A Fine Dessert

KidLit Authors and Illustrators: Time To Step Up

This past week author Daniel José Older laid down some hard truth about the illustrations for the children’s book A Fine Dessert[1]. In the video below he points out that slavery is an “open wound” that America as a whole has been lying about to itself “forever” and that illustrations showing black children as slaves smiling, happy to work hard making fancy food for massa are a problem. Please watch the whole thing, because Daniel really lays it out and what he says is important.

He followed up his panel appearance with a piece in The Guardian that highlights the severe lack of children’s books with African-American people in them.

In 2014, only 5% of the 3,500 children’s books published were about black characters; Christopher Myers has called it “the apartheid of children’s literature”.

This doesn’t even take into account other groups of POC. I suspect that there are very few Latin@, Asian, and Native American characters in kid’s books as well, and that’s just naming three groups.

The article points out that the publishing industry still suffers from the Highlander problem: There Can Be Only One. This has to be addressed, no doubt. At the same time, we should also address the other side of the equation: Authors.

On the panel, Daniel acknowledged that “a book is a creation of a village, just like people are,” and he’s so very right. That means no single entity within the village–editors, publishers, authors, marketers, reviewers, readers–is solely responsible for fixing these systemic problems. However, each entity within the village should do whatever is in their power to effect change[2].

We need more authors from diverse backgrounds writing books with characters like them, and we need more of them to get published. We also need more authors from all backgrounds writing books with characters that aren’t like them, characters that come from minority, marginalized, or oppressed groups, characters that aren’t often found in children’s literature. We need those characters drawn in ways that reflect the vast divversity even within said groups. We need authors and illustrators to create books that reflect the truth of people from these groups, even if that truth is uncomfortable. We also need authors to create books that reflect how the world should be and could be for kids from these groups. Because it’s just as important to look forward and to speculate with hope as it is to look back with clear eyes and reveal hard truths about the way things were and how that impacts the way things are.

We need all of these things. Right now.

Now we get to the part where some authors say: I agree with you, but just look at what happened to Sophie Blackall (the illustrator) or even Emily Jenkins, the author. They tried and they got it wrong and they got attacked!

Yes well, that’s art[3].

Less flippant answer: It’s always worth it to try, to fail, to try again and be better, to learn from your missteps, to grow and keep trying.

Others will rightly point out that this growth that comes out of failure has an impact on people beyond the author, and that is true. It’s imperative to then do your best to learn from others’ mistakes and to put in the work so you can avoid the obvious pitfalls.

How?

This is the part where what I say sounds like a pitch, but it’s honestly not.

Here’s how: You learn how to write the Other sensitively and convincingly. It can be done. You start by reading the book Writing the Other: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. Or, you start by taking Nisi and Cynthia’s workshop in person or online. Or, you start by taking a another workshop or class about writing and the Other online or at a university or at a convention or conference.

And yes, Nisi and I are teaching a class on this topic next month. (You can register here if it fits in your schedule, and you can get announcements of new classes here if not.) And we’ll keep teaching it whenever we can throughout next year and hopefully beyond. Because this issue is important to us, as it’s also important to Cynthia Ward and Daniel José Older and many, many, many other authors and editors and teachers.

Look for these opportunities. Read the book, read articles and blog posts and talk to people and listen. Because we need more authors, especially authors who already have relationships and contracts with publishers, to say: children’s books should be for all children, not just some. Also to say: children’s books that include Black and Latin@ and Japanese and Native American and Nigerian and other characters from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds are for all children, no matter their background, because we are all people and all of us deserve to be reflected in books and all of us deserve to be seen by the Other (relative to yourself) as people worth knowing and understanding.

We need this now. Let’s get it done.

By whatever means necessary.

 

Footnotes

  1. If you haven’t yet heard about the controversy, there are summaries, illustrations, and reactions from various folks, including the author–the illustrator is in the video–at Bossip and VH1[]
  2. For an example of what publishers and editors can do, see this blog post by the LEE&LOW staff.[]
  3. Also, I wouldn’t characterize the criticism as an “attack” though I know some will[]
Ivory Bangle lady

More Hidden Black History

Today NPR Books/Code Switch posted my second Black History Month reading list, Uncovering Hidden Black History. The idea was inspired by the neverending argument in fandom about whether having Blacks or other people of color in a movie or book set in The Past (fantastic or real) is historically accurate. We go round and round with this every few months it seems. If it’s not Tangled or Frozen it’s Game of Thrones or Agent Carter or a game or books or whatever.

The bottom line always is: POC didn’t exist here, here, or here. Or, if they did, there were only 3 of them and they were slaves.

The answer to this always is: No, no, OMG no.

The evidence for that is often easy to find, so I went looking for it. I found quite a bit, and I’m not a historian like Mikki Kendall or steeped in this stuff like Malisha/MedievalPOC who regularly drop this knowledge on unsuspecting heads. They helped me with my research in a big way–thank you!

I found so much material that some of it had to be cut for length, so I’m posting the cut bits here.

Black People In European Royalty

 

queen charlotte

Even though England’s Queen Elizabeth I tried to expel all “Negroes and black a moors” from her country at the turn of the 17th century, people of African descent managed to find their way into all strata of society during the Renaissance and beyond. That includes ruling families. Alessandro de Medici, called il moro/The Moor during his day, was the son of Lorenzo II de Medici and an African woman. He ruled Florence for seven years before being assassinated by a cousin (not all that unusual for a Medici).

Over in the British Isles, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (wife of Mad King George of Revolutionary War fame) may hold the distinction of being England’s first black queen. At least the first depicted with what contemporaries referred to as “Negroid features” in her official portraits. These paintings may have had a political purpose as well, since the first artist to depict the queen was vocally anti-slavery.

Further Reading and Research

Black People In the Tudor Court

john blanke

Europe’s Middle Ages aren’t nearly as monochrome as our cultural imagination envisions them, as art from the time attests. A great resource for images from the period is the MedievalPOC blog, where I first learned about trumpeter John Blanke. He regularly performed for Henrys VII and VIII and was immortalized in the Westminster Tournament Roll, a 60 foot long tapestry from the 1500s. Blanke was not the sole “blacke” person found at court–there were other Moorish employees as well as guests–nor were Moorish musicians and other artists restricted to the British Isles.

Further Reading and Research

Black People In Roman Briton

Ivory Bangle lady

The Sir Morien of Arthurian Legend I mention in the NPR piece wasn’t even the first African to travel to Briton. The remains of a woman from fourth century Roman York unearthed in 1901 shows that blacks were not just present, but also members of the elite class. The “Ivory Bangle Lady” as she’s been termed was a woman of North African descent who was buried with objects that point to wealth and high social standing.

Even during this time period she was not unique. Reading University archaeologist Hella Eckhardt told The Guardian that the population mix in fourth century York is close to that of contemporary Britain. “[T]he Roman population may have had more diverse origins than the city has now.”

This diversity is a natural side effect of the Roman empire’s vastness and is reflected not only in Britain, but throughout Europe, North Africa, and Mesopotamia.

Further Reading and Research

Black Women at the Dawn of the Feminist Movement

Anna Julia Cooper

In 1892 Anna Julia Cooper published a collection of essays called A Voice From The South, which might be considered the first work in the genre of My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or it Will Be Bullshit. In it, Cooper “criticizes black men for securing higher education for themselves through the ministry, while erecting roadblocks to deny women access to those same opportunities, and denounces the elitism and provinciality of the white women’s movement.” Some fights have to be fought and fought and fought again, even within progressive movements.

That collection plus several other essays, papers, and letters is available in one volume: The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper, edited by Charles Lemert and  Esme Bhan.

If you find this topic as intriguing as I do, I suggest you spend some time going through the #HistoricalPOC hashtag on Tumblr and Twitter where people are sharing bits of history and historical figures. Not all of them are obscure, but you won’t have to scroll long before you come up on something or someone you didn’t know about.

This Is Why White People Can’t Have Nice Things

This Is Why White People Can't Have Nice Things

Years ago when the Carl Brandon Society first announced the formation of the Octavia E Butler Scholarship for Clarion and Clarion West, I got into a heated argument with a white, male friend over the need for such a thing to exist in the world. At the time, I was surprised–shocked, actually–at his vehement objection to this scholarship. It wasn’t right, wasn’t fair, excluded people like him, and was likely some reverse racism. We argued, got nowhere, and stopped talking for a while[1]. It was my first time engaging with a person on an issue like this, it was not my last.

Just last month I found myself in the position of explaining the need for a scholarship specifically for People of Color yet again after the announcement of the Writing Excuses/Carl Brandon Society retreat scholarship. If you scroll down to the bottom you can see my very long response to several comments, most of which boil down to:

This isn’t right, it isn’t fair, it excludes white people like me, reverse racism!

And then today I looked at the comments[2] of the io9 post about the Con or Bust auction to see yet more white people complaining that such a thing exists. Giving people money to go to a con based on skin color! What about all the white people like me who can’t afford to go! I haven’t noticed a lack of diversity at the one con I go to! Reverse racism!

It makes me want to facepalm and headdesk at the same time.

Since it seems that this is going to keep happening over and over until the aliens arrive to solve all our problems or take a select few of us off to an otherworldly paradise, I wondered if it would be useful to put together a general FAQ. Instead of battling the seven-headed hydra that is the comments section on any post of this nature, why not crowdsource answers to the most common questions/complaints/ridiculous screeds? Then when someone is Wrong on the Internet, you can drop the link to it and mambo away DJ Older style.

FAQ topics could include:

  • Rebuttal to any comment about how it’s about “skin color”
  • Reverse Racism!
  • I’ve never noticed a need for this, therefore there is no need for this
  • I’m poor and white, how come no one is offering to give me money to attend cons/workshops/retreats?
  • What about women/LGBT/people from outside the US/any other group I can name? Why doesn’t your scholarship/grant cover these groups? Aren’t they minorities, too?
  • Not everything is for you, white people

Please do add any others you can think of. Suggest a FAQ topic, answer, or both in the comments. Your answer can be a condensed version of an existing blog post you wrote or found to be useful. Be sure to include a link for further reading.

Oh, and: get ready for the Con or Bust auction! There are so many awesome things!

Footnotes

  1. That particular friend later on realized his error and apologized to me and we resumed our friendship.[]
  2. I heard tell that Will S showed up in the comments but don’t see him now. He might have gotten moderated into oblivion, but be aware that he may return.[]

Enough

Enough

Longer, more detailed and specific post later. But:

Dear publishers, producers, directors, studio heads, network presidents, and other people in charge of media,

Stop it with the fucking racism, already. It’s just not on, anymore. It’s stupid and ridiculous and disgusting and not right. Racism is never, ever okay. Even if not being racist cuts into your bottom line, or even if it angers racist consumers; even if being racist is comfortable, or even if racism is what you really enjoy perpetrating, it is not okay.

And in case you need some help understanding what racism is, I’ll give you some clues:

  1. Whitewashing? Racism.
  2. Portrayals of racial stereotypes? Racism.
  3. Magical Negroes (or any variation involving any other racial or ethnic group)? Racism.

I could go on. But honestly, you all know what you’re about. I know you know because you all have ready-made excuses for it, or deflections, or any other number of cheap tricks. Quit it. Even if it might have been a tiny bit acceptable before, it’s just not now.

Racism is not ever okay. If you don’t believe that, then get the fuck off of this planet. We don’t need you.

No love,
Tempest

The Last Airbender’s Target Audience Thinks Whitewashing Is Wrong, Too

The Last Airbender's Target Audience Thinks Whitewashing Is Wrong, Too

I wish that M. Night would read this moving essay by a young Chinese American adoptee about how the whitewashing of The Last Airbender made her feel as both a fan of the show and as an Asian person. I wish he would read it and have to respond to her in person.

Avatar is important to me because it shows that Asians can be leaders and heroes as well as white people. I was born in China, and I like to watch something about Asian and Inuit culture because usually at school we don’t get to read about these cultures. It feels really good to see something about my birth culture along with other Asian and Inuit cultures so I can learn about them too. It feels important to me that there’s a series that doesn’t have stereotypes about Asian people.

I felt sad when I heard that the main characters in the movie were going to be played by white actors. I was crestfallen about that because I thought it showed a message that only white people could be heroes while the TV series says the exact opposite. I thought the movie wouldn’t look at all like the original Airbender series because white people would play the main roles and it wouldn’t be believable for me. I felt sad, insulted and furious all at the same time!

…it’s horrible to treat us like dirty laundry that needs to get bleached. We are human beings just like everybody else.

Sing it, sister.

Hat Tip: Racebending

What Real Abuse, Attacks, and Hate Looks Like

What Real Abuse, Attacks, and Hate Looks Like

Hey guys, remember Luke Jackson?  The guy who started the whole Helix thing on accident and recently has been running around these here Internets being super offensive just to gain kudos (and perhaps sweet lovin’) from William Sanders and the people who hang out on his message board.  Well, he’s just taken his crazy act up to a whole other level!  Our boy is growing up so fast.

Previously on As The World Fails, there was a nasty commenter named Igor Sanchez who often left blatant and stupid racist and sexist hate comments on people’s blogs.  As you do in such instances, I and many others banned him.  Life went on.  During the recent RaceFail, Igor made a comeback, just once, with a comment that very, very closely followed one by Luke Jackson in the same post.  Both were moderated by default, and I only took note of them being together because they happened to be in the mod queue.  Something in the back of my mind said that it was related, but I didn’t care all that much.

Yesterday Kynn exposed Luke as Igor Sanchez, which wasn’t surprising but still, WTF people?  Luke upgrades from a Fail Boat to a Fail Ocean Liner — Failiner!

But wait, there’s more!  Upset at the fact that no one cares about or listens to him (including, apprently, Mr. Sanders himself), Luke is determined to do something so awful that people will may SO MUCH attention to him.  So, when attacking Kynn for being trans didn’t drive traffic enough, he decided to try posting Kynn’s home address and phone number.  Not only is that massive fail in and of itself, but even moreso since he got it wrong — that’s not Kynn’s address.

Any intelligent being who reads this blog understands full well the multilayered disgustingness going on here.  And were it not so very deep and wrong, I wouldn’t bother giving Luke the Google Juice.  However, this is not longer about a blog pissing contest, it’s about a mentally unbalanced person hunting down someone’s “real” name, address, and phone number thenn inviting his (non-existent) fans to call and get to the bottom of things.  (things being Kynn’s private parts, which Luke is desperately curious about.)

The bottom line is, Luke Jackson (lawyer in the prestigious firm of Choe, Jackson and Weitz, for all your sexual harassment needs!) is a sad, dangerous troll who is so screamingly frustrated with his own insignificance that he would rather committ borderline illegal acts than be ignored or mocked.  I suggest you all act accordingly.

Two Separate But Related Issues, Two Separate But Related Posts #2

Two Separate But Related Issues, Two Separate But Related Posts #2

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…)

Table of contents for Two Separate Issues

  1. Two Separate But Related Issues, Two Separate But Related Posts #1
  2. Two Separate But Related Issues, Two Separate But Related Posts #2

Two Separate But Related Issues, Two Separate But Related Posts #1

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.

Go to the post to read more.

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?

Table of contents for Two Separate Issues

  1. Two Separate But Related Issues, Two Separate But Related Posts #1
  2. Two Separate But Related Issues, Two Separate But Related Posts #2