a story about African Americans than African Americans, all other things equal? Indeed, the same is true for Native American literature, albeit the trend between books written by Native Americans and about Native Americans is continually narrowing. This gap narrowed for Black literature up until 2014, but recently widened. This increase does not necessarily reflect malicious exclusion on the industry’s behalf. For example, it could be that non-Black writers are interested in providing more culturally diverse content whose main characters are Black, to provide an alternative for readers in an industry that is slow to catch up in the diversity of its contributors. As it stands, Black and Native American Literature have some catching up to do in comparison to both Asian and Latino/Hispanic literature where the trends are more balanced.  Since 2002, literature about Blacks outnumbered Asian and Latino/Hispanic literature 2-to-1, more or less, and Native American literature approximately 4-to-1. It would be helpful if the CCBC provided numbers for White literature, so that readers outside the field could understand the problem better, but they concede that this is outside the scope of their research.

 /* Style Definitions */
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
     Source: Cooperative Children’s Book Center School of Education University of Wisconsin-Madison

Source: Cooperative Children’s Book Center School of Education University of Wisconsin-Madison

The goal of the CCBC is not necessarily to point out that there is too much White literature, but simply to point out that it is not lacking.  And according to the CCBC website, “every year we see amazing books by and about people of color and First/Native Nations people published. There just aren't enough of them. The more books there are, especially books created by authors and Illustrators of color, the more opportunities librarians, teachers, and parents and other adults have of finding outstanding books for young readers and listeners that reflect dimensions of their lives, and give a broader understanding of who we are as a nation. “

At Modern Treatise, we want to highlight authors that are breaking the mold. Below I have highlighted three authors and a selection from their science-fiction publications in an effort to introduce work that is written by people of color, and/or about people of color. Happy Reading!

Book Recommendations

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. Daniel Jose Older is an outspoken young-adult fiction and fantasy author that is fairly new to the scene. According to a 2015 interview, Older’s intention is to stir up the industry, which suffers from a lack of diversity and understanding of minority communities.

In his first book published in 2015, Shadowshaper is a book about a teenage Puerto-Rican girl living in a Brooklyn neighborhood, who begins to learn about her family’s enchanted past--it seems everyone has something to hide. As she stumbles upon her own talents, the world around her becomes a dangerous place. The book offers a rich dose of Latino-American culture and adventure. It is a timely piece that does not shy away from racially charged issues of gentrification, marginalization, and institutional barriers. While targeted for young-adult readers, this book is capable of pleasing sophisticated readers of all ages.

Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith. Ronald L. Smith is an advertising big-whig turned writer. According to his website, he has always had an inclination for the fantastical. After leaving the advertising world, he went all-in with his fiction writing.

In his breakout piece, Hoodoo, Smith focuses in on a part of underrepresented American history. The story is set in the 1930’s in Alabama, but the focus isn’t on segregation. Instead, the book is a southern-gothic horror, narrated from the perspective of a child, Hoodoo Hatcher, who has a fascination for folk magic. Unlike his family, however, he lacks the skills to conjure. When a stranger comes to town with intentions to cause harm, Hoodoo, must learn the skills he lacks. Filled with horror and subtle humor, this read provides an equitable balance easily enjoyed by the young reader and adults alike.

The Next World and the Next by Alice Sola Kim. Alice Sola Kim is an established writer. She dabbles in both fiction and non-fiction, and a recent publication example is “The Next World and the Next”.

This piece is broken up into short snippets--which at first read can seem incomprehensible--but rest reassured, it elegantly comes together to form a cohesive unit in the end. This short is an edgy, suspenseful, and utterly horrific take on a dystopian future or a recollection of a dream--up to you to decide. After reading this short story, I’m left wanting so much more and I have so many questions. Perhaps this is the curiosity of Kim. Be sure to check out her publication record.