Where are all of the women of color in science fiction?

The Underrepresentation of Black Women & Latinas in Science Fiction

Fun facts before I get started: According to “Richard Whettestone of firsttvdrama.com, as of 2005 only 15 science-fiction TV series have featured black women in lead roles. Less than 9% of Science-Fiction TV series have featured black women as main characters… Including recurring characters who were usually tossed in the background.” [Source]

There aren’t that many Black women and Latinas in science fiction and that is a problem, and not a new problem by any means. The fact that we can probably easily name all of the Black women and Latinas in sci-fi that we’re or are lead characters and creators means there isn’t enough. We shouldn’t be able to name them all, there should be so many that we forget. Being a Black and Latina woman and sci-fi fan, I can tell you how important it is to see people who look like me in a genre I love so much.

It does not go unnoticed when people of color are continuously underrepresented in a genre. As self-proclaimed geeks, we read and watch these stories not only because they are fascinating, but because we connect and relate to these characters and their struggles. However, personally, I always seem to hit a wall. I’ll fall in love with strong female characters, but when I try to relate their experiences to my own, I eventually come to a point where I’m not being addressed anymore because I’m a woman of color. My connection to the character I’m watching or reading is over. Their experience can no longer be my experience. This doesn’t happen always, but fairly often. I’m fully aware of women being misrepresented in misogynistic ways in the genres, but unfortunately it’s still a different fight for me. Most of those women being negatively portrayed are white, Blacks and Latinas are barely even in the story. If I fight for women’s rights, or in this case, women being accurately depicted in a genre, I’m fighting for white women because they are what are represented. I have to fight a separate battle for women of color.

Our exclusion from the story is both conscious and subconscious. There are those who say, “Well you have that one black guy or that one Asian, you should be happy.” But in reality there are only a handful of us included and often times, when we are it’s solely for the purpose of adding some color. We’re tokens. You’ll rarely find more than one person of color that’s a lead character, and when they are lead characters, they are often stereotypes.

But then again, we are being represented, but not in the way we’d like. We are “the other” in science fiction. We’re the aliens, literally. Whether we’re being depicted as the Na’vi from Avatar, the wild and violent aliens from Predator or Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars. The fact that undocumented immigrants living in the United States are called illegal aliens has to ring some kind if alarm in your head.

A way to directly change this is for women of color creators to write and direct stories that feature women that look like them. Simple right? Not really. Other than the mountains they’d have to climb to get their story heard, there’s a cyclical problem that even limits them from the genre itself. Women of color are barely represented in sci-fi, so many women who could have become sci-fi creators by first becoming fans avoid the genre because they see it as a “white boys clubs” where they don’t belong and aren’t welcomed. In turn, there is no progress in the amount of women of color being represented in the genre, and the cycle continues.

Science fiction is a haven for us folks of color, the future is one of the ideal fictional narratives we can fit since our past is filled with oppression, colonization and slavery. A lot of us who read, watch and create science fiction see the genre as our possible future. These are worlds that are meant to signify what may come. The fact that women of color, and to be completely honest, people of color entirely, are not included in these futures is scary.

What can we do to change this? If you’re a creator, create fictions that include all people. If you’re a reader and watcher like me, let your voice be heard. A little blog post, email to an author or tweet may not seem like a big deal, but with the the internet you never know who or how many people can come across your words. No matter what anyone says, it is extremely important for everyone to be represented. If we don’t say anything, or do anything, we can’t expect anything to change.

For the Love of Geek

This is a stream of consciousness post. It won’t be polished, but it will be personal.

Some of you who are my friends, or follow me on Twitter know that I recently lost my uncle. He was an amazing man and one of the biggest reasons why I love the things I love. He took me to my first comic book convention. He introduced me to countless films, books and comics that I have grown to love and appreciate. I miss him terribly.

My Uncle Barry was the first major death I’ve experienced in my family. It was rough, and it still is. While watching The Dark Knight Rises (don’t worry, no spoilers), there was a scene that struck a chord with me. A character was talking to Bruce Wayne saying something like, “People can try to understand what’s it’s like to be an orphan, but only we know what it’s like.” Though I’m not an orphan, since my uncle’s death, I’ve been more sensitive to death in general. Whether it’s the death of a fictional character, or the shootings in Aurora, Colorado. Death seems to affect me more now because I don’t have to imagine what it feels like to lose someone you love. I know it. And unless you’ve experienced it, to quote that character again, you don’t understand what it’s like.

Now this post isn’t about death, or about TDKR, it’s about a realization I had during that scene. The reason why I love these “geek” things is because I can connect with them. All works of fiction are in some obscure or obvious way trying to tell us how to live, or not live, our life. I love geek things not because they are “geeky”, but because I can connect to them in a way I can’t with other fictional works. You, being a geek as well I assume, understand where that passion comes from.

We need these characters from tragic beginnings to show us that whatever troubles we have experienced, or are experiencing, we can overcome. We need to read and watch stories about the past, the future, the now and the never. We need heroes to believe in because we may not have them in our own lives. We need to lose ourselves in fantastic realms and outer space, because sometimes, we can’t deal with what’s going on in our own world. We need adventures and journeys to make our lives not as dull. We need villains to loath. We need something and someone to believe in. We need to laugh, love and cry. We need to understand why bad people do bad things. We need to know what to do when bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. We need to love people who can never die.

These stories, characters, worlds and adventures give us what we need. They give us what regular life may not, or cannot give. Yes, realistic fiction can give some of us that, but for whatever reason, we connect with these stories. And frankly we obsess about these stories, if nothing else, because they are damn good.