Thursday, March 10, 2011

Planet Midnight

Last March at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, one of the guests of honor, Nalo Hopkinson, gave a speech titled "A Reluctant Ambassador from the Planet of Midnight." I've been waiting for the transcript to appear in the JOURNAL OF THE FANTASTIC IN THE ARTS, so I could quote from it for you, and it's printed in the latest issue (with photos).

Jacqueline often says "writing is a performing art." Well, in this talk Hopkinson put on a terrific piece of performance art. A few sentences into her speech, she became possessed by an alien entity from the Planet Midnight, using her voice to address the people of Earth. In that role she wore a T-shirt labeled "Speaker to White Folks." She introduced her companion who did the videotaping as "Dances with White People." When the alien ambassador lost its grip on her mind and body, Hopkinson removed the T-shirt to reveal a dress underneath and became herself again. In her own persona, she discussed the theme of the 2010 conference, Race and the Fantastic, and said quite a bit about the Internet conversation known as RaceFail 2009. (Much too complicated to explain here; I googled it and found many pages of summaries, excerpts, etc.)

The Ambassador from Planet Midnight professed puzzlement at certain broadcasts her people had intercepted from our planet because "we, as a different race of beings than you are, are very interested in the stories you tell each other about interracial relations." She wanted to check the accuracy of their translations of our messages. Samples from her "translations":

"I'm not racist."
Translation: "I can wade through feces without getting any of it on me."

"This story is a universal one."
Translation: "This story is very specifically about us, and after all, we're the only ones who matter.

"That thing you made doesn't belong to you. It's universal."
Translation: "I like that thing you made, so I'm going to claim it's mine."

Translation: "Those quaint and somewhat primitive people over there."

"I don't see race."
Translation: "If I keep very quiet, maybe you won't see me and ask me to do any work."

Et cetera.

This speech was riveting and, at many points, very funny. At the same time, as a white, middle-class woman, I couldn't avoid a bit of mental squirming. Wish you all could have been there.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

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