I ask the question only because I do wonder.
As someone who has been a huge fan of science fiction, fantasy and horror ever since I was old enough to turn a page (and keep the light on), I never even considered the fact as a kid that there were hardly ever – as in never – any black characters in all those books I was reading about life on other planets and in other dimensions. Whether it was H.G. Wells, Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, or (insert just about any other sci fi author here), I was way too caught up in the story to even give it much thought. Plus I was raised in (very white) Denver, and not exactly on the black side of town, so I didn’t always notice certain things that perhaps I should have.
But as I got older and my life began to extend beyond the bubble to the denser areas of the forest where the thorns of real life specialize in drawing blood, my eyes were gradually forced open. Kind of like the guy from that one really strange scene in “A Clockwork Orange.” Well, OK, I know. There were a lot of really strange scenes in Clockwork, but I think you know the one I’m talking about. Yeah. This one.
When I was child I read sci fi as a child, but when I grew up, I still read sci fi like a child, only a child who had spent more time out of doors.
I still love Heinlein, Wells, and all the guys. But seeing the addition of Walter Moseley, Octavia Butler, Tananarive Due, and so many others to the ranks of dark-skinned star travelers has been to see science fiction living up to – and growing into – its full potential as a genre. The best of early (well-known) science fiction and fantasy, from Star Trek and the Twilight Zone and beyond, has frequently tackled issues about the ‘other’. Strained race relations and discrimination were always hinted at, but you had to pay attention. But if you go back to the 1800s, there were actually African American writers directly tackling the problem through science fiction. Check this out from Wikipedia:
In 1859, Martin Delany (1812–1885), one of the foremost U.S. black political leaders, began publishing Blake, or the Huts of America as a serial in the Anglo-American Magazine. The subject of the novel is a successful slave revolt in the Southern states and the founding of a new black country in Cuba. Samuel R. Delany described it as “about as close to an SF-style alternate history novel as you can get.” The serialization ended prematurely, but the entire novel was eventually published in serial form in the Weekly Anglo-African, in weekly installments from November 1861 to May 1862.
Charles W. Chesnutt (1858–1932) was a noted writer of folkloric hoodoo stories. His collection The Conjure Woman (1899) is the first known speculative fiction collection written by a person of color. The 1892 novel Iola Leroy by Frances Harper (1825–1911), the leading black woman poet of the 19th century, has been described as the first piece of African-American utopian fiction on account of its vision of a peaceful and equal polity of men and women, whites and former slaves. In contrast, the 1899 novel Imperium in Imperio by Sutton Griggs (1872–1933) ends with preparations for a violent takeover of Texas for African Americans by a secret black government.
Looks like we’ve been walking among the stars for quite awhile. Makes me feel right at home there…