Saturday, February 25, 2012

Link of Great Interest: What Is Cultural Appropriation?

A year or two ago, ardhra added her two-cents to a conversation I was having on Tumblr about cultural appropriation, which I've never forgotten, "cultural appropriation involves power." Since then, I've fumbled around trying to explain and extrapolate on this. 

Now she's gone and explained, quite concisely, I think, the general way cultural appropriation works, in what is very straightforward language that if you can't figure out what a word means, you can Google it. 

Some quotes:
The problem isn’t that cultures intermingle, it’s the terms on which they do so and the part that plays in the power relations between cultures. The problem isn’t “taking” or “borrowing”, the problem is racism, imperialism, white supremacy, and colonialism. The problem is how elements of culture get taken up in disempowering, unequal ways that deny oppressed people autonomy and dignity. Cultural appropriation only occurs in the context of the domination of one society over another, otherwise known as imperialism. Cultural appropriation is an act of domination, which is distinct from ‘borrowing’, syncretism, hybrid cultures, the cultures of assimilated/integrated populations, and the reappropriation of dominant cultures by oppressed peoples.
What’s being appropriated in *cultural appropriation* isn’t the things themselves — the images, stories, artefacts, themes, etc. — it’s the capacity of people of oppressed groups to determine the meaning, scope, usage, and future of those things. Cultural appropriation involves taking over peoples’ control over representations of themselves. Cultural appropriation is an attack on cultural autonomy and self-determination, backed up by historically constructed domination.
Anything that depoliticises the definition of cultural appropriation as being about cultural “borrowing” erases the reality of how cultural appropriation has come into being and operated. It’s the “colourblind,” i.e. race-aversive and power-aversive, version, that sanitises the history of cultural appropriation. 
What white people always erase is that cultural appropriation has historically been accompanied, and enabled, by violence. From weavers’ fingers to genocidal rape, the violence built into cultural appropriation is undeniable.

This is going into the 101 page, but I wanted to make sure ya'll who have me on your feeds got a chance to read this excellent essay, rather than sneak it by you.  Seriously, go read the whole thing. Twice.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Racist Things Steampunks Are Not Immune To: Microaggressions

Oh, good, you're still here. Now that I sic'd Aversive Racism on you, have another racist thing that steampunks do. Like aversive racism, this is not unique to steampunk, so much as it is baggage that steampunks will carry in from the larger culture.

So, have your second Racism 101 item: Microaggressions.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Link of Interest: Article on "The Convert," by Danai Gurira

NPR has an article interviewing Danai Gurira, a Zimbabwe-American woman who spent most of her childhood in Harare, and whose latest play The Convert explores the psychological impact of colonialism. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Black Sister, My Sister

So, intra-POC prejudice and racism exists. It is a thing, an actual thing. It is pernicious, in the U.S./Canada it is often a symptom of white supremacy where we all fight according to the rules set by whiteness to judge each other and find each other wanting. 

This occurs despite a long history of inter-POC cooperation, where in the living memory of our elders, Asian groups participated and helped in the Black Panther Party's activities, and Jews testify how black soldiers can to rescue them (and thus, how they knew the soldiers were not Nazis), and many other such histories which I can't recall at the moment. All histories usually unspoken of, to the point where it is such a big fucking surprise to discover they exist. All pointing to how our intra-POC conflicts are really very counter-productive. All proving how short our communities' memories are, because these stories have been so covered up into non-existence, so we'll believe anything mainstream media tells us about each other. 

There is a Global Hierarchy of Race, which follows skin tones and assimilation into Western standards of modernity. In this hierarchy, darker-skinned peoples suffer more than lighter-skinned ones. In this hierarchy, my light skin and Westernized background count me as acceptable to whiteness, as "the other white meat." If anyone followed the Tiger Mother kerfuffle, you would have an inkling of how assimilation into the white American middle-class lifestyle was, and still is, so incredibly prioritized, so the younger generation can have "a better life".... a white life. 

This system of white supremacy requires something to measure up against for superiority. And as Lance Selfa has demonstrated, whiteness needs to be measured against blackness. This has been eloquently articulated over, and over, and over, by such writers as Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., bell hooks, Audre Lordre, Franz Fanon. Blackness is a depth, blackness is the dark, blackness is the bad, blackness is the inferior, blackness is where you do not want to be, blackness is that which we do not want to inhabit.... so on and on states a variety of media, a variety of sources.

And we internalize this as a truth. As little children. And we see it repeated everywhere. In the last week alone, I've seen the following on Tumblr:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Racist Things Steampunks Are Not Immune To: Aversive Racism

I talk a lot about racism in my work, not least because, uh, part of why I get pretty fucking angry about colonialism and whatnot is because the histories of colonialism that many POC live with today are the foundation for systemic racism that exists today.

It's gotten to the point where I am kind of aggressively avoiding novels that feature straight white dudes unless it's a YA (out of the four novels I have attempted to read in the last while, the only one I could stand was a YA novel) because I am just kind of pissed off at the reminder that straight white dudes have been allowed to call the shots when they have been so utterly wrong, and have created such utterly wrong worlds, both in fiction and in reality, and continue to be accepted when they exhibit utterly wrong behaviour. It gets to the point where I want to cloister all my white friends who are wonderful people away from all this wrongness in case it's catching, like a flu.

But I can't, so instead I go about identifying Things That Are Wrong and tell any listening public (like all four of you reading this blog!) about them, so I have the satisfaction of having at least attempted to mitigate the wrongness of the world. And you will have some names for Things That Are Generally Wrong With The World that also creep into steampunk, so you can start learning how to call it as you see it and thus help in the long arduous battle against racism in steampunk! Our first term is: Aversive Racism!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Con or Bust! 2012 Auction has Opened

Con or Bust!, the fundraiser that helped me get to WisCon34 back in 2010, has now opened for bidding on its various items! I also has many items up for bidding, such as The Steampowered Globe. If you would like to get a copy of this Singaporean steampunk anthology delivered to you personally from me and donate to a worthy cause at the same time, place a bid!

You can find most general information about Con or Bust at its site but I would like to give my own perspective on why you should bid, or perhaps even donate, to Con or Bust.

ETA: It has also come to my attention that Con or Bust will now be helping fans of colour get to ANY convention of their choice! So, if you want to see more people of colour getting help to come to YOUR steampunk convention? Do pitch in as you please!

I tend to see people ask, "what do we do to help racism go away?" Or "what can we do to encourage POC participation at events?" And sometimes infuriatingly, "yeah we know racism is bad: what are you doing about it?"

Friday, February 10, 2012

Happy Anniversary to El Investigador!

El Investigador, a Spanish-language steampunk magazine, recently released its 12th issue! There's steampunk in French, and in Portuguese, and now steampunk is growing in Spanish-speaking communities! 

Given the ethnocentrism that can occur in steampunk (and a recent Facebook kerfuffle involving some "opinion" that invited a great deal of racist raa-raa-USA nonsense), #steampunkchat hosts, of which I am one, have decided to join forces with @VonMarmalade of El Investigador to bring you a Spanish-Anglo session of #steampunkchat on Friday, Feb 17th, 8pm Mexico City Time!

So come join us  for Festival Anglo-EspaƱol! And don't forget to check out El Investigador... they'll have a special surprise for us in a few days! 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Link of Interest: Slavery and the Origins of Racism, by Lance Selfa

Via Tumblr, an article at the International Socialist Review on the origins of racism in capitalist-driven slavery. The article tackles a few misconceptions:

1) That Marx's analysis was only about class and ignores race. (I've been guilty of assuming this, having read bits and pieces of his writing.) Marx very insightfully pointed out the links between racial division and capitalist accumulation.

2) That racism has always existed. And is natural. (It is not.)

3) That slavery in Africa and ancient Greece can be compared to U.S. slavery. (The basis and conditions of slavery in Africa and ancient Greece were very different.)

4) Racism ended after slavery was abolished. (Look, I get that facts make you feel guilty, but telling black people to "get over it, slavery was 200 years ago" is highly counter-productive. And racist.)

5) Multiracial spaces automatically promote racial equality. (Not really, for a variety of reasons.) 

If anything, reading this should remind us that just thinking we're not racist isn't good enough; we have to be actively anti-racist in what we do and say, and even how we think. We need to keep listening to these stories of racism and heed them. We need to keep interrogating any knee-jerk "but I'm not racist!" reactions we may have. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Steampunk POC: Stephanie Lai (Australian-Malaysian-Chinese)

I do not actually remember how I got to know Stephanie! We have, however, frequently exchanged words about being Malaysian, and being Malaysian-Chinese. We both vied for a spot in Crossed Genres' Eastern issue (she won with The Last Rickshaw!) and now we both have stories in Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories! She hails from Melbourne's SFF scene, which I know pretty much nothing about, so I will let her talk about it.

Stephanie! How did you get into steampunk?

Jaymee! I just kind of fell into it. I’ve always been into SFF, and I love alternate realities, and science and technology, and steampunk appealed to me as a way of combining all of my favourite things, so I started dabbling in it. Then I think I found your blog and it sucked me all the way in to steampunk.

What is steampunk like over there in Australia? Is it big? Is it small? Growing? Is it a literary trends, are there gatherings for me? Tell us o stranger from an arcane land!

Let me tell you, it is HARD WORK being an antipodean, way distant from everyone else, and needing to get people to proof and say whether my story is too Aussie to be understood. HARD WORK INDEED.

Steampunk is growing in Australia. There are a lot of readers and writers, and as a community we are definitely growing, if the number of panels being run  at cons (and the number of people attending) is
anything to go by. There’s nothing separate happening, mostly it’s just a handful of panels at Swancon and Continuum, but I think we’re moving towards maybe a specialised gathering or two.

I think within the SFF community it’s gaining greater traction, but I’m not super sure it’s growing at all outside the community.

However there is not a lot of Australian steampunk set in Australia, and that’s something I’d like to see change.