Racial Worldmaking: The Power of Popular Fiction

Racial Worldmaking: The Power of Popular Fiction

Racial Worldmaking: The Power of Popular Fiction

Racial Worldmaking: The Power of Popular Fiction

Synopsis

When does racial description become racism? Critical race studies has not come up with good answers to this question because it has overemphasized the visuality of race. According to dominant theories of racial formation, we see race on bodies and persons and then link those perceptions to unjust practices of racial inequality. Racial Worldmaking argues that we do not just see race. We are taught when, where, and how to notice race by a set of narrative and interpretive strategies. These strategies are named “racial worldmaking” because they get us to notice race not just at the level of the biological representation of bodies or the social categorization of persons. Rather, they get us to embed race into our expectations for how the world operates. As Mark C. Jerng shows us, these strategies find their most powerful expression in popular genre fiction: science fiction, romance, and fantasy. Taking up the work of H.G. Wells, Margaret Mitchell, Samuel Delany, Philip K. Dick and others, Racial Worldmaking rethinks racial formation in relation to both African American and Asian American studies, as well as how scholars have addressed the relationships between literary representation and racial ideology. In doing so, it engages questions central to our current moment: In what ways do we participate in racist worlds, and how can we imagine and build one that is anti-racist?

Excerpt

Popular fiction and racial representation. Put together, these two phrases likely conjure in your mind the most explicitly racist images and regressive fantasies in the American and British cultural imaginary. the black rapist of plantation romance. the evil Asian villain in science fiction. Fantasies of ridding the world of invading Orcs. Yellow hordes threatening to engulf the globe. Twentieth-century popular fictions such as Thomas Dixon’s Birth of the Nation, Robert Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories, M. P. Shiel’s The Yellow Wave, among others, are famous for disseminating some of the basest tendencies of humankind: xenophobia, misogyny, and racism. What can an exploration of these popular genre fictions possibly offer twenty-first-century race critique? What can it show besides the dark forces of ignorance and prejudice that antiracism must repeatedly cure?

The gambit of this book is that such an exploration is indispensable at this time. Far from being regressive remainders of white supremacy, biological racism, and political race hatred that can be written off as the extremism of the few, these genre fictions are at the center of what I call racial worldmaking. Racial worldmaking is my phrase for narrative and interpretive strategies that shape how readers notice race so as to build . . .

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