Discrimination as metaphor in specfic (#SFWApro)

In a 2012 blog post I read last year, Aliette de Bodard takes issue with the idea of showing nonhumans (mutants, ETs, vampires, fae, mages) as a discriminated minority, much like blacks, gays, Jews, Latinos. Her specific criticisms:

•Real minorities are not, in fact, nonhuman, nor are they dangerous as vampires (for example) are.

•Creating a minority that’s an alien race perpetuates stereotypes about real minorities not being really human.

•Authors in focusing on discrimination against their fictional creatures don’t show any real-world discrimination against blacks, gays, etc.

•By showing the fictional creatures wanting to become a part of mainstream society, the subtext is that mainstreaming should be everyone’s goal, that alternative lifestyles are inferior — the old 1950s idea of a melting pot where immigrants and minorities would win their rights by proving they could conform to white American standards.

This is an argument I’ve heard before, though more in the sense of justifying legal discrimination against mutants, Inhumans, whatever: unlike real minorities, mutant powers make them a genuine threat to society. Isn’t registering them reasonable? de Bodard would seem to be arguing that by implication, registering or imprisoning mutants says laws against minorities are legitimate (I may be misinterpreting her logic here). I don’t think I’d agree with that. Discrimination doesn’t have to be an allegory or metaphor, it can be a thing in itself; while I think discrimination against paranormals is a tedious cliché, I don’t think it’s implausible at all.

And as Steven Attewell has shown in some of his Marvel History posts, discrimination against mutants isn’t automatically racial: in the Silver Age it often reflected paranoia about Commie subversives lurking among us (made specific in the second Sentinels story — cover by Neal Adams, all rights remain with current holder), the same sort of paranoia I wrote about in Screen Enemies of the American Way.

Which is a long-winded way of saying I don’t think discrimination against Fictional Race/Beings/Culture is necessarily as objectionable as de Bodard finds it. And I’ve known people, both black and gay, who did identify and connect with the X-Men’s plight. Even though I have my own reservations about X-Men as Metaphor, I can hardly disagree with people who are minorities and do feel the metaphor works (unlike me, they have a dog in the hunt).

But I also can’t disagree with de Bodard’s point about not portraying real discriminated minorities alongside the fictional ones. Or as one gay acquaintance put it back in the 1990s, it’s nice that X-Men can make a statement about gay rights, but it would be nicer if they had some actual gay members. I can think of a number of other stories where that criticism could be made, for example the Alien Nation TV series (IIRC).

I have nothing to say about the “melting pot” aspect of her post. If I think of anything, I’ll post again. I do have some ideas about discrimination as it relates to mages, but that’ll definitely be a post in itself.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Discrimination as metaphor in specfic (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: The Witch-Hunters (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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