Sunday, April 21, 2013

Silence May Be Golden, But Promises Are Not

It has been a while since original posts that aren't reacting to something have come up on this blog. Part of it is school keeping me busy. Lots to read, lots to digest. And sadly, not all of it helps me ruminate on my new steampunk project: examining white supremacy and neocolonial processes.

Since year I began this blog, I have pretty much said all that needs to be said and I'm much more interested in pushing the conversation further. But how to do that, without pushing my own self further?

So, I've been keeping quiet, and examining. Examining my hubris, examining my privilege. Examining the fact that I want to critique steampunk by distancing myself from it; examining the fact that I have to tear myself away from being on the ground into the ivory tower. Examining the resources I am taking up and being given; reconciling the fact that I am in graduate school at a time when so many undergraduates are struggling to make it through, with the fact that in order to further my goals, I need credentials. Because a woman of colour needs just as many, if not more, credits to her name in order to be taken as seriously as a man. This is thankfully not reflected in my publishing oeuvre thus far.

I know there are some fine Tom Doubters out there who question why I spend so much time "attacking" steampunk when I "claim" to love it. I myself am not a fan of loving the potential over the reality. (Especially boyfriends, do you really want to clean him up in the hopes that you'll have a happy relationship once he gets his act together? but I digress.) There is not much in the reality of steampunk, once you get past the novelty, that is really outstanding. Creative people are always thriving, wherever one goes. We always find a way. 

But there is not much reward in loving mere potentiality, either. When The Steampunk Bible came out, I noticed that works like mine appear in the chapter entitled "The Future of Steampunk" and I got a little mad after the fact. Why are our stories considered "the future" rather than part of the present? 

Feeding ourselves a promise means that we never have to take responsibility for the stupid shit we do today, because In The Future! Things Will Be Better! 

And then when it's not "the future will be better" malarkey, it's the "roots of steampunk" nonsense: that steampunk began with a critique of the modern world and has thus always been about critiquing the modern world. These kinds of critics will cite their Moorcock, their Gibson and Sterling. And when I told this to Monique, she said, "look at the fruits of steampunk now. They don't look anything like what steampunk used to do."

There are two kinds. The kind of steampunk which wants to circumscribe the aesthetic into a particular definition, a particular look that inevitably evokes colonialism whether they want it or not. The kind of steampunk which is "anything goes" and anybody can participate because we are just that inclusive. And even the latter has hubris and some strange arrogance that ignores the implications that if you include just anybody, you are always giving way to the oppressor to participate and take over. 

That includes the oppressor in you, in me, in us. 

So I've been keeping quiet and looking inside, at my participation in an industrial complex that has its roots in institutional oppression, because yes, universities, the bastions of knowledge, are themselves rooted in prestige and status afforded only to an exclusive class. And now, universities, transforming into sites of consumption where you pay for your education, a paper certificate that is supposed to open doors to you, are now becoming sites of consumerism and capitalism where you pay a price to get a product that is supposed to afford you prestige and status through social mobility. Again with the promises! 

I've been keeping quiet and examining my discourse, the discourse I've been pushing forward into the ether, and how it's been changing. I can't speak for Ay-Leen, but the more I present "Steam Around The World," the more aggressive I have become about dealing with racism. It's not a very intersectional approach, but that's what "A Better Steam Society" is for. It still tugs at me. And while my discourse is changing, new people are entering steampunk and they say the exact same thing everyone says when entering steampunk.

It is.... mind boggling, and yet, so interesting. Mind-boggling because it's like, I and so many others have spent all this time building this space and now folks are coming in and ignoring all the furniture we put in there for other people's convenience. And interesting because it proves further to me how steampunk is in a constant state of re-constitution. I haven't yet decided whether I'm more annoyed or more smug. 

A space of constant re-constitution is a good place to be, in my books. But it is also the most dangerous. While the privileged may see this space as dangerous because it could produce something that threatens their privileged, those of us on the side of anti-oppression also need to recognize that it's dangerous because at any time, someone more powerful can come in and occupy it, the way the powerful occupy everything else. 

It wouldn't be such a source of anxiety if I didn't hear so much claptrap about how everyone is equal. 

Ideally, everyone is equal. In reality, that isn't the case. Some of us have more power than others. The refusal to acknowledge this is what lends to the everyday violence that the oppressed face. 

I say this to you as a member of the oppressor class myself: the rich, the comfortable, the one never in fear. 

So I've been keeping quiet, learning about all the discomfiting about privilege and oppression and how I am a part of it. Learning to live with the discomfort. Learning not to leap to defensiveness when a group I recognize as being part of is rightfully attacked for being oppressive. Learning not to disavow that group. 

Promises are valuable only when they are achieved and delivered. 

I have nothing left to say to you that would lead to your promise, your potential of helping everyone who needs you to change the world and overcome the oppressive structures you operate in. I believe in your strength to do so and that is all I can say for now. 

1 comment:

  1. So true. Privilege is often not a discrete commodity. There are overlapping bubbles of privilege so where we may be privileged within one group (socioeconomic status) we may be 'other' in another group (gender or colour).

    I always enjoy your blog posts, Jha. I've been away from steampunk for a long time now and the issues within it don't seem to have changed much in the interim, sadly. I need to ask myself more on how I am helping to address these issues rather than hoping that they will magically solve themselves.