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14 January 2013 @ 11:25 am
Talking Diversity  
So, The Bechdel Test exists as a measure of roles for women in film and literature. Now, it has been proposed there be a Bechdel test for People of Color.

Define People of Color...

A couple of my co-authors class Middle-eastern people as PoC. I do not. My half-Greek&Lebanese step-sisters considered themselves white, because they weren't black. One also includes Jews, but again, not seeing it. Religion does not define your ethnicity.

Romany? I have no clue. Their features fall into "white-ethnic" for me, but my definition of "white-ethnic" is pretty broad and includes Mediterranian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern and most Indians.

So I decided to check myself before I wrecked myself.


Nikolai has James Ligatos (Greek) talks to Iakobos, his cousin, thanking him for his help. James also talks to Stephen (African American) about Kentucky trying to secede from the Confederated States and their estimated travel time. He also talks to Benta (Israeli) in Rome, but we do not hear their conversation. (It can be assumed it is about matters of great importance, since he runs North America for her) NikoChan includes Kenyans, Indians, Brazilians, Japanese and other PoC who talk to each other about uprisings, weather satellites, and all the other minutae of running a world.

Alive on the Inside has a few of people of color: Ming Xia, Nagina, Marvello, Marie Leveau. But they interact mostly with the white main character, from whose POV the story is told. (one white character even freaks out over talking to Marie Leveau, partly because the woman is black)

Privateer's Treasure has a cast with a lot of PoC, including an interracial main romance. The men talk to each other about piracy and sailing and all the other business of their lives. The Moroccan and the Barbadan (?) talk of many things including sex and torture. OTOH, this one fails the Bechdel most egregiously, since there is only mention of two women.

Power in the Blood has a variety of PoC, including Gilgamesh, Josh (Judean), Samil (Issacharite), Martin Luther King Jr., and Lielit. None of them are main characters and they tend to not talk to each other. Again, white PoV character.

Hard Reboot, mostly white, mostly Celtic. (My co-author griped that everyone was Anglo. I told him that of the 8 main characters, ONE was Anglo. We had 2 Israelis, and 5 Irish, of varying descent) There is color on the streets--a black cyborg bounty hunter, Thai whores, Chinese workers, etc., but the book is focused on Sean O'Neill and his wife, Tara McLean, and the abuses the powerful people are committing in their lives. For Sean, only Tara and his brother Niall are really real, the rest of the world is wall-paper.

Spellbound Desire: Demarco Jackson, head of the Memphis combat mages, Officer Thomas (sister of his vice-president), Galena Ortiz of Las Quatras Brujas, a Tejano combat mage unit. The old Polynesian tattoo artist. Saraphina, the Romany landlady. But again, they mostly talk to the (white, Scottish) hero who is in town to fight his ancient foe. And of course, being Memphis, there is a lot of local wall-paper color, people not important to the romance or combat plot, who move through our characters' lives.

Curse of the Pharaoh's Manicurists: touchy. There are Egyptians, if you consider them PoC. They talk about their work, and about Charlie (white, American), on whom they are working. They're getting him ready to meet Osiris...

Glad Hands: Native American. Several Cherokee, including the main character. High Chief Mankiller gives Chuck a job. Fred Half-Moon (Crow) loses his temper. Stan (Mohawk) gives Chuck directions. John Littlefeather and Chuck talk. Charles and Linda Hummingbird talk to their son about Charles making partner at the ad agency, Linda's altar guild, the international incident he caused. Hannah talks to Chuck about her due date. Mother Vivian talks about God, interpretations, weddings and her wife's pregnancy. Dr. Singh lectures Chuck.

Shell-shocked: wall-paper. The clerk at the local grocery, a DHS inspector.

Heart of a Forest: set in 1216 England hinterlands. No PoC to be seen

(coming in Feb)
Barbarossa's Bitch: the Wildpack is a mixed batch, including an Apache courier, a black former boxer, a black woodcarver, a Hispanic who named himself after Juan Malverde. An older black man and his younger Hispanic lover, the black leader of a rival wildpack. But it is shown almost exclusively through the eyes of the lead character. Therefore, when they aren't interacting with him, they're background. OTOH, our hero has three biracial daughters and we see the older teaching the younger the alphabet song and sign language.

(coming in May)
Heart's Bounty: Hevik is light-skinned mainstock human. Miho is somewhat darker Human+, Rejan is dark-skinned mainstock human. The three of them have an interesting BDSM scene. We also have exotics (humans with custom pigmentations, green, purple and blue) It's space opera, and Earth race doesn't apply.

Blackhall's Transtemporal Medicine Show:
Eliza and Cassius Masterson are a married couple. They talk about many things, including their babies and their jobs.
Fenyang is South African, Samira is Egyptian. They are having a romance.

Of my short stories:
"Sky-rat" has a black character who gets killed early. Fail

The painting Anthony does in "Frosted Hearts" is multi-ethnic, but we never see the models except as wall-paper, helping him move the canvases. Partial Fail (2,3)

"Master Bear" has an ethnically (and observantly) Jewish top, and a black top. They both only interact with the two white main characters. (like the other tops, they are being "auditioned") Fail (2,3)

"Pushing the boundaries of Reality" has the same Israeli enterpreneurs as Hard Reboot. They talk about many things, from the new experiments to the ethnically Celtic woman they are both dating. Pass

"Eight Days Ablaze," our heroine and her family are Israeli and British living in the US. They talk about family stuff and pretty much avoid talking about the one white boy in the story. Pass

Samil, the Issacharite, puts in an appearance in "Between Despair and Ecstasy," but mainly interacts with his new white servant. Fail

Tamas Vardo and his cousins in "The Devil's Children" are Romany. (again, debateable as to whether this is PoC) One is dark enough to be mistaken for biracial. Pass

Hester in "Experiments" is 1/4 black. She interacts with her white owner and the Irish twins he has for his experiment. Fail.

Frank Stett in the Cliff Cody stories is a Caribbean black man, whose family still practices Voudoun out on World Four. He is, unfortunately, heroically dead at the beginning of "Plumbing the Depths" leaving hsi two white husbands to figure out how to continue without him. He is much more active in "Pride of the Rangers," the first of the Cliff Cody stories. "A Taste for Knowledge" needs more work. Fail.

The Adventuresses collection has a missing scene from "Burning for Eight Days," which has more Adina, but it's a lesbian sex scene with a holographic Janis Joplin. "That Time They Talk About" has our black main character interacting with a Hispanic gunslinger. "Rewriting Old Songs", "Change of Plans" and "Still Rolling" have a Cherokee lead character, but she mostly interacts with her white lover. "Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch" has a half-Cherokee Mother-in-law, making all of Amanda's kids 1/8th. Grandma and granddaughters talk. Grandma and grandson talk about zombies and how well he did fighting them. 6/10 stories have PoC, and 2 pass the test.

Into Dark Waters (revised): "Tuition Fees" has a multi-ethnic cast, but we see almost none of their stories. Again the wall-paper problem. "Hunger for the Edge" has a lead PoC, a blind Creole vampire. "Blood Rubies" gives us Samil from Privateer Plundered, but most of the people around him are ethnic white. "Serpants" has an Arabic and an Indian lead. There are a few white soldiers in the story, but most of the cast is Indian. 11 stories, 4 with active PoC. One passes.

Of the 13 stories in Riding the Nightmare none pass. Only 5 have PoC, and that's only if you count Romany as poC.

I have a tendency to make the PoC wallpaper, unless they are the main characters. Then again, I tend to make all the supporting and bit players into wall-paper.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
julian_griffithjulian_griffith on January 14th, 2013 08:02 pm (UTC)
I don't have nearly the publication list you do (my first so far will be out in August, with another in December). And those are Napoleonic-War-era historicals, set in England, with white protagonists. I know there's one soldier of African descent in the viscount's regiment (it's a real regiment, and the soldier really existed) and I dropped his name in, but any details about him will have to wait for a sequel, or the Christmas story I intend to work up for a Carina anthology call. The lieutenant's ship could easily have sailors of color on it, African or several varieties of Asian, but I haven't gone into it. I only mentioned two sailors with any dialogue, and in my head they're white. In a sequel, they'd be on another ship, and while I intend to have those two sailors follow, I could probably include others of color, but they'd still be pretty much wallpaper, or interacting only singly with the white main characters. Bechdel pass for women as the heroine talks to her sister about a variety of subjects, and to her mother-in-law about music. And does childrearing count as "about a man" if the infant is male? IDK.

However, in a short story I just submitted, the main characters are an Englishman and an Arab woman, and I include enough of their cultural differences that I think she kinda counts as a WOC. And her crew are also Arabs, and while I had to fudge the dialogue because neither I nor the POV Englishman speak Arabic, she certainly talks to both her crewmembers and a merchant. Bechdel failure on that one, as there's only one woman character... unless the servant who brought them food at her house was female, but again, wallpaper.

In my new novel-in-progress, I would argue that religion DOES define ethnicity in 17th-century France where Jews are forbidden to live except in three cities in Lorraine, and it's seen as a quality possessed at birth and that only sorta goes away with conversion (Spain and Portugal were way worse about that, but even so, it sticks). My Jewish protagonist only talks to her mother (about something tangentially related to a man) in flashback, because her family's booted her out, so not so much on the POC Bechdel, but she will certainly talk to other women characters about theater-related things and I might be able to make one of the actresses black, I'd have to check the dates on France's colonial history. Similarly there might also be black characters her musketeer boyfriend encounters.

It would be pretty easy to diversify the secondary characters in my contemporary vampire short. It wouldn't be a bad idea.
Angelvalarltd on January 14th, 2013 08:25 pm (UTC)
Keep writing and you'll get the backlist.
I've been doing this for 9 years now.

Religion can define ethnicity for certain milieus, but not so much in contemporary or 200 years in the future. My Jewish friends are ethnically indistinguishable from my pagan or Christian friends. We're all pretty much American mutts.

I need more diversity. And eventually, I need to start writing more women.
julian_griffithjulian_griffith on January 14th, 2013 08:41 pm (UTC)
I'm Jewish, and I feel like I'm white... until I'm not. There's always that whisper of fear in the back of my head. I probably had too much Holocaust education. My boyfriend is Cuban and Puerto Rican, and has an ethnically marked name but not a particularly marked appearance (could as easily be Italian or Greek or Jewish) and also feels like "white, until he's not" -- and I have to say, when we went to buy pastries and bread at a local Cuban bakery, he was perceived as Anglo by the staff (possibly in some part because of my very non-Hispanic presence?) until he started speaking Spanish to them, to convince them that yes, he wanted exactly what he was asking for and wasn't mistaken. So identity is a tricky and fluid thing.

I should go back to that bakery soon. I could go for some guava and cheese pastry, and they have the BEST coffee.

Also, I wonder how high a standard short stories of 10-15K need be held to in the romance genre, when 75% or more of the interaction is between the main couple and ANYBODY else could be wallpaper.

But I'm totally going back and changing "Nicole"'s name to "Archana".