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The magazine gets a lot of submissions about Native/indigenous people/folklore, written by majority/non-Native/white authors. The central speculative conflict involves some problem of semi-indigenous origin, "semi" because the authors have taken "creative license" [1] to invent the customs, folklore and beliefs of the Native people, and much of it, I fear, would be unrecognizable as part of their culture to the Native peoples themselves in real life.

I mean, wow! /sarcasm/ If you want a supernatural mystery, it has to have something to do with the marginalized Native peoples of that land, and the white protagonist just has to ask the nearest Native what's going on to be told What Is Going On And Why, and maybe what the solution is! The solution never is "Get your white asses off our land," amazingly.

Throw into the mix some set of stereotypes about the Native people of that region, toss in that the author is writing this story because he or she wants to honor these people or finds them fascinating (though it never seems that these authors had much contact with these people irl, other than living nearby at most), and make sure that the story is really about white people in the end (with some Native "seasoning"), and bake on high for two hours.

I'm not sure how to take this issue on more effectively. In simply weeding it all out, I'm also weeding out mention of peoples who never get mentioned in SF. But if what's said about them is wholly or mostly inaccurate, then I can't let that go through, either. (I'm not an anthropologist, I just know how to use Google, and it usually takes me under five minutes to find several major issues.)

The real solution, of course, is more Native authors. In the meantime, and in parallel with that goal, though, what else can I do? How can I handle this issue better? I already have some stuff up about it on the guidelines, but that doesn't seem to be having much visible effect. I also don't like "speaking for" Native people in saying it's inaccurate, even though it is inaccurate and the authors admit they made it up.


[1] I take personal issue at the use of the term "creative license" to describe this behavior. These authors have no legitimate license of any sort to invent the beliefs, customs and traditions of real life groups of people. No license of any sort has ever been, or ever will be, granted. This is fraud and theft, and sometimes it rises to libel. They have no "right" to do this other than the right they gave themselves, and the "right" accorded them by majority privilege.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
sinauthor
Feb. 24th, 2010 10:51 pm (UTC)
You have to wonder how many of them are inclined to do any research. Let alone question if their ideas about *insert culture here* are valid.

If I wasn't married to Ying, certain stories of mine would have never been written. I would be too worried that I misunderstood something, or acted on a false belief.
spacehawk
Feb. 25th, 2010 01:08 am (UTC)
Yes, part of this is about research. If I can find major inconsistencies in under five minutes on Google, then something's the matter.

Some authors also interpret "research" differently. They tell me all the Native stories they have read, by people of that tribe, and then that's presented as the basis of the folklore/beliefs upon which they took "creative license." Hypothetical example: "Here's some references to the such-and-such people believing in a mountain spirit by the same such-and-such, and this spirit being evil. This is the basis for my story, in which I took creative license."

So it's "here's the stuff I found that was the basis for the stuff I made up," rather than "here's the steps I took to make sure my understanding of this culture was as accurate as possible." Somehow "fictional story about these people" and "as accurate as possible" are perceived as internally inconsistent.

I'm Jewish. I'm fine with their being Jews in works of fiction (even written by non-Jews!) as long as the description of Jewish beliefs, culture and customs is accurate and respectful and the work is free of negative stereotypes. I've rejected works for the magazine because they were supposedly about Jews and Jewish culture and it was a lot of nonsense. We don't believe that/do that/say that etc.

But I'd say eight or nine out of ten times we reject a story for doing this, it's about Native people. So, I can't speak for Native people and say what the right way to do it is or should be, but I can point out that a quick Google search has shown me that this is made up. And that we don't want made up.

Native people, and their cultures, should not be used to "spice up" a story about white people.
chipmunk_planet
Feb. 25th, 2010 02:34 pm (UTC)
Each tribe has a different culture and believes different things. If the tribe isn't specified (generic Native) that would be a big red flag right there.


spacehawk
Feb. 25th, 2010 08:38 pm (UTC)
Agreed. That's another problem, the "I intentionally didn't use a real tribe or name a real tribe so that I could make stuff up" sort of strategy. This is different- this is where people do use a real tribe and then still make it up. But the Apache or Chukchi or whoever don't believe or do what the story says they do.
chipmunk_planet
Feb. 26th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
Well, in that case I would just send it back with a suggestion to do some more research.

That's really pretty unprofessional of them, IMO.
worldsofmint
Feb. 26th, 2010 11:55 am (UTC)
When it comes to "speaking for" the ethnic group being misrepresented, I agree it's as touchy as the misrepresentation itself. But I think that in outright rejecting the inaccurate stories, even at the risk of "speaking for" people, you're doing a very good thing in preventing the propagation of still more misrepresentations.

I do have a suggestion which may or may not help to cut down on the inconsistencies, which is to actively educate. If you were able to commission Native American authors to write about their own cultures, not necessarily in a speculative fiction context, and to make those essays available as examples of what is genuine, people _might_ gain a better sense of why certain presentations are unacceptable. However, I don't know how viable this really is, not to mention that it does have the potential to backfire.

Just for interest, how much more complicated do you think the issue becomes when you have a non-white author using a fragmentary and not necessarily accurate knowledge of his/her own culture to "spice up" a story about white people? I know this is quite unlikely to ever happen in your context, but I suspect it's an issue which many literary communities are grappling with under the table.
spacehawk
Mar. 2nd, 2010 04:58 am (UTC)
Just for interest, how much more complicated do you think the issue becomes when you have a non-white author using a fragmentary and not necessarily accurate knowledge of his/her own culture to "spice up" a story about white people?

I agree with you that that gets a lot more complicated, and I don't have any prepared statement! I've never run into a story like that in the submissions for Expanded Horizons. When PoC authors write about the mythology of their own cultures, they usually keep the story about characters from that culture, or at least to other characters of color, even if there are white people in the story. (It gets complicated, because authors have mixed heritages, and so do characters, etc.) When PoC authors submit to us stories that draw from the mythologies of other cultures, I usually see that a great deal more research has been done than I see from many white authors (though of course not all).

As for not having a very thorough or accurate knowledge of their own cultures, I haven't seen the sort of issues coming up that occur when white authors write about PoC cultures (without doing any research). It does happen that PoC try to write about things from their heritage or one of their heritages, without a deep understanding of, or a strong connection to that heritage, and it raises its own complicated issues, but I don't think we see very much of it in the submissions.
silviamg
Feb. 26th, 2010 05:46 pm (UTC)
Research? Aliette de Bodard writes Aztec stories, yet she is Vietnamese-French. So she isn't indigenous to Mexico, but I don't have any problems with that. Her writing is good, and she has read up on the culture quite a bit. Should she shy away from writing them because she is not an indigeous Mexican? Probably not. (She has a post about Writing cultures: insider vs. outsider today, btw. Might be relevant to this discussion).

There's also the thing about secondary worlds. I have done several stories in secondary worlds which may be "inspired" by 19th century Caribbean culture (specifically an island that is an alternate-reality Cuba), but are not set in a real location. Like Tanith Lee when she wrote Paradys. So there, it's an imaginary setting. I have taken creative license because I've made it up. You can certainly suspect that a certain god is Changó, but it's not an exact replica.

Regarding the "speaking up for people." That's a complex topic onto itself, and something I go back and forth with. Because sometimes people have the best intentions, but an idea of what is "native" or "correct representation," and then your vision, if it does not fulfill the limits imposed by them, will be automatically discarded. And yeah, you're speaking up, but also restricting what we (minority writers) may want to say.

Aside from the guidelines, you could do a special-themed issue inviting stories about and from Aboriginal/Native authors. That is my suggestion.
spacehawk
Mar. 2nd, 2010 05:36 am (UTC)
It is a complex topic indeed. As I was telling worldsofmint above, in the submissions we've received for Expanded Horizons, when authors of color submit to us stories that draw from the mythologies of other cultures, I usually see that a great deal more research has been done than I see from many white authors (though of course not all). Aliette de Bodard is one example. There are of course white authors who do careful research, as well, but there are many who do not, and when pressed, some seem to think they don't have to. There are also authors of color who misrepresent other PoC cultures, though it's rare in our submissions. I would like to take a look at the essay you've mentioned.

Secondary worlds is another way this whole issue gets complicated, indeed. It does deserve discussion, and I think very important discussion, but here at the magazine I'm still dealing with a lot of "do not write a story about the deep significance of the such-and-such ritual of the [named] people when in reality they have absolutely no custom remotely like that and never have, and don't write a story about the white-people-eating monster of the [named] people's mythology when those people have no such myth."

So I guess my point is that while the issues I'm talking about can come up for any author, in actuality "on the ground" it's mostly white authors doing it.

I like your suggestion for a special-themed issue. I need to figure out how to market that! We had a very hard time getting submissions for our Fairy Tales issue. I'd settle for several stories by Native authors, spread out over a period of time.
silviamg
Mar. 2nd, 2010 04:58 pm (UTC)
I must admit I was going to submit something for the Fairy Tales issue and then never had time for it and let it go.

Perhaps you'd have to do a lot of solicitation and pre-planning to get a Native issue. I solicit stuff for Innsmouth Free Press, which is my little Lovecraftian zine.

The fact that you take reprints is very useful and could help in finding the necessary writers.
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