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Steampunk and not reinventing colonialism

October 13, 2010

I’m brought back to Nisi Shawl’s idea that steampunk is a reaction against POC in speculative fiction like cyberpunk was a reaction to women in sci fi:

Ay-leen’s Steampunk & Multiculturalism

Thus, another argument about marginalized peoples’ involvement that has been previously overlooked is the possibility that people of color and non-Westerners are very much interested in steampunk, but choose *not* to engage in the community because they do not consider the community a safe space for them. The most obvious example is the co-opting of steampunk by various conservative, right-wing and white supremacist groups, such as those seen on the white supremacist forums of Stormfront.

Less obvious but still significant is the conversations sci-fi fans of color have about steampunk outside of steampunk community spaces. Garland Grey in her essay “Cause I’m Nerdcore like that: Towards a Subversive Geek Identity” notes that marginalized peoples are still aware of their outsider status in “nerd spaces,” even as they embrace these spaces that are supposedly accepting of mainstream outsiders: “Every time we enter nerd communities, we do so knowing that we may be shouted down and dismissed, bored to tears by useless pissing contests, have our legitimacy or motives questioned, or just be completely ignored.”

In a more steampunk-specific example, naraht writes about the discomfort felt about the prospect of entering the steampunk community as a person of color: “Not that putting brass cases around iPods must inherently be ideological, but the glorification of explorers and adventurers in the late nineteenth century mould isn’t something that can be viewed in isolation. Deep down, or perhaps not so deep down, there’s a sense in steampunk that having an empire must after all have been rather fun. Perhaps for a few it was. And somehow people are still being persuaded to join in the fantasy that they would have been one of the privileged few.”

It’s really frustrating to me the way white geek culture self-segregates- if it’s POC who would like to participate, the bullshit and antics that need to be put up with while the general group refuses to do anything, or, if it’s a POC originated thing (like, say, hiphop) the response is to produce a whole separate scene that refuses to really acknowledge the sources (nerdcore).

Escapism is great, but it’s always interesting what it says about folks when only some people get to partake in the escapism and for others… well, “know your place”.

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