I was slightly less than today years old when I learned the term “ethnogothic”

One of the standard complaints about using ETs (or mutants or whatever) as metaphors for immigrants or minorities (e.g., Brother From Another Planet, Alien Nation) is that it’s inherently offensive: black (or gay, or trans) Americans are not monsters or aliens and the metaphor just others them (though some POC and gays disagree).

In an text piece in the back of BITTER ROOT: Family Business by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown and Sanford Greene, the essayist (I don’t remember their name) said one way around this is the “ethnogothic” approach. Rather than using the weird as a metaphor for minorities, use magic or SF to throw a fresh perspective on bigotry and racial issues.

The book concerns the Sangerye family, mages who fight against the Jinoo. Whenever someone becomes totally consumed by racism, they transform into a Jinoo monster; the Sangerye purge the hate and the monster out of them (I’m not clear whether this kills the bigots or not). This first TPB in the series involves a survivor of the Tulsa massacre who thinks the Sangerye way is too soft — he has his own plans for dealing with racists.

Bitter Root makes racists into monsters, literally and physically, but it doesn’t excuse them: the transformation into Jinoo comes from giving into hate, it doesn’t cause it. The book, set in 1920s Harlem, has no qualms showing how utterly malevolent the treatment of black Americans was in that era. It’s also solidly entertaining.

I can think of other examples that might qualify as ethnogothic. The CW’s Black Lightning, where metahumans manifesting in a black community, as one preacher points out, just give cops one more excuse to kill them. Lovecraft Country. Ballad of Black Tom, with its bleak despair of America ever improving, and the equally bleak Sidney Poitier movie Brother John.

“Ethnogothic” fits a trend I think I’d half-registered but never thought about collectively. I imagine I’ll have more examples to review down the road.

#SFWApro. Cover by Greene, all rights to images remain with current holders.


Filed under Reading, Writing

3 responses to “I was slightly less than today years old when I learned the term “ethnogothic”

  1. Pingback: From Groot to middle-school, it’s a graphic novels post! | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: African Americans battling dark powers! Books and one TV show | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Classic, crappy, creepy: assorted movies | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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