Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Urban Fantasy: Escapism When the Real World has too Many Minorities

'Question mark' photo (c) 2005, Marco Bellucci - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Erasure is one of the more prevalent phenomenons in urban fantasy. Many times we hear the excuse that because a book is set in a rural town that the percentage of the population comprised of historically marginalized people is so insignificant as to make inclusion pointless. We want to make it utterly clear here that this is not an excuse either and any erased book can be extremely damaging. Inclusion is never pointless, and even in rural areas, marginalized people live and prosper.  

When the story moves from a rural area to a larger city, there is even less justification for exclusion and, at times, it becomes nothing short of farcical. If you have a story and choose to set it in a place like Toronto, Chicago, Atlanta, Las Vegas, San Francisco, New York, Vancouver, Montreal, London, Manchester, Brighton etc., population demographics quite obviously indicate the presence of historically marginalized people.  To some degree to read and enjoy urban fantasy, one must suspend belief, however to be expected to just accept that marginalized people don’t exist is not about suspending belief; it’s an exercise in privilege.

Atlanta appears in several books and series, it’s one of the Urban Fantasy hubs we’ve noticed. Now, real world Atlanta has a whole lot of POC, and specifically a large African-American population. There are also a significant number of GBLT people, yet on The Walking Dead, we are presented thus far with complete GLBT erasure and two token men of colour. This is made problematic because we are dealing with dystopian fantasy and this then suggests a genocide.  Ilona Andrews’ wonderful Kate Daniels’ Series? Again, token inclusions. What happened? Do zombies love the taste of black people? Did the magic wave decimate GBLT people and POC?

Las Vegas also makes a regular appearance in Urban Fantasy - Vicki Pettersson’s Zodiac Series is entirely in Las Vegas and how many POC? Well, in the real Las Vegas, that would be more than half the population. In fiction? Let’s just say you won’t need to use both hands to count - and you don’t have to worry about holding your breath for their complete screen time.

Chicago also shows up on a regular basis in Urban Fantasy - Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden Series, Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires, both set in Chicago, allegedly. Never mind that Chicago is only 40% white - the POC are few few few and even farther between. And don’t look for the GBLT people.

Caitlin Kittredge’s Black London follows a truly bemusing city - firstly it’s empty. And if there’s one thing London is not, it’s empty. But it’s also extremely straight and white - this is a London I can’t even picture, a city where only about 60% of the people identify as White British and it has been a centre for GBLT culture since time immemorial.

We see San Francisco presented in both Alcatraz and Charmed. Where are the GBLT people? Since when is San Francisco the all-het capital of the world? Riyadh has a more open gay population than this San Francisco. The San Francisco Bay area is only 50% white - where are the POC? Where are the Asian people? The Latino people - we have, what, Dr. Soto? Is that it?  


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