We’ve got our first patron cameos in this page! Standing behind Kali is J. Kevin Carrier, creator of Lady Spectra and Sparky! In the background perusing a map are Fedros and Kazar from Sombulus by Christina Major. We’ve got another one for Kristy and Katie in a future page as well. If you (or one of your characters) would like to be in the comic as well, head over to Patreon! Anybody at the $1/mo or higher level is eligible.
When I first sat down to write this chapter, I began a debate with myself. I’ve seen a lot of people, understandably frustrated, wondering where the aspirational fiction is. Why do so many authors re-create worlds dealing with the same problems as our own? In a medium so often described as “escapist,” it seems that issues of discrimination are inescapable, even into fictional spaces. Even worse, often those works reinforce, rather than challenge, those problems.
I’d never thought about creating aspirational work when I first started this project. To be frank, I don’t think I fully understood half of what I was getting myself into with this story.
So I asked myself: Was discrimination something I should commit to? I’d definitely established that it existed from the start. It wasn’t something I could take back without taking a hacksaw to early chapters. But did I need to continue including it? Could I simply rewrite the story to write it out, and treat it as something that was, perhaps, only in a few places? Something that, as Tama insists, only really happens in places like Ulvaima, much the way I’ve heard people insist that racism only really exists in the U.S. South? What if I remade the world moving forward in a Star Trek sort of spirit, where people really had just moved on?
I think that if I’d started there, the answer would have been “Yes” to that question. However, working with what past-me had already written, writing out Timu oppression would effectively mean that Koruval changing one law had suddenly transformed all opinions and perspectives and attitudes overnight. Which felt like it would be a far worse choice, because it would crank that White Savior narrative trope up to 11.
So ultimately I decided to keep the issues alive and try to address them directly as best as I could. This coming scene I debated about a lot. Even just how this jewelry stall owner interacts with Kali I went back and forth on. How extreme should her behavior be? How obvious and overt? I went through a lot of different drafts, but nothing felt right.
Ultimately I based this scene on different accounts I’d read about a phenomena called “Shopping While Black.” Sometimes also called “Consumer Racial Profiling.” To quote this article from The Establishment titled “The Emotional Toil of Shopping While Black”:
In a 2013 Pew Research Center poll, 46% of black people reported unfair treatment in stores and restaurants, compared to only 16 percent of white people. As evidenced by numerous recent cases, these are not isolated incidents, but a culture of overt racism poorly masked under the guise of “loss prevention.” Field experiments have proven that shoppers of color are surveilled more closely than white shoppers, and one study that found black men and women shoppers were overwhelmingly followed or faced with other subtle racism, like excessive staring.
It’s one of those problems that are common, yet we rarely hear about the issue very often. Even when celebrities are involved. Did you know a store once refused to let Oprah look at a handbag because the shop assistant insisted that it would be “too expensive” for the billionaire to afford? It was certainly news to me. There have been several law suits against various stores for similar problems, some far worse. As detailed more thoroughly in the article “This Is What It’s Like To Shop As A Black Person”:
Trayon Christian was accused of using a fraudulent debit card when he purchased a $350 Ferragamo belt, and was detained by police until they could prove it was, in fact, his own money. Shortly after, another customer, Kayla Phillips, came forward and said she was stopped after buying a $2,500 Céline bag.
Just as ridiculous, Forest Whitaker was accused of shoplifting by deli employee, who proceeded to frisk him. Finding nothing, he then ordered Forest to leave the store.
In all of these stories, there is a common theme of presumption. Presumed poor, presumed criminal. So it was with that presumption in mind that this scene was eventually revised. No snide remarks, no ugly terms. Just a false and unjust leap to an assumption that otherwise wouldn’t be made. The question is not with the intent to connect with the other person, but with guilt as an assumed starting point. That says plenty about this person’s state of mind already.
What is your opinion on aspirational fiction? Do you wish more stories explored worlds without the pervasive problems of our own history? In what ways?
SpiderForest Features this week are…
The Ferrin by Alyssa Laraine Steele – All Elanor wanted to do was finish her Thesis project. Looks like she’s going to have a lot more to write about than just the Ferrin’s social behavior if she ever gets to finish it.
Sunset Grill by Kat Feete – Gangsters. Soldiers. Public defenders. Ordinary people struggling to survive in an extraordinary future. They all have one thing in common: they all drink beer.