Frozen Journey: Science Fiction, Blacks, Race, and the Limits of Speculative Practice

John Gordon Russell

Abstract


This paper examines the pre-afrofuturistic representation of blacks in science fiction, who for much of the genre’s history have been presented through the distorted prism of racial stereotypes. I argue that despite characterizations of the genre as progressively liberal, its engagement with issues of race and racism has largely been, like the larger society of which it is part, characterized by alternating periods of stasis and momentum. When the genre has dealt with race and racism, it has generally preferred to do so in the form of allegory and metaphor in which alien and robotic others substitute for real-world others. Moreover, despite its lofty “sense-of-wonder” pledge to explore vast, uncharted imaginative ideoscapes, when it comes to race, the genre has traditionally been remarkably grounded, rearticulating rather than subverting tired tropes, its depiction of blacks and other people of color mired in predictable clichés not sublime paradigm shattering, visionary splendor, In the end, the treatment of race in science fiction has largely articulated an abstract, intellectual antiracism that does not necessarily apply to an authentic racial tolerance toward actual racial or ethnic groups and by an inability to write beyond the very intolerance it ostensibly critiques.


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