Which I feel is particularly important given International Blog Against Racism Week (which inconveniently came on the heels of International Be Angry At Harlan Week). Anyway, post is here. I would particularly enjoy hearing from folks who’ve made intersectionality a ore part of their activism and how they accomplished that.
I need not add anything else:
…many of the things that make me angry are topics that have a direct bearing on my ability to have a successful writing career, it’s hard to tune it all out. This is my livelihood we’re talking about, after all. I need to know if I’m going to have to turn my short story protagonists from female to male, or gay to straight, or whatever, in order to get published in ___ Magazine. … And I need to know which editors and agents and publishers and authors think it’s OK to throw racist and gendered slurs at people who look like me, simply because those people have opinions they disagree with. I might need to work with those editors, etc., later. It’s important to know who to watch out for.
But I don’t understand why anyone would think I want to do this. Why anyone would think I like watching my blood pressure numbers inch up week by week. Why anyone would think I happily, eagerly “play the race card”, whatever that means — or that doing so would actually benefit me in any way. Why anyone would think I’m glad to spend hours of each week reading up about the latest imbroglios, writing responses to them, posting clandestine reviews of problematic books (and worrying about how those reviews will come back to bite me on the ass), preparing for difficult panels at cons, and bracing myself for uncomfortable interactions at every single networking event I attend. Why anyone would think I gleefully await the next instance of a stranger feeling up my hair, or a favorite author showing his ass on race and gender issues, or an established pro shouting at me that this field is a meritocracy dammit, or an even more established pro using the n-word on a woman just like me. I’m boggled by the idea that some people think I find this work desirable, much less fun, when it hurts me every damn day.
Yes. What she said.
From the Carl Brandon Society Blog, in case you haven’t seen it:
Open Letter to the SF Community re: Ellison/Bradford Incident
To the Speculative Fiction Community:
We at the Carl Brandon Society are writing this open letter to our community regarding the recent incident involving Harlan Ellison and K. Tempest Bradford. Mr. Ellison, mistakenly believing that Ms. Bradford had criticized him on her blog, wrote a post on his discussion board that included the following passage:
She is apparently a Woman of Color (which REALLY makes me want to bee-atch-slap her, being the guy who discovered and encouraged one of the finest writers and Women of Color who ever lived, my friend, the recently-deceased Octavia Estelle Butler). And she plays that card endlessly, which is supposed to exorcise anyone suggesting she is a badmouth ignoramus, or even a NWA. Ooooh, did I say that?
Mr. Ellison has subsequently apologized to Ms. Bradford and she has accepted his apology. We do not wish to address what has now become a private matter between the two. However, since the problematic post was made in public and thus was published in full view of the SF community, the Carl Brandon Society wishes to define some basic principles of discourse which were put into question as a result of this exchange. We hope community members will consider and respect these principles in future debates and disagreements.
These principles are as follows:
1) The use of racial slurs in public discourse is utterly unacceptable, whether as an insult, a provocation, or an attempt at humor. This includes both explicit use of slurs and referencing them via acronyms.
2) Any declaration of a marginalized identity in public is not a fit subject for mockery, contempt, or attack. Stating what, and who, you are is not “card playing.” It is a statement of pride. It is also a statement of fact that often must be made because it has bearing on discussions of race, gender, and social justice.
3) Expressing contempt for ongoing racial and gender discourse is unacceptable. Although particular discussions may become heated or unpleasant, discourse on racism and sexism is an essential part of antiracism and feminist activism and must be respected as such. There is no hard line between discourse and action in activism; contempt of the one too often leads to contempt of the whole.
The Carl Brandon Society assumes in this letter that everyone reading it shares the common goal of racial and gender equity, and general social justice, in all our communities. We hope for a quick end to arguments over whether or not unacceptable forms of debate should be allowable. These arguments obstruct the process of seeking justice for all.
The Carl Brandon Society
Candra K. Gill
To express your agreement and “sign” this letter yourself, click here.
(comments are off here on purpose.)
This week’s Blog For A Beer is a special IBARW edition. Readers of this blog may find J T Glover’s essay on Bias in American SF interesting and the BfaB post uses that as a jumping-off point. The crux is this:
…for those who would prefer a different SF: what do you want, and how are you going to get it? My frustration with Mr. Banker’s post was exceeded only by my curiosity. What sustainable alternative exists, now or in future, and how will it come about? Can it be created without alienating most of SF, and if not, does that matter? Even as the writer in me is most concerned with writing well and getting published, the reader in me wants both literary challenges and comfort food. The librarian in me believes that we must make room for everyone, whoever they are and whatever they believe, else we abandon the promise of speculative fiction.
We have two other pieces up this week that that fit into the theme. As I mentioned yesterday, there’s a clip of Ghetto Man roasting the Superfriends. Oh 1979, you were so crazy. Also, N K Jemisin’s really, really excellent review of the latest Temeraire book that illuminates some of the big themes Novik explores in the books and also ties in why her fanfic roots make the series so amazing. And there’s a reprint of Broken Mystic’s essay on Dust, a Muslim character in the X-Men comics.
I love my job.
The related post I promised. (Also part of IBARW) To recap, Ashok Banker posted about problems of bigotry is SF/F field. Said some very interesting and insightful things. He also quoted me, Tobias Buckell, N K Jemisin, and Micole talking about the Sanders thing and bigotry in general. He agrees with us, but has a quibble about our methodology:
Other American SF writers like K. Tempest Bradford have admitted that such bias exists, and have spoken out against it. Although their rants are invariably tempered with mention of the two or three SF editors they know and are working with who are definitely not racist or biased, because, how could they be, if they’re working with them? Punches are pulled, no doubt about it. And nobody seems to have the balls to really call a spade a spade–or, to use a less unfortunate turn of phrase, a white lily a white lily.
Writers like Bradford, Buckell, and others who have spoken out against racism are always cautious to do so in small measures, focussing their ire, often disproportionately, on individual cases like Sanders of Helix Magazine. This is understandable. These writers want to make a living in that field, and are undoubtedly afraid of antagonizing people they work with on a daily basis, or people they hope to work with someday.
No doubt, they also haven’t seen such bias openly exhibited by those fellow professionals and colleagues–not yet.
In a later response to me in comments (which I’ll post in full, below, as the first comment) Ashok went on to say:
I not only feel you pull your punches, I feel you don’t have the guts to name names and kick ass when it’s warranted, and the very fact that you’re still working within the field and associated with other professionals whom even you admit could be bigotted or racist or sexist in private, shows your naivete.
Just two weeks ago I had someone tell me that I go too far and write “crazy” things whenever I post about bigotry in the field. Also that if I would just moderate my tone a bit, people would listen to me. The person in question was white, Ashok is a POC. So essentially I’m too angry for one group and not angry enough for another.
I’m unsure how to feel about being the moderate here. It’s so not me.
I have two reasons for bringing this up. One is to record the exchange Ashok and I had on his blog, since the comments got shut down (yet were quoted from). But the more important one pertains to the different ways people view what I and other anti-racist activists in SF do and how effective it is.
Most POC and women have experienced the phenomenon of pointing out some instance of racism or sexism and being dismissed, then having a white person or a man come along, say the exact same thing we just said, and receiving not only credit for pointing it out, but a positive reaction. Or, even more fun, being told that people would listen to us if only we were less shrill or angry (or other gendered or race-based adjectives) about it all. “Look at [white person and/or man]!” they say. “He doesn’t go off the rails like you do!”
This is an oft-used tactic to dismiss what the POC or woman has to say, as Naamen educated us on in this post. I mean, why be all angry about bigotry, particularly that’s directed at you? Be sensible, polite, and reasonable about it so as to make the bigot comfortable, right?
If you buy that, stop reading right now. In fact, let’s not talk to each other again until you’ve gotten rid of that notion, okay? Because, seriously, the comfort of the bigot is not my concern, neither should it be yours.
I and other POC get this all the time from… well, I’ll let you guess.
As a friend recently had to point out to someone: yes, the word racist or sexist or bigot or related is very much a strong word that should not be tossed around lightly. We know that. Boy do we know it. That does not mean we should hesitate to use it when that is what is going on. No matter how twitchy that makes you, especially if the you is a person to whom a particular stripe of bigotry is not aimed. I’ve mentioned this before.
Even if you are a person who has experienced one kind of bigotry (for example: sexism but not racism) that does not mean you are completely immune to ignorance of how a particular bigotry works for other people. If you’re a white woman, even a feminist white woman who works hard for tolerance, you can still engage in or be blind to racism, unwittingly or not. And one manifestation of that is by claiming you can’t listen to an aggrieved party because of their tone.
I’m used to that aspect of the discussion, but not so much used to the other side, wherein I am not being tough enough on the SF/F field. I’m not entirely sure what more I could say, what language I could use to make my issues with the racism and sexism of particular people and parts of the whole community clearer. It’s certainly not easy for any author to say, “This editor and/or person in power is a bigot/engages in bigoted language or actions,” especially if the author is or hopes to work with that person. Because unless the author in question is a white man (and sometimes even if) there are repercussions.
Ashok points out in his post that he doesn’t care about or want to be published in any American markets or with American publishers, thus he can say what he wants. That’s fine. But I don’t think it’s at all fair to dismiss those of us who do as being too afraid to speak out. I can’t speak for Tobias or anyone else, but I am certainly not afraid to call a spade a spade, just ask Gordon van Gelder or Ron Moore. I suspect that Tobias isn’t, either, nor are other authors of color in this genre. Major example right here.
What you think of this push and pull? Do I and other authors who speak out about racism, sexism, and other bigotry in SF go too far or not far enough? Am I the moderate here? (scary…)
In response to some of the discussion in the magazines that want more diversity post and the whole William Sanders thing, author Ashok Banker wrote a post about racism, sexism, and cultural insesnitivity in SF/F. The post makes several good points:
Today’s Science Fiction and Fantasy field, while possibly bearing some strands of DNA from other countries and cultures intermingled in its genetic makeup, is undeniably dominated by American authors, particularly in America.
And a sizable majority of those American SFF authors are white. Virtually all of them are American. And I won’t even venture to guess how many are Christian.
Which itself begs the question: Why is a genre that’s always so proud of its ability to explore worlds unable to integrate the world into its fold? Why is American SFF publishing not representative of American society and culture as a whole? Why is this white enclave dominating the genre and the field?
If anything, the very imbalance in the racial and cultural composition of the field in America itself points to a deep malaise.
The recent attempts by some editors to claim that they’re open to multicultural writing, that they welcome submissions from women writers, that they look forward to international writer submitting work, is itself an admission that these were failings of the field until now.
So is American SFF racist? And sexist, bigotted, culturally insensitive, etc?
Well, I suspect a great number of professionals in the field might be.
There’s also some stuff in the post about how authors of color such as Tobias Buckell and myself “pull punches” and focus only on specific editors and not the community-wide problem. I have a lot to say about that, but I think it’s a separate but related conversation.
Normally I would suggest we all go have a conversation about the race/gender/culture problems over on Ashok’s blog, but he shut down comments (the reason has to do with the stuff we’re not talking about here, which I will illuminate in a related post coming up in a bit). Since we can’t talk about it there, let’s talk about it here. It’s International Blog Against Racism Week, after all!
I’m particularly eager to have a discussion about how certain racist tendencies extend to non-American and non-European authors and the books they try to get published. Justine, Ekaterina and I discussed the sad state of translated books in the US a while ago. I shudder to think how many of those few translated are from non-Western countries. (my guess: not many)
It’s true that American SF is reluctant to embrace the whole world — why? And what can be done to move toward fixing that? Is Ashok correct that segregating international authors into just one issue of a magazine does nothing to help?