I was reading a thread written last year on cultural appropriation in fiction (long convoluted story how I got to this) and I ran across this excellent section on white privilege in SF/fantasy. I’ll quote it:
As a white person, I can go to a convention and assume that most of the people I see will look like me.
No one will look at me and be surprised that I like fantasy or science fiction or whatever.
No one will look at me and assume that I must be an expert on any history or mythology or country or sub-genre. They also won’t assume that I’m not.
No one will assume that I can’t speak English.
I can assume that most authors, artists, GoHs and so on will look like me.
I can assume that most professionally published SF and fantasy will be written in a way that acknowledges my view of the world, either by following it or by breaking with some specific aspect of it.
Most cover art will show people who look like me, even if the characters in the book aren’t white. But most characters, especially major characters, will be white.
I can assume that most books I pick up will have multiple characters of my race.
At the end of stories, I can be certain that many (sometimes all) of the surviving characters will be of my race.
When a book I’ve read is adapted into a movie, TV series, etc., characters portrayed as my race in the text will be played by actors of my race, probably even by an actor matching the regional type of the character if there is one.
I will have no serious difficulty finding well written books about characters of my race and/or settings and mythologies derived from the cultures and religions of people of my race.
People who see me won’t make assumptions about my level of education or probable profession.
If a character is presented as of my race, the plots surrounding him/her won’t require him/her to be of my race and, in fact, won’t generally refer to race at all.
The actions of a character of my race won’t generally be perceived as a statement about all members of my race.
Authors won’t include just one character of my race in as window dressing without having that character do something in the story other than just be white.
A villain of my race won’t be shown as evil just because of his/her race with the implication that all members of my race are like that.
I will never see a character of mixed race portrayed as less intelligent, morally degenerate or otherwise undesirable (or even more exotic) because of heritage from the white part of the ancestry.
I’m sure these are just a few things I get from being/looking “white” as a SF/fantasy fan/reader. A few more I can think of:
- I can go to conventions in any part of the US and not be questioned as to why I’m there. I can feel confident I won’t be hassled, given a higher hotel rate, or given poor service because of my race.
- I can act stupidly/dress stupidly/get drunk at the convention without it reflecting on my race.
- I can go into any bookstore in America and not be questioned as to why I’m there.
- Fan forums will most likely be filled with people of my race, and discussions will be on topics of interest to people of my race.
As a white writer of SF/fantasy:
- I can easily find an agent of my race that takes SF and fantasy.
- There are a multitude of authors of my race as role models, and if I need to contact another SF/fantasy author, I can easily find one of my race to speak with.
- If/when I meet or speak with an editor, publicist, or publisher, I can be pretty sure that I’ll be speaking or meeting with an editor/publisher/publicist of my race.
- I can be relatively sure of having my work actually placed in the proper place in a bookstore, rather than under some ‘ethnic’ area of the store with a bunch of books irrelevant to my genre.
- It’s easy to find writers’ groups and workshops with others of my race, both online and offline.
- When I go on a book tour, I’m sure to find booksellers of my race, no matter what city I go to.
- If my books flop, I will never have to worry about whether my race was a factor. If my books do well, I will never be held up as an example or be considered news-worthy because of my race.
- I can feel confident that people of other races might consider reading my books and won’t hold the fact that I’m white against me, or think my book must be inferior because of my race.
These are just a few things I can think of, using the article Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack to jog my memory (another excellent read on white privilege in general).
It’s uncomfortable to think of these things, but it’s a daily reality for a lot of people. If you’re going to write about people who are Not You, you need to know what it’s like to be different. There ya go.