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I've been binge watching the "new" Dr. Who. In general I'm a fan, the revival is great and in some ways better the the original (though the nostalgia I get from old episodes will never die.) Dr. Who had a big impact on me as a child he's always been a kind of fictional role model for what it means to be brave, curious and endlessly drivven to understand and explore the world around us. My love for the show also helped me to have a hero that got me through tough time in school for a geeky kid, it helped me to know that it good to be smart, even cool, even sexy. 

Yet, as much as I've enjoyed seasons 1-4 (that's how far I've gotten so far) I find something a bit off about the treatment of black and female characters in the new show. To be honest, it's not much worse than what one sees in most media. (and it's, of course, much better than the old show) And so, I'm not talking about some kind of exceptional racism, really the show has some good points in the departments of race and gender and even sexuality... but it's still flawed. For me, painfully flawed. Others have felt the same way (notice this old post on the subject.)

It's disappointing to me, yet quite common that when I read commentary from people who don't care about racism in the way that I do they don't notice these things, they'll even go as far as to say the series is revolutionary for having diversity*. So, all of this criticism, to them, sounds "ungrateful." I guess depending on who we are, we may watch stories differently. When I watch Martha* in season 3 I identify with her, even more strongly than Rose, and not just because she's black but also because she smart and scientific like me. But yes, also because she's black that's part of who I am, a good part of who I am. But, as is typical of most mainstream fiction, the series is written so that all of the fantasy is most satisfying to those who can easily identify with the white male protagonist. (I do of course also identify with the doctor, but not as much as the female characters.) Most contemporary TV shows and movies must be so much more fun to watch if it is easy for you to see yourself as a white male. Part of the fun of fiction is pretending that you are there, that you are in the shoes of one of the characters, or that events happen in your life that mirror the fantasy world. What young woman has ever watched Dr. Who without fantasizing that the TARDIS might come and pick YOU up and that YOU might go on a great adventure with an amazing intelligent man!

Identity influences the way that we see fiction. When men watch Dr. Who their fantasy is (more likely) to be that they are a LORD OF TIME traveling with a whole series beautiful smart assistants (who adore them, weather they are interested or not) through time and space. That's a superior fantasy, isn't it? It gives you more opportunities to invent a fantasy self with agency, and a strong sense of love and self-confidence. 

When I was a little girl my mother was disturbed by the fact that I identified very strongly with white male characters in the fiction and sci-fi I watched, and in history and fiction that I read. For Halloween or when playing dress-up from age 5-10 or so I dressed up as Dr. Who, Luke Skywalker, Isaac Newton, Einstein and so on ...almost always a white male. Mother did her best to offer up good black and/or female role models and some would stick (Nat Turner, Dorothy from the Wiz) But the majority of my childhood heroes where white men. My mom even started to wonder if I was gay I think since I'd insist on going by a boy's name often. But, I wasn't gay I just wanted to BEST fantasy, the greatest adventure, to be the HERO and I didn't mind ignoring or changing essential elements of who I am to get there. I wasn't really aware of those identities children are able to ignore them.

It never occurred to me to want to be an assistant to the hero, or a side character, until I got older. And until gender and race started to matter more. 

I remember a conversation with my mother about Rainbowbrite. In Rainbowbrite (a girls cartoon) there was one sort of token black character I remember my mom bought me the doll of the black character. I liked her well enough (was here name "indigo"?) but I never pretended to *be* her when I played. Are you kidding me? I wanted to be Rainbowbrite of course... she was the one all of the stories were about!  I didn't understand what wasgoing on until another girl at school asked how I could possibly be Rainbowbright if I didn't have blue eyes and blonde hair. 

Well, she has the power of the rainbow now doesn't she? I'd think SHE could be any color she likes!

And I'd like to think the same were true of timelords!


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 30th, 2012 06:48 pm (UTC)
Cheers! This is part of what made Captain Janeway important to my pre-adolescent psyche.
Mar. 30th, 2012 07:12 pm (UTC)
What I really would like to see is a strong, black, female problem solver. (someone who, given some sort of problem that needs to be solved, solves it by reason and deduction and inferential reasoning rather than just being another gun moll).

The Doctor these days is mostly a deus ex machinist -- he goes and sez "I am the Doctor" and the baddied explode, or start eating their own spleens.
Mar. 30th, 2012 07:51 pm (UTC)
always great to hear a post from you.
i think olivia butler's shape-shifting black heroine (in which book, i cannot now remember) or virginia woolf's orlando, a sex-shifting white heroine, address just the tip of the iceberg on this. and, what a good kid you were, and what a good mom you had.
Aug. 21st, 2012 06:05 pm (UTC)
I guess I missed your Birthday, so Happy Belated Birthday!

I was listening to NPR a few months back and I heard about the fact that minorities are not represented in a likable way in most sitcoms and other Hollywood venues. Yeah, there ARE token black people here and there but for the most part you don't seem to get minority characters that are really likable or that you can at least identify with. Having said that, I seem to enjoy just about every part that Morgan Freeman has ever played, but that's the exception, not the rule.

I think white people in general don't know how to portray black people and other minorities on a similar par with white people. The reason I believe is white people still have most of the power in this country and they just don't have any clue what it's like to be black or any other minority. Even though I live in an area which is getting to be pretty much predominately African American, most of my peer group is white and at that mostly Jewish. Even though many of the suburbs around me have changed to become predominately African American, their governments are still white and very unresponsive to the needs of the residents. The racial makeup changes dramatically and the establishment stays the same, white and out of touch. The streets and the services go to hell and the people in government look after their own. In the end, nobody is happy.

Nothing is going to change the fact that I am a white male and I was raised as a white male. I was given many of the advantages given to an upper middle class white male. That's my background and those are the people I come from. It's easy to think the way I do about things because that's what my peer group thinks and that's what my family thinks. I'll be honest. If I were raised poor, disadvantaged and African American, I'd probably hate white people. I probably really would. The white people had the chance to get it right and they blew it. They got greedy!

The issue then comes down to how to create fictional characters of minority status who are believable and likable. You can't just create a character who looks and acts and thinks like a white person but who happens to be black. There's more to it than that. Who we grew up with, how we were treated and how we were raised has everything to do with who we are. Someone like Eminem is still white. He can act minority all he wants but that won't change the fact that he met obstacles getting into the hip hop world because he was white. Likewise, someone who is black trying to get into a world dominated by white people is going to be treated differently because they are a minority. How you get treated can often have a lot to do with how you look.

Our experiences with being treated differently because how we look and where we come from has everything to do with who we are. If you create a character of minority status and you are white, you have to be sensitive to where they would come from in order to make them truly believable. It's also true that everyone is an individual and I know for sure I would not do a good job of representing white people because not matter what, I'm still me no matter what race I am!

Like it or not though, this country is changing and so are the markets for what people want to watch, listen to and pay for. This country is becoming less white and it's our responsibility to keep up with the times. We need to create more fictional characters who are believable and likable and who are of minority status. If I were to write a book or a musical or something, I think it would be my responsibility to create a main character who was a minority, who was believable and who was very likable. I'm not sure how to do that. I'm still white. :)
Feb. 17th, 2013 03:30 am (UTC)
In all honesty I think it's time that white people get off their high horse and fully understand just how much they truly suck in the whole scheme of things. I can say this. I'm white! White people had the power to make cities and infrastructure that functioned and instead we got what we have now which isn't very much sometimes. Our cities don't function. Our country barely functions. White people get all kinds of good feelings to be able to look down on other people but the truth is they really aren't much better themselves. If you need someone to look down upon to feel better, then you yourself aren't a very good person either. If you were truly an okay person, you wouldn't need to look down on someone. If you were truly okay with yourself, you wouldn't need someone to compare yourself to.

White people are terrible about this! They always have to be looking down on someone! Screw them!

Whether it's white, black or purple, human beings are all about the same and it's all the same shit. Human beings run the world like crap. White people steal just as much as anyone else. They just do it in a different way. They exploit people and they do white collar crime. It doesn't mean they are better people. It just means they are doing the same dirty dirt but in a different way.

Human beings are just shit. If beings from other planets came to the United States, they would be appalled by how we run our country. Just because human beings are comparing themselves to other people doesn't mean that they are doing a good job, it just means they are looking down on someone else. The truth is we white people are nothing compared to what we could be. I honestly think that we white people know deep down how much we suck and that's why we have to always be looking down on other minorities.

White people need to get their heads out of their asses. They need to start taking better care of themselves and the world around them. If we keep going like we are, we are not going to make it. White people think they are so special that they don't have to use common sense and pay attention to their gut feelings. I got news for them! They do! White people are not immune to dying out and they will die out if they don't destroy the world around them first. Really. This is getting ridiculous.

White people spend so much time avoiding their own stupidity by looking down on minorities. It's time we stop looking down on minorities and start worrying about taking care of our own shortcomings. White people need improvement and we need it now! I know I sound harsh, but we're not going to make it if we keep going like this.

Okay. I'm done venting now. I'm not sure anyone of my own race would have wanted to hear this from me.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )