Stereotypes and Racism

photo from morguefile.com

photo from morguefile.com

Recently, the science fiction community was stunned by a revelation of racism. This week I’ll take a break from writing about the science of aging and talk a little sociology.

A certain online personality who tended to bash other sci-fi writers, particularly minority voices, turns out to be a minority and she happens to write excellent and acclaimed stories.

The community of writers and readers is still not sure what to do. Ignore her work even though her writing is excellent and she is just the kind of writer the science fiction community feels they need more of?

And why did she do it if she is a minority herself? Did she try to discourage others from participating in the genre and taking the spotlight off herself? I’ve been told that sometimes the worst racism, sexism or ageism comes from within the group itself.

All authors walk a difficult line these days. An overwhelming number of novels have white male protagonists. I’ve tried to avoid that, and I have a number of characters of different races and nationalities, but I don’t want to misrepresent any of those groups by relying on stereotypes to build them.

I worry particularly about gay stereotypes. One of my friends is at a company which is hiring and she half-joked that if they hired a gay man she would finally have a gay friend and talk about fashion around the water cooler. I guess it might be flattering to be in a group of people that women want to befriend, but she thinks she wants a gay friend because of the stereotype that all gay men love fashion, musical theater, and flamboyance. Yet I know some gay men who fit that stereotype fairly well and I wonder if they have always been that way or if they have adopted the stereotype. If so, is it liberating because everyone knows who they are and why? I regret that I don’t know any of them well enough to bring it up without seeming to pry. Maybe someone would like to comment on it.

One interesting portrayal of a gay family is on Modern Family, a television show I sometimes watch. Cam is a rather flamboyant character who likes to dress well and do clown acts, yet he was a high school football player and sometimes coaches. He breaks with stereotypes quite often, but sometimes I’m reminded of minstrel shows that paraded white men in black face around, telling jokes that made black people seem comical at best and simple-minded at worst. Do stereotypes of gay men as fun-loving fashion experts harm or help them?

Unlike minstrel shows, I get the feeling many modern books, movies, and television shows with minorities are written with the intent to be inclusive and not just get a cheap laugh. That’s my hope at least, and I hope to see diverse writers and characters increase and racism or hatred that plagues writers and reviewers decrease.

 

 

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