I am running into racism…

I am running into racism problems in my SF book. There are two main alien characters; one is vaguely saurian, the other is vaguely feline. Ish. Which is fine. There are also others aliens in the background, but we don't get to know them well. There's also a war going on.

I'm having some trouble because I keep writing these scenes where there's, y'know, violence and such. And when the humans are full of rage, fine, they fight, at least some of them. And when the aliens are full of rage, they also fight, but in a more...physical way? Claws coming out, ruffs mantling, etc. It made sense when I wrote it, but now it's feeling uncomfortably similar to the colonial literature I teach in which the brown-skinned people were all portrayed as somehow animalistic and barbaric. I'm afraid I've written myself into a racist corner here by basing these two on animal-types to begin with. :-(

(There is one other saurian-critter who doesn't fight; he's peace-committed, personally. But he has the same anger-biological stuff playing out, plus poison fangs, etc., so I'm not sure it's any better that he controls himself?)

6 thoughts on “I am running into racism…”

  1. Well, humans have physical anger reactions too, right? Many of which are aggressive, albeit subtly so (shifting stance, changing the position of arms, frowning to seem scarier). Drawing that parallel — or having saurian etc characters who are able to control/tone down their physical reactions — might make it less Other As Animal.

  2. This makes me wonder whether there is room for a species which almost never needs to fight because they are essentially invulnerable. Elephants come to mind, although size and strength might not be the only avenue available.

  3. Not to get all writer coach-y and design-thinkish, but this makes me think about two, not-mutually-exclusive approaches:

    1) If your characters feel like they’re really being true, and themselves, and are clearly telling you this is how they ARE, then look for other ways to subvert the message. Is there a translator who can explain how alien body language is actually more honest than human ways of suppressing/lying, maybe? Is there a moral positivity (without exotifying) or other balancing factors that make it clear you’re not re-creating just another pseudo-colonial sci fi world? Or maybe the aliens have not just brutish physicality but ALSO much more developed abstract mathematical skills, giving them a powerful intellect and complexity? (China Mieville = a master of creating complex alt species, imho.)

    2) If you’re still developing your characters and open to changing at least some of them, I would go back to basics and think about your themes. What are you trying to say in this book? You’re telling a hot story, but what are some of the big messages, ideas, statements, beliefs and counter-beliefs that underlie it? Then see how your characters’ traits can best show that.

    To be simplistic: if your point is ultimately that humans and aliens are basically the same, then get your humans to be more animalish and your animalish beings to get more humanish, or make a good mix of personality/fight types in all the genotypes. If you believe that humans are ghastly beings and aliens are morally better, then reverse the characteristics and show the humans as savage, while giving the animals much more subtle cues (maybe her ruff just, you know, twitches a bit) ��that could be interesting and subversive. And so on. Make a character who could riff on this, do some freewriting in their voice, and see what comes out — this could even end up as a bit of dialogue or add a nice ‘meta’ level to the book, if you want that.

    It’s awesome that you’re conscious about this 🙂 so much of scifi is totally in this paradigm without even thinking about it, it seems like.

  4. This is all really helpful! I will keep it in mind when I come back to revise, although I think I may take a few weeks off from the book, since I just finished the first draft today, woohoo! Also, my workshop will tear it apart on Wednesday, and then I will need to weep, and recover.

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