Watching the Watchmen

I grew up in the 1990s.

My vague memory from this time was that science fiction seemed more associated with whiteness than blackness, at least in popular culture.

In my home it was different. It was my black father that introduced me to science fiction and fantasy.

Some of my earliest memories of bedtime are curling up with my dad and having him read the Sword of Shannara series to me.

The last books we read together were the Hyperion Cantos, the Shrike occasionally appearing in my dreams.

From my mother I inherited Shakespeare, from my father it was the Foundation Series, Dune, and hours upon hours of Star Trek Next Generation.

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My father would have loved the Watchmen. It checks all of his boxes: black heroes, black history, nuclear war geopolitics, and hard science fiction.

The series unfolds from the 1921 Tulsa massacre, to the moons of Jupiter, to present day.

But, by the end of watching the series, I could anticipate my dad’s objection.

If he were alive, he would have looked at me and said: “none of the scientists were black.”

There are three scientists in the story: Dr. Manhattan (born white), Adrien Veidt (white), and Lady Trieu (half Vietnamese, half white).

They are all brilliant and none of them are black.

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Sometimes identities can be binding. Sometimes they can be expansive.

Sometimes the importance of an identity is how it ties together a group of people with a shared history.

And sometimes identities come together to create something altogether new and amazing.

Black science fiction, for example, can offer worlds that white science fiction will likely never ponder.

So too with other identities, such as the stunning Chinese science fiction of Three Body Problem.

This is one of the great promises of increasing equality of opportunity: the world will be so much more innovative, including in the arts, when everyone is at the table to create.

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The Watchmen came close to expressing so much of my dad’s complex identity. It was nearly perfect for a black science fiction nerd who taught political science.

It’s a wonderful show. But its imperfection is that it’s not expansive enough.

The show imagines black superheroes, but it doesn’t imagine black scientists; not just that they might exist, but how their blackness might take the world on a different path.

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