Topic: Steampunk and people of color

This discussion made me think about this issue, that is, how do people of color feel about steampunk?  Whenever I see steampunk enthusiasts dressing up or attending a steampunk-themed event, I hardly ever see a person of color among them.  I think we can all agree that steampunk is by no means racist, even though it reminiscences about an era that was very much racist.  However, while we adopt certain nineteenth-century aesthetic and even perceptions (in regard to gentlemanly behavior, social etiquette, etc.), we do not accept the "whole package" so to speak.  Most of us care little for Victorian sexual morality, and I think it's safe to say that we all abhor the racism so prevalent in the western world at the time.

So why do there seem to be so few people of color among us?  Is it because our enthusiasm for many things nineteenth-century?  And, if not, for what reason then?

Re: Steampunk and people of color

Will Smith in Wild Wild West. Whatever you think about the movie, it's still a black actor who plays the part of the hero (and I think Will does an excellent job in the movie). The character has a background in which the skincolour plays a big role.
I think this can be a very good role-model.

However, I hardly see coloured people on related events, like gothic or fantasy. Not even when it is close to areas with coloured people, as in The Hague. Beats me why they are not interested.
From the many coloured people I work with (Surinam, Indonesian, Moroccan, Turkish, Brazilian), I gather they are not interested in western culture at all. But I refuse to think they are an example for all.

I wonder what the experiences of the others here are?

Just call me Jack

3 (edited by Steiner 2008-08-12 19:34)

Re: Steampunk and people of color

I might remind everyone that racism wasn't just in the western world at this time. It was to be equally found all over the world as this was a time before our modern views of tolerence and certainly before they became widespread.

I remember seeing a similar debate before and the result was that whilst many white people have a history rooted in the period in question, or at leas the percieved western view of it (In this case the 19th Century. In the case of the debate I speak of the previous debate; European Medieval era), people of colour may not. No black explorers of the period spring to my mind, or great generals or adventureres (apart from Louverture). Black people are usually displayed in the period literature like Franz in King Solomon's Mines, or other less-than fair representations. Often-times as spear-wielding primatives.
It's also common-held belief that the 19th Century colonial period was one of terrible brutality for anyone not white. This was a period of slavary in the southern US, the Zulu Wars, the Ashanti Wars, French occupation of most of Africa etc.

Indians too you don't see much of in the SP community, thus was age of the Indian munity and 'evil British occupation' however I'm given to understand there are some Japanese amongst, but then again, Japan (Apart from an initial shoeing in the 1850s ) went from strength to strenght in the 19th century. Perhaps cultural identity in one's history determines an interest in a desire for the revival of a 'golden age'

Re: Steampunk and people of color

It's not only "blacks".

Turkey did have a rich culture and wasn't a colony, but there's no Turk Steampunk.
The same goes for China.
I'm thinking about Siam, Indonesia, Argentinia and other examples.

However, these splendid cultures of Victorian times don't attract their people to steampunk, as far as I know.

Just call me Jack

Re: Steampunk and people of color

I agree that cultural identity of one's history has a large piece to play in it. I am particularly drawn to dieselpunk because my grandfather was actually a soldier in the Nazi army. (As a note, my grandfather is a very nice and loving person, and his time in the Nazi army was more of a general case of being caught up in the fervor of the Fuhrer, something that I think affected a lot of Germans who would later look back on it and wonder how it all happened, and to them no less).

Anyway, as steampunk and even dieselpunk focuses on more anglo-saxon cultural histories, I think whites are more able to connect with this past.
It would be the same as a movement that sought to revive certain styles and sensibilities from India's past, or Africa's past. I don't think as a white person with clear Germanic and Scotch-Irish heritage I would find this innately appealing enough to be strongly pulled towards it. I might find some of it interesting, but I doubt I'd be a member of a forum on it, nor would I feel like part of the community.

As for Japan, and the fact that the Japanese do seem to be more interested in steam- and dieselpunk than other minorities can likely be boiled down to two things:
1. Asians, and the Japanese in particular, have very readily latched on to many "Western" ways of doing things (always with their own twist, it seems). In America, and many other countries, they seem to be the minority that most readily integrates with the culture. For whatever reason (it could be the lighter skin tone, or it could be a societal background that encourages assimilation with society), the Japanese are Asian groups are just plan good at adopting other cultures. So it's no surprise they could adopt steampunk and the like, and even begint o feel some affinity for it.
2. As much as some of you may hate it, anime and manga are rife with steampunk and dieselpunk style (and while I'll agree there is a lot of terrible anime, I've seen some good stuff, so beware of condemning entire national styles of art). Anyway, this could be because I would consider Japan the forefront of cyberpunk. As I once read, cyberpunk style essentially is the modern Japanese city. And as steampunk came from cyberpunk, there is some natural relation there. Plus, I'm sure anime conventions can serve as a good example of how much the Japanese (and whites!) love to dress up in strange costumes.

Sean Schönherr, author of Cinema is Cinema

Re: Steampunk and people of color

Sigurjon does have a point that most of steampunk fiction seems to focus on white countries and white protagonists.  Besides Smith in Wild Wild West, I can't quite think of any other significant black character in steampunk fiction.

How different from the Japanese though!  Indeed, steampunk is quite alive there.  Perhaps it has to do with the cyberpunk roots of the genre?  Japanese and cyberpunk might well be synonymous, and now steampunk's the next big thing there too. 

As far as I can tell, it's only Japan though, not much steampunk in the rest of Asia.  May have to do with Japan being much more open to western things than the rest of the continent.

7 (edited by Sigurjon Njalsson 2008-08-12 21:40)

Re: Steampunk and people of color

Ottens wrote:

As far as I can tell, it's only Japan though, not much steampunk in the rest of Asia.  May have to do with Japan being much more open to western things than the rest of the continent.

Certain seems it. Of course, while nearly all Asian immigrants tend to assimilate well with Western cultures, Japan is the only one to truly embrace it within their own country.

I really do think it's the cyberpunk connect, Japan's readiness to "be like the West," and the fact that Japan is really big into trends and is almost always right there whenever something new hits the scene.

And steampunk is by no means new there. If anyone is familiar with Lolita fashion in Japan (Elegant Gothic Lolita/Aristocrat and similar styles), those could very well have been a predecessor to their current full-on steampunk. Especially considering this (quoted from the Wiki article on Gothic Lolita):

Lolita fashion draws much of its inspiration from Rococo, Victorian-style and Edwardian fashion and often aims to imitate the look of Victorian children or porcelain dolls.

Since lolita fashion started as early as the 70's, it's clear at least a subculture of Japan has been interested in the Victorian era for some time now.

Sean Schönherr, author of Cinema is Cinema

8 (edited by Toby 2008-08-13 08:16)

Re: Steampunk and people of color

I think Sigurjon's points are very good. I must say that one of the reasons why Steampunk appeals to me more than Dieselpunk (especially of the Weird War variety) is that the British are closely involved in the former and don't tend to get a mention in the latter (although for the benefit of American readers I won't open that can of worms). When I used to play Warhammer I bought a bunch of knights without knowing what they did, as they were recognisably "my guys".

I am not a fervent nationalist, but I think there's a sense of looking at something - anything - and feeling that it's to do with your own culture or it's not. I say "feeling" because it's rarely conscious. Whether or not this distances black/asian people from the historical backdrop of Steampunk I don't know, but if it did I could understand the feeling.

That said, the James Gang have quite a '20's vaudeville look, that seems to reference both early jazz and gentlemen about town. So I suppose if a genre really has to be "culturally relevant" or whatever else the phrase is, it's open to interpretation.

Re: Steampunk and people of color

I'd have to agree with Sigurjon about Japan. The anime and cosplay cultures really do open the door to steampunk. Japan is absolutely obsessed with western history and the Victorian period in particular.

However, at the anime conventions I've been to, there is always a diverse mix of people. There are generally more Asians and whites, but there are also a lot of people of colour. Which does make the question of why there are far fewer people of colour interested in steampunk even more mystifying.

As far as my opinion goes, I also think it has to do with your personal level of connectedness to the time period. If you had great (or great great) grandparents who lived in Europe through the industrial revolution and the Victorian period, I'm sure you'd be more interested in it.

Re: Steampunk and people of color

There is a growing interest in Victorientalism though. I personally like to mix and match influences from Europe and Asia.. (and I'd kill for a pair of cargo hakama's. Seriosuly, someone donate me 200 bucks PUHLEAZE!)

Now as far as the number of colored people being interested in SP is concerned.. beats me, really. But then again.. how often do you see a colored person at a heavy metal concert? I also have a hard time picturing an Asian punk for some reason.. and I still think white rappers just need to go away.. big_smile