Getting Over the Human Identity

“’Human beings fear difference,’ Lilith had told him once. ‘Oankali crave difference. Humans persecute their different ones, yet they need them to give themselves definition and status. Oankali seek difference and collect it. They need it to keep themselves from stagnation and overspecialization. If you don’t understand this, you will. You’ll probably find both tendencies surfacing in your own behavior.’ And she had put her hand on his hair. ‘When you feel a conflict, try to go the Oankali way. Embrace difference.’” (Adulthood Rites p. 329)

Why do we fear change so much? As I read through Butler’s Xenogenesis  I can’t help but see the foolishness of how the human race fears difference and change. The resisters are a prime example of this foolishness. Their only reason they have to oppose mating with the Oankali is a desire for racial purity and fear of being different. This resistance isn’t a unique idea to science fiction. In fact, when there is a characterization of alien encounters in science fiction, there is often an investment in a common humanity  that transcends race and it is thus used as an anti-racism tool and an inspiration to its readers. However, just like always, it’s not that simple with Butler. In Xenogenesis, racism does not vanish with the arrival of the Oankali. Despite their belief in Human purity, the resisters still divide themselves into villages that are separated by language, religion, and ethnicity. In Adulthood Rites, Akin thinks to himself about the different groups that the resisters have formed:

“He knew the people and languages of a Chinese resister village, an Igbo village, three Spanish-speaking villages made up of people from many countries, a Hindu village, and two villages of Swahili-speaking people from different countries. So many resistors. Yet there were so many more. He had been driven out of, of all things. a village of English-speaking people because he was browner that the villagers were.” (pg. 434)

Despite the fact that they are opposing a completely different species because humanity is so “pure”, they are still racist among each other! Even when there humanity is at risk, they still concern themselves with the fact that someone has darker colored skin. Reading Butler, I can’t help but think that people who cling too tightly to their human identity are at risk of exhibiting the worst elements of humanity.


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