SFF as metaphor: aliens, vampires, foreigners and immigrants
by Aliette De Bodard
When you portray a group of funky-looking people with odd customs who either live on different planets, or try to integrate in a modern human society–whether you consciously want it or not, you’re bringing to mind real-life parallels. Namely, respectively non-Western countries (during the colonial era or during the globalisation era, depending on your portrayal), and immigrant communities.
I see what she's saying, but I don't it it is always problematic. I think at times being the minority-as-a-human can be instructive, but I agree a problem arises when you try to draw parallels without considering the difference between humans and creations of SFF:
This is then reinforced by choosing to depict, say, specism/racism against your aliens/vampires and basing it (because you have to) on real-life examples. -This then poses some serious problems, because as a parallel, this suffers from a very deep flaw. Vampires are rightly discriminated against because they feed on blood and kill human people; the fae have wild and dangerous magic and toy with human lives; and aliens really are different species.
Foreigners and immigrants are none of these.
It's interesting she mentions fey, given the times I've pointed out that Felurian is a rapist and no amount of "cultural relativism" changes that. Also, see X-men and the way mutants are handled.
I think of the interesting problems she highlights is how the desire to fit in can be less about being human and more about showing off the superiority of the normative culture:
-The specific comparison of UF supernatural creatures to immigrants and minorities is also problematic because in many books, it ends up putting such a high value on “normal” society (by which read heterosexual, White and American)–even more so than if it was just immigrants trying to fit in.
I'm not sure, however, that the issue is fitting in with White/American society, though I can see how it is heteronormative.
Really, what I wish for were some examples. On the one hand, I can see how this idea of fitting in is emphasized by a lot of SFF, but I can also see how using aliens can reach people in ways that using human immigrants couldn't. But I'd like to see examples of the books that use these ideas well and the ones that don't.