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Essay on Racism
A Science-Fiction Writer Shares her View of Intolerance

Start streaming audio Listen to the piece from Weekend Edition Saturday.

Octavia Estelle Butler's Essay Exclusively on NPR Online, Octavia Butler's Essay on a World Without Racism.

Sept. 1, 2001 -- As part of NPR's special report for the UN Conference on Racism, Weekend Edition Saturday's Scott Simon interviews a writer who shares her vision of what it means to be an outsider.

Octavia Estelle Butler
Butler, a science fiction writer, tries explain our differences, as well as our commonalities, through her fictional tales.
Photo: courtesy of Octavia Butler

Octavia Estelle Butler is the first African-American woman to gain popularity and critical acclaim as a science fiction writer. Through her fictional tales, Butler tries to understand and explain our differences as well as common traits shared by all humans.

In her Lilith's Brood trilogy, for example, she introduces her readers to the Oankali, a nomadic alien species that runs into an evolutionary dead end because of its lack of diversity. Butler says these aliens need to interbreed with the human species to regain their genetic strength despite their hatred of humans' hierarchical tendencies and self-destructive violence.

The theme of slavery also appears frequently in her books. In Kindred, a black woman travels back through time to rescue a white man who turns out to be her ancestor. And she later struggles with the fact that she owes her existence to the man who was one of the oppressors of black slaves.

It's easier to find remedies for racism and violence in the fictional world. But what about in real life? In her essay for NPR, Butler asks: What would make us more tolerant, more peaceful, and less likely to need a UN Conference on Racism? Her sobering answer is "nothing at all." It's natural for humans to feel superior to each other, she concludes, and there would be intolerance even if we were all the same color.

Other Resources

Read "The Unofficial Octavia Butler Page."

Check out this list of resources about Butler's work.

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