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.
K. TEMPEST BRADFORD:
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.