Black and Brown Planets: the Politics of Race in Science Fiction—Essay Collection, 6/24/11

full name / name of organization: 
Isiah Lavender, III
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The mass popularity of science fiction (sf) has shaped the racial politics of popular culture. Through the art and science of governing the complex relationships of people in society in the context of authority, arbitrary, yet traditional, divisions of human beings along lines of color (Caucasian, Negro, Mongoloid, and Latino) have been mirrored in science fiction. In short, skin color matters in our visions of the future. Though W.E.B. DuBois articulates "the color line" as "the problem of the twentieth century" well over a hundred years ago (41), it still remains a fearsome and complicated twenty-first century problem. This problem challenges, compromises, if not corrupts, all endeavors to build a better, more progressive world. Even if race and the color line are man-made, they are political realities given value by science fiction writers that must now be reconsidered and reinterpreted by present generations of sf scholars. To transcend various repetitions of the color line—black and white, yellow and white, brown and white, red and white—we must be conscious of these repetitions. Such a consciousness can only be acquired by exploring the possible worlds of science fiction literature, television, and film and lifting blacks, Asians, Latin Americans, and indigenous peoples out from the background of this historically white genre.

This collection will create a dialogue between many kinds of people—science fiction theorists, historians, and scholars, various culture critics, feminist scholars, academics in American Studies, fans of science fiction itself, readers interested in popular science, and even students in a variety of classrooms. Reexamining the background of science fiction may have a significant cultural effect for the twenty-first century because it can prepare us for the looming cultural changes that are descending upon us as the western world ceases to be dominated by the white majority. Science fiction has charted a few of the alternatives for this unknown territory, and the perhaps alarming change presents both opportunities and challenges for society to establish new values. In this regard, science fiction criticism is essential for stimulating appreciation of diversity.

The link between race and politics in science fiction is always evident but most often confined to exploration of how racial identity inflects or challenges conventional narrative expectations. However, any evaluation of race should include its imbrication with what could be termed "high politics." This collection will, therefore, consider the role that race and ethnicity plays in science fictional scenarios on the design and direction of alternate or futurist hi-tech societies. What do we make of the utopian and/or dystopian potential of social orders in which people of color are placed as active and essential to political progress and the relationship of nations? This volume is designed to address literature by writers of African, Asian, European and indigenous descent. What do we make, for example, of those narratives in which African diasporas assert successful continental and global primacies? How do we represent political orders that successfully post the legacy of a Eurocentric racial imperialism? How do speculations that imagine a political ascendency for indigenous or aboriginal peoples change our sense of what kind of culture the future valorizes? Do the works of colored authors challenge the genre's presumption of a future marked by Euro-American dominance?

The collection's first section will focus on the political elements of black identity portrayed in science fiction from the Dark Continent and its diaspora to the vast reaches of interstellar space framed by racial history, Afrofuturism, and the post-colonial moment, among other things. The second section will explore the affinity between sf and subjectivity in Latin American cultures from the role of science and industrialization to the effects of being and moving between two cultures, effectively alienated as a response to political repression. The third section will challenge the political construction of Native Americans in sf, noble savages standing in the way of progress, through trickster narrative, native scientific imagination, and the haunting presence of indigenous peoples on the ever receding space frontier. The fourth section will consider political representations of Asian identity in the sf imagination from fear of the yellow peril and its host of stereotypes to techno-orientalism and the remains of a post-colonial heritage. This collection will show what science fiction criticism means when joined with critical race theories and histories of oppression.

Black and Brown Planets signifies a timely exploration of the Western obsession with color in its analysis of the sometimes contrary intersections of politics and race in science fiction. It will allow us to consider how alternate racial futurisms, such as Afrofuturism and Indigenous futurism, reconfigure our sense of viable political futures in which people of color determine human destiny. It will interrogate the roles (political, social, and historical) that skin color, ethnic ancestry, and cultural identity play in one's ability to be successful in future visions. This collection is particularly relevant given the Obama Presidency and the increasing stature of China, India, Brazil and other postcolonial nations as global powers. How does or can science fiction respond to this new world, this emerging history?

Please submit 500 word abstracts, with a working bibliography and brief author bios for 4500 to 8000 word essays, via email as a word document attachment in addition to relevant contact information.

Deadline: June 24, 2011

Editor Bio: Isiah Lavender III is an assistant professor of English at the University of Central Arkansas. He teaches courses in African American literature and culture, world literature, and science fiction. His research concerns representations of race and ethnicity in science fiction as well as black folklore. He enjoys making presentations at local, national, and international conferences, though he is partial to ICFA. His essays and reviews have been published in Science Fiction Studies and Extrapolation, among other places. Lavender's first book, Race in American Science Fiction (2011), is out and available at Indiana University Press. He is currently working on two book manuscripts: "Africa in Science Fiction's Imagination" and "Trickster Lives: Fiction and Reality in African American Culture."