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~5000 words; sorry about the extent to which I switch between transcript in panellist-subjective-first and third person.

Representation, Whitewashing & Internationalism in Fandom

Andrea Horbinski is moderating. "This is not the place to debate the existence of racism. That place is Reddit." [CACKLES from audience] "Also the Devil has plenty of money and doesn't need pro bono help, so you don't need to be his advocate." Currently PhD student @ UCBerkley, Japanese history & manga etc; on board of OTW [Organization for Transformative Works, runs the Archive Of Our Own], advisory board of Ada Initiative.

Zen Cho: "Maybe I shouldn't bring up OTW politics-- no, I DEFINITELY shouldn't bring up OTW politics." From Malaysia, living in UK, fantasy writer working on a novel, started in fanfic. Moved out of writing fanfic because was no longer satisfying - nobody who looked like them, talked like them, in the fandoms around which fanfic is written - but canon characters aren't a thing. Still loves fanfic & thinks it is a great thing, but - holding up a mirror.

Mark Oshiro: Mark Does Stuff. Watches & reads things unspoiled then makes people uncomfortable about it. We wanted to make this an international panel - not dominated by yours truly - we wanted to make sure this was an actually international panel, so I'm only going to talk a little bit about a very few American issues. Queer Latino.

Eylul Dogruel: also on the OTW's internationalisation/outreach cttee, MA in fine arts - is artist.

Russell Smith: writes under name RA Smith, urban fantasy (London-based urban fantasy, black dude), writing constantly!

Zen: M said the only character he could identify with as a kid was Speedy Gonzales... Zen adds that someone on a panel yesterday identified with the brown folk in Indiana Jones & Temple of Doom. On media fandom & SF fandom: when in media fandom, hadn't really thought about race at all, where now is very visible in the fandom as a non-Westerner and non-white person. But people online don't know what you look like, so Zen blended - but offline was also the unmarked state, because attended Chinese song - schoolfriends wouldn't identify as PoC, Zen only started identifying as PoC after moving to the UK: no longer unmarked state. People pretend that racism doesn't happen between nice middle-class people. White friends online were like "oh yeah, but people in Shrewsbury are more racist, and in London that would never happen" - like, YES, THANK YOU, THAT IS THE MOST HELPFUL RESPONSE. Sorry, rambling, but - this is a very big topic! In every space [?] I've been different, but then every space has been in.

Mark: I will say right off the bat that this WorldCon is so much more diverse than last year's - so many languages, so many accents - I was on a panel yesterday where an Arabic-speaker said they'd had to learn to speak English to watch anime. Used to go to huge cons - Comicon, etc - multi-genre, big media, didn't have to think about diversity, etc. First WorldCon last year - didn't know this community existed, as someone who has been reading SFF since I was 7 - SFFandom doesn't do good outreach. Most of his friends who were into SFF were straight white cis men. Came to convention, was delighted that there were more women, then had discouraging & bizarre experiences with interactions - at party, someone came up to me, "Oh my god! So I just wanted to ask you! I'm writing this book, and I have a Middle Eastern character, do you guys wear turbans all the time?" Was polite, said "I think you're a bit drunk, ask me later", was actually thinking "YOU'RE NOT EVEN A GOOD RACIST." This time put on a bunch of panels on uncomfortable topics - people don't treat me brilliantly - but am okay with that. He will say that this is nowhere near as bad as it is on the internet - issues of entitlement & anonymity that make issues at conventions "so much worse" "(LoTR fans!)" - feels we could talk for the whole 90 minutes about non-normative fans...

Eylul: Turkey until mid-90s v closed. Very limited contact w/ outside world; was SF-interested person in country where SF, Fantasy, Horror all sold as Horror. Fandom mostly in ICQ, other folk coming into ICQ speaking Turkish assuming everyone on the Internet speaks Turkish... compare with now, when people assume everyone speaks English [missed quite a bit of this]. Get questions - so, do you wear a headscarf? Are you Muslim? Religious/theology class mandatory in Turkey since coup in the 80s - means can explain Islam despite not practising it. Then got more & more into media fandom, but not into fanfic until got into OTW and transformative works - the rest of the world doesn't think about racism, we think about ethnicity and religion [OH WOW CRAP AT CONTENT NOTES, "I don't want to traumatise anyone" followed by GRAPHIC DESCRIPTION OF TERRIBLE SHIT isn't how you content notes!]

Russell: wide experiences here. Think most of mine will come from giving a whistlestop tour of my educational path up to now - travelling in and out of various bubbles. If asked how identified, first thing I say is "Londoner" (instinctively!) and go from there... in infant school, moved then got called a bunch of awful racist names for years, started to think maybe was different. Then junior school - nice mixed area of London, no-one batted an eyelid, where you got picked on for football skills or w/e. Then got into a posh school other side of river - again no noticeable issues apart from a couple where one lad told him he couldn't appreciate Metallica b/c it wasn't his thing, and _of course_ a 6'5" lad who thought it was absolutely cool to come up & rub his hair every day [audience groans loudly] - quite intentionally picked a fight w/ him outside teachers' changing rooms to let him know R wasn't going to stand for that! Other than that, drifted through quite neatly. Went off to university, met a bunch of people, opened own eyes about many things - if takes one thing away from uni, not degree certificate - getting to see more of the world. This about the point at which he realised how much of a geek he was & decided to roll w/ it... met some gamers, met some writers... happily spent weekends thwapping best mates with latex weapons! SFF scene was actually pretty rich where/when he grew up - TV, books - and never really questioned (until started writing, or talking to friends) the levels of representation that appeared; didn't think about, just enjoyed the shows. One or two friends going "... I can't see you or me there," to which response "oh, now you mention it, I see what you mean..." Reckons British SFF has got a whole lot better (Doctor Who cited)... at least in terms of race, has gone the other way in terms of what I've been noticing - been enough representation that I haven't needed to. "Now, how female characters are treated is a whole 'nother matter, but that's a different panel... it's amazing what you notice when you just look up for 5 minutes and see what's going on."

Zen: picking up how things are on the rest of the planet - discussions online of race tend to be very Western-centric, very US-centric. Sometimes but not always the cause isn't really Their Cause, but they run w/ it for righteous high - but a lot of the time it IS people for whom the cause is important, and they've just learned language that answers their concerns, so they get very dogmatic about it - and when other people push back, it feels like the pushback they've got all their lives... when you say "my context is very different" you're not denying their experiences, they just respond like that because they've had their experiences denied so many times. What's interesting to me is that I only started thinking about this really kind of seriously because of the discussions of fandom. Twin experiences of when I moved to the UK and the discussions in fandom, which sort of happened at the same time, which was sort of great-not-great - had this awakening, quite a brutal awakening I guess, but all the discussions are in a very American context, trade in very American concepts and phrases, but I actually found that helpful - like "white privilege" - because once I started thinking like that I began to feel like I had a toolbox for thinking about my own country, Malaysia - it's not just ethnicity and religion; colour is important, race is important - overlapping bigotries. Fannish discussion very helpful for me, I could start thinking about things in that kind of framework, almost illuminated the landscape for me at home, not applying it purely but using the ways of thinking - who's actually being horrible to whom? White privilege is a global feature but it's not so relevant in Malaysia.

Eylul: I think that this frameowrk starts breaking down - I can speak for the Middle East - I can talk to SAm friends who say similar things - recent term, "White Turk", someone who is secular & rich ("gaining enough money to eat") & educated. This breaks down when you think that the 80s coup is the one that supported Islam - the ones causing the problem are the ones who are in power right now. What happens, often, is that Western concepts get adapted and sometimes promoted by these countries onto the Middle East and other countries as a means of international politics, and that's when this becomes problematic. When someone walks in on a discussion online and says "oh my god, you can't say that, white privilege" without knowing context etc - that's a big problem. Many discussions have moved from open journals to closed journals.

Mark: discussing this yesterday, these topics and issues, how it's so important this panel not be US-centric - mentioned birth parents (he's a transracial adoptee) - adopted by a white woman and Japanese man - has no culture/ancestry/connection to history - only recently discovered that his actual heritage is Central American and Native American. Mexico does not have the monopoly on stories, nor does Guatamela! So much more complex, which makes conversations harder, but it's worth doing the work of talking through difficult things - more productive. Hopes to get to idea of whitewashing, which gets very complex outside the USA - someone brought up colourism (defines term: even if no-one's white, the darker the skin the less privileged), definitions problematic outside of the USA - issues that never get talked about in SFF.

Zen: it's not about "you are the privileged one, blah blah blah" - it's more nuanced than that - part of the problem w/ discussions in fandom is that they're the beginning, but you have to go further - people get stuck there because it's easier. Interesting what you say about colourism - I think anyone from almost any Asian country will recognise that - growing up we had Fair&Lovely ads - it's supposed to make your skin fairer, horrendous ads - needing to be "brown but not too brown" (too dark - wouldn't get to be an actress/model anyway!)

Russell: A degree of this that happens within Africa & West Indian communities as well - heard stories about people bleaching their skin.

Andrea: sooooo terrible segue? White-washing?

Mark: A:tLA is the worst movie of all time.


Andrea: Lucy!

[general cross-talk about ambiguously Asian villains, why are all these actors in Taiwan??? terrible American movies]

Mark: she literally shoots someone for not speaking English IN TAIWAN.

Andrea: then the villains show up and are speaking in Korean? And... MAKE IT STOP. IT MAKES NO SENSE. As the clincher, at the end, she goes back in time to Manhattan and sees proto-humans in Manhattan, and like... NO, that's NOT where humanity came from.

Russell: Speaking of such... [laughter] does anyone remember Noah? [groans]

Andrea: yes, they do!

R: Anecdote I heard about dealing with the problem of misrepresenting people of colour... is to just not have any at all! This was an official decision made! And I was just like "... wait what?" BUT IT GETS BETTER - there's a movie called Exodus coming out...

Z: I think we were talking about whitewashing...?

M: So this is a historical epic set in Egypt, and I don't know if you know where Egypt is [laughter], not San Francisco, and British and US actors... CHRISTIAN BALE is playing Moses, okay. All the speaking roles, etc, are white. The best actor for the job is just... mysteriously white...


M: ... so that it looks more like white people.

A: ... a more European profile.

Mark: But Egypt is IN Europe! [laughter] What? We're giving a history lesson today! -- Again, I feel like when we're talking about whitewashing, it's so hard to divorce it from America, because we talk about it so much. A:tLA is a wonderful show, because it's set in a show with no white people - none. Zero. None of them. And then you get a movie where none of the good people are white, and all the bad people are - which, again, colourism, touching on the dichotomy where light is good and dark is bad. But even though race is a construct of white people, the light/dark dichotomy is not an accident, there's reasons those things happened. You see this in a lot of Western media - like Lucy. More examples?

A: The deleted scene from Avatar on YouTube - where they randomly need to save an African village from the Fire Nation.

M: ... are they earthbenders?

A: I don't know?

M: ... are they racebending?

A: -- mostly fight. Deleted scene. Dominance of market by US publishing, incl SFF major publishers.

Z: Depends who you define - I feel like there are probably huge publishers in China

A: Issues of language, again.

Z: I'm kind of conflicted about this whitewashing conversation, it's obviously important because of the global dominance of Hollywood, but I feel like we're focussing on the US and British conversations - it's such a specific thing that happens, I don't watch a lot of Hollywood movies. I care because a lot of Asian Americans will say xyz were the first Asian people I could identify with on TV - but in another sense when Hollywood does, like, the Departed, I don't care. I watched Infernal Affairs, I don't need to watch the other thing.

Eylul: What we can say is that a bit more international diversity, both in our media and in these discussions, can help - I think what happens a lo is that the US is considered to be this thing that dominates the world, which puts a lot of responsibility on US media to fix things - where if we had awareness of media globally, had these discussions globally, we can fix things more easily. People who aren't suffereing from the issues in the US could have more support globally and the tools to deal with it.

R: Brilliant point - the reason we've been mentioning America a lot is - what you've just touched upon there, I think the keyword is "responsibility". If we're putting it all on US media, saying, right, you've got to do something about it, that's where the blame is, I think we're missing an awful lot of points there. There's always a couple of sides of the issue, from an outside-looking-in, wondering is there - was this media made for me? Maybe I'll go away now - but doesn't that sort of make it part of the problem? Should we be sending letters and scripts in? Should we insist on making sure we're sending you the thing I want to be watching?

M: this conversation comes up a lot, which is that we should be engaging with the problematic shit so we can discuss it and unpack it, but maybe even more important is that there are already SFF novels written in other countries written in the language you speak - why aren't we support thing? We should be having more guests, more GoH, more panellists from other countries. There's this common charge that SFF is mostly white people - when this happens you're getting into the problem of ignoring those of us who've been here for a long time. Don't ignore the dominant power in SciFi, but uplift the people who are already here - the global majority. When the global minority is all you're ever talking about, the rest of us fall by the wayside. Emma [] helped organise this panel and many others - thought about who was going to be on the panels, I'm going to go out of my way to make sure that the people on these panels represent diversity as well! This is something other conventions don't do as well...

E: part of the critical problem here is more than representation, it's the idea that US media is the authority - that decides what SF is, or what the discussion of intolerance, what racism is. That's part of the problem - the assumption that this is a third-world country, there are people dying here, that's order, that's how it works - versus "people shouldn't be dying here, this is the MY country, this is the BEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD" - you give any country that much power, that's what's going to happen... I see the same thing in my countrymen when they have the chance. So we need to fight against exoticism, for the idea that other people can be just as default as you.


1. What do you guys think of Firefly? [bitter laughter]

Z: Can I take this because I'm Chinese? [people say: yes!] I REALLY don't like Firefly and I'm not going to apologise for that. I watched it with my cousin, who's also - oddly enough - Chinese, and we watched it in Asia, and she didn't really mind, but I did, so obviously we're not a monolith... we watched it with Chinese subtitles. In Malaysia most things come with three levels of subtitles, which is very convenient, and I actually turned them on because I couldn't understand the Mandarin they were speaking, but when the subtitles got to the Mandarin, it just said "[... Chinese]" And also the ship talks Japanese but the people "talk" Mandarin. I just feel like that's the WORST kind of representation - only a very shallow taking of Chinese, Chinoiserie - how much progress is that from the 18th century? So - obviously it does have representation, it has PoC in the crew, but like - why? It's almost like he went out of his way to not have Chinese people in the main cast? Why?

R: It's a MASSIVE problem w/ firefly - how do you build this entire premise around the idea that the entire galaxy's gone to shit and the only two remaining powers are the US and China, and the only time China's mentioned at all is the occasional throwaway swearword! Are there any throwaway characters? Crew members? Barely any!

Z: and the language - and they'll say like "oh, you're a real pain in the [arse]" - that's not how mixed-language speaks. Joss Whedon, next time come to Malaysia and we will SCHOOL you.

M: I love Buffy... where the FUCK are all the Mexicans in Southern California? That is shitty worldbuilding, it is absolutely lazy, if you can research dragons for 10 weeks, you can look up PoC for ten seconds. That is purposely lazy. How do you create this alternate universe where you have two major powers, one of which is not a Western nation, and you never see it? How are we supposed to believe that? That's terrible writing.

2. Mine's a quick comment - for an Australian, the discussion of US is very important because our media is almost entirely dominated by US content - there's barely any Australian media, and one of our broadcasts actually had blackface in the past 12 months. You talked about the domination of the ocnversation of the US perspective, but we do need that conversation. (Ew white lady)

Maybe one for NZ 2020, says A!

3. Actually (MORE WHITE LADY). Firefly thing - way she's justified Firefly, bizarre absence of Chinese people on the offworlds, is that you can see it being a dominant culture back on Earth but the people who go offworld are the losers but they've kind of been colonialised, but then you have to deal with the whole Alliance and that makes no SENSE - it just sucks. (YES WE KNOW) Whitewashing - US/anglophone dominance - ironic & disturbing that US fandom comes down on people from other cultures about how they have white privilege, esp people who aren't white, that it's coming from often other PoC, both PoC and white allies in the US who totally do not understand that white privilege is only one kind of privilege and intersectionality exists?

E: many fans come to this dialogue with less English - don't have the nuances/terms to talk about these things, get attacked by well-meaning but often really completely derailing, etc. 2nd problem - erasure of other types of discrimination.

4. NOT A WHITE LADY. Whitewashing is essentially about systems of privilege - when it comes to SFF, how much (a lot of this may be about education the reader) - oftentimes, the things we watch and read don't reveal those systems of privilege, they don't want to be ABOUT race or sexuality, so it gets pushed so far to the back that they don't ever confront these things - how much do you think that contributes to whitewashing?

M: your question's so good! If you write about social issues and put them in an SFF book, then you have an Issues book - people talk about it as "the gay book" or "the race book". First: fiction isn't created in a vacuum! You are not pulling these things out of thin air, with no context from what you learned, where you came from - but privileged people have never confronted these issues because they don't affect them. What Mark does is critical analysis of texts - will be talking about something, let's use Buffy where's-all-the-Mexicans - and some people being all "it's a show about vampires, why should I care about vampires?" Mexican food in California, you have to eat it it's regimented by government, that is the level! There's lots of worldbuilding, but this aspect of California is never there - but if you bring that up there's very violent emotional pushback. These things ARE in SFF, leaving them out is an issue just as much as anything else. The conversation then becomes challenging - how do you think about educating people, letting people know that these issues affect people in a certain way? It's exhausting, some days more than others - those are the days I'm talking to LotR fans - you do what you can, with whatever energy you have to explain this, but I'm sure we've all got to a point where we're just like, "I'm tired of being your google" - there's all this information on the Internet! People can learn in very non-invasive ways without saying the wrong thing, asking the wrong question, because research!

R: On that - a lot of good, enjoyable books and TV series that we see in SFF, that we get into, we enjoy the story - a lot of the great ones, behind them the actual conflict in the subtext is not just this particular villain, there's sometimes a class struggle, or another hidden conflict that we can relate to, and see or hear every day, it's just it happens to be in a nice neat setting where - today we're blasting green-blooded aliens or something, when we're what we're actually talking about is the other side of the river, a place just up the road from you... yeah, essential viewing!

A: Have you watched Attack The Block?

[panel squees]

Z: on AtB, you don't have to have a metaphor for PoC because they're IN THE MOVIE, FIGHTING ALIENS. Metaphor's a great way to communicate, but it's not the only way to talk about people who aren't white/xyz/whatever!

5. Talking about intersectionality - Welshgate - Torchwood conflab a few years ago - someone from NAm looking at SF shows, working out how many PoC - "Torchwood doesn't have enough PoC" - Brits said-- [OH GOD /RACISM AGAINST THE WELSH/. THE PANEL IS PULLING FACES AS WELL THEY MIGHT.]

R: Who Do You Think You Are, ancestry. Speaking from a UK perspective, he knows that genealogy and family history is very useful thing - a lot of people who have called him the worst names in his life have probably not actually stopped for five minutes and thought about who their great-grandfather was or who they were - either made an assumption, not bothered, or fallen in with the wrong people

E: white-shift is a problem that when you go outside the US, whiteness isn't binary - sometimes one side is othered, sometimes sides have taken turns...

Z: Malaysia - some Malays have constitutionally-guaranteed privileges, which pisses everybody else off, feeling of being unfairly dealt with... but when you start to think about it more, as an upper-middle-class Chinese person, you go "whoa, I have a LOT of privilege", it's not as simple as a lot of people - people who go "oh these Malays keeping us down blah blah blah" - it's not just about race and religion, it's about access to economic power, who can speak English, ... if you go around thinking "I've been bullied, I've been hard-done by", this can stand in the way of thinking about what oppressions you may be enacting on other people.

6. Representation of London in urban fantasy - in the UK class is also an issue, it's not just a large Black class, but it's in a council estate - I was wondering, probably especially Russell, the experience of the cultural identity of London, and how it's being represented in SFF?

R: look at the names of the council estates on AtB! I think some really good jobs have been done, especially on AtB - that is good, it visually represents - it quite firmly defines race along with the class side, but class coming up is a Thing in stories, has been going along absolutely constantly - when fandom forgets or puts the issue of race on the back burner for a while, class is almost always still there. A lot of steampunk I've seen - again, not all of it - the ideal is this idealised side of the British Empire and Queen Victoria at her finest and shiniest and biggest grinning teeth, and that of course leaves out a whole load of other issues with the Victorian issues, but why would we want to read about those...? But again, at the heart of it all there's quite often the story runs around urchin-made-good, finds out he or she is in fact descended from noble line, all jolly hockey sticks at the end of the day... but yeah, it's, idk, it's always there, to be seen. On the urban fantasy side now, I know a lot of London stories are focussing around police serials, and the serials themselves have central protags who are not in fact your Life on Mars 1973 white guy, you've got a West African central protag in Rivers of London; you've got Paul Cornell's London Falling series, again West Indian central police there - it's getting better. It's getting more visible.

7: How to include characters who are fully rounded, avoiding both positive & negative stereotypes? [I facepalm.]

M: So here's the eaiest way to think about it: I would never want to say "just don't think about race" - when you're creating these characters, one of the things I say - I've had a lot of conversation with authors about this, because that's what my critical analysis is about - what's interesting to me is a lot of authors think they have to pay this sort of special attention to characters of colour and queer characters, and you're creating these normative characters with full wonderful lives - why do PoC get special attention? Get other people to read your work and engage with criticism, accepting that some people are going to read into your work things you didn't intend to be there - that's some of what fanfic's great for - beta readers!

Z: I think what's also helpful is reading books *by* people of the group you want to write about. Get their perspective - you'll probably find that they're not so different from you!

R: literally no different from trying to get a feel for a city! Sit in a cafe somewhere and just look up for a bit.

M: Understand that whatever you write, it's probably inevitable that your book or fanfic will get in the hands of someone else, and they'll say your representation sucks - understand that what this whole thing is is a process, it's not a zero-sum game, it's not completed having written that one character - you'll be doing it for the rest of your life.

Z: One final thing - [plugs 9W on race; I found it difficult to engage with this b/c personal crap -ed].


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