To start with, there's an upset in Agent Carter fandom on the absence of POCs in 1940s NYC
. Tamora Pierce stepped into it by stating that "If you mean the cast is primarily white, it’s the 40s. Which is more offensive to you: black help and blacks in service, or no blacks? I would like to see more POC, yes, but that was the time, and I’m not sure I’d like to see more POC if they’re always going to be in service" and it was one of those moments of OH GODSDAMMIT YOU TOO?! (Seriously, my love for Alanna is now muchly sullied. Anyway) So I wanted to blather on a bit.
So, first of all, the erasure of women and POC from everything is very much a narrative of our culture--in history, in writing, in art, everything. (I've promised myself that one day I'm going to write an essay called "My Invisible Labors" on every time my participation in something high-profile had been erased by TPTB.)
First off, this happens because of a straight-up devaluation of contributions, or what I sometimes like to refer to as "the magical elf narrative." This is when things happen magically, without people "doing" anything, because the people themselves are invisible
. Think of it as like hotel service, right, you check into a room, it's perfectly clean and neat, you leave the place a mess, and come back later, and--everything is magically clean and net again, the bed all made up, the towels replaced, etc. You sometimes catch glimpses of hotel staff, but most of the time you don't think about it, because we don't value their labor. I tie this directly to Pierce's statement, because she is devaluing a specific kind of labor--but THE SAME THING HAPPENS ACROSS THE BOARD.
Think of the books that are "magically" ordered and shelved in libraries, of the author-less blocks of text in various circulars and so forth. (I remember once being scolded by a faculty member for not buying a book for her. I apologized and started looking in my records, then asked when she'd put in the request. "What do you mean?" she asked. "You wanted me to buy a book for you but I can't find the record of when you asked for it--usually I keep those on file for when I buy stuff." "Oh, I never told you about it, I just assumed you knew." "..." Yep, actual story, and a useful reminder that I don't actually have psychic powers.) There are an awful lot of things that are done anonymously--or rather, without acknowledgement, because the work is not valued.
Now, when it comes to the idea of POCs as only "the help"--well, 1) that is a very specific, privileged point of view and 2) easily disproven. Like, voila
. That we don't see other roles for POC in film speaks more to the received knowledge of filmmakers--people "don't" want to see POC in lead roles, people "won't" find it believable--than to any kind of historicity, and this is problematic. I've written about this before, but once when I was in a fiction seminar and had given folks a chapter of my in-progress novel about a black girl in 17th century England, a ridiculous amount of time was spent--by white people--telling me that it wasn't realistic because "there weren't black people" back then...which led to me reciting population statistics in London and so forth because, well, me, and then finally the teacher just telling me that "even if it's realistic, it's not believable because it's too much
," like there's this intellectual yard stick and it has some kind of quota system to it.
Which, you know, ALL KINDS OF BULLSHIT, BECAUSE FICTION
[And it's funny, as I'm writing this I'm participating in a discussion on Facebook on the issues of class and poverty and elite universities, with someone decrying this as kids "feeling sorry for themselves" and others (including me) arguing that social and economic isolation have very real effects on the academic performance of students, and how there are programs developing to help with this. So, you know, a nugget of hope in the world, as it happens.]
The other thing going on is, well, how all of this is still going on
. TPTB still try to limit opportunities for POC and women based on the received knowledge WHICH THEY HAVE BEEN TAUGHT. It's a full, ugly circle of power, and privilege, and really the only way to break it is through education, new texts, and (clearly) sheer stubbornness.
Plus the other thing is--aren't these erased stories just simply more interesting
? I mean, think about how everyone freaking loves Downton Abbey
--because the bulk of the emphasis of the story is on the less privileged. Hell, they even dabble a bit with diversity with the gay dude, even though they basically made him Neutral Evil. But--can't we hear the stories of ALL the gays, and ALL the POC, etc. etc.?
Anyways, I'll conclude this messy ramble: I didn't get accepted into a prestigious conference, and was feeling rather bummed about it, and I talked to my dissertation chair about it. Her response was basically "lol of course not--because you're writing about women, and that group has always been invested in ignoring them as much as possible. Be patient and get the last laugh!" My chair, btw, is pretty literally a rock star for writing THE book on women's writing in history, so, yeah, she would know, wouldn't she?
Now, it should go without saying, that the rest of us should have our last laughs at the expense of those writers who keep insisting we don't exist, or that we are "too much."