Humans Persecute their different ones, yet they need them to give themselves definition and status.-Octavia Butler, Adulthood Rites
If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life's exciting variety, not something to fear.-Gene Roddenberry
Science fiction and fantasy are rather unique genres in that often times, the stories based in the wildest expanses of make believe are also the ones that best reflect the short comings of our own day to day reality. The quote above by Octavia Butler is, sadly, as true today as it was in 1988 when it was published. Also true is that the quote above from Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, is just as idealistic and out of reach as it was in 1971. In my own series, I take a far more pessimistic stance on the same theme:
...it seems that for every step forward this nation takes on civil rights, we take two back.
(Evan Conroy in Bluebeard's Children)
I'm sorry, but we as a society don't exactly have a stellar history of caring about minority rights. Especially when we perceive them as being some sort of threat against us.
(Lucy Soriano in Mother of Darkness)
When I began writing, the vampires in my story were representative of the oppression and misconceptions many people still hold against those who are different from them, but my main focus was the minorities of New Orleans. The unfortunate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina seemed to be a rise in outward racism and a genuine fear held by many whose only impressions were what the news was reporting. Several otherwise levelheaded people I knew had informed me that I was crazy when my husband and I took a vacation to New Orleans in the summer of 2007.
"You'll get mugged!"No, I didn't make any of those up. And it just got worse. From the time the first book was drafted to the moment the last was published, the scope of my social agenda broadened to include not just minorities, but gay rights and violence against women.
"You'll be killed by gangs!"
"Aren't you afraid of being beat up for being white?"
This is going to be a surprisingly political post. Surprising because despite writing in the genre of social awareness, I'm usually pretty reserved when it comes to posting my beliefs in a public forum. With my personal Facebook page, I tend to follow the philosophy of the Prime Directive from Star Trek. Some of my friends and family members are extremely liberal and some are extremely conservative. Some are apolitical, yet post items they think are funny that may offend me for some reason. But I don't get into arguments because I feel doing so would be pointless. I simply hide the offending post. But I have to admit, it's getting harder to remain silent.
We are living in very strange times. The technological advancements that I tend to rave about here have done wonderful things. I'm sure you have all seen stories about Reddit users banding together to find a lost pet, or raising money to help someone in need. But on the flip side, how many news stories have you seen about someone who was bullied into suicide or shamed by society at large, ironically, oftentimes also stemming from Reddit.
Youtube comments are full of racism. Men's rights activists have pushed the level of misogyny back into the stratosphere. Body shaming, slut shaming, gay bashing, hate crimes, stand your ground...
The list goes on.
Are we falling apart? Where has this culture of hate and intolerance come from? Surely, we weren't always like this. Didn't we already fight for civil liberties of all people back in the sixties? Weren't we at some point in our history a tolerant group?
Sadly, no. The internet is simply an amplifier, giving voice to what was always there.
Now, before you write this off as the most negative and depressing thing you'll read all week,hear me out. Look at the good the internet has done. You would have to have been living under a rock not to notice the advances we are making in gay rights. Don't think the internet hasn't had a huge hand in making that happen. Thanks to the internet, crusading celebrities like Elllen DeGeneres and George Takei have a global reach that has been instrumental in breaking down barriers. Young men and women who have been bullied or discriminated against have taken to the internet and told their own stories, challenging us to take a stand for what is right.
It should come as no surprise then, that when I find out about a science fiction or fantasy writer has bigoted views, it upsets me. And there are more than you think. For every Octavia Butler, there is an Elizabeth Moon. For Every Roddenberry, there is an Orson Scott Card. I consider bigotry in science fiction to be socially irresponsible much in the same way that I find bigotry in elected officials socially irresponsible. Sure, we may not write laws, but we write the future, and I don't just mean metaphorically. Whether utopian or dystopian, science fiction has a voice and that voice is heard by many.
Me? I don't have half the charisma that someone like Ellen or George has in their pinky toe. If I was to take to the internet and start a campaign for civil rights for all, it would likely fail to launch. I may have a big mouth, but online it seems I squeak like a mouse. So I do the one thing I can, which is write mildly entertaining stories of fantasy with a not so hidden message. Some will pick up on it. Some might not. Others still might roll their eyes and get upset that I'm forcing my 'agenda' upon them. But if I can make someone think, then I've done something.