Thinkythoughts on Caprica and Race

Caught another episode of “Caprica” on TV last night. I’ve been haphazard about watching this series since the miniseries failed to capture my interest, and it’s still not really holding me. But there was nothing else on, so I watched. Note that I’ve missed a couple of eps of this series, so take all below with a grain of salt.

I’ve been intrigued by the construction of the various colonies’ people as races in this society. The show’s creators seem to be trying to do a better job of things since Battlestar Galactica’s early years, when their handling of colony/race led to some really hamhanded and problematic depictions, like the planet of the black fundies, as fellow author Naamen Tilahun calls Gemenon (sp?). Thus far it seems like Caprica’s trying to depict the Taurons as a combination of Mexicans, Aztecs, Jewish people, Arabs, and Italians, maybe with a smidge of Japanese. (Too many, I wonder? An effort to avoid essentializing, certainly, but I’m not sure the mishmash technique is working. I don’t see any other race being given the same distinctive set of traditions, etc. — not even the Capricans, who are supposed to have a “20th century American” culture, I know. But that’s incomplete; where are the Graystones’ religious rituals? Have we seen Caprica City celebrate any holidays? What does their organized crime look like? The result of the Tauron mishmash is that they’re becoming a kind of generic “ethnic people”, while the Capricans are increasingly looking “non-ethnic” rather than “ethnic in a different way”. This falls into common misconceptions that only PoC have a race, and white people are somehow raceless.)

Anyway, in last night’s ep, Joseph dragged his son William — who later becomes Admiral Adama of the BSG series — out fishing with him, and they settled near a large group of teenagers who catcalled racial slurs at them. I found myself perplexed by this whole scene. First off, I’m not much of a fisher, but doesn’t it help to do it in a quiet place, away from a rowdy group whose noise might scare off the fish? But that aside, Joseph stayed near this group, even though there was only him and his son there, and tried to tell William to just ignore the taunts.

This made no sense. Seriously.

OK, Basic Common Sense 101: when you are not part of a big enough group to defend yourself, and/or you do not have weapons and/or you do not know if they have weapons, you do not stay near a large and rowdy and drunken group of teenagers who’ve taken a hate-shine to you for whatever reason. That’s just effing stupid. But then there’s the whole matter of Basic PoC Racial Common Sense 101. A good parent of color (repurposing “PoC” here) teaches his/her child how to deal with racists. You can just ignore them, yes, in certain situations. Given the numbers problem, it would have made far more sense for Joseph and William to simply leave. But since they were going to stay? You do not simply let a group of people like that work up a head of steam. They’ll eventually get drunk enough, aggressive enough, hateful enough, whatever, to attack. The only logical thing to do is head that off at the pass, and show aggression first. That way, if there has to be a fight, it happens on your terms and at a time of your choosing, and will (hopefully) go in your favor.

William chose to do this. His uncle Sam has been teaching him how to survive as a Tauron in the racist Caprican society, so fortunately William has learned the correct coping mechanisms for this situation: he kicked the racist’s ass. Joseph’s strategy would have gotten them beaten or killed, IMO.

I was glad to see that the correct strategy was modeled, and even more glad to see that Joseph finally decided to resort to Tauron methods of dealing with his son, since it seems clear that the kid is going through an immersion/emersion experience. I’m impressed by the show’s handling of this. I’m also impressed by the fact that Joseph’s turn to Tauron culture wasn’t depicted as a failing on his part — i.e., if he would just work harder at being a good Caprican, he’ll eventually be accepted, and his son too! His son’s Tauron traits are a bad thing that must be stopped! Instead, the ritual was beautifully handled, and clearly meant to be a good thing. Still, I wonder if there will be any further analysis of the situation, and the fact that Joseph’s constant attempts to assimilate are likely to hurt him and his son if he keeps it up.

I’m also wondering how, or if, they’re going to explain how this brown-eyed child version of William is going to grow up to be the blue-eyed adult Adama. Maybe they forgot that little detail.

Anyway, just thinking out loud.

10 thoughts on “Thinkythoughts on Caprica and Race”

  1. blue-eyed adult Adama

    Are you talking about Lee? Because Edward James Olmos’s eyes are brown. And yes, that Jamie Bamber was supposed to be Olmos’s son strained credulity, even if Adama’s wife was played by a blonde (and presumably blue-eyed) actress.

    That said, what really bothers me about the Tauron legacy plotline the Adamas are getting in Caprica is that as far as I can recall, it’s never for a minute brought up on BSG.

  2. Hi Abigail,

    No, I mean Bill Adama — Olmos chose to wear blue contact lenses in order to make his supposed biological connection to Lee (Bamber) more plausible. It was hard to tell, though; I only noticed it in a couple of scenes, since so much of BSG was dark. (The link I included notes that this was Olmos’ decision, not Bamber’s or the show’s producers.)

    And yeah, the Tauron legacy stuff feels very much like an afterthought to me — something the Caprica producers decided to explore when they realized Adama was played by a Latino with some indigenous Mexican heritage, and Adama’s elder son was played by a guy who was (I think) at least partly indigenous Canadian, and yet somehow Lee’s a white guy. I suspect they’re probably planning to explain the anomaly of Lee, if Caprica goes on long enough. Or maybe I’m expecting too much logic here; they never did explain how Bill Adama knew Saul Tigh for 30 years if Tigh only got dumped in the colonies right before the attack… The handwavium is strong with this series.

  3. MK, I recently found you, but I’m not quite sure how. I’m so glad I did! I’ve been eagerly awaiting your book and I’m happy it’s finally released. A crappy week caused me to lose track of the days, but I’m Kindling the book as we speak.

    To the discussion:

    It doesn’t bother me so much that the Tauron legacy wasn’t brought up in BSG. I think that gives the writers more freedom to let the story go where they want to and to let it unfold organically without having to do too much retrofitting and reverse engineering.

    Still, I think the point about Jamie Bamber’s blue eyes is well taken on all levels.

    I appreciate MK’s overarching point that Caprica has unfortunately reduced ethnicity/identity to a generic white and generic other dynamic in which white is unraced. But I also don’t think we need to stick to squishing our current racial categories into those of a fictive, futuristic universe, even though it is “human.” Race is a cultural construct, so there’s no reason to be bound to our current constructions. We have no idea how far into the future this story is, or if they are really -us-. I do recognize that we can’t just jump outside of our current racial categories and that it’s wrongheaded to ignore them. I’m just saying why do we have to be bound by them, particularly in a work of speculative fiction?

    Back to “non-ethnic” Capricans vs. the essentialized, pseudi-ethnic Taurons. The way that the Graystones grieve Zoe is sort of stereotypical of the reserve of white, and particularly upper class white ethos, which reinforces MK’s point. So, yeah, I agree.

    Interesting thoughts. At least they’re not doing the sort of “it’s a small world” Star Trek model. I adore Star Trek and I appreciate its intentions and even its actual strides, but the United Colors of Roddenberry does get trite after a while.


  4. We have no idea how far into the future this story is, or if they are really -us-. I do recognize that we can’t just jump outside of our current racial categories and that it’s wrongheaded to ignore them. I’m just saying why do we have to be bound by them, particularly in a work of speculative fiction?

    Well, according to the mythos that the creators have built, the people of Caprica are our distant past, not our future — but yes, your point about race being socially-constructed and in this case Not The Same As Our social construct is definitely on point. I’m glad the Caprica creators are attempting to show this. Thing is, the show is resorting to the patterns of our social construct in the process. In our world (speaking of Western society post-colonialism, here), whiteness is likened to racelessness, and PoC are the only ones deemed to have race. (Even the term “people of color” is problematic, as it implies white isn’t a color… but this is an unavoidable flaw of the term, IMO.) This shows itself in a thousand little ways in every part of our daily lives — for example, the tendency of people in a room to look to the nearest brown person as an expert whenever the subject of race or diversity comes up. The underlying assumption is that race, racism, culture, etc., has meaning only for brown people; these things are deemed irrelevant to whites. Even as we all swim in default whiteness.

    So this is the pattern I’m seeing in Caprica — culture/ethnicity is shown to have great meaning to the Taurons on the show, but not to the Capricans. Or maybe I’m misinterpreting the scene with the racist, in the episode I described in the OP. Maybe he’s part of some anti-immigration movement that’s afraid of “Caprican culture” being overwhelmed by the customs of people from the other colonies — even that kind of xenophobia could serve as a marker of culture (it’s certainly a marker of white American culture, for a real-world example). But AFAICT, this hasn’t been explored or described as such in the show.

  5. Past, bluh…I forgot that. Ok, past, future….You got my point. :)

    I’m not denying white as the default setting. I hope you didn’t hear that in what I was writing. I think that the washed-out, pristine, glass-walled, white palace home of the Graystokes and their reserved response to Zoe’s death really reinforces just the point you’re making (and I’m doubtful it’s conscious on the show’s part). I mean, srsly, how much more “neutral” or “colorless” can you get?

    Also, I just double checked — the kid instigating the fight in the park was Asian. We could probably go on at length about the irony of that.

    I recently showed John Leguizamo’s “Crossover King” from “Mambo Mouth” to my students. It’s a great critique of the whole model minority myth. (Admittedly it’s also problemtic, but it still makes the point nicely, I think. I just saw a Lenny Bruce video where he said that there’s a thin line between self-deprecation and self-hatred.)

    Ok, I’m rambling, and A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is calling.

    Crossover King:

  6. I haven’t watched past the first post-pilot episode yet…..Have they explained yet how Taurons “worked the land” on their home planet – a planet with no flowers?

  7. Handwavium!

    Yeah, that kills me, plus the fact that they’ve got all these proverbs about desert life. Desert = not farming. I’m not sure what’s up with their worldbuilding here.

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