Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Wendy Nielsen

Committee Member

Patricia Matthew

Committee Member

Jonathan Greenberg


Among other things, science fiction is a tool for imagining futures. SF authors take what they currently understand about science, couple it with their understanding of human nature, and spin stories that inform, encourage, or warn us about what might be possible. In this sense SF functions in a role adjacent to scientific inquiry, acting as a mouthpiece for the potential revealed or made accessible by developing technology. What can sometimes go unsaid in conversations about SF is that science fiction, like science itself, does not exist in a vacuum removed from cultural scripts and problems. When written by white authors who by definition are limited in their perception or and ability to recognize textual racism, SF runs the risk of falling prey to conceits of impartiality and cultural objectivity—to assume that it's written by, for, and about a supposed universal audience, and conveys universal meanings.

Scholars of SF have a responsibility to tease out racial power dynamics in the genre. If this seems an onerous demand, I suggest referring to the litany of sins white science has performed under the veil of impartiality or proto-colorblindness. Anti-racism is not something that occurs organically, instinctively, or even as an inevitable result of education or a conscious desire to avoid or combat racism. Diligent effort and tireless, consistent critique—of authors, scholars, and even readers—are necessary to avoid mindlessly regurgitating the lessons absorbed from the hegemony of whiteness. For critics of SF, this means that we must be vigilant for traces and reflections of white supremacy and anti-blackness in not only each text we encounter, but also the scholarship and discourse surrounding those texts. Considering texts like Frankenstein is important because they have laid the foundations of the genre and anticipate many of its racist underpinnings. Examining the very different presentations of science and race in Octavia Butler's fiction allows us to see how the "stamp" of black SF can undermine that streak of racism and repurpose the genre toward illuminating, not erasing, race, and imagining futures in which science and blackness interact without exploitation or abuse.

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