kaigou: Roy Mustang, pondering mid-read. (1 pondering)
[personal profile] kaigou
Last week (after we got back), I was bored enough and hadn't read a book in awhile, felt like, so thought I'd check out what new ebooks were on offer from the publishers I like (read: who seem to be somewhat consistent in decent quality). One area I almost always check out is "multicultural", but this time I noticed something and I'm not sure whether it's me, or if it's not me.

When I say "multicultural", I mean as in: where the two (or more) main characters come from a variety of cultures. Kinda culture-clash, even if on a superficial level the characters may have a lot in common, visually. Someone from Australia and someone from Britain might look like they have distant-distant-distant kin, possibly, but culturally they're going to have some differences. The lack of a language barrier meaning the differences may be less than, say, Australia and Peru, but still, culturally it's still not quite exactly the same. Still, that's what I'd consider a watered-down multiculturalism, because between language, ethnicity, and culture (on a very broad scale), there's still a lot in common between the two characters, more than there's difference.

More forthrightly, I was looking for a story that would mirror a WiP of my own -- one of those, I want to read this but I haven't the energy to write it, so here's hoping someone else was following the same vibe I had, when I was writing. In my case, the main male protagonist is Czech with a Lebanese/French mother, and the main female protagonist is (northern) Chinese with a Portuguese mother, but raised in an immigrant's enclave in the eastern sector of Tsushima City. With an edge of futuristic, I had amped up the Korean aspects of Tsushima, so it's a mix of Japanese and Korean place- and thing-names, with the Japanese/Korean grammar (being somewhat similar) acting as the 'dominant' half of the pidgin, and Mandarin vocabulary forming the subordinate half. That kind of an urbanized, immigrant-influenced, crossroads environment hits every sweet spot I have when it comes to how cultures mix and meet and meld, and the immigrant blends in the main characters just adds to it.

So when I say, multicultural, I mean, lots of cultures. Lots and lots of cultures.

However, the books I found seemed to be weighing the term in a different manner: Hispanic woman and white guy. Or white woman and black guy. Or Japanese man and white woman. The setting? Almost always in the US (if it's not on a space station and we're getting into major SF genres). Wait, no, I take that back: of the contemporary stories, I couldn't find a story that wasn't set in the US, Canada, Australia, or Britain, with the majority being US-setting. For that matter, with the exception of a smattering of M/M romance where the two protagonists were both PoC, any story with a M/F interest had at least one white protagonist.

Now, it's not like I'm getting upset about white protagonists. I think they're fine, in moderation. But the confluence of "white protagonist" (from any social class) and "USian setting" really hit me, this time: because doesn't that mean that one-half of the main characters are from the dominant culture? And to extend that, doesn't this mean that at least one-half of the main characters are not in a multicultural environment?

Let me put it this way: the white culture dominates. I don't think we can dispute that, for USian situations, at least. (I can't speak to elsewhere, though my impression is that this holds in many/most other places, so don't think I'm clueless; I just don't have as fine a grasp on the nuances elsewhere for an argument like this.) We have one white/dominant-paradigm character... and a second character who has probably been raised constantly exposed to the same dominant-paradigm culture. Yes, there is a Black American culture, and a Hispanic-American culture, but from everything I've ever been told (and can see for myself), a character might be lucky enough to grow up with a strong sense of ethnic or regional culture, but there's no getting away from (and thus no ignorance of) that dominant/white culture.

The stories labeled as "multicultural", to me, might get a label of "multiracial", but they're not really multicultural. Sure, the white protagonist might have to learn a little about the other person's sub/culture, but they have a huge soft landing pillow of their own dominant culture. Things get too tough, privilege can (and will) simply assume that the "common" culture between the two would be that same white/dominant culture, because it's the one they both "know".

Do you see what I'm getting at? This imbalance in privilege -- that a main character is a "known" variable on a cultural level thanks to cultural dominance -- doesn't seem to get addressed in many of the stories, and that interrogative gap means my brain will fill in the spaces. Problem is, my brain filling in spaces in stories usually results in criticisms that ruin the story for me.

But a multicultural story is one, seems to me, where the various represented cultures are on an equal (or mostly equal) footing. Nobody gets to be the dominant paradigm, though obviously privilege (if not based on race, based on language or religion or just plain gender) will show up somewhere in the story. Can't get around that -- well, most authors can't get around it, even if they pretend to (see also, my brain filling in spaces, etc). But a multicultural story could be two people of similar appearances in a third culture, (somewhat) unfamiliar to both, and neither of their 'home' cultures has the upper hand. Nobody gets to claim the privilege of being the "standard" in re cultural or racial or ethnic or nationalistic.

Anyone know any stories that do mesh with what I'm talking about? SFF is a favored genre, but I'll read contemporary (as long as it's not romantic suspense and pulls that damsel-in-distress shit)... I just want to see someone else taking on the richness and complexity that comes when one culture no longer dominates. Obviously, SFF is more likely (or at least futuristic), because then the author is freed to imagine a world where multiple cultures clash and mix as equals and no one group gets to be the top dog, but I'll take what I can get.

If it seems like it's an odd request, it's because I've realized that we can extend that meme about "if you don't like panels with only white guys, as a white guy, don't agree to be on panels with only white guys". If I don't like books with only white characters, stop agreeing to read/purchase books with only white characters -- and to be honest, settings in which the white culture dominates quietly, in the background, as an unquestioned assumption, is part of that refusal.

I'm thinking it's time to paraphrase the Dalai Lama: read the change you want to see in the world. I'm ready to read. Throw some titles at me!
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

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