Saturday, July 30, 2016

Quick Thoughts - Some Thoughts on Diversity

I feel odd writing about diversity, probably because I am a white cis man. That's…not exactly the greatest cocktail for diversity, and yet I have been included in "diversity" calls for LGBTQIA+ because I'm bi. Recently Fireside Fiction put out a report on the fiction sales of black writers that I sort-of knew about when the researchers were putting things together. I can remember the sort of bombshell moment when I was presented with the number of stories by black authors published in 2015. I think my first thought was "That can't be right." I mean, I don't read every publication out there, but I do read a lot. And I know that I read a number of stories by black authors. I could rattle off a dozen stories easily. So it couldn't really be the case that those dozen stories would represent such a huge percent of the total number of stories put out by black writers. Right?

In this, I think I had a fairly standard reaction to the news. I went straight on the defensive. Because shit, wow, that's…but I read a lot of stories. I scoured my Monthly Rounds, my Sippys, hoping to assuage my sudden guilt, wanting to assure myself that I wasn't part of the problem, that I could distance myself from the numbers. And then I stopped. Not because awards and recommended readings lists aren't important. I know that they are, not only in encouraging people who might otherwise avoid genres and publications, but also to encourage publications to look at what they publish and how they're going forward. Fireside is taking the data and is doing something about it. I expect that others will as well. Which is important. Which is vital. For all that the Puppies will be up in arms, for all that some non-marginalized people seem to think reverse racism and misogyny is a thing, this is a good thing.

But I stopped counting up things because at that moment it wasn't really about me. It's not about standing up and saying "I'm not a racist." At that moment, and at this moment, this is a great time to listen. Perhaps that seems odd as a white person writing a blog post about this. But I very much want to point people toward the report and toward the responses to the report. To the efforts of so many trying to make SFF a better place. And I want to speak a bit about diversity in broader strokes. Mainly, I want to talk about a certain phenomenon I've noticed especially of late with regards to institutional marginalization and oppression. Not that it's new, but that I think people are getting distracted and sidetracked by it. And it swirls around intent and "fairness."

I think that at this point to say that you didn't mean to be racist is a pretty ridiculous thing to say. And yet it's something said more and more loudly now because I get the feeling that people "know it's wrong to be racist." My white generation is one raised on MLK, Jr. and civil rights taught in schools and it's insidious both how this teaches in some ways that racism is "over" and that racism is only racism if it's a caricature of racism. Only if you're a Nazi, only if you're in the KKK. Anything short of that and it enters this area where "wait, then you're saying everyone is racist and that's not fair." But the truth is, pretty much every white person benefits from institutional racism and white supremacy. Just because it's not any single white person's "fault" that they were born into this system doesn't mean that it's all okay, nor that there isn't an imperative to work to make the world better, to fight for social justice.

There's talk around Voter ID laws that they aren't about being racist but are about preventing voter fraud. There's talk around laws that restrict abortion that they aren't about misogyny but are about women's health and safety. There's talk around anti-trans and anti-LGBTQIA+ laws that they aren't about hate but are about religious freedom. These things go to courts and advocates for these (terrible) laws argue that they can't be unconstitutional because the stated purpose of them is noble. And yet the effects of these laws are not to prevent voter fraud (which isn't a problem), are not to keep women safe (it actually puts them at much greater risk), and are not to protect people's religious freedoms (they are about hate). The effects of these laws are to institutionalize injustice. Saying that they aren't hate-based in design first off, is wrong, and secondly shouldn't matter. If they promote hate, if they promote violence against people of color, against women, against queer people (which all of these, surprise-surprise, do), then they are wrong. Anyone still defending them is actively involved in that violence, is actively involved in the marginalization and oppression and exploitation they say is wrong.

So to pull this back to SFF. It should be obvious at this point that it is not enough to simply say "I am open to diverse submissions." It should be obvious that in order to actually promote diversity, there needs to be a step beyond that, needs to be an effort to actually fight against editorial and slush bias by instituting policies that proactively seeks marginalized writers. That doesn't make this a failure of marginalized groups to write enough or write the right kinds of things or submit enough or anything. Saying that the sales aren't there or the market isn't ready is only allowing the problem to continue and spread.

But I'm not a publisher. I'm not an editor. So what can I do? Well, I can make sure that the money I spend on fiction, on SFF, goes to publications and publishers involved in fighting against this problem. I can refuse to take the easiest option, which is to just go with the flow. I can decide I'm going to search out publications that are doing work I want to support. I can try to help signal boost others, and I can speak up when I see shit going down. As a reviewer I can seek to meet stories on their terms instead of demanding they exist to make me comfortable. And I can refuse to skip over stories that don't fit my preconceptions about what SFF has to look like or be about. I can listen. Thanks for reading.

All the best,

Charles Payseur

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