Taking One for the Team: K. Tempest Bradford

Last Thursday and Friday, Mary Anne Mohanraj came to Whatever at my invitation to talk about race and science fiction and fantasy, and how it affects writers and readers. I also invited my friend Tempest Bradford to talk about the same subject. She also very kindly accepted, and is speaking today from her own experience as a writer of color active in the SF/F community and industry — and her experience as a writer speaking out in that community about the issues of race. Here’s what she has to say.


Last week John asked me to write about race here and since then I’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking about what to write. The invitation was precipitated by the strange intersection between RaceFail and this blog, obviously, but I didn’t feel a particular need to write about RaceFail specifically. Mary Anne already covered a lot of 101 material in her posts (and yay for that!) and it’s been interesting to see what’s been going on in the comments of those posts.

I keep coming back around to something friends of mine have expressed both privately and publicly:

One, that they don’t feel comfortable or safe talking about race and racism within the SF community of fans and pros because of a completely legitimate fear that it will negatively impact them personally, professionally, and otherwise.

Two, that they admire me for being willing to do so knowing that the above is true.

I didn’t start out blogging about race, gender, and other social justice topics in order to be admirable. In fact, if you’d met me (or read a blog by me) 10 years ago, you might not recognize me. I didn’t used to talk about race much at all except as things directly impacted me. Like, going to Worldcon for the first time and not seeing many black people or debating whether to edit a story to make it more obvious that a character in a story was black so I could sell it to a “black anthology”.

A few things changed that for me. Partly it was realizing just how few faces like my own I saw at conventions, how few black and other POC authors I saw published in magazines or bookstores, and how POC were portrayed in SF shows (when they existed at all). And, of course, these problems are not limited to the genre. I noticed it in all TV, movies, books, etc. I would sometimes blog about it, or mention it to friends, or get involved in some discussions about it. At some point, though, it started to make me really, really angry. And when I became that angry it was easy to see that I shouldn’t just stay quiet about it. So I started a blog.

It’s hard to believe that just shy of 3 years ago very few people knew that I was the writer behind the blog The Angry Black Woman. Some still don’t, and that’s okay. At the time I needed a space to rant about the things that made me angry. Then it became a place where I could rant, then discuss. Then it became a place where I could rant, discuss, and make a difference. But the whole time I was doing all that, it was all down to me being angry, wanting change, and using the talent given me (writing) to be part of effecting change.

I never thought myself particularly brave, nor even thought much of reaching people beyond the people I already knew and maybe some other bloggers I admired. I did know that I was saying things that made people uncomfortable, challenged them, sometimes even offended (who likes to be told that they benefit from some quirk of society–privilege–that does damage without their direct input or impetus?). I also knew I was speaking truth, which I felt was important to do.

I’ve often been accused of talking about race the way I do because it gets me attention. I’ve even been accused of being the William Sanders of the anti-racist side. And this is just the stuff I have access to. I can imagine what is said about me in private conversation. (Gordon van Gelder once let slip to me that he’d said to someone that my maturity level had not yet caught up to my intelligence level.)

So when I see people deciding to stay silent or having to choose between their career and their principles (and, trust me, I have seen far more instances of this recently than I can begin to deal with) I feel a lot of things. Anger (not at the person who feels they have to stay silent, because it’s not their fault), annoyance, sadness, more anger. I also wonder if my being outspoken has hurt or will hurt my career as an SF writer.

I wonder if all of you reading this understand how completely fucked up that is? Do you get that it is so very, very wrong for a writer to be scared of hurting her career for pointing out racism, for being loud about sexism, for calling out people by name and saying “No, this is NOT right”? Thing is, even if you don’t like me or the way I roll, you should understand that it is not just me. It’s people of color. It’s women. It’s any person who is Othered by their supposed in group, their culture, their society, their co-workers.

No one should be scared of losing their livelihood for saying what’s right.

Doing what I do is not about getting attention or about being brave. It’s about saying that I shouldn’t be marginalized, othered, ignored, dismissed, devalued, or intimidated because I’m black, or because I’m a woman, or because I’m both at the same time. I blog about the things that affect my very existence here. I don’t do it for the LOLs or the pageviews. And when people reduce the things I discuss to a game or a lark, they are attempting to reduce an essential part of me.

Think about that.

No seriously. Think.

Think about the fact that for every voice you hear speaking up about this stuff there are probably a dozen you may never hear because they feel the need to keep silent. Think about whether that silence has anything to do with you, the environment you create in your online or offline spaces, the things you say when discussions about race, culture, gender, etc. come up. Before you rush to the bottom of this post to write a scathing comment about how wrong I am, how not-racist you are, how no one ever gets punished for speaking out against “real” racism (as opposed to the racism black people see that isn’t there or make up), how you really just think I’m a bad person and it has nothing to do with race or gender: Stop and Think.

Because even those who are silent are still watching. They are watching and waiting for some sign that things are changing and they don’t need to be afraid of speaking out anymore. Are you going to be one of the people who drives them deeper into silence or helps to give them a voice?

If I knew three years ago what I know now, I’m not entirely sure I would have chosen the path I took. But I can’t turn back time or put the proverbial cat back in the bag. I have used my voice too often and too loudly. And if I have to be that much louder to make up for the lost voices or the ones that can’t yet speak up, so be it.

I don’t want to please the editors who take exception to what I have to say on these subjects. I wouldn’t want a readership that’s uncomfortable thinking about the issues that affect me every day.

SF doesn’t deserve half of the wonderful voices it silences, anyway, not to mention the amazing ones that do make it into print, because their awesomeness shines brighter than the sun. Knowing that, there are days when I just think: Fuck it. I’ll write YA, instead.

238 Comments on “Taking One for the Team: K. Tempest Bradford”

  1. Just a quick note to folks:

    On the last two threads on race and science fiction and fantasy, I’ve erred toward the lenient side in moderating comments. This time I’m going to err in the other direction, and quickly snip out comments I decide are anything less than polite to my guest or to other commenters. So please give consideration to your comments before you hit send; if it’s not something you would say to someone directly in front of you, you probably shouldn’t post it.

    (Also, if you see someone posting in a manner resembling a troll, the best response is not to engage, as I’ll be along presently to snip them out. Just ignore them. They hate that.)

    Also, before you comment, please check out Mary Anne Mohanraj’s two excellent previous posts on race and science fiction and fantasy on the site, here and here, and read through the comments there. Quite a few of the general discussions and questions of race and genre have already been tackled there in the entries and comments. I would like to avoid if possible having the same discussions over and over again. If I see you posting on topics already covered there, I’m likely just to refer you back to those entries, so please save us both the effort.

    Also, as a final suggestion: here’s a racism bingo card. If you see something you’re going to post about on it, be aware it’s on a racism bingo card. Which should tell you something.


  2. I’ve been watching this discussion, chunks of it anyway, for a little while now, and I just want to say: I would much rather you make me feel uncomfortable, challenge me to be better, than not. Better you try to force me to be decent than I (or anyone) try to force you to be civil.

  3. “No one should be scared of losing their livelihood for saying what’s right”

    This summed it up for me. Thank you for this post, and for reminding us of the many people who are, as you say, watching silently and waiting for things to get better.

    I hadn’t come across your blog but I will be visiting it now, if only to remind myself about the issues which have been discused here, andto try to ‘fail better’ than I have in the past, at being aware of these issues and how they effect people.

    Thank you for being willing to stand up and say these things – you may not think of yourself as brave, but it seems to me that to continue to stand up is courageous (even if it shouldn’t have to be)

  4. As a noisy woman I cop a fair bit of crap for speaking out of turn, and I have to admit I’m not as brave as you. It gets to me. I have to back away, close things down because I can’t cope with the aggressive response which strong opinions in females seem to elicit. And *you* have the race side of it as well, on top of it, but yet you aren’t cowed.

    You’re a better woman than me, in your courage and your forthrightness. I salute you, Ms Bradford.

    “SF doesn’t deserve half of the wonderful voices it silences, anyway, not to mention the amazing ones that do make it into print, because their awesomeness shines brighter than the sun.”

    Ironically I saw SF as a place which would be more welcoming of strong female voices, compared with Romance, which is incredibly suppressive of them. I’m saddened to be proved wrong, but it won’t stop me pointing to people like you and saying, yes, there is room for courageous opinion, even if you have to kick and scream and push to make it.

  5. What Peter said, @2 above. Because you (generic you) generally don’t bother to argue unless you think the person you’re talking to is worth it and can even be convinced – what Jane Austen called “the compliment of rational opposition. I think, in a real way, this post and the previous two from Mary Anne are compliments to Scalzi and his readers. Sometimes it’s a privilege (in the purest, non-pejorative sense of the word) to be made uncomfortable. The challenge is to deserve it.

  6. Thank you for posting, Tempest (here and on your blog). As someone who has increasingly interacted with the pro side of the field over the few years, I have only through that process become aware of how many of the companies I think of as SF publishers are in fact part of huge publishing conglomerates, which no doubt helps make them resistant to change. Nonetheless, I hope the genre does change, and dramatically so, in the next, say, five to ten years. I hope we can pick up what self-examining momentum we might have at this point, accelerate it, and eventually find ways to have productive conversations about race and sf that members of the community do not feel they will risk their livelihoods to take part in.

    Because for all that I appreciate Mary Anne’s point about POC not being responsible for teaching the rest of us how to be good allies, how to write CoC, etc, and I know we can educate ourselves a lot by reading what has been said before on this topic, the smof in me wants to involve the fans (which historically has been the population from whence come our future editors), and particularly to explore how to recruit/involve/welcome etc the next generation of young PoC into the genre, and I feel that those conversations will primarily involve a bunch of well-meaning white folks spinning our wheels in rooms by ourselves if we cannot provide safe ways for POC to join us there, and cannot get them (you) to participate, to help us explore, together, how we all need to change how we do this thing, and how we see both our microcosm of the world and the world in general in order to seek that change.

    This is a scary process to step into, because we also don’t want to treat POC as though their race/racial perspective is all they bring to the game.

    Nor do I want to make the assumption that the issues or perspectives of all POC are the same. So then we might have to abandon “safe-feeling” terms like “people of color” and find acceptable ways to discuss specific minorities and how they are treated in our literature and our community. Years of political correctness appears to have pushed many of us away from even wanting to admit publicly that these distinctions exist and we see them and are affected by them, and taught us that any of the terms we might use to speak on this topic can (and probably will) offend, so I don’t think that process is going to be easy.

  7. Peter, I might rephrase your comment: “try to force you to be civil” to “try to force you to be civil by my definition of civil.”

    It’s clunkier, but it gets to some of what the problem is, that some folks read ‘righteously angry’ as ‘uncivil’, and then try to shut down the righteously angry folks on those grounds. When, you know, the righteously angry folks are often being perfectly civil — just with the force of their anger behind their words.

    Civil: “not rude; marked by satisfactory (or especially minimal) adherence to social usages and sufficient but not noteworthy consideration for others”

    Part of the problem is letting other people (especially letting members of the dominant group) define what constitutes ‘satisfactory social usage’ and ‘sufficient consideration for others’.

  8. I honestly do see the reason for the fear. The reason for the anger. When there are still people who think that David Bowie and Iman should have dalmation babies, when there’s still sites that allow posts about how to have white babies…

    When there’s still people who actually plan to go on a killing spree because they’re angry that an “Uppitty” black man won the presidency….

    The list goes on. And you know, speaking from the position of a half-Chinese woman, raised pretty much white, but with two very slightly ‘other’ looking sons, if that last scares me for my children I can only imagine, only speculate, how afraid someone more clearly not-white must feel.

    And that has to be an incredibly scary place.

  9. Hmm…this is totally a side note, but I actually just remembered that several years ago, Cecilia Tan and I sent out a proposal to various SF/F editors for an Asian and diaspora anthology, one that might serve as a companion book to the wonderful _Dark Matter_.

    While various editors liked the concept, no one was interested in publishing it in the end; they didn’t think the sales numbers would be there to justify it.

  10. @ Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Reminds me of the story a former British boyfriend used to tell me about (a probably apocryphal) storekeeper from his home town who told him that an item the boyfriend wanted to buy wasn’t stocked, because there was no demand for it. “Funny,” the storekeeper said. “You’re the third person today to ask for it.”

    Only it’s not funny, really.

  11. @MAM #9: Is this anything like the producer who (supposedly) told Barry Hughart that he wasn’t interested in Bridge of Birds movie because “Who wants to watch a buncha chinks”? This not long before “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.

    *I* would have bought such a book, but I’m biased.

  12. @6 Anne KG Murphy

    “Years of political correctness appears to have pushed many of us away from even wanting to admit publicly that these distinctions exist”

    I agree with your post, but I want to point out a use that I have seen come up a small amount in the discussions here, but also elsewhere – about “political correctness” (often blamed as originating with we liberals) used as a negative.

    As a white, straight male (albeit a highly liberal one,) I try to be aware of my position of privilege (and power,) so I try not use racist language, and I try to be aware of as many of the points that Tempest and Mary Anne have raised as I can. Where then does the negative connotation come from, since I am attempting to be respectful? My argument is that it is part of our white cultural, “racist” heritage (per Mary Anne’s definition in Part I).

    Political correctness is the use of language in a way that attempts to recognize the hidden privileges of being white and male and straight and Christian (mostly Protestant) in our US culture (and Europe, too, but that’s another story.) Negative attitudes toward being “politically correct” come from the side of our culture that says “white, straight, male, Christian (mostly Protestant)” is normative, and any divergence makes the other not only Other, but Unnatural.

    PCness has taken some hits, but it is an attempt to do better than we have in the past in the US, using words that are less injurious – so let’s call PoC or CoC what THEY want to be called. That doesn’t seem like a negative to me. Go PCness. But that’s just my opinion – others’ mileage may vary.

  13. I wonder if all of you reading this understand how completely fucked up that is? Do you get that it is so very, very wrong for a writer to be scared of hurting her career for pointing out racism, for being loud about sexism, for calling out people by name and saying “No, this is NOT right”? Thing is, even if you don’t like me or the way I roll, you should understand that it is not just me. It’s people of color. It’s women. It’s any person who is Othered by their supposed in group, their culture, their society, their co-workers. No one should be scared of losing their livelihood for saying what’s right.

    True, you’re absolutely and utterly correct, no one should be. But, on the other hand, that’s just the way it is… and always will be. The only thing that ever changes is the attitudes of the gatekeepers, but there will be editorial gatekeeping of one sort or another until technology blows the gates away entirely. At the moment, SF/F is extremely white, extremely PC, and extremely irreligious. In fact, even oft-ignored writers of color may be better off trying to get published at the average SF/F house than a white male writer who will not submit to the current orthodoxy.

    For example, I’ve been warned by various authors, such as Charles Stross, that I will never be published by certain editors and publishing houses due to my political views. I’ve had genre reviewers refuse to even review books that Publisher’s Weekly favorably reviewed. Now, that’s fine, I’m not complaining, and I believe people should be free to review, publish, not review, or not publish as it suits them. But the reality is that regardless of whether you are a black socialist female atheist or a white, right-wing male Christian, you’re going to have serious trouble gaining admission into the little club of SF/F publishing if you don’t fit the Acceptable Norm model, which generally involves being white, overweight, godless, and moderately left-leaning.

    So, while I agree with your sentiments and can understand at least a part of your frustration, I’d really encourage you to lose the anger. It’s not productive. Focus on bypassing the gatekeepers, don’t simply smash your head against the gates they keep shut. Conservatives had to create talk radio, (and later Fox News), to get around the liberal gatekeepers in mainstream media, black rappers had to create their own record labels to get around the record industry, the CBA was created because the ABA wasn’t meeting the Christian market’s needs, and and perhaps people of color who write SF/F need to set up their own publishing houses. The interesting thing is that once the alternative is set up and the market is proven, gates that were once closed tend to miraculously open.

  14. After reading the threads by MAM and KTB I have to finally comment. I am also a part oriental woman (part east indian) who matured in Vancouver. When I moved to Alberta I got tired of the question “were you born in Canada” because of my last name and the bland assumptions about my interests because of gender. I opted out of the race question by marrying a guy with a caucasian name. Now the question is 2 “r’s” one “s” and “are you related to?”…

    Thank you for making me uncomfortable about this again and thanks for speaking up. I do speak up on other issues of inequality but this should come back to my front burner.

  15. VD:

    “perhaps people of color who write SF/F need to set up their own publishing houses.”

    Verb Noire.

    That said, let’s avoid topic drift and stick with the issue at hand. SF/F’s failings toward other groups, perceived or real, is a topic for another thread.

  16. @VD
    Being “a white, right-wing male Christian” hasn’t exactly hurt Orson Scott Card, has it?

    I’m boggling at the idea of anyone equating the barriers to women and people of colour entering into SF with the perceived difficulties of conservative white men doing so. Because, you know, conservative white men are just so oppressed.

    I’m sure others will be able to talk with authority about the myth of the liberal media conspiracy, and I’ll ignore the ‘overweight’ thing because the concept of editors and publishers asking for an author’s BMI before accepting a manuscript is, uh…well…intellectually disadvantaged.

    But conservative white male Christians need special help to be published? Really?

  17. I’m a white male, fifty-nine, and I used to think I had no racist attitudes. I grew up watching my grandfather run a small grocery store that catered to black and white. He extended credit to black and white, delivered groceries to black and white.
    I made a black friend years ago and, to this day, we have long discussions on the subject. I’m still not perfect by no means. I still catch myself occasionally with that “thought” and make myself stop.
    It’s a long process and I’ve come to realize that the mere fact of being white had always given me the pass that I didn’t even realize.
    Will we ever overcome the arrogance that I see in too many people? I hope so.

  18. I right-clicked and saved the I’m Not Racist Bingo Card. Hope that’s okay.

    As a recovering Clueless White Chick, I understand the defensiveness that a lot of white folk are experiencing right now. But I also know that it does get easier when you let your own ego step out of the way and try to actually LISTEN to what people have to say instead of blocking your ears and going “la la la! I’m not like that!”

  19. Thank you for this post. It says. . . so much that is true.

    And as a writer of juvenile fiction, I’d *love* to have you write YA. Really. Please?

  20. I’ve been reading the ongoing discussion here about race and racism in science fiction and fantasy with considerable interest. That I’ve been reading it here at all is peculiar, given that I don’t generally read SF/F except as it relates to my own research on urban literature. However, I do know Mary Anne Mohanraj peripherally through her work as the creator of DesiLit, and came upon the discussion here via that route.

    I wanted to post here in response to all the people thanking Mary Anne and Tempest Bradford for having the courage to write publicly about these subjects. I agree that both writers are courageous for doing so, but something disturbs me about the eagerness of the collective gratitude. There’s something voracious about it. If I might say so, there’s something confessional about it, and we all know where that goes: you confess your sins and await absolution — but on the condition that you are asked to perform only the most perfunctory of penances.

    I worry that the excessive gratitude being expressed here is little more than a demand for absolution, a confession without consequences.

    But who will provide absolution here? And what will happen if the penance they demand is more than you are prepared to perform?

    At the moment I’m completing a forthcoming book about Toronto literature and the imaginative qualities of cities. One of its major arguments is that if multiculturalism in literature is to mean anything, both writers and readers need to engage more deeply with the most difficult questions — those involving racism, bigotry, exclusion and violence — rather than only what cultural theorist Stanley Fish referred to as “boutique multiculturalism … the multiculturalism of ethnic restaurants, weekend festivals, and high profile flirtations with the other.”

    I worry that by engaging in what smells an awful lot like an orgy of confession here, people will avoid any serious, personal confrontation with racism. But simply confessing to some generic form of racism will not absolve any of us, especially when we thank others a little too quickly for bringing it to our attention, as if we had not even noticed it until now, and as if we can just as quickly forget about the whole thing.

    If there is to be a shift in the literature, and in the real world(s) it represents, I’d like to hear about how people will engage more directly and more responsibly with questions of race and racism. In short, I’d like to know what people are going to do about it.

    For instance:

    * Don’t just include diverse characters in your writing — write about race and racism, too. If the characters duke it out over these questions, maybe readers will have the courage to have these arguments in the real world, too.
    * If you teach, make sure your students, especially your young ones, get to read books in which culture matters. “Tell us about us is a cliche in multicultural education. I’d like to see it put to better use, if only in part because some of these kids will grow up to be writers. Give them a chance to see themselves in that role now. Heck, give them a chance just to see themselves
    * Stop attending conferences and workshops whose panelists are all white, all male, all straight and so on. At the very least, ask why the panels / instructors aren’t more diverse.
    * Don’t confess so quickly to your own (conscious or unconscious) racism. Be hard on yourself, but hard on others, too. I, for instance, disagree sharply whenever people start talking about ‘privilege’, especially when those people are university faculty or published authors.

    I hope I haven’t taken up too much space here, but did want to add these thoughts to the discussion. And yes, I’m a white girl, even though I’m also the daughter of a Mohawk [yes, I see the square on the racism BINGO card.]

  21. With apologies I had commented to another thread before seeing this was up, but one bit seems even more relevant here: It seems that even though the serious and urgent problem of race in sf has been around for a long time (can someone ask NYRSF put the 1998 Delany piece online? I couldn’t find it), one reason we are seeing so much discussion now is that the dead tree biz that has dominated science fiction since the beginning is losing its grip. New forms of reader-author-publisher relationships are about to be negotiated. It is really fascinating.

    Interesting to think how different the publisher-author relationship will be in a few short years when the majority of us are reading E-Ink. Or am I too optimistic?

  22. I consider YA (at least the sf/f portion of it) to be a branch, if not quite a subgenre, of science fiction and fantasy. I do find some of the best stuff in the YA section. Are the readers there more accepting of different viewpoints and nontraditional characters?

    Have some writers (or is it the publishers?) just given up on the so-called adults and gone after the next generation?

    Not that the YA mold doesn’t have its own limitations. So while it may be freer and more open in some senses, it’s more restrictive in others.

    If what you want to write fits the YA mold, or can be made to fit without too much disfigurement, then go for it. You may have an easier time getting published, you may make more money doing so, and your readers may connect more fully with what you’re saying.

    So I think YA is a very viable alternative. But of course, it needs to be just an alternative, not a last resort.

    Mainstream publishing needs to get a clue — actually, a whole ram scoop full of clues. “The demand isn’t there” is so easy to say, because they hold most of the numbers, making it difficult to argue against.

  23. I haven’t been following the RaceFail debate, but I must say, I’m baffled by the idea that sci-fi would be an area unwelcome to people of color and ideas that challenge social stereotypes. One of the things I enjoy most of about sci-fi is the ability to place human culture under different filters and scrutinize them from unique points of view. Ursula K. LeGuin, Phillip K. Dick, Walter Miller, and even Heinlein in his more gentle way, were all about exploding social taboos and satirizing the more ignorant aspects of society.

    If there is racism in the publishing industry that keeps diverse voices silent, I think that’s a shame, and THAT’S where the outrage should be focused. Not on authors whose characters tend to be the same social/ethnic/racial background as the author. Write what you know.

  24. @Amy: What I’m going to do about it… I’m going to write. I’m going to keep writing and keep trying to write good, solid, stories that have people in them, not stereotypes. But the thing is, that’s what I think writing is about period, not just about inter-racial questions. Where the story itself calls for and needs an understanding of a culture outside of my own, I’ll be researching it. (Right now, it’s Burma and I can tell you that one’s hard to get good info on.)

    I’m not likely ever to be a social issues writer. That’s not where my skill set lies. What I *can* do is what I ought to do as any good writer – tell a good story with interesting plots and engaging characters.

    At least I *hope* that’s what I do. Having not yet managed an agent (Hey, John…. er… never mind) I can’t say whether something’s going to come of what I’ve done.

  25. @John #27: I know. *grin* You can smack me for being naughty at the con this weekend. Just not while I’m busy with the art show, please.

    @David: I’ve occasionally been sourly amused at the fact that some factions of SF are incredible stick-in-the-muds and Luddites. Then I remember that some SF is written not about the future but out of fear of it.

    And, too, SF is written by people and people are, by nature, biased and/or racist. So even when we think we’re doing good, we aren’t always on target. (Boy and how.)

  26. Thanks to both you and Mary Ann for posting, and to John for providing a forum. It’s been very educational.

    Amy- some of us might be just saying thank you for an interesting discussion, and viewpoints that we may not have heard or acknowledged before. I spend most of my time working on disability issues and read sf for fun, and I just hadn’t thought much about race issues in SF, even though I deal with race issues in disability circles very frequently.

    I’ll be interested to read your book on Toronto literature- I’m from Guelph, so needless to say multiculturalism and all that it entails has been a pretty big part of my life. I applaud your suggestions on how people can and should deal with racism in an every day context.

  27. One concern I have with all of this is that there seems to be a widespread perception that people’s comfort (or discomfort) levels with talking about race in sf/f related online forums like livejournal is reflective of the actual reality of the publishing industry. While I would never say those feelings are invalid, I also think it’s worth asking whether the emotions and perceptions generated by this particular debate really have any connection with genre publishing or opportunities for writers of color therein. I can’t speak to being a racial minority, but I can say that as a woman I’ve had the experience of feeling *socially* marginalized in the genre, while at the same time feeling heavily recruited by editors and definitely taken seriously as a writer. For example, Analog is a very male dominated magazine, but I’ve found Stan Schmidt personally very welcoming to women writers. He just doesn’t get many submissions from women. Possibly, there’s even a perception that is self-reinforcing. “Analog doesn’t publish many women. As a woman I don’t have a chance at Analog. Therefore I’ll submit elsewhere.” So for those who respond to the status quo by opting out–well, I can’t blame you, but at the same time everyone loses out.

    I’ve also had the experience of having attempted to speak out on something that I felt was sexist and being retaliated against and silenced by someone who seemed very much part of the more powerful “old boys’ network” in the genre.

    I think something that is important to distinguish is that in publishing and literary terms, the genre is *very* friendly to writers of color (and women). I had the good fortune to be a student of Octavia Butler at Clarion, and one piece of experience she shared with us was how beneficial it was to her career to have two audiences–science fiction and black literature (I believe she has published one or more essays on this theme). There is definitely room for more writers to occupy that niche.

    However, socially, the genre is more than a bit on the aspie side, dominated by old white males, not good at listening, needlessly hostile to newbies, and weirdly exploitive of women. That is what needs to change. I am not a writer of any great influence, but if anyone feels shut out or unwelcome or just wants some advice and handholding, feel free to drop me an email and let me know what I can do to help. If you feel like I am totally off base with what I’m saying here, I’m open to that as well.

  28. No one should be scared of losing their livelihood for saying what’s right.

    I think there are a lot of people who agree with that but who disagree with what exactly is “right”.

    I’ve had people essentially argue to me that the evil of racism is so bad that any “wrongs” committed by the people fighting that racism should be overlooked if you support the fight against racism.

    The other side of that are people who think racism is abhorently evil, but also think that two wrongs don’t make a right, that the wrong of racism doesn’t give someone the justification to commit ad hominems, sweeping generalizations, strawmans, and so on. The wrong of racism doesn’t give carte blanche to demand a pound of flesh from those who do not owe a pound of flesh.

    There is a rather vocal segment who respond to this with the equivalent of “You’re either with us or against us”. Not everyone, but their voices are loud.

    As for people feeling safe or comfortable talking about race or racism, that goes both ways. I have received emails from people thanking me for saying what I did on previous threads. I know that is the equivalent of “the lurkers support me in email”, but you don’t have to believe I’ve gotten emails to see that people have publicly said they’re going to avoid writing PoC’s into their fiction in the future because they’re afraid of getting it wrong and getting napalmed for it.

    The “with us or against us” crowd will then argue that if these people were truly against racism then they should be willing to suffer the slings and arrows for their imperfect writing.

    The notion being that there is no wrong that can be done in the war against racism.

    Which brings me to another point: the language used by the “with us or against us” crowd is that of a war against racism. We’re bleeding they will say. Where is your pound of flesh, they ask.

    Many people have pointed out that the language “war on drugs” frames the issue of drug use as an “us versus them” mentality, that this “good versus evil” mentality tends to push those who view themselves as the “good” to use any means neccessary to fight those they deem as “evil”. No knock warrants being issued based on nonexistent informants, executed by paramilitary police units who shoot first, and try to cover up the fact that they got the wrong address and killed someone who didn’t deserve to die.

    There are some who insist on portraying their antiracism as a war, a fight, a battle, a military campaign. And it seems to push some folks towards an attitude “good versus evil”, and also tends to push them towards not acknowledging when they make a mistake, glossing over when they get a bit over-zealous in their “war”, justifying any collateral damage on the grounds that, you know, people die in war it’s unavoidable, or worse, justifying it with the notion that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander. Which brings it back to “you’re either with us or against us”.

    So, of the set of people who stand against racism, within that group, some think that no wrong can be done in the war against racism, and some think that wrongs have been done in name of stopping racism.

    Yeah, no one should have to live in fear of losing their livelihood for saying what’s right. The question is more a matter of what is “right”. Some think that anything goes in the war against racism. Some think the “war” against racism shouldn’t be fought by committing war crimes.

    Which is “right”?

  29. Greg London:

    Your post was long and meandering (and also a bit self-justifying, in my opinion) and frankly didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Could you summarize more compactly, without the “lurkers support me in e-mail” portion? Because right now, it just looks like arguing to argue.

  30. I teach middle school language arts in Florida. Because of the conversations sparked by these posts on Whatever, I sat down with my honors class and asked them what they thought about race as depicted in their favorite books and films. My honors class is half black, half hispanic, with a handful of white kids thrown in. They grew up on Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, are currently recovering from their deep love affair with Twilight, and read a host of other books I can’t keep track of.

    Their reaction was confusion. They hadn’t actively noticed that most of the lead roles were filled by white people, or felt excluded as a result. The general consensus after ten minutes of talking was that it simply didn’t matter to them; as long as there was a good story, they were happy to read it. I also realized that twice as many of the girls like to read as the boys.

    I’m not trying to make a point with this, but simply provide some very rough data from the front. What I found most interesting, and what I suppose could be read into the most, was the sheer surprise on their part when I pointed out that most of the protagonists were white. As if they had never put it together themselves.

  31. Greg, I’d be more willing to respond to you if you provided links and context. (perhaps not here, as it’s a bit beyond the scope, but on your own blog, if you like) for anything you just said, because I don’t see that at all. I think that there’s a perception that a pound of flesh is being asked for and that’s because any time people with privilege are asked to give up the tiniest bit of it, they react as if someone is trying to kill their mother.

    For instance, in this recent debate, i’ve seen several people say something similar about how they’re afraid to write PoC for fear that the orc horde will descnd upon them. But if you actually look at the genesis of this discussion (and a lot of discussions like it), you will note that it wasn’t the fact that authors in question didn’t get things exactly right in their books that made people angry, but what they said on the internet. Again: the reaction was MOSTLY about what they said, not what they wrote in a book.

    As a black person, I kinda expect white writers to get it wrong in varying degrees from time to time. Getting stuff wrong is not a capital crime. Getting stuff wrong then refusing to admit that such stuff may be problematic, especially when one has it pointed out by the person affected by the wrongness? Is not good.

    Also, I’m pretty sure that any way you slice it, racism is wrong and being against racism is right. You can call me a moral absolutist if you want, but I don’t think it takes a genius to see that.

  32. John, not sure how short you want it.

    “No one should be scared of losing their livelihood for saying what’s right.” points the conversation outward, against racism. A significant part of the conversation involves a fundamental disagreement on how racism should be opposed. Is racism so evil that anything less evil than racism is justified? Or should racism be opposed without inflicting collateral damage?

    The people who are scared to speak include people who oppose racism but question the methods used by some to fight racism.

  33. Thanks, Greg. Also, Tempest replied to you immediately above. I do agree with her that it might be a discussion best suited in other places.

  34. Phil, that may just be loose reading on their part, and as they get older & read more critically it may wear off. That’s what happened for me.

    As an adult, going back through books I loved as a kid, I realized I had read diversity in there that was just not written in. The Sam I saw in My Side of the Mountain was a girl. Encyclopedia Brown was Black (I still have never met a white person my age or younger named Leroy.)

    If the readership of SF, as a whole, is overwhelmingly white and male and that causes readers to assume protagonists are white and male unless strongly marked otherwise, then it would make sense that your kids, living in a majority-minority world, read their reality into their books – and hopefully some of them will grow up to write books that actually have that world in them.

  35. I’ve been a librarian for almost 20 years. I’ve never judged a book by it author, the author is secondary to the story. I read fiction, SF, mystery, whatever, for entertainment. After I’ve read something that I enjoy, then I will look to see what else the author has written. After I’ve read a few by said author, sometimes I then want to know about him/her. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some, disappointed in others, but never has their race made much impression on me.

    I’ve also never had anyone request that something I recommend be only by a white author. I have had people request that the author only be black, or male.

    I’m not arguing any point, just observing.

  36. Excellent series of posts, and not something that is limited to authors and publishing in Scifi/Fantasy. The Romance genre has been struggling, too, with subtle and not-so-subtle forms of racism — from everything to covers, content, and shelving in bookstores. Discussions about the issues have been limited to the point of non-existence.

  37. @scalzi 32 I am not sure about your problem with Greg’s comment, though I could be reading more into it. I certainly get the feeling from reading various comments that if you disagree with a particular point made by a POC advocate, you will be hit with a label and discounted as one of “those.” The implication being one of the sick racist as opposed to just being a racist due to everyone being a racists. Tempest makes the argument that no one should feel scared to say what is right. What I get from what Greg is saying is that there are those who disagree on what is and isn’t right while acknowledging the problem, but remain silent due to the fear of being hit with that stigmata.

  38. L. Krüger:

    Greg compacted his answer and Tempest responded to him in any event, so I think we’re fine to move on from that point.

    Marjorie Liu:

    Very interesting to get a point of view from another genre.

  39. tibby @39: perhaps you didn’t intend to argue a point, but your post strongly comes across as suggesting that it’s only people who want more PoC authors or characters who have Issues About Race, whereas you and your library’s readers are simply above all that stuff.

    May I gently suggest that one of the reasons your readers don’t need to specifically ask for books by white authors is that they don’t need to. It’s like asking if there are any books published in the 20th century.

  40. Ditto to @45. The link @36 also speaks to Tibby’s point @39. In fact, I’ll quote:

    Nor did I ever tell them that gradually, during near-weekly pilgrimages to the neighborhood branch library, I’d started asking the librarian if she had books with magic and spaceships and dragons and stuff in them, but with some black people, too. Black would be the first choice, but anybody kind of brown would do. It seemed the answer, for my age group anyway, was no. When I got older, there would be a few.

    [Haven’t read the comments on the previous threads, apologies if this angle has already been handled.]

  41. I came to this a little late, so my comment is focused primarily on a part of Mary Anne Mohanraj’s first post. If that’s outside the bounds of the current discussion, I’ll accept a gentle tap from the mallet and withdraw.

    Mostly, I agree with both Mary and Tempest and thought their posts were thoughtful, educational, and insightful. No mean feat, that; writing about this stuff is hard.

    In Mary’s first post she made the point that “Your other oppressions don’t erase your white privilege,” arguing that specific race-related experiences cannot be effectively translated or shared.

    That, I think, is a mistake. While the specifics of any powerful emotional experience are highly personal, the project of literature is to communicate and share those experiences. The project of SF/F, in particular, is to share experiences that are necessarily alien/foreign/bizarre/outlandish.

    I understand the sentiment that drives Mary to argue that at some level, it’s simply impossible for a white person to ~really get~ what it’s like for a PoC to live in America. We can’t exchange skin and we can’t swap decades of intimate personal experience, so it is always necessarily true that there must be some part of a personal experience that is, and must remain, ineffable and incommunicable.

    However… there is also a commonality to our experience that makes communication possible. If it were truly impossible to translate the emotional content of our individual experiences into universal terms and then share the content of that experience with people who have never–and will never–actually share similar experiences, then the whole project of literature would fall apart.

    I will never know, in the way that Mary knows, what is like to be Sri Lanken. I will never know, in the way that Tempest knows, what it is like to be black. It’s also true that neither of them will ever know, in the way that I do, what it’s like to be a white man. But we can share experiences and we can share stories; we can read books that take us–however briefly and however incompletely–into the skin of the other for a few hours. And if we do that enough, maybe we can get the important stuff across. I can empathize with suffering, I can find inspiration in heroism, and I can understand enough about racism to work against it. It may well be true that there is always some part of personal experience that is immune to translation or communication, but I think that what’s important in human experience–what makes a moment profound, heartrending, inspiring, revolting, or otherwise meaningful–are essentially universal and ~can~ be shared.

    Now, as to the point that some voices seem to speak louder or with more authority and power than other voices, that’s true, regrettable, and–hopefully–changeable. I absolutely applaud Mary and Tempest for working to shine a light on injustice and address issues of race coherently and honestly.

    I just think it’s a mistake to cast these differences as forever and finally ineffable. Let’s write and publish as many eff’n stories as we can!

  42. No one should be scared of losing their livelihood for saying what’s right.

    Yeah. But we do. I won’t go into all the boring details of how I lost my job about 15 years ago for not censoring a book at the small town high school that I taught at, but I did lose that job.

    However, I do want to say that there are often rewards for sticking to your principles and saying what you believe is right. There are those that won’t publish you, perhaps, but honestly, would you want to work with people who would have you hang up your opinions at the door? No livelihood is worth that, and there *is* a world out there that will accept you and your values.

    After all, I came out way ahead. I make about 3X as much as a small town high school teacher, and I am very respected where I teach at my college. My biggest loss is that I miss my students from that time, but I always felt that I taught them more by walking away and standing up for their rights, than by staying silent and teaching them to do so.

    You must continue to speak what you feel is the truth, especially when others are watching, so they are inspired to also speak their truth.


  43. Tempest, thank you for that link. What a beautiful, poignant, powerful essay.

    When I pointed out to my kids that all the protagonists in these books and movies that they loved were white, I was heartbroken by the surprised realization on their faces. How they clouded over, and some of their gazes turned inwards. I backed off then, stopped pressing them and allowed the conversation to end on the ‘as long as it’s a good story’ note. I think I was loath to engender the ‘hollow echo’ that haunted Pam Noles enjoyment of her childhood classics.

    I’ve only been teaching for four months, and am unsure about how hard and how best to examine race with eleven year olds. We’re going to start reading Maniac McGee, which focuses on racism and predjudice, and I plan to start talking with my other teachers to get their input and advice. Perhaps instead of open discussions, I can work at this from an oblique angle; make copies of books like The Wizard of Earthsea available in my classroom, encourage my kids to write short stories and then talk about the role of race in their works, and so forth. Plant seeds, and hope that they will sprout.

  44. Amy @22: From my end, the incredible gratitude is because, after this tremendously huge and confusing thing, I feel clarity. I found the original debate utterly paralyzing. But now I can see what I can do in my own work to help, and what I can avoid doing to prevent harm.

    Thank you, Tempest, and thank you again, John.

  45. Phil, your comment makes me wonder whether we’ve generated a set of PoC booklists aimed at kids. I don’t think I’ve seen such a thing. It seems like a good project for Carl Brandon to add to their set of lists — ideally separated by appropriate grade levels, if some librarian could fill us in on what those divisions should be? And then we could start generating suggestions?

    I.e., I know Nnedi Okorafor and Nancy Farmer have written some great YA featuring black characters, but I’m not sure exactly what grade levels they’d be recommended for.

  46. Patrick Stephens:

    Yeah, in general I would very much prefer to keep the comment thread here on topic to what Tempest wrote. So no worries about your post; it’s good to catch up on it all, and I’m glad you did. Moving forward let’s keep the conversation focused on what’s here.

  47. Fish are not aware of water. This conversation concerns SF/F in America today. That important context should be explicitly stated.

    I enjoy White Male Priviledge only because I live in the United States of America in 2009. If I presently lived in South Africa, or in Japan 500 years ago, not so much.

    Why not? Because in those places and times, I’d be the minority person. I’d be the outsider. I’d be the one trying to convince the powerholders that they should treat me better, be more concerned about my feelings.

    Is that wrong? Were those societies racist, hateful, discriminatory, bad places to live?

    Has there ever been any other kind?

    Consider that your desire for writers to be more sensitive to race is YOUR concern. For the overwhelmingly vast majority of the majority race living in any society, they’re NOT obsessed about race, couldn’t care less. Default generic majority is fine with them – better than fine, it allows a connection with the character. I can’t picture myself as a Black lesbian but I could imagine myself winning a spacesuit in a soap contest and going to the moon. I can imagine myself enlisting after my wife dies, color wouldn’t matter.

    In fact, intentionally re-writing the story to add Persons of Color looks to majority readers irritatingly like Affirmative Action . . . why make this person different? Because the publishing house said we needed to meet a certain quota of this many of these and that many of those to appeal to a broader base of readers, which has nothing to do with the story but is PC so there you are? Just toss Link in the Mod Squad and we’re good to go? Irritating distraction.

    If you want to write sf/f where the heros are Sri Lankan, maybe your target audience should be overseas? Because quite frankly and honestly and no offense intended, Irish-English-French-Canadian-German-Minnesotans don’t care all that much about it.


  48. Rosa @38: Perhaps that’s why I was reluctant to force my kids to confront the issue so baldly; part of me hopes that they simply continue reading at this point in their lives, and become more critical as they grow older. Perhaps at this juncture my role is more to help them begin to formulate questions, rather than providing them upfront with what I see are the answers?

  49. This makes me pleased that I like Scalzi – and very likely to take my lunch break to walk up to a bookstore and look for your work.

  50. Joe Doakes:

    I’m not aware of you being appointed spokesperson for all Irish-English-French-Canadian-German-Minnesotans. Some of them might enjoy reading about a Sri Lankan. Most of them (or other white folks of varying heritages) wouldn’t know unless they get a chance to read one. Likewise just because you can’t picture yourself as a black lesbian doesn’t mean that you (or someone else not a black lesbian) couldn’t find something in such a character to empathize and identify with; again, something you or they won’t know unless someone writes that character and puts it into work.

    In any event, if as you note they’re not obsessed about race, it will do no harm to put any of those characters in there if the author so chooses. So that’s taken care of.

    As for intentionally throwing in PoC characters to satisfy some quota, that’s a strawman argument, and one that was handled quite effectively in the previous essays and comment threads on this topic here, so doesn’t really need to be revisited in this one.

    I think we’re done with this comment.

  51. So is this is a general call to action for someone, or is this mostly just a venting and thought experiment kind of thing? I guess I’m just trying to figure out where the conversation is going and if I have any place in it? (My working assumption to that last question is “No.” and I’d rather not derail an otherwise insightful discussion.)

  52. Joe, just tossing in a COC for the sole reason of having a COC is just plain bad writing. Mary Anne talks about COCs and the “generic white” character in her second post.

    Good writing transcends superficial traits such as race and sexual orientation. Could you identify with a black lesbian who loved, was spurned, suffered injustices, overcame obstacles? I’m sure some of those things have happened to you.

  53. catshafer @ # 30 – One concern I have with all of this is that there seems to be a widespread perception that people’s comfort (or discomfort) levels with talking about race in sf/f related online forums like livejournal is reflective of the actual reality of the publishing industry. While I would never say those feelings are invalid, I also think it’s worth asking whether the emotions and perceptions generated by this particular debate really have any connection with genre publishing or opportunities for writers of color therein.

    Did you miss the mention of a female Korean writer who was told that her book was rejected because “Asian fantasy doesn’t sell”? Anyhow, I’m not sure what you’re claiming that people on LJ (and here, and other places) are claiming the publishing industry does, so if you say “Oh, it’s not *that* bad” without defining what “*that*” is, you set up a strawman, intentional or not.

    I think something that is important to distinguish is that in publishing and literary terms, the genre is *very* friendly to writers of color (and women).

    And at the same time, it’s also *very* unfriendly, and all you have to go on is what people say. It can be both at the same time.

    Are you totally off base? I can’t tell. You’re not defining what “base” is.

  54. Aww, John, do we have to be done with that comment? I think he has a point. After all, as a 21st-century human non-astronaut, what interest could I possibly have reading about people in space in the future with technologies that don’t even exist yet? Sounds like alien/future-tech affirmative action to me. Authors really need to stick with worlds that we’re familiar with.

  55. Andrea and others; In poking a little at the confessional tone of the gratitude expressed toward Mary Anne and Tempest, I did not mean to suggest that such appreciation was misplaced. Rather, I was hoping to suggest that something else is needed as well.

    Here’s why.

    Discussions about race tend to devolve into two directions. In the first, racism is narrated as a personal problem, something individuals do to one another, and accordingly as something that can be fixed if only individuals are nicer to one another. In the context of this discussion, it might be expressed in the form of personal confessions, or as promises to do better in the future (I will write people of colour into my next novel, and/or will make a point of buying novels written by diverse groups of writers, etc.). When we do too much of this and only this, we become complacent about structures of power and knowledge that underlie individual behaviour.

    At the same time, when racism is labelled a structural issue — also known as systemic racism — where racism may be found in social systems like universities, courts, media, publishing culture, etc., another problem creeps in. The difficulty is that in the face of systemic racism, individuals tend to absolve themselves by arguing that structural fixes can happen only incrementally; i.e., that they can be delayed indefinitely, and that any given individual need not take responsibility because who can carry this burden alone?

    My reading of the ongoing discussion is that it has tended to divide itself between these two approaches to racism without committing itself to exploring the linkages between them. Clearly this is something both Mary Anne and Tempest have worked hard to accomplish. It’s my view that any ensuing discussion is most likely to be productive if it makes a similar effort.

  56. Ms. Bradford: I’m sorry that you believe that you may have been punished for stating what you believe about race in SFF. I am also sorry if others feel intimidated about publicly stating what they believe about race in SFF.

    I would like to hear, however, your distinction between legitimate, civil debate and what is not so legitimate. One of your stated concerns is that the “environment” in online discussions or in other discussions may intimidate some POC from expressing opinions. However, I assume you are not arguing that no one can disagree with your ideology without creating a toxic environment.

    It seems to me that we will forever be unable to debate these issues unless we have rules of civil engagement. What, in your opinion, should those rules be?

    It seems to me that there should be a real distinction between consequences for speech that are disconnected from the speech from those that are so connected. The opinion or ideology that one states on race in SFF should not, by any standard of fairness, be used by editors in making separate decisions about publishing some work of fiction. That seems to me to violate normal principles of fairness.

    On the other hand, it is in the nature of ideologies that not everyone agrees with them. It seems to me that speech that takes an ideological position should normally be open to reasonable, civil debate. I assume you agree, but the devil is in the details of what we consider civil debate.

  57. I was once fortunate enough to have dinner with fantasy & science fiction writer Stephen R. Donaldson, who told us that he once had to fight very hard with his editor and publishing house to have the main POV character of his novel The One Tree be a woman. He was told something to the effect of (I’m sorry I cannot remember the exact words):

    “People want to read about Tarzan, not Jane.”

    Donaldson won the fight, and the main character of the book was female. And that book was a best seller, by the way, so some people must not have minded a female main character.

    Donaldson was a NYT best selling author at the time of that show down with his editor.

    I have always wondered since I found out about that book and Donaldson’s problems getting it published how many other authors – and their non-Tarzan characters – have not been allowed to find expression due to such open prejudice on the part of publishers. If Donaldson had not been a best selling author to begin with, would the book have been blocked? How many authors have simply been turned down for publication because they have female, gay, or POC as their main characters?

    How many good books and potential classics have we, as readers, lost?

  58. @ rdaneel, #63:

    I’m sorry that you believe that you may have been punished for stating what you believe about race in SFF.

    Dude, calling someone delusional is a tactic, not an apology.

  59. Further to my comment at #62, I would like to add that the responsibility to engage with both personal and systemic aspects of racism is something we all share, whether we identify as white or as people of colour.

    Being ‘nice’ to others does not absolve any given individual of culpability for entrenched systemic racism. Nor does a racist system absolve any given individual from making every effort to succeed despite it. I do not believe that we are linked together only as oppressors and victims. Rather, ideally we can work as co-conspirators in resolving personal differences *and* systemic problems together.

  60. The opinion or ideology

    Well, this right here is part of the framing that contributes to making a debate civil or uncivil. Up to this point in your comment, you referred to Tempest’s ideology, not her opinions. Studied word choice of this sort does tend to have an effect on the discourse.

    Without wishing to speak for Tempest, I will note that I disagree with many of the consensus opinions of the anti-racist “side” of the debate, and have never yet been accused of poisoning the discourse.

    I think, personally, that particular uses of jargon are intentionally uncivil–the tired references to ‘bingo cards’ especially, absent a very specific friendly, joking environment–but it is an intentional incivility that is often justified: the intent is to communicate the fact that an argument is so empty of thought, banal and offensive that it can only be answered in kind, with an equally formulaic response. I think that standards of civility, which are both culturally dependent and highly variable depending on the formality of a conversation, are very much not the point here. What is infinitely more important is offering up speech in good faith, and being able to trust that responses are being offered in equally good faith. Online conversations about these issues are held in so many different locations that it is impossible and also undesirable to try to work up a single universal standard of civility or courtesy. It seems better to me to adapt our ideas of civil expression to the venues we find ourselves in.

  61. One of the insidious things about what retaliation might looks like is : nothing different than what you see right now. Think about it. Nothing needs to change in order for someone to retaliate against a POC author who’s been too loud, or mentioned “othering” and made people uncomfortable. All anyone who’s pissed off by the complaint has to do is not change for the positive, and the damage that’s being talked about continues.

    The ony thing that really can change the state of affairs is an active movement in another direction. Actual retaliation in the form of being racist is rare. What really happens is that there are major publishing houses that can and will put out books that contain ideas about race found on the “BINGO* card on a regular basis, and turn down books by POC because “it won’t sell”, and it’s not even a direct retaliation, it’s just the state of things.

  62. Amy: My reading of the ongoing discussion is that it has tended to divide itself between these two approaches to racism without committing itself to exploring the linkages between them.

    Actually, I think I had brought up on another thread the notion of someone who builds up frustration about racism and takes all of that frustration out on whoever happens to be the person who pushes them over the edge. THe point being that an individual is sometimes held responsible for an entire history of systemic racism, which is unfair.

    So, it doesn’t feel like the idea of systemic and individual issues of racism are disassociated and never the two shall meet. It feels like the two are conflated, and attempting to distinguish and separate the two becomes effectively impossible.

    systemic racism needs systemic solutions. individuals can be held individually responsible for their individual acts of racism. Taking someone who put a stereotyped CoC in their story and holding them responsible for systemic racism of the entire genre is conflating individual and systemic into one hairy mess.

  63. Shawn Struck:

    I suspect rdaneel may not have been actually trying to imply Tempest was delusional. May I suggest asking him if that’s what he meant, rather than telling him. Might be slightly less confrontational and more conducive to mutual understanding.

    Greg London:

    “The point being that an individual is sometimes held responsible for an entire history of systemic racism, which is unfair.”

    I don’t agree with this. There’s a difference between someone saying to me “you’re responsible for all of this,” which I’m pretty sure no one has ever suggested to me, and “this stuff exists, and you’re not helping,” which has. I’m not at all sure anyone has done what you’ve suggested above.

  64. Greg @ # 70

    Taking someone who put a stereotyped CoC in their story and holding them responsible for systemic racism of the entire genre is conflating individual and systemic into one hairy mess.

    How about someone who creates a strawman of an imaginary POC or ally who holds an imaginary writer responsible for systemic racism of the entire genre, and tries again to derail the conversation?

    Let’s see:

    “I’m not a racist”

    “Victim of reverse racism”

    “Too sensitive”

    Hmm. Not quite a BINGO, but keep working at it.

  65. I certainty did not mean to imply that Ms. Bradford was delusional.

    I also do not intend ideology to be a negative term. We all have ideologies.

  66. I haven’t had time to read these comments and I’m sure people have already said this upstream but I wanted to say it again, Yay, Tempest. This is a wonderful post and so true. I for one am eternally glad you’ve been speaking up the way you have. You’re a hero.

    But you really should give up on SF and join me in the land of YA.

  67. Greg London:

    If I may make a suggestion, you do seem to be prone to hyperbole and hypothetical from data not necessarily in evidence to make your points re: race and SF/F. I want to you to try very hard to not to do that, and to be specific in your claims in discussion. Otherwise, I agree that you do have a tendency to derail the conversation, and I may ask you to move on from the thread.

  68. Duchess- there have been authors who have “made it through” the sex/race barrier. People like Joanna Russ, Sherri Tepper, Nancy Kress, Connie Willis etc have been published, not to mention DAW book’s love for Marion Zimmer Bradley, Heinlein in “Friday” (even though you can argue that Friday is more a male fantasy of what a mixed race, wholly competent female protagonist would look like rather than an actual character), and Ursula K. Leguin’s works. One of David Brin’s main characters in the Uplift books is black, and treated no differently than any other character. There are authors out there who seem to be able to get past the sex/gender/race barrier, but they may be few and far between, and I don’t doubt that a published history behind them helps.

    I don’t think that SF as it stands lends itself easily to discussions of of gender/race issues for many reasons. But it is out there if you look for it.

  69. [deleted for lack of value to the discussion. People, if you have something you want to say to me directly, send it in e-mail, don’t put it in the comment thread — JS]

  70. [deleted because it seems like to me this is picking an unnecessary personal fight on this thread. SO, find a better way to ask what you’re asking that doesn’t make it personal, or send it to Tempest in e-mail. Actually, on second thought, e-mail’s the better way to go — JS]

  71. @32, John

    John mind if I steal “lurkers in the email”? I just a horribly silly idea for a Cthulhu mythos story off that…

  72. Writers, I have a practical question for you. Where does racial bias appear in the writing/submitting/editing process?

    As an illustrator who works in a mostly non science-fiction/fantasy industry, I never see any of my clients. To them, I’m just a name, a voice on the phone, a series of drawings, and a PO box. And to me, they’re a name, a voice on the phone, a paycheck, and an FTP address. We don’t know enough about each other, except what we can glean from our names and voices, to hold many prejudices. Of course, mine’s a very narrow set of experiences, and I’m sure yours is different.

    Is it a bias against people of color? Do publishers and editors lean away from writers with non-European names, or who don’t talk like network news anchors? Does your relationship change once they realize you’re a person of color?

    Is it a bias against characters of color? I suspect this is a big one. Art directors ask me to change the race, gender or age of a character in at least a quarter of my projects. Although no one’s ever asked me “can you make this person look whiter?” outright, some of their requests have leaned in that direction.

    I’m sorry if some of these questions are especially cloddish. It just seams that the anonymity of publishing submissions would make the industry literally “color blind” (I know, “Bingo!” but the description seems appropriate here). It surprises me that there’s still such a large gap.

  73. I’d like to respectfully point out something concerning the discussion of “race” that is boiling under the surface, but seldom gets acknowledged:

    “Race” and its effects isn’t just about the melanin balance of one’s skin.

    + Ask Tobias Buckell, who has ranted on the subject before. For that matter, ask a mixed-race Ashkenazim who grew up in Mormon territory, or a dark-skinned Jew who grew up in Gaza, or light-skinned Palestinian or Arab who grew up in Haifa, or a child adopted by parents of different ethnicity.

    + Ask a military officer (like me) who did not attend a military academy (and, therefore, didn’t wear a class ring), or have a pilot/navigator rating (and, therefore, didn’t have wing’s on his/her uniform).

    + Ask anyone who has visited Rwanda in the last two decades.

    The problem with racism, and similar appearance-based means of determining who (in the words of political philosopher P.B. Gabriel) is Not One of Us, is precisely that: It is based solely upon a surface impression. It is an inherent defect of human character.* It is therefore a part of fiction per force.

    IMNSHO, the entire RaceFail thread arose because — at some level — we all have difficulty accepting that the Author is distinct from the Work. Throw in the undoubted abuses in the publishing industry (which is far from unique, and is actually “more progressive” on average than most of American society), stir in some overidentification of readers with the personal experience of characters in works of fiction, season with the economic foundation of Fandom, and one has a recipe for disaster. Or, at least, for Dolley Madison Fail Cakes with Bad Logic Creme Filling{tm}.

    * I won’t say “so get over it,” because I think it’s a defect that everyone must struggle against all the time. I’ve actually met a couple of intellectually inquisitive ringbangers who were pilots, and conversely I was preassigned to become an academic instructor at a military academy despite my “real” education, thick glasses, and purple uniform.

  74. Jen – There’s something interesting about characters who’re POC, but “treated no differently” or think and act no differently than other white characters in fiction, because unless the author explains why that’s happening, it’s like a section of a painting that got skipped over – you know there should be a reason why, because POC *are* treated differently right now. But if no one talks about why, the story element that could have been different is all of a sudden useless.

    Anyhow, that more belongs in the second thread my Mary Anne than here, so I’ll stop talking about it.

  75. Greg at #70: My pointing out that individual and systemic racism are connected does not mean that I am saying they are identical.

    And with respect, it may be true that someone who takes out all their pent-up frustration about race on whoever happens to “push them over the edge” is playing a shell game with racism, but it’s not played only by people suddenly holding others “responsible for an entire history of systemic racism.” It’s also played — and I would argue far more often — by people eager to pin racist stereotypes upon whole cultures because someone they knew got mugged, or plays professional basketball, or wears a hijab and prays five times a day.

    But I do agree with you that it is a “hairy mess.” Indeed, I think acknowledging this is an important first step to unravelling it — or figuring out whether we want to do so at all.

  76. Not to derail, but it has been mentioned-how is the establishment/editors/publishers/fandom of YA superior/more friendly/more welcoming than SF/F? Or what is the lesson SF/F needs to take from YA?

  77. MattMorovich @81: You should be aware of http://barb.velvet.com/humor/lurkers.html for historical reasons, as it was partly reponsible for making the “the lurkers support me in email” phrase popular, but also partly in direct response to the events that did so at least within a specific community.

    Tempest @0: Thank you for standing up and speaking truth.

  78. Josh Jasper:

    “Anyhow, that more belongs in the second thread my Mary Anne than here, so I’ll stop talking about it.”

    Thank you for the auto-re-railing, there, Josh. It’s appreciated.

  79. Ms. Bradford,

    I never thought myself particularly brave…

    Well, I’ve followed links to the Angry Black Woman blog, and seen appalling comments there. Really vicious, hateful stuff.

    You may not think of yourself as brave, but keeping that site going looks like courage to me.

    Thanks for this, and good luck.

  80. #83, overidentification? One of the successes of fiction is to engender a reader’s identification with the characters.

  81. @81, John and 87, Brooks Moses

    Thank you. I’ll take a look at those links later and give the right attribution if anything ever comes of it.

  82. @Tempest

    Thank you for this. I only found out about the whole RaceFail debate when John made his angry post and it’s given me some things to consider with PoC and CoC.

  83. Devil’s advocate: the difference between Tempest’s “people are feeling silenced” and “the lurkers support me in email” is what, exactly?

    Analytical approach to a long-term pattern? Context–that is isn’t being used in the service of a one-on-one battle?

  84. IMNSHO, the entire RaceFail thread arose because — at some level — we all have difficulty accepting that the Author is distinct from the Work.

    I’m going to have to say a big no to this because it’s a misconception that has a lot to do with what we’ve been discussing here and the meta-discussion that RaceFail is part of.

    The problems did not begin because folks don’t understand that an Author is separate from the books she writes. The chain was:

    Author writes post about cultural appropriation and attempts to explain to (presumably white) people how to incorporate POC into fiction and not include sketchy stuff surrounding race –> reader raises hand and says, in light of this, I feel the need to point out the sketchy race stuff in one of your books –> author says, that’s a valid criticism, I don’t always get things right –> author’s friends go: WHAT YOU SAY? and then someone set us up the bomb (i.e. RaceFail).

    The conversation did not start with: OMG author you are a horrible person for getting race wrong. It was not about Author writes problematic elements into her book, therefore author is racist.

    Remember how I said that a lot of people stay silent on these issues? Well, a lot of times it’s because of that last part. It doesn’t matter how civil one is or what kind of tone one adopts, there is always someone ready to set us up the bomb and freak out because they confuse being called on engaging with race in a problematic way with being called a racist and their conception of a racist is a KKK member in a hood.

  85. I’d like to point out that Tempest, as well as being The Angry Black Woman is also one of the funniest people I know. Watching her read through Ted White And Blue, a Ted Nugent Manifesto was incredible.

    I hope she follows up on her idea of writing up her response some day. Comedy gold!

  86. Tempest:

    “It doesn’t matter how civil one is or what kind of tone one adopts, there is always someone ready to set us up the bomb and freak out because they confuse being called on engaging with race in a problematic way with being called a racist and their conception of a racist is a KKK member in a hood.”

    I think I love this.

  87. #83, you’ve written a post on your own blog on the subject of group identification w/regard to misrepresentation of that group, but you don’t allow comments, so no discussion. The salient point that you’ve missed is that the perceptions for several of the groups you’ve chosen as examples– military officers, Supreme court justices– are more or less controllable by their members. Race is choiceless.

    Tempest cannot decide to put on pink skin tomorrow morning. Your substitute teacher didn’t assume he’d be throwing the chalkboard eraser at you because of the way you looked to him.

  88. Tempest@96—I *had* read that piece in skimming through some RaceFail links. Sorry, not attacking—I think I can feel the difference between “silenced” and “lurkers support” but I’m not sure I can articulate it, though I tried to get started. I was actually a little bit glad you didn’t link that piece orginally, I’m not sure why (maybe the “look, someone agrees with me” just wasn’t necessary to the strength of the piece?)

    Incidentally, one of the things I always tell my students is beware of reaching for the easy explanation. The Rosenbaum link @88 is superb and I think demonstrates exactly the best that can come of discussions about race—no one attacked him for writing a Sacrificial Negro (AFAICT), but next time he goes to write a black character, he will likely be much more careful not to fall into those patterns that are so easy to just let play out. Which I think is the main (first) thing people were asking for.

  89. Phil,

    As a fellow educator, if I can suggest — it might help you to do some reading on racial identity development theory. In particular I’d recommend Beverly Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, written by the president of Spelman College, a famous HBCU. My guess on what’s happening with your students is that they’re still in an early stage of identity development, in that they may have begun to notice the “big” inequities of society but haven’t yet started looking critically at everything society produces for subtle/systemic expressions of that inequity. They’ll get there on their own — it usually starts in college or late adolescence anyway — but it might help them if you can teach yourself what the normal patterns are, and how to deal with them.

    The Tatum book is hardcore psychosocial development theory, but written in a clear and accessible way that makes it great for layfolk as well as educators. It also references a number of other resources you might find helpful.

  90. @100 – I’ll second your statement that the Rosenbaum essay is a great example of the best that we could see coming out of this whole kerfluffle. These conversations are so hard to have because so many emotions are involved. I’ve been having a very difficult time reading a lot of the comments (I try and avoid open discussions on the internet because I don’t have a terribly thick skin and hate seeing people being nasty to other people) but the discussion has prompted me to take a look at my own writing, and my behavior too.

    So even though the discussions can turn ugly, I’m glad for folk like Tempest and John who get them started.

  91. Scalzi @ 98 – And *after* that happens, the discussion is no longer “civil”, it just ends up looking like it if you’re not aware of how damaging that is.

    Discussions of tone are doubly derailing. They allow for expressions of this sort of thing, but the (to me understandable) repose of “If the sheet fits…” gets seen as not being civil, which is something Tempest has pointed out elsewhere.

  92. Josh Jasper:

    “Discussions of tone are doubly derailing.”

    Yeah, and something I got pinged for (and am still getting pinged for) so it’s of interest to me. And frustrating.

    But (heh) let’s not get any more derailed on that at the moment.

  93. @102 – There’s always something that can be edited. Le sigh. I meant to say, one of the best things.

  94. @100 and @102: I dearly loved Ben’s piece as well and would like to see many more people walk themselves through the same exercise. But though this kind of self-reflection and self-education by white writers (and non-white authors, as Ben acknowledges in his own intro) is necessary and good, it’s not sufficient–surely “best” requires many more voices of PoC, whether authors or readers or editors.

    I don’t mean to knock the piece or disagree with your assessment of its value! I just want to make sure we don’t get sidetracked into thinking that the sole point is the education of white people, however important that is.

  95. No, The Other Scott @82: I’m very curious about racism in the submission process as well. I’ve currently got about six queries out to different agents, and beyond my name I don’t think there’s any way to determine my race from the queries themselves.

    I’d be interested to hear from authors who have been discriminated against primarily because of their race as opposed to because of the race of their characters. For example, would an African American author submitting a novel with white characters set in a traditional Western medieval setting face the same discrimination as one writing a novel featuring characters of color?

  96. Re #82 — where does racial bias appear in the writing/submitting/editing process? Here are some aspects:

    – writers write generic characters that they may think ‘could be’ any race, but end up ‘reading white’
    – writers write characters of color who are indistinguishable from generic people, and so they ‘read white’
    – writers choose not to write characters of color
    – writes who do write characters of color, make them impotent sidekicks, villains, bestial, magical negros, whores, etc. and so on

    – editors see authors’ names on the subs (I don’t think any of the pro markets do blind subs) and are subtly influenced thereby, being less interested in authors whose names are ‘too black’ or ‘too ethnic’, or assume that the books will be ‘about race’ and therefore uninteresting or polemic
    – editors read stories with a protagonist (or other major characters) of color and because of their own internalized racism simply like the stories less as a result than they would have with a white protagonist
    – editors read and claim to like stories with characters of color, but believe that there’s no audience for them, or not enough to sell sufficient books, and so thinking reject the manuscript

    – publishers put white characters on the cover, because they’re afraid readers will be ‘scared away’ by characters of color
    – publishers decide if we’re going to publish this book, we need to target it to the right audience, so they put a painfully caricatured cover on the book (in my case, and S. Asian lit. by women in general, it’s the ‘red sari’ cover — woman with head and other limbs truncated, red sari draped over her body, sexualized position/appearance, body is posed, not in motion/active)
    – publishers spend less money on advertising the book, because they assume it’ll be a ‘special interest’ market
    – publishers only send book to ‘ethnic-focused’ reviewers

    – booksellers order far fewer copies of the book, because they assume it’s ‘special interest’, which then impacts how many copies are viewed by readers on shelves, which dramatically impacts sales
    – booksellers shelves books in ethnic fiction ghettoes only
    – white booksellers assume books about characters of color aren’t going to be of interest to them, and choose not to read them or write employee reviews of them

    – reviewers do the same

    Etc. and so on. That’s just off the top of my head, and I can think of specific examples for many of the above. In some cases, several specific examples.

  97. mythago #45
    “perhaps you didn’t intend to argue a point, but your post strongly comes across as suggesting that it’s only people who want more PoC authors or characters who have Issues About Race, whereas you and your library’s readers are simply above all that stuff.”

    Of course we aren’t above it, don’t go atributing attitues or ideas that weren’t there.

    My regular patron is the one who walks in and chooses their own reading material. I live in rural south Louisiana, the majority of my patrons are older white females and young black females. Guys don’t normally ask, be they black or white, for probably the same reasons most guys don’t ask for directions. (There, I admit, I have a prejudicial sexist conclusion!)

    Mostly they (patrons) want romance, they want mystery, they want scifi, they don’t want me choosing, or telling them what they read. They just want a little imput. I don’t want to tell them what to read, we are all different, no matter what our sex or race. I ask what they like to read, and then try to point them to something along the same lines. Only twice have I had the two qualifications I mentioned earlier made. My point there was that it was rare, not that it was telling. I’m sorry if it came out otherwise.

    The point I’m trying to make is that regardless of color, the writing has to stand up, and if it stands up who cares what color the author, or the protagonist is? Isn’t worrying about that a form of racism all it’s own? And obviously, if we can identify with the character, it’s a plus. Maybe it’s my age at this point, but I rarely pay a whole lot of attention to the physical description a character, and more to the thoughts and actions of the character.

    And if I as a reader, don’t care, and those kids don’t care,(and yes, it is a shame they had to be made aware, why make them have to angst over it?) isn’t it more a problem of the publishers/book people?

    I get to see first hand that wonderful, rare connection of a reader finding that wonder inducing moment of awe and excitement – of finding an author or an author created character that they love. Race/racism should not have anything to do with it. It’s the character, or the writing, not it’s color or sex, or any mutation thereof, that matters. For most of us, (within my experience) no matter what our racial background, that is the norm.

    I think that the whole P of C topic has been interesting, and informative, and has made me more aware of some underling issues that go along with publishing and reading. But I’m not convinced that it really is as big an issue as a lot of you feel it is. I am not discounting it – so don’t get all defensive on me. Mercedes Lackey wrote those great Heralds of Valdemar books years ago. She caught a lot of flack for them. Now they are held up as standards, ditto Walter Mosley, and his detective Easy Rawlins. Nether of those would have been possible 50 years ago. Things have changed, things continue to change, and I believe that we will reach a point where race isn’t an issue. Will it happen quickly? Probably not, and that I think is the issue, you would like it to happen more quickly. I hope it does.

  98. Not here and not now, but I would like to see some sort of discourse on the question of tone. I suspect that it’s an insidious argument, however, possibly because there is a small seed of truth in the idea that civility has a better chance of getting results than rage – even when that rage is right and justified. And a large bunch of truth in that the argument is used to justify not complying “cause you talked mean to me”.

    But as I say, that’s not for this discussion. (Aside from thanking John for helping keep this one from turning into that sort of discussion.) Moving on.

  99. John, thanks for the Mary Ann posts. I feel they were very helpful, well written and did a great job of pointing out both sides visceral reactions to inflammatory statements. I recognized my (white-ish) reaction in there, and it was good to see them contrasted and explained. I learned something. It’s prolly my personal limitations, but not so much with the Tempest post. At least for me. The picture of an angry woman pointing at me yelling “stop and THINK” is too similar to memories of my ex-wife. And well, I’ll stipulate I only learned from that experience once the relationship was over.

  100. Duchess @ #65:

    Something that the PoC blogosphere is talking about today is Karen Lord, a Barbadosian (sp?) writer who won a $10K prize for a fantasy novel for which she has been unable to find a publisher. It does seem that a lot of the PoC-written speculative works/authors that are winning international literary awards, NEA grants, etc., come out from non-SF publishers. Though this is the first case I’ve heard of an award-winning book not being published at all.

    Granted, that which wins awards is not always considered commercially viable in the publishing world. But I do wonder why.

  101. @Tibby: Are you talking about the Heralds series or the Sword Sisters? I don’t recollect much in the way of explicitly non-white characters in the former. (Though I confess to having stopped reading her a long while back for other reasons.)

    I think we’ll know we’re past racial bias when there are characters of color who are utter shits and all the readers say is “Gee, that character is an utter shit!” without anyone feeling like it’s a stereotype against their particular color *or* proof that the stereotypes are right.

    Considering the matter, though, I think we have a very long way to go before we reach that point.

  102. Josh Jasper #59 Did you miss the mention of a female Korean writer who was told that her book was rejected because “Asian fantasy doesn’t sell”?


    And at the same time, it’s also *very* unfriendly, and all you have to go on is what people say. It can be both at the same time.

    Sure, Josh. I think that’s what I was trying to say.

  103. Greg: “The point being that an individual is sometimes held responsible for an entire history of systemic racism, which is unfair.”

    John: There’s a difference between someone saying to me “you’re responsible for all of this,” which I’m pretty sure no one has ever suggested to me, and “this stuff exists, and you’re not helping,”

    Except “you’re not helping” is subject to interpretation. Someone said they weren’t going to write CoC in their works because they were afraid of getting flamed more than they are being flamed now. And then they got heat for saying that.

    If they must write CoC’s or get flamed, then the individual is being held responsible for correcting systemic racism.

    And I think Mary Anne wrote in one of her threads that it’s optional. But if its optional, an author shouldn’t get any heat for saying they’re going to exercise that option. So I don’t think everyone is playing by the same rules.

    One interpretation of “you’re not helping” is “You’re stereotyped CoC contributes to systemic racism, you’re responsible for your characters, remove or fix your character to fix your contribution to the problem.”

    ANother interpretation of “you’re not helping” is more like “you’re not helping enough to fix systemic racism, so you’re helping racism, and we’ll flame you for it.”

  104. Re: 108 – Publishers aren’t in the book publishing business to lose money. If SCI-FI readers are overwhelmingly white and all white people are racists then why shouldn’t publishers take that fact into account?

  105. @Tempest: I know that side of the tone argument and I agree with it in general. But there are aspects to it that I feel are counter-productive to the situation.

    But, as noted. This is not about the tone argument. This is about things we can do to recognize our personal bias and understanding why it is that someone is pissed at you.

    So let’s move on and discuss, say, research. It’s fairly said that it’s not a PoC’s job to educate you. So, where does a writer not of a specific race go to get information? Are there websites out there geared entirely towards helping writers research their topic?

    I know of one, though I note they want you to show that you’ve done your own work first. Little Details. There’s a fairly large and varied group on that list and while they won’t write your term paper for you, they will help anyone with a reasonably well-phrased question who’s obviously done their footwork.

  106. JS, fair enough.

    Allow me to address a few general comments to the group?

    I’ve spoken before about how I am in an interracial marriage. I feel my 15+ years with my wife have been their own eye-opening form of education, regarding race, regarding racial anger, and regarding racial representation in all manner of media, and in society as a whole.

    Given this history, I’d like to point out a few things.

    In any discussion of race, there will always be individuals that stand up and proclaim themselves as spokespersons for The Group. No matter whether that group asked for them to do this or not. In reality there is no one Black Perspective, Latino Perspective, Asian Perspective, etc. There are only individual perspectives, each influenced and informed by individual experiences.

    Having said this, I have noticed a tendency on the part of progressive whites to bow before PoC — any PoC — on matters of race, thereby automatically entering into a pourer-receptacle relationship, whereby the WP is the receptacle and the PoC is the pourer. My suggestion for any WP seeking racial understanding — or forgiveness? — is to pick and choose wisely whose feet you sit at. There are some PoC who leverage their personal racial pain in any discussion of race with WP, and you are playing with fire if you allow a pain leverager to become an important informant of your own racial paradigm.

    In the end, each of us is human under the skin. Our blood, our muscle, our bone, it’s all the same. Those of us who have literally committed to a life-long blending of white and brown have — whether we intended to or not — also made a life-long committment to the racial discussion.

    I won’t speak for anyone else at this point, suffice it to say that I believe in the post-racial ideal. I am an avid post-racialist in that I think we should strive for a future wherein no individual feels beholden to their genetic heritage, nor are they obligated to show ‘racial loyalty’ among their fellow human beings. There is no white future, no black future, no hispanic future, only a human future.

    Attaining this ideal is going to require great work and sacrifice. Much of it on the part of WP, to be sure, since WP are still the arbiters of so much financial and social power in our society. But is it heresy to say that I think PoC also ‘owe’ in this endeavour? Especially the angry ones, for whom their personal racial pain has become both their symbol and their identity? Sometimes I think it’s the angriest PoC who want nothing to do with a post-racial future in which their descendants do not experience, nor are they required to experience, racial hurt. Without their anger and their pain they will have to find a new telos for their lives, and I think a lot of PoC are simply not prepared for this. There anger is who they are and they react with an almost violent revulsion to the idea that, yes, at some point, even the angriest, most pissed off PoC is going to have to humble him or herself, and give up the anger because it has become counterproductive to the progressive process.

    Obviously the above paragraph can be seen as a cart-before-horse argument, in that we might be several decades or centuries too early for any discussion of the truly post-racial future; that angry PoC are entitled to their anger and WP need to just shut the fuck up and be silent and allow the anger of PoC to wash over them, whether WP embrace that anger like a cleansing flame, or grit their teeth and take it like a cigarette being stubbed out on a sensitive patch off skin.

    But since I am blended whole-hog into the literal future of race and racialism in America — not just a detached WP bystander — I think you can never be too early when discussing post-racialism and the need for WP and PoC to work together to not only correct racial injustice, but also lay down the grudges and the burdens of racial pain, which can devour a soul as quickly as any other deep hurt devours the human spirit.

  107. Greg, I said it’s optional because I think each of us has to pick our battles. If fighting racism isn’t important to you, well, that’s your decision. I’m not going to consider you ‘extra-racist’ or anything just because you choose not to fight racism.

    But just to be clear — someone said elsewhere in this discussion that while ‘silence doesn’t equal consent’, ‘silence does contribute to inertia’. So yes, if you’re choosing not to be part of the solution, then you continue to actively be part of the problem. Your non-participation in fighting racism, unfortunately, means that you continue to participate in perpetuating it.

    The game is rigged, but it’s not that any particular anti-racist has rigged it against you — it’s the overall racist *system* that has rigged it against you.

    In practical terms, for a writer, it means that if you choose to only write white characters — which I will defend to the death as your gods-given right as a writer — you should also be aware that in this system we live under, your book with white writers will have an advantage in the publishing marketplace (for the reasons I outlined in #108 above). You will be benefiting for the rigged system. And if your book does get published, it will be yet another book with white characters, by a white author, and will contribute to the overwhelming weight that a PoC feels when she looks at the bookstore shelves.

    It’s nothing morally wrong with you, or your book, or your stories on their own merits. It’s how a book by a white author, with white characters *functions* within a deeply racist system. And so it’s up to you to decide whether you want to simply benefit from that system and the white privilege it pushes on you, or whether you want to try to actively resist that privilege.

    I hope this helps.

  108. Josh Jasper @ 59:

    “Did you miss the mention of a female Korean writer who was told that her book was rejected because “Asian fantasy doesn’t sell”?”

    Itty-bitty teensy-tiny nitpick: Cindy Pon is from Taiwan; I’m Korean. She got that unfortunate comment; I’ve never been given racial/cultural grounds for rejections. I am, however, very excited to see her upcoming novel. It has beautiful cover art. No fear of Asian fantasy there. :)

    I agree entirely with cathshaffer’s very perceptive comments @ 30. I’ve never felt that my work was marginalized because of who I am or because of the characters I write. Fellow writers, editors, and publishers have never been anything but professionally welcoming.

    On a social level, it’s a different story, but I don’t know how to separate out the vibes by race, gender and age (if in fact they can be separated, which I doubt). It’s going to be weird when I start going to cons, I think. Hopefully not that weird. We’ll see.

    Anyway, thank you to Mary Anne and Tempest both, and to Scalzi for hosting this thoughtful and temperate discussion. I haven’t commented because I can’t think of anything worth adding, but I have read with great interest and I appreciate the contributors’ work immensely.

  109. No one should be scared of losing their livelihood for saying what’s right.

    At the risk of sounding glib and repeating what’s been said upstream: inevitably they do, it’s always been that way, it’s always going to be that way.

    I don’t like it and it makes me sad to think we’re going to miss out on some voices because people fear what the repercussions are of their public statements. But people always pay for their public statements that cross the ideology of others. The people at the higher levels of power, a la Larry Summers, get away with it more than people at lower levels. PoCs are going to pay higher prices than the privileged. I don’t see how there’s anything to do about that.

    So my question is “what’s the take-a-way from this?” I respect the people who stand on the front lines and take these risks in order to do what’s right, but beyond the fact that we should appreciate and support them – because we know they likely pay an overt or covert price – what are we do to here?

    Is there actually any way to change this? Should we WANT to? These same repercussions are ones we use and want to continue to use against people who stand up and speak lies, hate and ignorance. It seems like two sides to the same coin.

  110. nkjemisin @100: Thanks for the rec–I’m going to grab a copy of that book and give it a thorough read. Much appreciated!

  111. I’ll also quickly note that a lot of the bias issues I pointed out in #108 are invisible — both to the perpetrator, and the one sinned against. So a PoC whose book is rejected will likely never know if one or a dozen such reasons factored into the decision. The editors who outright say things like ‘there’s no market for this’ or ‘no reader will want a female hero’ are rare. Far, far more often, the manuscript just comes back with a form rejection, and it may never even occur to the PoC that race *could* have been a factor.

    I wanted to say this in part in response to Liane’s comment that as a Korean female writer, “I’ve never felt that my work was marginalized because of who I am or because of the characters I write.”

    Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. It’s almost impossible for you to know for certain. This stuff is insidious.

  112. the need for WP and PoC to work together to not only correct racial injustice, but also lay down the grudges and the burdens of racial pain, which can devour a soul as quickly as any other deep hurt devours the human spirit.

    But American white people as a group don’t have any legitimate collective grudges against non-white people. I am sorry if this is, in your formulation, “heresy”, but it seems relevant insofar as you are calling on racial groups to lay down their grievances to move forward, when the several groups don’t have equal grievances, and some of us are lucky enough to have no grievances at all.

    Actually, I have more to say to the “heresy” issue than can be expressed in passive-aggressive scare quotes. This language fits right in with the hand-wringing about white “original sin” that plagued the other discussions here. Persistent racial bias is not a religious issue, and nobody is asking white people to cringe before their non-white accusors as they were sinners before an angry god. No one is thanking them for it when they go ahead and do it anyway, either.

  113. Greg London:

    “Except ‘you’re not helping’ is subject to interpretation.”

    Which is neither here nor there to your original assertion, however.

    You seem to be missing my point to you, Greg, which is that making sweeping generalizations that easily have the legs kicked out from under them is not helping the discussion at all. Either focus your arguments on things that aren’t obviously strawmen to make a point not in contention, or step away from the argument. If you can’t see that you are making strawman arguments — and you are — then it’s best to remove yourself now.


    “Allow me to address a few general comments to the group?”

    Actually, I’d really rather prefer from here on out you confine the discussion in the thread to the things discussed in the actual entry. Your general comments are full of stuff that’s ultimately derailing of the specific conversation here, and I don’t want that, nor do I think it’s useful in the end.

  114. If I ask what I’ve done to offend you, and your reply is an angry outburst that that I figure it out for myself, I will indeed learn — that you’re angry, and that you think I cannot or will not listen. At this point, what seems to frequently happen is that you go away mad, slamming the door behind you. And regretfully, frequently my impulse after such treatment will be to copy you, storming away mad and slamming the door.

    Maybe the door-makers get some good out of these exchanges. I don’t see that either of us do.

    Anger is not a good social lubricant. Heck, anger is rarely good, period. Righteous fury is different, but still not always useful.

  115. Heh — cija, it’s funny I just used the phrase ‘sinned against’ in my previous post to yours. Please excuse the rhetorical flourish, as I agree that this is not a religious issue, and I definitely don’t want to cast it as such! :-)

  116. In no particular order —

    (1) Stella, I think you’ve missed my point in my essay; it follows from the fact that Clarence Thomas is both black and a Supreme Court justice (to name just one of the examples… and don’t presume that you know my ethnicity and/or race). The “overidentification” function is roughly this:

    FUNC ReaderOveridentification(characters, yearofreading)
    FOR i=1 to max(characters, plot(characters, marketingcategory, 0))
    DEC reader identifies character i as a racial representative and/or stereotype
    PROC reader’s self-identification with character i demonstrates incomplete congruence between {reader’s personal perception of racial characteristics} and {author’s depiction of racial characteristics}
    SUB CulturalAppropriation(reader, i)
    SUB CulturalAppropriation(author, i)
    PROC reader attempts, with varying degrees of success, to distinguish between exposition and fiction in the Work

    Let’s just say that the result of this function is undefined and unpredictable (citations omitted because I’m too bloody lazy to hijack this thread with them).

    (2) I must respectfully disagree with Tempest 95 on the origin of RaceFail… but at least partly because I did not communicate clearly: I used “because” when I should have said “the first cause”. Tempest’s comments concern the proximate cause of this particular episode, and so far as I am aware 95 states them accurately. I am not concerned here with proximate cause,* because I think arguing about the proximate cause of this particular iteration misses the point and just sets us up for another iteration.

    From a “first cause” point of view, RaceFail occurred “because” — at least in part — of the factors I discussed. From a “proximate cause” point of view, RaceFail occurred “because” — at least in part — an author and a reader and a bunch of others engaged in the kind of game of telephone Tempest described. I take responsibility for my failure to clearly communicate what I meant by “because” in this instance. That said, I think this discussion will be less helpful than it should be if it does not acknowledge at least some of the first-cause issues.

    (3) Until you’ve been excluded from an official function on the basis of who your mother’s parents were, don’t assume that “cultural assimilation” extends only to externally visible characteristics (other aspects of ethnicity are just as “involuntary”; so, for that matter, is the social class of one’s birth). And lurking under all of this is the whole “sexual preference” issue… and that’s an argument I explicitly am not trying to get into, just to point out that the same methods of reasoning apply but for the visibility of identification.

    * Yes, I know, that’s purportedly what lawyers care about, and only what they care about. I’m different. Whether that’s because I’m just a contrary SOB or I’m making a different point or my actual background differs from the perceived background of archetypal Lawyer is left as an exercise for the student… and all three may bear on the result.

  117. @Liane #123: “Silver Phoenix” right? Going to check that out. Looks interesting.

    @phearlez: Just because it happens doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to keep it from happening more often. Comparing the question of being fair to each other to the idea of allowing lying liars to lie and forment hate is, I think, a bad analogy.

    Fairness may be a concept that we impose upon the world, but it’s the only way we have of being decent to each other.

  118. Jessie@106—Agreed—education of white people should not be the main point. I am not within the fan community, but I would suspect that the other results such as Verb Noire and fundraising for FoC to go to WisCon have a ton of potential, but also many more pitfalls on the path to actual change than I see hovering in the Rosenbaum piece.

    RaceFail ’09, and the silencing of individuals, does seem to have been very much about the education of white people. Individual change is simpler than systemic change.

  119. Mary Anne–Rhetorical flourishes need no excusing! It only bothers me when there’s so much of this language that it creates a disquieting framework with which to avoid the issues–in my experience, people hate to be called racist, but they dearly love to be called sinners, and there are only so many times you can tell someone to get down off the cross because we need the wood before losing your temper.

    “Heresy” is a particular hot button with me because it so easily recasts the opposing view as dogma rather than considered, rational argument. Also, who doesn’t love a heretic?

  120. @131 – I’ve had to suppress a couple of comments starting with “well, I sympathize with this issue because I’m a biPoly witch” but I stopped myself. Why? Because those non-external issues, while related to the issue under discussion, are not the same issue. They are still important issues, but I think that it’s better to stay as on topic as possible.

    Also, I think that the line between empathizing and, for lack of a better term, trivializing what the OP is discussing is very thin, and thus better avoided here.

  121. @Deborah 132: I don’t agree that it’s a bad analogy, I think it’s a boiling it down to basics. Someone says something, someone else makes them suffer for it. I just don’t see that ever changing.

    Sometimes they deserve to suffer for it. Mel Gibson’s hateful ranting when he was pulled over, drunk, for example – you can make a case that he didn’t suffer enough for that.

    Other times they don’t. Plenty of people who stood up to what I’d call unacceptable behavior in the Bush administration lost their jobs or had their career advancement suffer.

    Whistleblowers have some (inadequate, in my opinion) protections, but lots of other people don’t. We can’t shield authors against decreased sales when they say things that offend some people. So my point is, what do we do about it?

    If we’re just talking about being fair to each other and saying that those of us who want more equality should be mindful, that’s fine. That’s what I’m trying to clarify here. Are we talking about recognizing the price that the outspoken PoC may/will pay for giving voice, or are we saying there’s something more we should do?

  122. john, mary ann, and tempest, thank you for planting the seeds of this discussion!! racism is the deepest, and most studiously ignored, issue of this or any other time. xenophobia runs deep, and must have the bright light of reasoned discourse shone upon it, if we are to understand and eliminate it. this white male has been reading and talking about and confronting racism for decades, yet i keep discovering fresh revelations about others and about myself, from voices like yours. planting my own seed: have you thought about inviting octavia butler as another guest writer? thanks!

  123. Greg @ 117:

    Someone said they weren’t going to write CoC in their works because they were afraid of getting flamed more than they are being flamed now. And then they got heat for saying that.

    If they must write CoC’s or get flamed, then the individual is being held responsible for correcting systemic racism.

    I think that’s a mischaracterization of what happened. The author in question got heat for saying that he saw the value in creating CoCs, he wanted to do it, yet would not for fear of critique. In other words, an author deliberately chose to reduce the value/quality of his own work for fear that people would criticize it.

    Which boggled me. If I said, “I’m going to dumb down the plot of my novel because I think if I make it as layered and nuanced as I can make it, people might complain,” I would justifiably take heat for that. I would want someone to slap me and say “What the hell is wrong with you?” if I said something like that.

    You’re also tossing up a strawman with the idea that writers must “write CoCs or get flamed”. Please show me where that’s been said, because I’ve read nearly all the RaceFail posts and I’ve never seen it. It has been noted that skipping CoCs in settings where they should be is supporting systemic racism, and also bad worldbuilding — e.g., “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” took place in Southern California, but I’m not sure I ever saw a Latino, even in the background. But I really don’t think anyone is going to declare it systemic racism if a novel about Queen Elizabeth’s court fails to include Latinos. That would be 31 flavors of stupid.

  124. #113 Mary Anne Mohanraj –

    Yes, of course you can ask. And I did go and read them.
    Having read them just honestly confused me more. All their statements, arguments, feelings, are valid. I am sorry that they don’t feel comfortable, I’m sorry that they had a hard time, that you had a hard time! But this sounds like growth, and maturity. None of us ever quits growing, one way or the other. I don’t belittle it. I don’t disagree with it. I don’t know what you expect me to feel.

    If I can be glad that the writer, whoever that is,
    is comfortable in his/her identity whatever that is, and I can enjoy that persons written world, which is shaped by their personal make-up, but I am not attracted or repelled by that writers racial history, or the racial make up of the character, what is it that you want from me as a reader? You can call it color-blind, but it isn’t that I’m blind to it, I’m aware of it, Is it that I’m not affected by it? Negatively or positively? Why is this good or bad? It just is. What I am affected by the worth of the story.

    I don’t know what else to say. I’m being as clear as I can. I’m sorry if this isn’t enough.

    And #115 – the main characters in the Heralds weren’t P of C, (I don’t think,) they were gay, don’t remember which sex.

  125. People keep talking about what they can do. I’m sure I’ve seen lists around the RaceFail discussion, but am having trouble coming up with them right now. Anyone?

    A few items off the top of my head:

    – write fully-realized white characters with clear ethnic heritage (specific, rather than generic)
    – write characters of color (and try not to fall into the classic stereotypes)

    – read books by PoC authors (that might otherwise be under-supported or drown in the sea of white authors)
    – read books with characters of color (by any author)
    – read the work that is honored by Carl Brandon’s Kindred (best SF/F around issues of race, by any writer) and Parallax awards (best SF/F by a writer of color)

    – donate money to the Carl Brandon society to support the awards, the Octavia Butler scholarship that sends people of color to Clarion
    – read their blog
    – peruse their ethnicity-specific reading lists and read some of the work
    – join their mailing list

    – support small presses by and for people of color (like verb_noire, and my own Serendib Press), through donating and/or buying their books
    – donate to the fan fund helping to people of color to conventions (the first time I went to a convention as an adult, it was because the WisCon concom generously gave me money (maybe $500?) to help me come, specifically *because* I was a writer of color and they were trying to attract them to the convention. I was a starving grad student in California at the time, and could never have afforded it otherwise. You can credit that initial donation with pretty much everything I’ve done in and for the genre since then, including founding Strange Horizons and creating the Speculative Literature Foundation)
    – donate to the SLF travel fund, which helps writers visit and research the places they write about: http://www.speclit.org/Grants/SLFTravelGrant.php

    What else?

  126. tibby @ 141:


    Gay doesn’t = non-white
    Gay male doesn’t = lesbian.

    The distinctions do matter. I appreciate that it may be a while since you read Lackey’s Valdemar books (been a while for me too, I couldn’t really cope with the prose quality once I hit 20), but the distinctions do matter.

  127. Mary Anne @ 126:

    “So a PoC whose book is rejected will likely never know if one or a dozen such reasons factored into the decision. The editors who outright say things like ‘there’s no market for this’ or ‘no reader will want a female hero’ are rare. Far, far more often, the manuscript just comes back with a form rejection, and it may never even occur to the PoC that race *could* have been a factor.”

    It’s occurred to me now and then, but I’m a noob and I still have a lot to learn and there’s no shortage of “real” and very good reasons for editors and publishers to say no, so I hesitate to make myself paranoid.

    For instance, my upcoming novel features a black main character. The setting is otherwise pretty standard Western European fake-medieval secondary world fantasy (what can I say, it’s always been my first love), but there’s a legitimate reason why this guy is in that setting getting involved with that story. One of my rejection letters said something to the effect of “good story, came really close, but we just don’t think it’ll sell well in the market.” Which could have been because one of the main characters is black, or because two of them are women, or just because it is a really tough market and I’m a new writer and that publisher had their hands full. I’m inclined to think it’s the last reason, but you’re right, I can’t know for sure.

    (Not to worry, that story has a happy ending — another house bought that novel and its sequel a little while later.)

    I trust that editors and publishers are honest when they say they want to see more multicultural writers and stories. I also believe that ultimately the story has to carry itself, and the good ones will find their readers, and if _I personally_ am rejected then it’s because the story isn’t good enough and I need to get better until the story is just so awesome that people can’t say no. Which may or may not be 100% accurate in all cases, but it’s what I have to believe to keep from going crazy.

    (This, in turn, is another reason I have to be grateful to Mary Anne, Tempest, N.K. Jemisin, and all the others who are speaking up about lingering bias in the genre… because it is not a subject that I would personally ever raise. Hello model minority stereotype! But it’s true, I always assume the answer is to shut up and work harder.)

    Deborah Brown @ 132: Yes indeedy. SILVER PHOENIX is her first book, available for preorder on Amazon now. I crossed paths with Cindy a few times when we were both wannabes scouring Absolute Write in search of agent-landing tips. She is a lovely lady and worked her butt off and I am thrilled for her and her book.

  128. #141 Tibby,

    It’s perfectly all right for you not to be affected by this issue, you do not need to defend yourself. But *your* unaffectedness is not the topic here.

  129. Tibby, I’m not sure what else I can say to convince you of the value of paying attention to race in these contexts.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding your initial response. I’ll let it go for now, unless I come up with something that seems useful.

  130. @Tibby: Oh, yes. I remember. That actually was one of the things that made me less enamored of Mercedes’ work. Not that she wrote gay characters but because she turned them into whipping boys who were constantly getting reasons to be angst-ridden. Which isn’t really – to my view – helping either.

    @phearlez: We may have to agree to disagree on this. I think there’s a world of difference between telling someone to stop being hurtful and nasty to other people and asking the rest of the world to treat you fairly.

  131. Mary Anne Mohanraj #143

    This is helpful. These things I can do.
    Thank you for your patience and openness. I hope that you do find some sort of balance, I hope we all do.

  132. Tempest, thank you for your post! It and the subsequent comments have been an interesting read.

    I have a question for you, and you’re obviously free not to answer this since you do say that you can’t turn back time, but you say, “If I knew three years ago what I know now, I’m not entirely sure I would have chosen the path I took.” Can I ask what you would — or maybe should — have done differently, to better effect (if that was what you mean) or to less personal harm?

    It sounds like there are a several writers of color following these thread and I’m curious what ways of gaming the system they’ve found through trial and error. Or … not gaming, let’s say, in specific cases.

    If that’s off-thread, JS, I’ll doff my cap for the mallet and apologize!

    Also, Mary Anne — still looking forward to that piece on the cover art for S. Asian writers. Now that you point it out, I feel unbelievably stupid for not realizing the things you pointed out: of course red-sari, passive pose, sexualized, submissive — DUH. Apparently I don’t spare brain cells for things that are not specifically laid out for me with puppets and blinking lights. I blame Sesame Street for spoon-feeding me the alphabet when I was young.

  133. Yuhri:

    “If that’s off-thread, JS, I’ll doff my cap for the mallet and apologize!”

    I’m not sure what you mean by it, so I’m not sure if it’s off-topic or not. Please clarify: Are you asking how they’ve managed to succeed regardless of institutional biases, or are you asking something else entirely?

  134. Sesame Street… Which promised us, as children, a media world full of many cultures, many races, and lots of fun fantasy.

    Promises that were not kept by the media we get as adults. There’s an essay in that…

  135. Liane, I certainly agree, it’s definitely possible that there weren’t any race-related factors at play. That it was simply quality of the writing, an over-full buying schedule, etc. and so on — just the stuff that every white writer has to deal with, in fact.

    That’s part of what drives me crazy sometimes, the not-knowing. The second-guessing.

    When I applied for academic jobs, I got something like seventeen interviews, which is really a tremendously high number in my field. (Most of my classmates got zero to two.) And then no job offers. Which left me wondering — is it just that I interviewed really badly? (I was fighting a terrible flu at the time, and was definitely off my game at that conference). Was it sheer bad luck, that I wasn’t a good fit for any of those departments?

    Or, was it that I only got so many interviews initially because they wanted to be able to say to their affirmative-action committees that they’d ‘seriously considered’ sufficient PoC. That’s what one black female academic (tenured) suggested to me, and if that was the case, well, that wasted my time, distracted me from any ‘real’ interviews in the mix, and broke my heart a little. And I’ll never know the truth.

    It makes you crazy if you think about it. But if you don’t think about it, watch for it, you assume that you just weren’t good enough, which is discouraging, and may even keep you from trying again next time. Yet another way systemic racism makes it harder for PoC to succeed professionally.

  136. I asked two questions there, and I phrased them really poorly. I think they came out as one.

    1) Tempest, what would you have done differently? I was suspecting that her actus et potentia regrets had to do with her speaking out, in method or medium; what would she have differently in that regards, given lessons learned and experienced repercussions?

    2) What ways have writers of color found of gaming the system or not, given the institutional racism that MAM has mentioned?

    Sorry about that. Coherent written communication ain’t one of them things they teach in music conservatories.

  137. Deborah Brown@119,

    So, where does a writer not of a specific race go to get information? Are there websites out there geared entirely towards helping writers research their topic?

    How about an ethnic studies class at a local college?

  138. @155 Pam: Is that feasible? I think most colleges require you to pay even for sitting in.

    I’m thinking in terms of websites and the like. I’m sure they exist. It might be a boon to the authors among us to have sources that are considered particularly useful.

    Not to mention those full of little brown lumps, in the interests of avoiding them.

  139. re Octavia Butler, I am in mourning to learn of her passing, and yes, mortified (sic) at my own ignorance of the fact. sigh. well, i miss what she would have contributed to this excellent round table. deep sigh. onward.

  140. Eddie #144

    Duh. I wasn’t implying that they are the same, just using them as generic minority subjects, and in general minority subjects are not treated now as they were treated then.

    Debora #148 I always assumed that that particular series was written for young adults, who are pretty angst ridden. :) That assumption may be wrong.

    Stella #146 No my unaffectedness is not the topic here.

    Again, Mary Anne, and John, thanks.

  141. A couple of things I’ve discovered during the last few weeks of reading about Race Fail ’09.

    1. If it isn’t made clear in the hit-in-the-head-with-a-stick way that a character is a PoC, I default to thinking he/she is white. If it becomes clear later on that the character is a PoC, I think, “huh, when did that happen?” and read back to find out where I missed the information.

    2. Unless there is an author photo or something similar to hit-in-head evidence, I default to thinking the writer is white.

    My defaulting to white is very stupid and, now that I realize I do this, I promise to do better.

    I now have a huge list of writers, books, websites and links to books/writers, and I think my world is about to become a richer and more wonderful place.

  142. Yuhri @ 150 & 154:

    I’m curious what ways of gaming the system they’ve found through trial and error. Or … not gaming, let’s say, in specific cases.

    Seconding Scalzi here: I understood your question the first time, but what do you mean by “gaming the system”?

  143. # Tziede 159.
    “I now have a huge list of writers, books, websites and links to books/writers, and I think my world is about to become a richer and more wonderful place.”

    Well said. I’ll echo.

  144. 160@nkjemisin:

    My extremely feeble attempt at coherence here: I meant, what loopholes or tricks used to subvert or work within/around a system that’s stacked against you? Uh.

    As an example from a totally different field — a woman I took a class with has a respectable reputation as an expert in a specific research field, which peculiarly enough works against her when she tries to publish papers in another field she’s interested in. I have no idea why that is; she explained it. I forget. It was very technical and completely over my head. Something about pharma– anyway. She explained the technical filtering process used to determine publication in the specific area she was in; again, I forget the details. Anyway, she worked around it in one case by publishing under her maiden name, and in another by rewriting the piece to pander at superficial glance to the publication’s prejudices in a strawman argument that she later knocked down in the piece. (I am pleased to discover I haven’t forgotten that part, anyway.)

    Which isn’t quite “resist,” but is more, uh, “manipulate?” “Work around?”

    Oh bother. I know what I mean. I just can’t explain the damn thing.

  145. Mary Anne,

    Oh. There’s several things I do, but I’m not sure they game the system. One of those things is that I seek out support networks of fellow PoC in the genre, like the Carl Brandon Society. I seek out mentors who are PoC, like — well, you. =) I also seek out mentors and supporters who may not be PoC, but who are known to be knowledgeable about the issues involved and have proven themselves allies through their behavior and words. From them I learn additional ways of looking at the issue, which helps my understanding of it. (For example, I’ve learned a great deal about the structure of power, and ways systems are supported, from talking with feminists. Racism and sexism don’t always intersect, but sometimes they do, and the techniques used to resist both systems are often similar.)

    But I’m not sure that does anything to actually subvert the system itself. Those are just coping mechanisms I use to endure the system.

  146. I’m not sure if the following is addressing the axial subject, or belongs in Mary Ann’s Part II, but here it is. If deleted, OK.

    – We have writers, who are diverse people (meaning all of us, whatever linguistic group(s) of our parents and other ancestors;

    – We have the mediums in which we writers want to place our work (this includes games as well print, online works as well as broadcast television, theater stages as well as movie screens);

    – We have gatekeepers at all points; in this country the gatekeepers are by far in the majority of those whose parents grew up speaking English as their first language. This fact even tends to exclude other European language groups whose first language, for instance is Spanish, or whose parents grew up with Spanish as their first language. So there you are.

    Some of us writers and gatekeepers know this isn’t ethically right, is financially stupid and historically false. What can we do?

    Go out to hear music and dance. This may sound facetious but it isn’t intended to be that way. This field is a ghetto, and people don’t leave it much. It provides everything we need, particularly a social life. But that way we never see anybody but ourselves, which makes the walls of the ghetto even thicker and higher.

    Public spaces, where people of every sort resort are where we meet others. Where are those places that bring all sorts together?

    – Obama’s campaign was great for this — political activism is not only a good thing for the community and the nation and the world, but it is good for us personally; your community needs you even more now in these days of economic catastrophe;

    – Sports — you encounter all kinds at sports events (though not yours truly, unless it is a rodeo or working class dog competitions); you can take them up yourself even. Around here many of the martial arts studios’ head teachers and masters happen to come from families whose ancestors are out of the Bantu language groups, the students are anybody and everybody. It is the same in the yoga studios and dance studios;

    – The military — ay-up. And it seems that the model of the ultimate masculine in the military still remains that of the man descended from the Bantu language groups, so everybody (at least the guys) pretends they too share that ancestry in their body language, the music they listen to, their slang — oops, that’s not a public place;

    – Listen to the Tavis Smiley show on the radio, or watch him on television;

    – Listen to world music radio programs; if you live in a large urban area, they should be found over on the left side of the FM dial, or even on SIRIUS-XM. Listen to the musicians talking, the musicians interviewed.

    It’s very much like when began achieving fluency in a new language,. Our world enlarged beyond anything you could image previously. We see and understand even old things in a new and interesting way. The point of all this is we are actually moving in a world that is filled with all kinds of people, whether we are writers or gatekeepers. Our imaginations move with new fluency too. Characters who aren’t generic start appearing in our mind. They tell us who they are, why they are there, and they want in our stories — we aren’t highjacking, shanghai-ing, appropriating them to use in our stories. They want us to write them.

    There’s a reason music is considered a universal language — trained musicians all understand each other, no matter what their linguistic group background is. We all have ears, so we can get some of that benefit musicians take for granted for ourselves.

    Thank you.

    Love, c.

  147. Mary Ann
    re post #108

    Publishing is a business. They are there to make money. That’s the bottom line. They aren’t a charity, they aren’t
    t here to change society. They exist to make their owners money by selling books. I’m hearing we are lucky they want to publish anything but Romance these days since that’s were all the money is.

    I’ve been very active with environmental stuff for years and that same issue always comes up. Show company Z that doing X instead of Y will help the planet and, help, not hurt the bottom line, and they will do it. If it does nothing for the bottom live or hurts it, no matter how good it is for the planet most companies won’t do it. Making companies look for the first situation is what educated consumers do when they vote with out dollars.

    I’m not saying that’s an bottom line thing is an excuse for not publishing more PoC fiction, just a fact of life. How do we (readers in general) convince Publishers that printing a book with a PoC as the main character is going to make them money? Sure, buying books written by PoC is one way. But I don’t have a lot of money to buy books. I’m a huge fan of libraries for that and environmental reasons. I’m not happy about buying a book just to prove a point, but is that what it is going to take? Do I not buy books because they only have white characters? That’s just going to hurt the already shaky SF market not get minority writers published.

    I’m not trying to be snarky here I want someone to suggest a solution I don’t see. I’m a huge believe in voting with my consumer dollars

    Just as an aside, one at a writing workshop someone tell my my last name was too ethnic for a female writer doing anything but the Romance and if I wanted to sell SF I should look for a pseudonym. ( I think that was absurd by the way) I completely believe that people get overlooked based on name alone.

  148. Mary, asking your library to get the books you want is actually quite effective too; they do track that stuff. You don’t have to purchase the books yourself to have an effect.

  149. The estimable Mr. Charles Stross highlights an article which explains that at least part of the problem, that which relates to the gatekeepers, is in the process of disappearing. Of course, there’s no guarantee that whatever is on the other side of the second publishing revolution will be any more amenable to PoC.*

    In any event, it’s a good article and tangentially relevant here.

    * By the way, it may behoove some to know that PoC is a wargaming acronym for Point of Control.

  150. JS,

    Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’m having a tough time putting my finger on a specific topic, based on Tempest’s essay. It begins with a discussion of racism/racialism in SF&F and then meanders very personally through a minefield of hurts, anger, and winds up as a very generalized “I am PoC woman, hear me roar!” kind of thing.

    Given the broadness of the net initially cast, I’m failing to see how I’m O/T with anything I wrote.

    But in an effort to play by the rules, I’ll re-focus back down to the specific problem of racial blandness and racism in the SF&F community. -K-?

    Regarding the problem of non-diversity among F&SF fans, writers, editors, television, etc, and the notion that the F&SF world is actively racist and exclusionary, I’m going to reach over to something I noted in one of the MAM threads: how many black and latino youth are exposed to fiction reading for pleasure in their homes of origin? How many of these same children have any interest in entertainment — SF&F or otherwise — that is labeled “too white” by many in their circle of family and friends? The same kind of social pressure that deems excellence in academics as being, “Too white!” The same kind of mindless groupthink that dubs any PoC who marries interracially, moves away from the ‘hood, becomes financially or socially ascendant, as being, “Too white!”

    We cannot, therefore, have an honest conversation about racism in SF&F without also addressing the fact that there is active, corrosive internal racism within the various PoC communities, especially the black community. Not only are Children of Color (CoC?) not ‘seeing themselves’ in our entertainment, they are actively discouraged from enjoying or being entertained by anything that is not specifically, purpose-built for PoC consumption.

    IMHO you can’t have a wide variety of PoC producers of fiction and entertainment without there first being a broad base of PoC consumers of this same fiction and entertainment. This has not been a problem with music because PoC have been active players in the musical evolution of the American experience since its inception, and now occupy a place of prominence and success that equals or surpasses anything enjoyed by non-PoC.

    PoC have not been active participants in the evolution of F&SF until very recently, which suggests that any ‘solution’ needs to be comprehensive.

    1) PoC fans of F&SF must — and I say must — unashamedly combat the “too white” stigma within their social circles. CoC will keep being disuaded from being F&SF consumers if they are continually given the message that reading or watching or consuming F&SF is a “white” activity and that in doing so they are failing to be ‘real’ to their PoC heritage. This is the internal racism within the PoC community and it hinders the broadening of F&SF as much as anything else.

    2) PoC fans of F&SF also need to stand up and actively pursue their own creative projects. If the base-line complaint is that F&SF is a bunch of white product, written by whites for whites, then holy Hell people, nobody is going to change that unless PoC fans dig down and find their own stories and begin practicing their craft. Imagine if someone like Delaney or Barnes sat back and said, “I am pissed off nobody tells my side of the story, so I am going to badger white authors endlessly to tell a tale that would be better told by me!” Nobody will tell the ‘PoC side’ better than a PoC.

    3) Having said this, PoC would-be authors need to be aware of the market reality. This is a reality that affects WP and PoC alike and dictates greatly the kinds of stories that get published. Anyone who has spent any time trying to have their fiction profesionally published knows the heartache of rejection. And a story can be rejected for anything, by any editor, and the sad truth is that this is the way the publishing world works. You might be a brilliant writer who pours out deathless prose, but if the topic or characters or story of your book is seen as non-marketable by editors, it could be out-and-out racism, or it could be editors saying, “This is a worthwhile story, but it will only appeal to a very small readership and I will be wasting money if I buy this book which will cost a lot to make and market for very little bring-back.” So when approaching your creative product be aware that the market is not inclined to placate you; regardless of your desire to be heard.

    4) Having said that, I do think there are themes that resonate across boundaries and I don’t think it’s impossible for PoC to be ‘heard’ in a market-driven economy. Editor’s can and should take a few more chances with PoC fiction, even if they suspect it might not have a wide draw. Certainly the explosion of gay/bi fiction amongst the existing sex/romance base is proof that people need not be gay/bi to consume gay/bi romance and erotica. I think the same is largely true of fiction that is by/about PoC in a F&SF context. Maybe a couple of generations ago an editor could argue that white buyers don’t want to read about black characters, or latino characters, or asian characters, but in today’s reality the F&SF field is perhaps the most race-conscious and race-obsessesive genre field on the block, with many non-PoC writers going out of their way to write about and include ‘The Other’ in their fiction.

    5) I don’t blame PoC readers for getting pissed off when white writers fuck up their PoC characters. I do blame them if all they do then is turn around and nag white authors for not being up on all things PoC. Most white folks won’t “get” the PoC narrative or characters unless they’ve been immersed in PoC culture or are hooked to the hip of a PoC for long enough to begin the clue process. This is not the fault of whites. There is no ‘fault’ attached, especially for those white writers making an honest effort. Again, nobody will tell the gottdamned PoC narrative and story better than a gottdamned PoC so get off your asses PoC fans and get typing and submitting! The stories won’t get published if they don’t get written! And if you don’t have the talent to write the PoC narrative then that’s not the fucking fault of white writers, K? Hopefully some other PoC besides you does have the talent and hopefully they’ve not been brainwashed into thinking that writing SF&F is “too white” for them to bother doing.

    6) PoC who scream about racism and whitness in F&SF have an obligation to stick books in the hands of every CoC (Child of Color) they see. This goes part and parcel with combatting the “too white” stigma and will increase the base of PoC fiction consumers which increases the base of PoC F&SF consumers which increases the — potential — base of PoC F&SF fiction authors. Until the problems of ill-education, under-education, illiteracy, and “too whiteness” in the PoC community are sufficiently addressed, no amount of anger and rage on the part of PoC fans will change the fact that there are not enough PoC writing and producing F&SF from the PoC perspective. Because there won’t be enough PoC consumers of fiction, F&SF or no, to make a difference. And the consumer is where this entire thing begins anyway.

    7) Whites who have a problem with the lack of PoC in fiction and fictional entertainment can make a difference in several ways. The most obvious is to financially support fiction and fictional entertainment that is by, includes, or tells the stories of PoC. Money talks. Publishers and producers go where the money is. More money flowing in from PoC product means more PoC product being produced. Simple, right? The next obvious item is to expose white children to PoC perspectives. And I’m not talking gottdamned motherfucking stupid Racial Awareness Day or any other token bullshit. I’m talking daily exposure to music, art, and most importantly people themselves. Could be at church. Could be at an extra-curricular activity, could be by simply making race and ethnicity a topic of conversation around the dinner table. White children already get a lot of exposure to PoC influences via music and movies and, to a lesser extent, television. But these are a warped lens through which to examine the PoC experience and unless your kids have PoC friends they hang out with, your next best bet is to simply engage them on a philosophical level, regarding ethnicity and race. But be careful. Don’t start in with the blame game. You might have white guilt but this by no means demands that you force it on your kids. I suggest that trying to inculcate white guilt in white children — as if this somehow progresses them forward in any way — is a recipe for rejection and resentment. Especially if they’re already getting a far broader exposure to PoC and PoC cultures via their friends and at school than your white ass ever had when you were growing up. Hell, they might learn you a thing or two before the conversation is done, yes?

    In the end, for PoC fiction to succeed on a broad marketing level — which is, I think, where any sane PoC writer secretly wants to succeed, regardless of how much they martyr their silenced and marginalized status — the stories being told must be human stories above all else. PoC stories which divide, which accuse, which vent racial anger and hatred, will doubtless enjoy a small and loyal following within the larger PoC community, but people who buy fiction — indeed, F&SF — aren’t always interested in a brow-beating about how fucked up it is that whitey fucked the PoC world in the ass and keeps fucking the PoC world in the ass. If this is all you have to say, as a PoC writer, then by all means, say it. Just don’t whine when your market slice is very thin compared to other, more successful authors who write about and create worlds that have a less angry, less targeted, more broad appeal to the general readership.

    There is no simple, single solution to this issue. And abandoning the F&SF genre out of disgust — as a PoC fan or reader or writer — seems about the most self-indulgent thing you could do. In addition to being the least productive. Telling the white readership and white editorial world and white writing world to go fuck itself and shove a stick in its collective eye might feel like the best, most ‘truthfull’ thing any frustrated PoC can do. But when the rage subsides and the anger calms and the longing for SF&F returns, what then? Where do you go?

    F&SF cannot be made diverse if the parties involved in this diversity do not work together. And by working together I do not mean whites allowing themselves to be burnt to a cinder by a perpetual flamethrower of rage and furry by the militant PoC fans and wannabe-authors who are too pissed off to stay silent, but not talented and insightful enough to move past being PO’d and begin producing truly saleable material that can attract and keep an audience and thereby influence the world far more than when one gives the world an indignant middle finger.

    On a similar note, F&SF cannot be made diverse if white people convince themselves that the end-all, be-all of ‘diversity’ in their lives is watching fucking Oprah every afternoon and listening to hip-hop music and importing hip-hop slang into their whitebread lexicon. That’s not diversity. That’s white people exposing themselves only to as much PoC content as their whitness is comfortable with, and never having to actually go anywhere or do anything that involves real, live PoC.

    Which is not to say that whites need to run out and collect PoC like trophies — POCemon, as a clever fellow dubbed it in the MAM threads. This is a function of white stupidity and I am not sure any PoC was ever flattered by being a WP’s friend for the simple sake of being a token. If you’re white and you’re stuck in a situation where you simply cannot or do not experience real live PoC to any significant degree, this might not be your fault. Not unless you specifically put yourself in that spot because of inner discomfort with PoC and a longing — overt or covert — to ‘stay clear’ of PoC. If that’s your issue, then Lord, nothing I or anyone else on this blog says can help you much. Because you got fuckin’ issues.

    Otherwise, the young, conscious and conscientous WP is advised thus: pick a large city somewhere on the east or west coast, or up on the great lakes, and move there. Not to the white enclaves of same, but to the everyday places where the literal Thousand Cultures of the United States mingle and squabble and work and live and fuck and breath and love and hate every gottdamned day. Maybe you only live there for a few years before returning home to your fly-over place of origin? Maybe you put down roots and become ‘native’ to that place. In either case your simply living and working in that environment over a long period of time will expose you to a myriad of languages, cultures, ideas, and expressions, such that you will — if you’re paying attention — be disabused of any number of assumptions, notions, or other ideas you might have about people who are different. To include other whites. To include PoC who do not act, think, or behave anything like the often loud and obnoxious self-selected ‘speakers’ for PoC. There is diversity within the diversity, as I like to say. And getting hip to this reality, more than anything, will help you to understand the racial forest for the racial trees.

    OK, sorry JS, here is your blog back.

  151. Re #168
    This is true. We do track, we do “feed” those who request. I will be doing some ordering based on this post and it’s comments.

  152. Yuhri,

    Oh, OK. Sorry for misunderstanding; I think I get it now.

    But I don’t think I can answer that, because I don’t know of any ways to “workaround” the system in SF. To quote Morpheus, “They are guarding all the doors, they are holding all the keys,” and in this case there are no back doors. To become a successful writer in this field, I’m going to have to petition at the front door the same way any white writer would, and I’m going to have to make my work appeal to white readers. This sometimes requires me to compromise my own artistic vision in order to fit within the system. For example, when I wrote a novel that contained a mostly-black cast, and it failed to find a publisher (though it did successfully get me an agent), I wrote a new novel that contained a mostly-white cast, which did. I don’t know that the first book didn’t get published because of the characters’ race; it might’ve been something else, like the plot or setting. As Mary Anne noted, you don’t know if it’s a racial issue or not. I might’ve just been a worse writer. (Though I wrote it just a year before the one that did sell, so that’s unlikely. But who knows?) But many of the publishers who turned down the first book stated that they weren’t interested because I was an unproven writer — i.e., they’d be willing to take the chance on me if I had an established audience, but not otherwise. So that leaves a door open for me: if my second book does well, my agent will hit them up again, and maybe then it will sell.

    But I don’t think there’s much else that can be done, aside from bending oneself to fit the industry. There’s no viable alternative publishing industry for writers of color (or white writers writing characters of color) in this genre. The African American Interest, Asian American Interest, etc. categories are mainly for literary and romance fiction. Maybe Verb Noire will change that; I dunno. There are problems associated with shunting into any “demographic” genre in any case, which I’m not sure I want to deal with. Except maybe with YA; I’m giving serious thought to shunting there. More money than in SF anyway, and it’s a more welcoming field because the publishers there have realized there’s money to be made in attracting a diverse audience. But ultimately it depends on where my muse is willing to take me.

    ::thinky:: Octavia Butler had some success with academic publishing; I think one of her most successful novels was her least skiffy: Kindred, which was on many college lit classes’ reading lists. But I don’t think that happened until after she got the MacArthur; not really an option for n00bs. There’s self-publishing, but Scalzi is one of the few writers for whom that’s worked out well; I don’t plan to try it.

    Is that the sort of thing you mean?

  153. Sub-Odeon:

    “Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’m having a tough time putting my finger on a specific topic, based on Tempest’s essay.”

    Yet this does not stop you from writing a comment that is nearly twice the length of the original essay, ostensibly discussing the subject therein.

    Two thoughts:

    1. You may wish to consider whether it is time to start your own blog.

    2. If you confess you have a hard time following the specific topic under discussion, might I suggest that the correct course of action is not to write 2,300 words on it (or what you think is in the neighborhood) anyway, but instead read some more until it comes to you — or at least say “hey, so, what are we talking about here, anyway?” and let someone help you get up to speed.

    Otherwise I’m not entirely sure that what you think you are contributing to the discussion will be of interest to others.

    A third suggestion might be to learn the joys of brevity or at least pick only one topic to pursue per post. Asking people to read 2,300 words in a comment is a little much especially when you start off by acknowledging you’re not sure what the topic under discussion is.

    I’m not trying to run you down, SO, but I think your enthusiasm for speaking your mind needs to be balanced with an awareness of the environment into which you hope to contribute your words.

  154. sub-odean@171: Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’m having a tough time putting my finger on a specific topic, based on Tempest’s essay.

    No, I’m in the same boat there. The original post said “No one should be scared of losing their livelihood for saying what’s right.” and I thought my first reply was directly addressing that statement. But even if I veered off topic with that, I thought your post at 121 was relevant, and really good in some of the points you brought up. (And I didn’t want to just email you and leave you with “lurkers” syndrome, so I mention it here.)

  155. JS,

    Yeah, my own blog. I’ve resisted that impulse largely because it became clear in 2004 that everybody — and I do mean every freaking body — was getting a blog. Blogs were breeding like rats, and continue to breed like rats. Everyone is spewing forth a blog about everything and what’s the point in shoving up one more blog on the superhighway when it’s competing with an endless number of same?

    But yeah, I catch your drift. Sorry to rip the mic from your hands and go on a too-long tirade. I don’t feel inclined to speak passionately on all things. But on those few things about which I am passionate, and on which there is a great difference of public opinion, I do feel inclined to hold forth at great (and annoying) length.

    Thanks for your patience. It’s appreciated.

  156. Greg @ #176,

    thanks. I am glad someone grok’d me.

    I suspect Scalzi is correct in that I need to erect my own space in which to holler and shout. Instead of constantly butting in on someone else’s all the damned time via comment threads.


  157. nkjemisin@174:

    Hurrah! That answers what I was trying to ask. I really appreciate you going to the effort to fish the meaning out of my babble.

    As my happy delusions of books being magically generated by pixie dust and good wishes are rapidly going poof, it’s been fascinating to hear about the challenges and gray areas of the publishing industry from the writers of color perspective. Which I know is information that’s out there in the web so it’s not necessarily new, but this is like an open-all-hours Little Shop of Honors with fully loaded shelves of spicy knowledge entrees, so thank you for your explanation.

  158. I’ve been dealing with some pretty intense confusion as I read more about RaceFail, largely related to people I consider anti-racist being classified as racist. My question is this: is there any good way to defuse what you think of as a huge misunderstanding about racism?

    I think that 99% of the time accusations of racism or prejudice have some level of validity. At the same time, a girl on a message board I used to frequent who would accuse anyone who disagreed with her on any subject of racism. While this is something that happens very rarely, it does happen – but it seems that most of the writing on the subject of “how not to freak out when you are accused of racism” suggests that, when interacting with any accusation of racism, we should just listen to what the person who makes the accusation is saying and if possible do what they ask because a) she has some point we can’t see or b) it’s exceedingly taboo to harp on false accusations of racism.

    Now obviously people like that are the exception, not the rule. But I’ve seen similar things happen during interactions with people who usually are very reasonable about confronting racism. I’ve witnessed arguments online that have included some genuinely stupid or racist comments that make someone anti-racist legitimately angry. However, once they’re angry I’ve also seen a few cases where a person previously confronted with legitimate racism begins to interpret even non-racist disagreement as racism.

    I think my question here is this: is there any way to defuse a situation of that kind? Is there any value to trying to do so? Are there ever any situations where it’s ok to argue that someone isn’t meaning to be racist?

    I’m a white girl, but I put a lot of stock in anti-racism, politically, philosophically, etc. I hang around the feminist parts of the blogosphere a lot, and a lot of the feminist bloggers are either PoC or sympathetic… I’ll see someone bring up the feminist study about orchestra musicians and the anti-racist study about callbacks for interviews based on names quoted on the same page. The thing that horribly shocked me about RaceFail was that several people who have been responsible for making me more aware of racism and more active against it were classified as racists during RaceFail.

    This is what I’m having a huge problem dealing with, in the wake of RaceFail. I managed to stay out of the whole fray myself, but I saw some people I care about who I think of as having made me much more aware of and active against racism labeled as enemies by some anti-racists. Is there any sane way to deal with this, or is it better to just avoid these conflicts if possible, accepting them as an unavoidable casualty of current views and discourse about racism?

  159. Mary Fitz @167:

    Books featuring POC protagonists often sell very well, as do books by POC authors. Amy Tan has written multiple bestsellers; Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys and American Gods were both big sellers and they featured POC protagonists. Readers don’t just want to read about white people, but publishers have to recognize that in order for those books to have a chance.

  160. Arrrrr, looking for portable Race-Argument Extinguishing Foam ™? Wish I knew of a supplier.

  161. Mary Dell:

    “Readers don’t just want to read about white people, but publishers have to recognize that in order for those books to have a chance.”

    Yes. The equation “If x sells, then publishers will publish more of it” assumes publishers are perfectly rational actors. It’s a question worth asking if that is true.

  162. I wouldn’t say extinguish. Possibly some “Race Argument to Discussion Conversion Foam?” Hugs in a bag? We’re All On The Same Side Spray?

  163. We’re All On The Same Side Spray?

    Every formula I’ve tried turned out to be combustible in some situations.

  164. @181 – I’ve tried to play the mediator game before, and it usually ends in tears. It seems like jumping in to defend one’s friends often times just makes things worse. Trying to salvage a topic is certainly possible, but salvaging a specific discussion that’s turned into a flame war is pretty hard.

  165. Megan:

    “It seems like jumping in to defend one’s friends often times just makes things worse.”

    Again, I refer folks to Tempest’s earlier comment, linked by me in comment 186.

  166. Arrrr @181: “I’ve witnessed arguments online that have included some genuinely stupid or racist comments that make someone anti-racist legitimately angry. However, once they’re angry I’ve also seen a few cases where a person previously confronted with legitimate racism begins to interpret even non-racist disagreement as racism.”

    Hmmm, but who should decide what is “legitimate racism” and “legitimately angry?” White girls like you and me, or people of color?

  167. “Someone said they weren’t going to write CoC in their works because they were afraid of getting flamed more than they are being flamed now. And then they got heat for saying that.”

    Yes, because it’s a stupid thing to say. No one – but no one – is flamed for not including CoC in their writing. It’s the damn *default*, after all. I hate seeing these statements – both by writers and by people characterising the debate in their own biased way to make those nasty black people look totally unreasonable.

    Mary Anne addressed the specific reasons why this is nonsense in her essay. I’m addressing the essential dishonesty of the position. No writer has been *flamed* in the RaceFail discussion for what’s in their novels/stories. Their work has been *critiqued.* It’s in no way comparable to the abuse that PoC and their allies, and other people speaking up about marginalisation of minorities face every time they open their mouths on the subject (or even identify as a minority. See my friend describing his experiences in that way here.)

    Mr London, what you are doing in your posts is the same thing as VD has done, what a multitude of white people have done in every discussion on race I’ve read – trying to make out that black people bring racism on their own heads. It’s the tone argument in its vilest form – that white people are only nasty and discriminatory in self-defence. It is simply not true.

    Men aren’t sexist because women are uppity. People aren’t homophobic because gay people are just so *obvious*. Whites aren’t racist because black people are mean to them.

    No, sexism, homophobia, racism etc exist because it keeps the victims *in their place*. It’s a power thing. It keeps the established order in position. Villifying your opponent, reducing them to angry/ridiculous soundbites, dehumanising them, othering them, makes it easier for you to avoid the consequences of your bad behaviour. White people want to go on and on about how mean black people are because that excuses their own hateful thoughts and actions.

    So all your responses here, as elsewhere in this discussion, have been about you resisting the call to change your thinking, address your behaviour. You may think you’re terribly clever – and I’m sure you’ve had lots of support in email because dude, you are really not unusual – but what you’re (and I address both the individual ‘you’ and the species of ‘you’ as defensive white male) up to is painfully obvious.

    And I am saying nothing new in pointing this out, but the way you are carrying on with the pretense that you are somehow working towards a solution for racism when you are actually only interested in preserving the status quo, really gets on my tits.

  168. Ann, the strawmannishness of that particular argument of Greg London’s has already been addressed further upthread, so I’m not entirely sure it needs to be reheated. Likewise, I suggest that if he wants to respond to the personal stuff here, e-mail might be the best option.

  169. @ John Scalzi

    Struggling to keep up with the comments. But as Greg London either doesn’t want to get it or can’t seem to get it, I wanted to say it as baldly as possible, with no wriggle room.

  170. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’m having a tough time putting my finger on a specific topic, based on Tempest’s essay.

    No, I’m in the same boat there.

    I think the three of us may be prodding at the same thing here. If we’re just trying to talk into the echo chamber of other people who are concerned about equality, fine. Call me slow, but if that’s so I just want someone – preferably Tempest – to tell me “the point of this essay is that there are real costs, sometime huge and career-damaging, for a PoC to speak up against racism.”

    Perhaps even those of us who try to be mindful of equality issues could do to keep this in mind, just as we should be aware of privileges we may not have asked for but are beneficiaries of never the less.

    But it just feels like something more is being said here and I don’t know that I get it. Perhaps it’s just a communication failure. I’m clearly not expressing myself well enough for Deborah@148 when I speak about the inevitable repercussions of words, deserved or not.

    So maybe my words are failing me on asking this question. Did I rephrase Tempest’s theme effectively up above or is there another level I’m missing. That is what I mean when I say “so what can we do?” Not about the larger issue of racism and equality, but about PoC paying the price for standing up. Is there anything more and specific on this issue or is it just an unavoidable suffering until we have a more just culture?

  171. Greg @ htom,

    Even the best Race Flame extinguisher will combust when the ambient temperature has been raised to a sufficiently high level by the occupants of the room.

    Best chance for survival at that point is to put a wet towel on your head and throw yourself out the nearest wiindow. Take your chances with the broken glass and the pavement below.

    It beats being burned to a crisp.


  172. Mr London, what you are doing in your posts is the same thing as VD has done, what a multitude of white people have done in every discussion on race I’ve read – trying to make out that black people bring racism on their own heads.

    Your reading comprehension is very poor indeed if you think what I wrote had anything to do with black people bringing racism down upon themselves, Ms Somerville. I did absolutely nothing of the sort.

    No wish to derail, John, but the accusation is clearly absurd. And, as you pointed out, Verb Noire is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about and is precisely what angry individuals like Tempest should be doing if they want to see change take place.

  173. I want to thank Miss Tempest Bradford and the other authors and individuals who have broken the silence on this very important topic.

    I’m a young woman, 100% of Mexican descent, an avid reader, and aspiring writer. When I was an undergrad, I wrote a paper about “Latina” representation in American television and became acutely aware of the rare, positive examples I saw. Before then, I hadn’t even bothered to really look at what I was reading in the same way–where were the Mexicans in SF/F?

    The discussions on Otherness have become of huge interest to me; I hope there is something positive that continues to develop from some of the in depth, productive discussions I’ve seen.

    I also want to thank you, John Scalzi, for inviting such wonderful women to share their words with your audience.

  174. VD:

    As with Greg London, e-mail is probably the best way to address the rest of this particular discussion with Ann Somerville. I’d prefer not to have it in the comment thread here.

  175. Mary, asking your library to get the books you want is actually quite effective too; they do track that stuff. You don’t have to purchase the books yourself to have an effect.

    Libraries do indeed track requests and circulation, and one of the better ways to get more books sold by/for writers is by requesting their work from libraries. Libraries are hemmed in by limited space, limited staff, and limited budget–those whose works get attention from borrowers also get attention from librarians when it comes time to order new stuff, replace worn-out stuff with new copies, and when it comes to de-accessioning questions.

    Greg @ 187: Which is a major reason I am watching this from the sidelines and not actively participating–I am a lot more interested in hearing what people perceive as the field’s (and their own) failures in this regard than in debating the pros and cons of critical race theory. It is indeed entirely too easy to go meta, and into full fail de-rail before ever reaching the intended topic.

  176. Tully:

    “It is indeed entirely too easy to go meta, and into full fail de-rail before ever reaching the intended topic.”

    Yes, and at the moment it seems from here some folks are determined to pull it off the track. Let’s not.

  177. John: Again, I refer folks to Tempest’s earlier comment

    I read Tempest’s “tone” comment. She said:

    It doesn’t matter how civil one is or what kind of tone one adopts, there is always someone ready to set us up the bomb and freak out because they confuse being called on engaging with race in a problematic way with being called a racist and their conception of a racist is a KKK member in a hood.

    First of all, if some antiracist is a pyromaniac, I wouldn’t couch it in so unoffending terms as “problematic”, lest I was prepared to be accused of gross spin.

    Second of all, if some anti-racist is being a pyromaniac, then it does in fact matter how (un)civil they are being.

    Third, her comment is only valid if, in fact, no anti-racist has ever contributed to the downward spiral of a thread. I.E. all anti-racists are calm, cool, and collected, and at most are guilty of “problematic” invitations, whereas if the conversation goes south, it’s because someone “freaked out” by misinterpreting the “invitation” to engage with race.

    Fourth, Tempest misrepresents the recipient as having only two possibly valid options. (1) engage with race and ignore the “problematic” way they were invited or (2) set up a bomb, freak out, and act like they were called a klansman. Which is a false dichotomy of choices and presents any objection to the “problematic” pyro as nothing more than “freaking out”.

    Identifying the “problematic” comment as “problematic” would seemingly be a valid response. If someone invites someone to engage in racism in such a “problematic” way that it comes across as a flamewar, then I would think that would be a valid objection. But Tempest doesn’t even present it as an option.

    Tempest doesn’t present any solution on how to deal with an anti-racist who is “problematic”. We either “engage” the conversation ignoring the problem, or we “freak out” as if we were called Klansmen. Those are the only two alternatives presented.

  178. @Phearlez: I think my problem in understanding is that you seem to be saying that we shouldn’t do anything to persuade people to stop treating other people badly because doing so is treating people badly.

    If that isn’t what you said, please feel free to correct me. Possibly elsewhere if John feels this is a derail. It probably is, actually.

  179. “Verb Noire is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about and is precisely what angry individuals like Tempest should be doing if they want to see change take place.”

    How is suggesting that angry black women have to start their own press, an answer to the problem that black women – and black people – are not represented in the mainstream publishing industry?

    Small presses are great. They’re also not taken all that seriously, have a small impact, and make almost no money for their authors. Why shouldn’t talented PoC be published mainstream instead? Why should their colour – or their anger – be the determining factor here? Being an angry white man doesn’t stop people like Mr Scalzi being published. Tempest’s point is that the penalty for speaking out is paid by people like her, not white men who are equally opinionated and vocal – because she’s black, because she’s a woman – not because her views are inherently offensive or more challenging than what white male bloggers come out with.

    Verb Noire is a great project, but it’s not the whole answer. So long as white editors and publishers think that black people and women and gays can’t make it big, and are only fit for small print runs and small operations, the problem isn’t being addressed, let alone solved.

  180. at the moment it seems from here some folks are determined to pull it off the track. Let’s not.

    I can’t see the track, apparently. Sorry.

    I’ll take a walk.

  181. How about the third possibility which would be;
    engage the conversation, and once you have engaged the conversation, *then* mention your problem with the wording?

    Don’t forget it’s your behavior that occasioned this discussion in the first place. Show a little good faith.

  182. Greg London:

    “her comment is only valid if, in fact, no anti-racist has ever contributed to the downward spiral of a thread.”

    No it’s not; there’s nothing in what she’s written there that suggests a discussion can’t have its ups and downs before a critical fail. Nor do I see only two options in your fourth point, since there are lots of ways of discussing the issue, and coming to a meeting of minds, so long as the people having the discussion are of good will. None of this is either/or.

    Greg, I think it’s best if you abandon this discussion at this point. I find your logical constructions shaky, and at this point all it seems like to me is that you’re looking for a fight. So, time for you to move on from this thread. Thank you.

  183. On topic, can I ask how/where/why PoC’s might get it wrong, when describing WP? It would appear that researching goes both ways or else run the risk of putting laser pistols in the hands of the kids from “Saved By The Bell” and shoving them out the airlock (no matter how satisfying that may be). It can probably be said that PoC’s writing generic, white characters have an easier time of it, but research would seem appropriate.

    Could a writer of color get a rejection because of having created plastic characters? Would an editor make that a reason for explaining a rejection?

  184. How is suggesting that angry black women have to start their own press, an answer to the problem that black women – and black people – are not represented in the mainstream publishing industry?

    Ann, I think you and I might be reading two different things there. I see VD’s statement as saying, “this is exactly the kind of positive step that people should be taking in order to help promote change.” You seem to be reading it as, “if you have a problem, go make your own sandbox.”

    VD, am I correct in assuming the former?

  185. “I see VD’s statement as saying, “this is exactly the kind of positive step that people should be taking in order to help promote change.” You seem to be reading it as, “if you have a problem, go make your own sandbox.””

    I’m aware VD is saying it that way. I am saying that it’s not as helpful an agent of change as he believes.

    Publishers are narrow thinkers a lot of the time. They assume that white people only want to read books by and about white people. That black people want to read books only by and about black people. That gay people etc.

    Small presses cater for those who *do* feel that way. But it doesn’t mean all readers do, or that given a chance, they won’t try something they haven’t been offered before. The problem is, they’re not being offered it. Small presses have a limited reach into the market, because of difficulties with volume and getting stock into big stores like Walmart. They are not the answer if you want to give the mass of readers a genuine choice, and PoC authors genuine access to that market. Without that access, they don’t have the voice or the income from their work that they deserve.

  186. “No one – but no one – is flamed for not including CoC in their writing. It’s the damn *default*, after all. I hate seeing these statements – both by writers and by people characterising the debate in their own biased way to make those nasty black people look totally unreasonable.”

    The lack of WoC and CoC in science fiction has been a major topic of conversation and concern for *decades* in the science fiction genre. I’ve been involved with the sf community since 1996, and published my first piece of pro fiction in 1997, so I’ve been around the block a few times. I’m a veteran of many workshops, and I can assure you that writers do get a lot of flak from peers and fans for not including CoC in their stories. This is a very common complaint in workshop.

    So maybe white writers haven’t been drawing fire for this specific sin in *this* iteration of this particular dialogue. However, they have been under pressure regarding this for some time, and a lot of them are very uncomfortable with it, clumsy, awkward, or are in other ways just not making a successful adjustment to the new, more colorful genre. People are bringing other baggage to this discussion, and they have been leaving it laying around for people to trip over.

  187. John@196 – I saw that, and was trying to address it in my most recent comment. Those read, to me, to be good ways for us to work on leveling the field going forward. But we had a separate discussion about that and now we have this post about a specific sub-issue: the repercussions for PoC who speak up.

    Since we have a separate post, do we have separate, more specific, ways to deal with this overt to subtle penalization?

    Deborah@205 – I’m certainly not saying it’s the same thing. I want to continue to stand up and decry offensive behavior. My point was just that paying a price for speaking out is a part of life. People pay a price when they say things they SHOULD pay a price for. People pay a price when they say something that SHOULD be said because someone in a place of power doesn’t like it.

    I just don’t see how we can remove the price Tempest pays without also removing our ability to exact a price from the Mel Gibsons and Larry Summers of the world. If we can rightly ostracize and shun the racists then the racists can try to ostracize and shun those who speak truth to power.

    I hope our power continues to grow and exceed theirs, and it’s greater than it was ten years ago and ten years before that, etc. But while they still exist they have the power to harm.

    That’s what I’m trying to ask. I see Tempest saying “be aware of the price PoC pay” and perhaps what this essay is about is trying to lessen the institutional and possibly avoidable costs dished out by an unmindful populace.

    Personally I don’t think there’s ever going to be a way to keep the overt haters from exacting their price. That’s what I’m trying to clarify here. Is there a way to lessen the cost to the Tempests of the world who take their chances and don’t stay silent beyond the general efforts of working towards a more just culture?

  188. I’ve been following quite carefully this (very excellent) thread, and the two by MAM, and it seems to me that what Greg London, for one, seems to really, really needs to hear is something like: “Yes, POC can be wrong too. They can say stupid things too. Even when the subject is race.”

    So? No news, here: POC are human, ergo they can be wrong! On whatever subject.

    But you know what, Greg? We still have to listen to what they say, even when we think this or that particular POC is wrong, or overreact, because they have insights to provide and experience to talk about – especially on matters of race, racism and related subjects. Because we simply don’t live inside their skin. And through listening and thinking about it, and trying, and getting it wrong, and trying again, we gradually get better at figuring out how to make things better.

    Speaking as one White Person (1) to another.

    (1) Or at least, “white looking”, but this is a whole other discussion. One can have a mixed genetic and cultural heritage and still benefit from society’s racial imbalance, viz, white privilege.

  189. Some sales are better than no sales, and can lead to agents, more sales, and reprints through other publishers.

    Publishers are people, too, and just as likely to be victims (is “victims” the correct word?) of Wizard’s First Rule as readers and writers are.

    (strange, preview shows a “1. \newline” at the head of my post?)

  190. Irene Delse:

    I’ve already sent Greg London to the showers for this post, so it’s probably best not to follow on there, since if he responds I’ll be obliged to snip it out.

  191. @Phearlez: Now I get you, and I did misunderstand your point.

    I do think that we should be *trying* to make it less necessary for folk to have to pay a price for doing the right thing. We probably won’t succeed. Human nature can suck big time. But we should still try.

  192. Jeff@210 – I think the response to your question is similar to the one people (should) get when they ask why there’s a Black history month and not a white history month. “We call that ‘the rest of the year.'”

    Given that most of us make our default assumption that a character is white unless there’s some other indication, a white character that is poorly written simply qualifies as plain and simple bad writing.

    A writer of color is doing involuntary research on how white characters are written simply by being awake in our culture.

  193. VD, Tempest is one of the founding partners of Verb Noire.

    Yes, I understand. She’s taking the right approach there.

    How is suggesting that angry black women have to start their own press, an answer to the problem that black women – and black people – are not represented in the mainstream publishing industry?

    Three reasons. First, if the gatekeepers aren’t interested in letting you in, for whatever reason, then you’re not probably not getting in. Any effort on that score is likely to be wasted and would be better spent on circumnavigating them. Second, since the mainstream book publishing industry is one of several industries in decline due to technological developments, it’s going to be very difficult to obtain a slice of a shrinking pie. Again, there are more effective ways to spend one’s time and energy.

    Third, and most important, it’s because that’s precisely the approach I and many others who have been excluded from one industry or another for a wide variety of reasons have taken and found successful. Typically, if a small venture proves a new market, it will eventually partner with a mainstream player and become part of the mainstream. For example, Def Jam first got a distribution deal with Columbia, then Sony bought a stake in them. Pat Robertson founded the Christian Broadcasting Network and eventually sold it to Fox; it’s now ABC Family and owned by Disney.

    The people who founded Essence didn’t complain that they couldn’t get jobs at Time or Life, they founded their own magazine and enjoyed a lot more success than they’d ever have had working for Ripplewood Holdings. If the approach works for records, television, and magazines, it can work for books too. It’s the old chicken-or-the egg problem. And the only solution to that is show them a chicken laying an egg.

  194. @ Jeff: “On topic, can I ask how/where/why PoC’s might get it wrong, when describing WP?”

    Interesting question. I’m thinking of the white characters in Nury Vittachi’s Feng Shui Detective stories. Sometimes well done, sometimes very cliched, sometimes just plain weird, but always entertaining.

    But I guess the answer is in MAM’s second post: don’t write generic white characters, try thinking about what makes a character individual. Even in a short story, one can include specific details, something about the character’s backstory that needn’t be elaborate but help the reader to see him/her as a person. In case of a writer who is not white but wishes to write white characters, it might help to review mentally what you know about your white friends and acquaintances! Where they come from, what kind of education they had, etc. Often, you will find you know more about what make specific WP “tick” than you thought you knew.

    Of course, the same applies in reverse to white writers trying to write characters of color.

  195. The people who founded Essence didn’t complain that they couldn’t get jobs at Time or Life…
    How do you know this?

    … they founded their own magazine and enjoyed a lot more success than they’d ever have had working for Ripplewood Holdings.
    Discussion and action very often go hand-in-hand. To outsiders, discussions of this nature often sound like complaining.

  196. Phearlez@221: I get it, but…. gosh, I’m risking making a straw man here and don’t want to dwell. I’m just not sure that “growing up with color” is a legitimate excuse to avoid research. Just “being awake” is too easy an answer, but I’m not looking to be bludgeoned with examples, either. Just so long as the corollary of a given instance is reviewed and found to be equally legitimate. One can be in a culture, say Japanese, but never be a part of it or begin to understand it enough to represent that culture.

    I think you’re on track with saying bad writing is just that – no matter who you are or where you come from. I want to avoid that, of course.

  197. “First, if the gatekeepers aren’t interested in letting you in, for whatever reason, then you’re not probably not getting in. Any effort on that score is likely to be wasted and would be better spent on circumnavigating them.”

    If the reason for not letting people in is racism, then it must be challenged and fought against. Because there’s simply no excuse for letting that slide, ever.

    My problem with your original comment and your stance now is the equation of racist behaviour and someone disliking your political/religious views. They’re not the same, not the same motivation in the slightest. Publishers should simply not be getting away with marginalising and excluding minorities because they can. It’s *morally* wrong.

    It’s also economically idiotic. Why alienate a huge slice of your audience because you won’t publish what they want to read? Why turn around, as some industries pros have in the RaceFail discussion, and actively abuse them for criticising that policy? Publishing’s in trouble, so the answer is to piss off your market? Don’t think so.

  198. VD @ 222,
    Great comments. Two thumbs up.
    IMHO any PoC who finds him or herself endlessly frustrated by ‘gatekeeping’ within the SF&F publishing industry, should try to network with other PoC, WP, and so forth who are interested in setting up alternative and innovative paths around the gatekeepers. In the end, if there is an untapped market to be had, innovative people would be wise to go after it themselves, instead of waiting endlessly for the entrenched emperors of the status quo to raise their heads groggily and realize that the earth just shifted beneath their feet. I hope Verb Noire is a smash hit. Or if it fails, I hope another alternative company is erected to service and serve the PoC community and its base of writers and fans, such that the new entity goes mainstream and suddenly lots of creative people are making money and going to the bank because a much larger, profit-motivated entity comes along and snaps up or partners with the new, innovative venture.
    Look at Baen Books. Jim Baen looked around and said, you know what, I see a niche not being filled! He went ahead and filled it, and now Baen is one of the more significant players in the SF&F industry. Yeah, maybe TOR looks down its nose at Baen. But Baen is here, is selling, and is opening up avenues for new writers and authors — and the fans of these writers and authors.
    Perhaps Verb Noire can do the same?
    If not Verb Noire, then some other entity. Clearly, the time for this kind of innovation has arrived.

  199. Ann, VD:

    Gaaaah. I feel a headache coming on.

    Just a quick note: If you guys want to keep discussing this particular topic, that’s fine, but be aware I’m going to be very sensitive to what I see as gratuitous personal sniping from either of you and will expunge anything I think is out of line. Keep it about the business end of things, please. I’m quite serious about this. Be additionally aware I think this has a high potential of derail and will close it down if there is. Here’s your rope; try not to hang each other with it.

    Actually, I changed my mind. Let’s not have this discussion here. I think it’ll be more trouble here than it’s worth. Please take it into e-mail or onto your own blogs. I’ll go ahead and snip out any further discussion of it here.


    For various reasons, Baen Books is not nearly as good an example as you might think it is. It might behoove you to dig into its corporate and distribution history before celebrating its scrappy DIY-ness. Also, let’s not follow up on this either.

  200. [deleted — VD, I’ll assume you didn’t see me change my mind before you posted this. I’m e-mailing the content to you — JS]

  201. How’s the headache coming along, John?

    Without making it worse, we could state that the sacrifices Tempest and others have made should not be forgotten, now or in the future. Maybe Ms. Bradford is not perfectly polite with every, little thing. Perhaps MAM might have avoided saying we’re all racists (and getting me to buy into it, to be roasted after going with her theme).

    These days, everyone wants the elegant solution to a problem. Albert Einstein and Buckminster Fuller made it look soooo easy. I have made a career (aerial imagery recognition & analysis) from working with people that were blind to the possibility that an ugly solution may be the best; at least for the time being. Of course, the solution at hand has to actually work.

    I want to move from an ugly solution to the elegant one. Speculative fiction can point the way or be belittled for its failure to predict the future.

  202. An editor of one the last surviving print sf/f magazine brought up in conversation that much of the sf yeye has seen written by people whose ancestors come from the Bantu and / or Ki-Kongo language groups does not seem concerned with ‘core sf’ concepts and the writers seemed to have no real interest in these core ideas yeye associates with sf. Yeye said further yeye didn’t know how to explain what he said, and declined to provide either names or examples.

    Since everywhere we look among these groups yeye referred to, in whatever media, with sf/f references — whether in movie theaters, comix book stores, watching sf/f television, and buying books for pete’s sake! — a and among comedians and riffers of all kinds, making sf/f references, it’s impossible to understand where comes this idea that these ‘groups’ do not really care about the stuff. Does no one ever watch, say, Boondocks? It’s the same with people whose language heritage via parents is Spanish.

    This canard gets stated over and over again, as if deeply researched truth, though it isn’t deeply researched and it certainly isn’t truth.

    SF/F isn’t going to go away. It’s ingrained in the popular culture of the U.S., Canada, Japan, China. The tropes show up in popular cultural expressions in the Middle East among the young, along with hiphop and rap and reggae. However, the non-diverse ghetto may be on the schedule for demolition by right of cultural eminent domain, as the entire sandy cliff of publishing as she has been known for a century digitally and economically shifts and changes, and slides initially, gradually, picking up velocity and volume, then collapses.

  203. Ms. Bradford,

    I was rereading your original post, and got to the last line. Yes, I do hope to see you writing YA (and to my hopes, adult SF/F as well). Why? Because I think that YA is where our hope lies. Younger readers of SF/F will, as they grow, demand more of what they are getting in the YA market from their adult fiction. Being used to reading books from and about POC, they will want more of it, and their demand will move the publishing industry off of its ‘default to WP’ stasis. Editors of YA who move to the adult genre markets will not be wearing those same old blinders.

    Until then, I will support Verb Noire, the Carl Brandon winners/lists, and do whatever I can to ensure that more good SF/F is written that reflects and reaches out to more of the world than just my portion.

    Besides, I love YA fiction.

  204. @ 201:

    Putting on my Library Administrator hat…

    Libraries love buying things that they know have a guaranteed audience. Along with feeling like we are doing our job, it also means a) our statistics improve and b) we increase goodwill in the community. Both these things help us when the annual budget is being negotiated, and also when doing private fundraising.

    Further, libraries love *offering programs* on things they know have a guaranteed audience. Programs are cost-intensive from a staff-hours point of view–there’s the planning, the publicizing, the running, etc. When people come and say, for example, “it would be great to have a sf/f discussion group, and here’s a suggested reading list for the first 3 or 4 meetings,” that can get noticed.

    Even further, many state library agencies and associations have diversity initiatives going on these days. (Diversity is a recurring hot topic in the profession). It’s worth checking out if your state is one of them, and plugging into that. Sometimes, there is grant money floating around, looking for projects. Demonstration of community interest looks *really* good on grant applications, and libraries *really* like getting grants for programs. (See above about programs being cost-intensive).

    I’m just sayin’, having a little chat with one’s friendly local librarians could lead to some interesting things. I can’t guarantee anything, obviously, since it depends so much on local circumstances. But still.

  205. < sarcasm > Was the trial moved to the equivalent of Simi Valley, or something, resulting in the “acquittal” of a bunch of brutal cops, or brutal editors, or brutal readers, or whoever the [insert favorite expletive here] is on trial? Can’t we all just get along? < /sarcasm >

    There is a valuable conversation to be had on “depictions of disfavored identity-groups in fiction.” Sadly, despite its potential for some real dialogue,* I am not certain that this has been that conversation… or, at least, that the signal-to-noise ratio has not been nearly high enough.

    What bothers me almost as much about the disintegration of this thread as the initial perceived need for it is that the way it has fallen apart — from the initial RaceFail to this one — has been utterly predictable (and, worse yet, at the instigation of a couple of known Bad Actors).

    There is no recipe/formula/method for “proper and correct” inclusion of any particular identity group in fiction. That’s part of the point of fiction: That, as the crowd agreed outside Brian of Nazareth’s window, “Yes! We are all individuals!” Or, to put it in perhaps excessively theoretical form: Just as I cannot necessarily define the correct, definitive interpretation of a given text, but I can point out that many interpretations of a given text are deeply, deeply wrong, neither I (nor anyone else) can definitively state the “right” way to deal with PoCs, or women, or Wiccans, or left-handed plumbers, in fiction… but I can point out that many methods for doing so suck more than an industrial vacuum.

    As Justice Stewart put it, he may not have been able to define “obscenity,” but he knew it when he saw it. It is not ironic — it is consistent with and predictive of the decay of the RaceFail “event” and attempts to deal with it — that Justice Stewart was discussing pornography, or at least what some people accused of being pornography.

    * Hint: The conversion to competing monologues… including, to some extent, mine, I’ll admit.

  206. A lot of people seem to agree that the conversation has gone somewhat sour, and I agree. I think that I can peg it to aro0und the time that it started being about What’s Wrong With Black People/POC. On the ABW, I often have to be excessively rigorous to prevent conversations from veering off into What’s Wrong With Black People, because that’s where they inevitably end up when it certain participants start to think of it as: there’s something wrong with SOMEONE here, and it ain’t me! Sadly, it usually IS them.

    And I give major kudos to John for doing what he can to keep things on track. This particular drift is subtle than regular derailment since it’s technically on topic.

  207. Tempest, would you like to try wrenching it back on track, or should I cap off the comments and call it a day?

    Edited to Add: Actually, I think I will in fact close down comments for now. Thank you everyone for your participation, and again special thanks to Tempest for her essay today.

  208. John, I wonder if we can wrench it back– there was some good stuff, and I hate letting the sour guys win!

    [Scalzi responds: They didn’t win. And in any event I doubt this will be the last time we get a chance to discuss this topic here. The essays and the comments across all the entries gave me personally a whole lot to think about, and I think lots of other people found things to think about as well. I’ll be coming around to this topic again, hopefully with new and equally interesting guest posters.]

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