Star Wars, Science Fiction and Racist Escapism

This is going to be a quick and dirty post. At least, quicker and dirtier than my usual posts.

With the release of the Star Wars VII trailer, there was a hashtag campaign to boycott the film, based on the fact that it has a few more people of color as featured characters. Many fans of the franchise immediately expressed disgust, shock and anger that so-called fans would react so reprehensibly to a franchise which is presumably for everyone.

One thing that people countered with was that Star Wars was ALWAYS diverse, even going as far to show James Earl Jones’ face on an image macro.

Oh how we strive to relieve ourselves of white guilt. The most iconic character in Star Wars…is a white man. Darth Vader is a white man. Anakin Skywalker, a beautiful blonde boy. Luke Skywalker, a beautiful blonde boy. His sister, white. Han Solo, white. There are no black characters of any significance in the original series except for Lando Calrissian.

And the prequel? We get Mace Windu and Jango Fett. In all of Star Wars, there are no major characters of color that drive the plot in any significant way. It is a fictional world where whiteness is not only the default, it’d be hard to imagine how exactly people of color exist in that universe, without them being considered an extreme rarity.

But lets not pick on Star Wars alone. For almost all popular science fiction and fantasy films follow this exact same model. Some, even reversing race trends and becoming more segregated, such as the modern reboot of Star Trek, which managed to all but erase all minority characters, leaving Uhura to play a damsel in distress. Avengers, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, X-men, etc etc.

The reaction of racists to declare that the new Star Wars film is encouraging ‘white genocide’ isn’t created in a vacuum, its created by the very pop culture they feel they are losing. This pop culture, that since its full-cultural saturation has allowed white audiences to escape into a world where not only do races not exist, but the racist structures that give rise to concepts like white privilege and white guilt, do not have to encroach on their ‘safe’ space. In these worlds, they don’t have to think about being threatened, they don’t have to consider that Star Wars has:

1. Taken the horrors of imperialism and colonialism and removed the true victims of these narratives in the real world.

2. British characters and Nazi-esque uniforms only read as ‘evil’ because of their histories with genocide and murdering people of color.

3. Slavery is something that white people did to people of color.

Furthermore, looking at Harry Potter or X-Men:

4. There are no Mugbloods or Mutants in the real world, instead being born to a different race means your very life will be threatened and you have no innate powers to defend yourself.

Or modern Star Trek:

5. A utopian future is a future where difficult race relations are solved by eliminating all other races.

So don’t get upset with racists wanting to boycott your fan-favorite franchises, and don’t react by pretending that your beloved media has been this nice, everyone’s invited inclusive environment. Nerd culture is racist culture, because racism is Western Culture. Nerd Culture, has long since shed its under-dog status, but even as underdogs, did not shy away from punching down and keeping those out it considered even lower than them.

Only recently, have media companies began to make an effort to pretend that they want black nerds, brown nerds, LGBT nerds. It is sad to say, but those efforts are often transparently disingenious cash-grabs. If they really cared about creating a new culture where everyone was truly fair and welcomed in, these same companies would make more of an effort to hire new people, and not just make fictional simulacra of real people’s lived experiences.

Don’t act surprised, your constant support of these properties is what made them cultural monoliths to begin with, a culture that says to many people “We don’t see you in the vision of the future.”

We’ve been okay with that for too long. Darth Vader is white. That distinctive voice? In the reality of the film, its the result of being burned alive and speaking through a respirator – not because its a black man with a beautiful voice and presence.

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