Have you been watching the BBC's miniseries The Real History of Science Fiction?
It is a serviceable, basic, and at times entertaining exploration of the "science fiction" genre that does not insult the average viewer, all the while leaving the more expert and inside audience member unfulfilled and likely annoyed--but still interested as the show encourages the latter to feel smart while yelling at the TV screen.
Thus, The Real History of Science Fiction is the very definition (and problem) of high brow popular culture.
I trust that I am not alone in this habit, but as I watched the first three episodes of The Real History of Science Fiction, I found myself counting the number of writers, actors, and expert commentators who are featured on the show and that are not white (The Real History of Science Fiction is marginally better in terms of including white women--but one of those writers is the obligatory Ursula K. Le Guin).
How many people of color are on The Real History of Science Fiction as of the third episode?
Of course, The Real History of Science Fiction includes Nichelle Nichols and Zoe Saldana as the two obligatory versions of Star Trek's indispensable character Nyota Uhura. Edward James Olmos is also interviewed because of his Battlestar Galactica and Blade Runner pedigree. Michio Kaku, physicist, was an expert guest.
Historically, "mainstream" science fiction has been, and remains, a very "white" imaginary.
As we discussed after my experience going to 2012's Worldcon--which was held here in Chicago and that the kind readers of WARN offered up money so that I could attend--for all of its high-minded visions of the future and progress, much of what counts as "mainstream" sci-fi has historically been, and remains, a near exclusive playground for white men, and where the Other (not aliens or robots, but "real" Others, i.e. black and brown folks, gays and lesbians, etc.) are tolerated and/or feted as curiosities who exist on the margins of the genre.
The Real History of Science Fiction is an example of how the idea of "canon", i.e the required "serious" work written by "serious" people that all "serious" students should learn and model themselves after, and that the public embraces as "important" because someone who is "smart" told them so, perpetuates "unintentional" white supremacy (as well as sexism, homophobia, and other types of discrimination).
"The canon" is the result of a type of path dependent decision-making that normalizes the world as seen from the perspective of the in-group--while ignoring the foundational question(s) of how disparities of Power have naturalized what is understood by them (and some others) to be commonsense, matter of fact, taken for granted, reality.
I love my "Dead White Male" authors. I also know that my "Dead White Male" authors do not represent the sum total of human knowledge and expertise on a given subject.
The notion of a science fiction canon as superficially represented by BBC's The Real History of Science Fiction reflects how an insular creative community, in a segregated society, one that for too long resisted allowing those who are not white and male to contribute to it, put up boundaries around its own philosophical enterprise and intellectual mission.
Perhaps I have softened in my relative old age: for me, youthful fire has been replaced by kindling embers that are hot and sustained. I do not believe that the writers and producers of BBC's The Real History of Science Fiction were operating with intentional racial malice. To the contrary, I would bet money that they believe themselves to be forward thinking, good people. In looking to the future and science fiction, the writers and producers of The Real History of Science Fiction did not critically interrogate their own thinking and the final product it produced.
[Stated differently. Did the creators of The Real History of Science Fiction ever ask themselves how "real" is this "real history" of science fiction that we are offering to the public?]
One of the greatest dangers of life in a segregated society is that the group in power, they who are defined as "normal", actually believe that said status is an accurate description of their relative relationship to other people. Here, white privilege is an internalized belief that one's own dominance and superiority is earned and natural, as opposed to a reflection of "a particular arrangement of things" that is neither natural nor right.
It is probable that none of the insiders put their foot down after watching a prerelease copy of The Real History of Science Fiction and said that "something is very wrong here, why is everyone, for the most part, white?"
The creators of The Real History of Science Fiction should not have made the above intervention because of a warm and fuzzy commitment to diversity. Rather, such a protest should have occurred in the interest of making the best possible show about the "history of science fiction".
I have little faith in altruism: selfishness and material self-interest can be used as weapons against prejudice, racism, and other types of bigotry.
If you were a consultant on BBC's The Real History of Science Fiction, what non-white (and non-male) authors and other creative types would you have included on the show?