By K. Tempest Bradford

Dirty ComputerThe science fiction genre digs its allegories. Scratch the surface of any piece of literature, movie, or TV show that features alien races, advanced or mutant humans, robots, androids, or other forms of technology-based intelligence, and you will find a parallel or three to real-world marginalisation, oppression, and bigotry. SF writers love to create characters and entities that stand in for ‘the Other’ and craft scenarios that allow them to explore hatred and hierarchical attitudes a step or two removed from reality. As a speculative literary device, allegory has the power to open minds and change culture if done well. However, narratives that use robots and androids to represent the Other often don’t interrogate the assumptions about humanity at their core because they fail to answer one question: Why are so many androids white?

In books, movies, and television—from 1927’s Metropolis on down to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War—most androids depicted visually have facial features that code as Caucasian (Bicentennial Man, 1999; I, Robot, 2004) or straight-up look like humans of European descent (Blade Runner, 1982; the Alien franchise, 1979–2017). There are a handful of exceptions to this which serve to highlight the problem and do little to alleviate it. Too often, when science fiction creators imagine artificial beings made in the image of humans, Human means white. So what happens when androids get to be Black? Allegory gets much less allegorical. Continue reading