cheriola (cheriola) wrote in little_details,

Opinions wanted: Is this racially offensive to an anglophone audience?


This time, I don't have a research question but a thorny issue that I would like some second opinions on, preferably by people of colour. I know this is probably going to cause a big argument, so my apologies go in advance to the mods (and a potential racism trigger warning for this entire thread to everyone who might need it). But I'm a white, privileged person living in a mainly white, non-anglosaxon first world country with only some fairly recent, voluntary immigration by non-caucasian minorities. So I fear that I can't really judge the potential offensiveness in my writing that could be painfully obvious for my American and British audience.

What I want to do is write a Doctor Who fanfic based on the Silurans and their conflict with humanity. Now, as far as I know, the Silurans were supposed to be an allegory for the Israel/Palestine conflict, when they were originally introduced to the Old School show. Even though this was subsequently largely ignored as the species was developed further, I fear that my use of them will be interpreted as a similar political metaphor, no matter if I intend it to be read that way or not. And that might cause some really unfortunate implications.

I have to go into some detail so that you'll understand where I'm coming from. Sorry for the length of the post.

First, here's what various sources of canon give me to work with:
(I'm ignoring Moffat era canon, because lots of it doesn't even try to be compatible with the old series or even the RTD era.)

The Silurans are a species of sentient reptilian anthropoids who developed unspecified eons ago on Earth and who had a very long period of technologically highly advanced, though stagnant, culture. They were big on racial purity (sexual relations between standard Silurans and a subspecies they used as a labor force was strictly forbidden) and had a rigid caste system, but otherwise lived fairly peacefully within their own species. They hunted and bred early primates for food. At some point, one of their scientists started genetically manipulating the primates to become bigger, more fertile and more intelligent, resulting in an early homo sapiens subspecies. They escaped, multiplied in the wild, and started raiding Siluran agricultural facilities. The Silurans responded by wiping them all out with specially designed plagues. Shortly after that, they foresaw some sort of cataclysm on a planetary scale (asteroid impact and/or rapid start of the last ice age), and they decided to collectively go into cryogenic hibernation in underground bunkers to wait till the environment had recovered.

In the meantime, the primates evolved to fill the ecological niche left, and eventually humanity as we know it developed. There are several stories in canon that involve small groups of Silurans waking up early and how diplomatic attempts to reconcile their earlier claim on the land with the humans who live there now fail more or less spectacularly, usually ending with the Siluran group getting aggressive and then either being carpet-bombed or forced to go back into hibernation.

Canon for the future is sparse, but tells me there are more conflicts during and after the 21st century and eventually a devastating war (or at least the threat of one). At the same time Earth suffers from increasing overpopulation and ecological degradation. By the 26th century the conflict has come to an end, and the two Siluran races are integrated into human society. Though humans use the term "earth reptile" for them, which sounds a bit like a slur to me. By the 30th century, they are considered full members of the Earth Empire republican government, having the highest status among the non-human species because they are at least "earth-born".

From this information, I'm trying to construct a history of Siluran-Human relations from their mass re-awakening to the early 51st century. I'm imagining a terrible war sometime during the 22nd or 23rd century (World War 4 happens some time before the 49th century but is otherwise a complete blank in canon), with the Silurans using biological warfare to reduce humanity's advantage in numbers, and ending up wiping out billions. However, this doesn't put much of a dent into humanity's already massive overpopulation problem, and the war and the actions humanity took to suppress the Silurans only accelerate the ecological catastrophy. In the end, the humans won, and took revenge by putting the surviving Silurans to work on food production in areas that were already too hot and too marginal for human life. This institutional slavery lasted for several human generations (Silurans get up to 300 years old), but eventually, human society changed towards a less dictatorial, crisis-based kind of o social organisation, started founding an empire in space, so that colonies could be used for population relief and food imports, and the Silurans were given basic civil rights in the late 25th century. This didn't immediately make them fully accepted members of society, of course. For the most part, they spent the next 500 years working their way up from the lowest working class and the least economically viable farmland to slowly, slowly get some representation in the government and enough education to reach middle class occupations. With the expansion of the Earth Empire, humanity also had new, alien minorities to conquer and be xenophobic about, raising the Silurans to at least nominally integrated "second class citizen" status. Though the fact that the Silurans and the Earth Empire's greatest enemy, the Draconian Empire, were somewhat similar looking, probably didn't help. Post-30th century, the Siluran population slowly gained full rights and acceptance, so that by the 51st century (which has a much more liberal and less xenophobic / imperialistic culture), they are fully equal.

The actual plot of my story concerns two Siluran historians from the 51st century using newly developed time travel technology to travel back to the era when their ancestors ruled the Earth (before the evolution of humanity), in order to find out more about the history and culture of their own people, which was largely lost to them during their long period of oppression. Once there, they are appalled to find out that their own culture was rather xenophobic and racist as well.

Now, I'm basing my conjecture about the war and its immediate aftermath mainly on the history of my own country (formerly Soviet-occupied Germany) - just turned up to eleven, because the losing side isn't human (so even the innocents would inspire little pity in the victors), because there was no Cold War that necessitated keeping the losers an a mostly economically viable society in order to have a buffer state, and because I think the victorious human society wouldn't exactly be smelling like roses under such ongoing crisis circumstances either. So there's implications of war crimes, military occupation, large-scale use of POWs and civilians for forced labour and other economic reparations, "big brother" surveillance, deep-reaching cultural indoctrination, people dissappearing without a trace in remote work camps... That kind of thing.

However, the experiences of the Siluran people as they struggle to gain civil rights and political equality in human society, as well as the tragic loss of their own culture, is based on what I've read about African Americans and the general human tendency towards racism. And it's this part that will be most important in the actual story. So when I get to recounting how the Silurans ended up in this situation in the first place, I worry that readers will interpret it as me saying that African slaves somehow deserved the way they were treated, or that people of colour suffering from racism right now are somehow to blame themselves.

I'm not trying to write this as a metaphor for anything. I know how wrong it is to use aliens and other non-human species to make any kind of point about racism. It's just that I have to work from some point of real human experience, and since humanity hasn't actually made contact with another sentient species yet, racism is the closest analogous behaviour I can come up with in reality.
If anything, this is a "There but for the grace of God" type of story from my own cultural perspective (what with the fortunately aborted  Morgenthau Plan and Allied and Soviet use of POWs as a labor force in the first few years after WWII). But I worry that people from American and British background will see something very different, particularly because aliens are often used for racism allegories in western media.

So, what do you think? Is my story idea too close to real problems of racism? Is it going to be read as a metaphor with awful implications? Would it be enough to explain what mix of sources this story is based on in an author's note? Or should I better just leave this whole idea on the shelf? Obviously my intent doesn't matter when it comes to perpetuating racism, so if this is offensive to people of colour, I'd rather not write it at all. Creative expression and entertaining a subset of the audience isn't worth potentially hurting anyone.
Tags: ~human culture (misc)

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