Maybe I’m reviewing a book, maybe not

I’m reading a book that doesn’t have much to recommend it. But what I’ve been unable to get over really is the setting and the effort at diversity. The setting is semi-realist in that it’s not a secondary world, though it might well be, and revolves around a very specific American subculture, a set of very white American religious beliefs. It’s economically, sociologically nonsensical and makes me think of when I did a twitter thread on how the white American writer can afford to be lazy, as they can rely on  cultural saturation–and cultural imperialism–for their references, cultural milieus, even religions to be easily and universally understood. These training wheels never come off; they remove the drive to excel, the need to think.

The result (here as elsewhere) is a product of an atrophied imagination. There’s some speculative world-building going on but, as said, none of it makes any kind of sense and again rests on particular unexamined assumptions. Because it’s written by a white American progressive, there’s some cultural ‘diversity’ thrown in that reminds me of the Ryders of Mass Effect: Andromeda. (It also turns out I’m not alone in feeling this disconnect.) Here’s another piece that goes into this surface ‘diversity’:

Bendis writes Miles being unaware of what it means to be the “Black Spider-Man” when people of color in public spheres talk constantly about how they strive to provide representation to children like them who grew up without seeing themselves in movies or shows.

In his books Miles is adrift, removed from Blackness and his Puerto-Rican-ness due to being orphaned [1] and leaving his universe. He doesn’t interact with or exhibit Blackness in any meaningful way besides being dark skinned. Miles exists in whiteness that’s nearly unbroken except for his friendship with Ganke and occasional hangouts with Nick Fury.

Remember what I linked to about “digital brown paper dolls” in the Dragon Age fandom?

The faces of color in this book, much like the faces of color in ME:A and so many other works of fiction by ‘well-meaning’ white people, inhabit a cultural vacuum. They’re disconnected entirely from their cultures and abide absolutely and only by white mores, white society, white friendships. It’s easy to see where this came from: white people are frequently advised to ‘just write people!’ with the result that they write white people and then paint on a bit of brown or yellow (and referring to pale Asians as ‘yellow’ is, incidentally, of necessity white-centric terminology). This is not diversity: it’s assimilation into whiteness touted as the ultimate good. (ScarJo and Yellowface in the Shell (2017), anyone?)

There’s a book by a white American writer whose faux-Chinese characters somehow count gargoyles among their (otherwise stereotypically East Asian) supernatural creatures: the white author doesn’t seem to get that gargoyles don’t exist in China. They are not Chinese characters. They’re white figments done in yellowface, born of a mind that doesn’t have to try and so happily wallows in its own mediocrity.

(The book’s characters also talk and behave like Yellow Peril cartoons. They speak some phonetic gibberish that has no meaning to anyone except, perhaps, equally racist white readers. The author doesn’t speak a single word of Chinese, any kind of Chinese; I would be surprised if the author speaks any language other than English.)

As far as white authors understand, race is skin-deep and literally cosmetic. Terrible writing forums and ‘mentors’ tell them that people aren’t defined by race and ‘you might offend them if you write stereotypes’ (failing to distinguish between cultural connection and white perspective of what constitutes culture), insisting that dry ‘research’ (or knowing people of color, however distantly) doubles as intimate expertise. Whiteness itself doubles as supreme expertise, sort of like a universal PhD: if you’re white then you’re a doctor of anthropology, biology, sociology, political science, and whatever else. You watched Mulan, now you’re an expert on all things China. You watched anime, now you’re an expert on all things Japan. You loved Avatar: The Last Airbender (a show created by a couple white men), now you’re an expert on all things pan-Asia.

Applaud yourself by screaming something about melting pots and how much you love taco trucks.

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