I came across this article by Jha on the Intersection of Race and Steampunk. It raises some interesting questions. Since Steampunk is based on the Victorian era, when colonialism and repression of indigenous races was rife, how do you translate this for a modern sensibility?
The author says:
'I’m aware that other steampunks come to the subculture differently. Our stories are as diverse as our backgrounds, our reasons for participating are many. Interests tend to overlap in steampunk; we’re all geeks in some form or another. Reasons for being drawn to the subculture are various: a love for history, a love for speculative fiction, the giant robots, the ray guns, the fabulous clothes.'
But the fact remains that the steampunk genre is romanticising a period when anyone who wasn't a white protestant male, was repressed. How accurate do you want to make a story, to give it the flavour of the time? I'm currently writing a story set in approx 1840, during the settlement of Australia where everyone is racist to some degree. I expect the reader to be mature enough to see it as characterisation, not my personal endorsement.
When Le Guin wrote the Earthsea books she set out to create fantasy characters of colour, but she wanted the reader to identify with these characters before they realised the characters were coloured so that the average readers of the period would not be put off. So she did not slip in the colour of their skin until the story was well under way. Yet, when the TV series was made, the producers managed to white-wash her characters, which did not please the author at all.
How do you handle the ticklish question of authenticity of historic characters without crossing the line and making them all touchy-feelie?