Friday, October 21, 2011

Mixed Raced Characters in Urban Fantasy don't Necessarily Constitute Inclusion

'Coffee Swirl' photo (c) 2009, Will Keightley - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

One of the recurring tropes we’ve found in Urban Fantasy is the use of token inclusion for people of colour. Unfortunately for many authors, the addition of one person of color in an all White cast, even in cities in which the population demographics would suggest a larger representation is necessary, qualifies for a claim of equal representation. This is beyond irritating in and of itself. But there’s a related trope that doesn’t even go so far as that to use the oft normalized tokens - mixed race protagonists. One of the major issues is that even though these people are technically bi-racial, they are often so light skinned that they exist with passing privilege, thereby never having to negotiate the racism faced by everyday people of colour. Urban fantasy gives new meaning to the phrase light bright and damn near White.

In and of themselves, mixed race protagonists are by any means a bad thing - not by any stretch. We’d welcome, hail and do happy dances about more mixed-race protagonists, or more protagonists of colour in general, if it constituted good equal representation but alas that is not the case. It would be good to see if these mixed raced people read like mixed raced people, instead of White people with a touch of exotic thrown in for extra flavour.

They nearly always have a disconnect with their heritages of colour. Often this is in the form of a dead or missing parent. For example, Anita Blake’s Hispanic mother is dead, Mercy Thomas’ Native American father is missing. Kelley Armstrong’s Jeremy has an absent Asian mother. Richelle Mead’s Rose Hathaway has an absent Turkish father. In Clay and Susan Griffith’s Greyfriar series, Adele’s Persian mother is dead. The dead parents trope in this situation gives the author the opportunity to iinclude a mixed race character, (and mention their physical characteristics) without ever having to include any cultural context or signifiers (Though, it has to be said, this is not limited purely to canonical mixed race characters and there are no small number of POC token inclusions that are also divorced entirely from cultural signifiers). It also creates the question of where are the other members of the characters family? Was every single raced parent an orphan, that they left no family behind to interact with their children? There is always a reason why these families completely disappear to justify the erasure, and allow the author to claim faux inclusion points. It also means that authors don’t have to research cultures outside of their direct experience and serves to privilege Whiteness.

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