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Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Collective Chillpill For RaceFail, GenderFail, et al.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this post should be misunderstood to imply that I am inherently racist, anti-equality, or anything of that nature. I am not and never will be against any notion of quality, only against unrealistic expectations and demands. Neither am I against open and civil discussion of issues of discrimination, whether it be in literature or elsewhere. These issues should be openly discussed, and regularly, but with an understandable acknowledgement of the complexities of certain situations. Now that you've read this part, here's the post:

I'm about fed up with the science fiction and fantasy community. It seems like every week someone is throwing a fit about such-and-such anthology lacking content from such-and-such minorities (women, people of color, whatever). I wouldn't have an issue with it if not for its constant, never-ending resurgence. Nothing is safe. Nothing can sit on its own merit. If an anthology is 50/50 male/female, then someone complains that there aren't enough Asians, or African Americans, or whatever. If there are too many white people, never mind that it's not exactly the editor's job to screen who submits to them for what color someone is, someone throws a fit over that. If there are too many men, complaining resumes. Too many women? The same, somewhere.

It's like the SF/F community is in a constant state of bitching, because no matter how hard you try to explain away reality, nobody listens. Not enough women? Oh, well that's all your fault, Mr. Editor, even if I don't know the whole story, or have all the information I need to make that judgment; you're a sexist bastard because there just ain't enough women in that anthology. Not enough African Americans? Well, I don't need to know how many African Americans submitted to you, or whether or not you knew that all the people you published were white, or yadda yadda; you're just a racist asshole who hates African Americans and has a KKK sign above your desk.

Do you see why these arguments are not only tiresome, but somewhat absurd? I'm not going to pretend for a moment that discrimination doesn't exist. It does, even in the SF/F community. We've seen it with RaceFail and GenderFail, etc. It's out there, and sometimes not in places you would expect. But it's not everywhere, and assuming that racism or sexism is solely responsible for the lack of minority representation is skirting the issue. There are bound to be more reasons than we can fully comprehend. Maybe part of the problem is that African Americans or women are not big contributors to science fiction, and so the applicant pool is far smaller than that of white males. I don't know, but before we throw fits over every anthology, maybe we should figure that out--maybe we should try to understand the broader picture and not resort to automatically assuming that editors are racist or sexist assholes who don't give a shit.

As an editor (for Survival By Storytelling Magazine), I can tell you firsthand that I have no idea how many people of color I have selected for the first issue. I didn't ask. Why? Because it's probably illegal, for one, and because I kind of don't care. No, I don't mean that I don't care in a negative sense; I mean that I don't care in the sense that skin color is meaningless in the face of quality writing. Whether you are white, black, blue, or red, if a story is good, it's good. That's it. No other criteria. If there is a disproportionate amount of whites in our first issue, then I certainly hope I won't be called out for it. I didn't ask, and won't ask now. We chose good stories from whatever was sent to us, and if there happened to be a whole bunch of women or people of color who submitted, great. If not, I don't know how exactly I am to fix that. I can't force people of certain genders or skin colors to submit.

Similar things are probably true of some of the bigger editors who collect original stories for anthologies. What are their reasons for selecting certain authors? I don't know. Some of them are published authors that the editor approached, and others were snatched from the slush. Can we honestly say that these editors sat down and thought "this is a woman, and this story will suck"? Maybe some of them do, but how exactly are you to know? And when people in the SF/F community throw a fit over these anthologies, they potentially damage the reputation of editors who are not racist or sexist bastards. Turn it around; how would you feel if someone unjustly did the same to you? You wouldn't like it very much, would you?

The SF/F community needs to calm down. I get it; we're in a sensationalist world, and what "sells" to the public are angry rants and controversial topics. But we need to start digging deeper than where RaceFail and GenderFail have taken us. We've avoided the deep end for reasons that seem to escape me, and instead of approaching the various "perpetrators" of racism or sexism with their concerns, the SF/F community has blasted them with insults and public ridicule. Sometimes such action is appropriate, but most of the time it's not. If that's the way you want to do things, then I don't want to be a part of it. If RaceFail, and even GenderFail, have taught the SF/F community anything, it is that we need a greater deal of open discussion. Right now the bitching and fit throwing and angry attacks are only creating more tension.

Tension we do not need. And no, I am not a racist or sexist bastard. I'm a human being.

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  1. Boy are you gonna get stomped, lol.

    You did leave out one possible solution, albeit one that would mitigate against much SF being published in the foreseeable future:

    Only print SF by aliens. And of course I mean the bug-eyed monster variety.

    This restriction might provide the pause you're looking for...

  2. I gather I will. Hopefully they read the disclaimer. It's not that I don't think the issues are important. They are, but this constant attack mode isn't doing anything but making people look excessively thin skinned. Let's calm down and start talking like adults.

    And yes, that would be a curious restriction, but one that might be a tad impossible.

  3. Anonymous10:08 PM

    What provoked this?


  4. Croc: Six months to a year of constant "omg that anthology doesn't have women in it, you're sexist bastards" or "omg that anthology has no black people in it, you are a Nazi." The reality is that not every anthology is going to have women or people of color, or, hell, even white people (there are a few women only and color only anthologies out there). Sometimes it's okay. If an editor NEVER publishes a woman or person of color, then throw a fit, but it seems like half the time the bitching revolves around isolated instances...

    And then you get into the reverse argument. If you actually try to include more women or people of color, you get called out by the same people for throwing them a you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. It's ridiculous. You can't say you want something, and then when you get it complain that it's not genuine. And you can't ignore all the other factors that go into making an anthology.

  5. Patrick the Yeti Stomper linked to this post of yours. He feels that you've made the same case he did, only better.

    I'm pretty sure that the case you're making is a tad different than his-- he seemed to feel that no editor should kowtow to requests for more diversity "because it looks suspicious" and causes other men, apparently to speculate on the size on said editor's dingus.

    Your case, I think, is that the conversation has gone on too long for your liking. That you've spoken words of support and would prefer to not be challenged to put your money where your mouth is. It's especially scary for you because you are an editor, and might be called upon to do so.

    On the other hand, those of us who have spent, as I'm sure you are weary of hearing, a lifetime being ignored... me, I'm seeing results. I have every reason to keep it up, because a lifetime of not complaining got me bupkiss.

    And really, six months is a very short time, compared to the fifty years I have spent reading about the Doughty Men who do all the good stuff, with accessory women.

    ...but it seems like half the time the bitching revolves around isolated instances...

    You mean-- an editor who has published lots of minority writers, and just this once does only white males? Do you have an example of the bitching that has resulted from this?

    ...if you actually try to include more women or people of color, you get called out by the same people for throwing them a bone.

    And that means what? What does that mean to your personal sense of integrity, for instance?

    And how long will they complain if you continue to add writers to your group-- excellent writers-- who happen to be female or minority, almost like it's no big thing? because, yeah-- a bone doesn't mean much in the face of a feast.

    You can't say you want something, and then when you get it complain that it's not genuine.

    Let me re-phrase that;

    "You can't say you want something, and then complain when you don't actually get it. But you really should be grateful for the not-quite-what-you-want, you did get.

    I do have some positive suggestions for you, though. One, is that you take a look at who the principle characters are, and what the overall outlook of the story conveys. I find it a fairly decent way to get a handle on a writer by means of his or her main themes.

    And-- if you become known for searching out new writers, you could become the go-to-guy for enlightened sci-fi reading! You won't have to give up a thing, wither-- there are funny, exciting, pulpy, all kinds of writers out there, who happen to not be white and/or male.

  6. Stella: For the record, as an editor, I am actually publishing work 50/50 male/female. Why? That's just the way it worked out. I wasn't paying attention to the sex of an individual (and some of them I only found out were actually women when I received their bios for the magazine, because they had unusual names). I have no idea how many people of color are in this magazine and probably never will (except one individual who is Indian, the same one with the unusual name, who I didn't find out was Indian until the bio came in). I don't really care, either. I avoid thinking of color in relation to quality. A good story is a good story. Period. A woman can write one just as well as a man. A black man can write one just as well as a white woman or a white male.

    I take stories/poems that I like. That's it. I like certain kinds of stories, and that's what I want in the magazine. Whether they are women or PoC is irrelevant to me. And yes, I'm fully aware there are great women or PoC writers out there. I never denied that.

    Now to your argument:
    No, actually I don't think the conversation has gone on too long. You missed the point entirely. I never said the conversation should stop, just that it should change tone. Why? Because the constant attack mode is not only tiring, but ineffective. You may personally see results, but the fact of the matter is that we are still seeing anthologies that have no women, or hardly any, or no PoC (though how anyone knows without doing extensive investigation, something I think is kind of rude, considering that one's race really should be none of your business anyway). And people are still getting upset about it. I have to ask why in some cases, because it seems like there is an expectation for there to always be this utopia racial/gender fantasy where everything is always representative of population dynamics, or even disproportionate to them.

    I want the conversation to continue, but for it to start taking itself seriously, rather than pulling sensationalist nonsense out of the proverbial hat. Sure, drawing attention is wonderful, but it also draws negative attention. Attacking people is not going to resolve the problem, but trying to take a middle ground approach might bring people from both sides (though not necessarily the extremist sides) into the fray. Then we might get some serious, honest discussion. Now? I see less honesty and more "I'm going to attack you for not doing what I want you to do." Wonderful.

    The rest of your post I'm just going to ignore, because it's falling right into the same angry nonsense that I'm not interested in dealing with anymore. If you want to talk to me like a civil adult and consider these things from a perspective that doesn't make obvious your angered tone, I'd be glad to have that discussion. The problem with complaining about utopian ideas is that you never really stop complaining, because the utopia doesn't exist and never will. If it did, we probably wouldn't live in the world we live in now.

  7. Well, if you in fact tend to publish about 50/50% male and female writers, I do not think you need worry about being attacked. And if that happens to be because you enjoy (as you seem to do) the kind of fiction these women are writing-- as opposed to a feeling that you must fill a quota to shut up some whiners-- that's something that makes me incredibly happy to hear.

  8. Stella: I'm not worried about being attacked. And I don't think I tend to publish anything. This is the first issue. For all I know the next issue may very well be all men, or all women, or robots. I don't pay attention to the name of the author when I read the work (unless it's a really weird name, in which case it's unavoidable), and as such, I don't pay attention gender or race either. Good stories are good stories, regardless of who they are written by.

    But I don't it is fair to assume that people who publish work that includes few women writers are doing so because they necessarily hold a bias. We can't know that. Perhaps the submissions that editor read were mostly male, and those women that submitted just didn't fit the bill, not because they are women, but because they just didn't write stories that editor wanted. Let's be fair, it happens. If the genders are equal, and I honestly think we are, regardless of what biological differences we may have, then it is fair to assume that there are few good women writers and a lot of crappy ones, just as there are few good male writers and a lot of crappy ones. That's kind of the way the business works.

    I also don't think we're dealing with conditions of quotas here; some editors who were attacked took note and tried to include more women or PoC in the next issue. They didn't do it because they needed to meet a quota, but because they thought it was remarkably strange that they had mostly men or whatever. And then they got attacked for it. For trying to address the issue. That I have a problem with. Because on the one hand it's wrong, in the opinion of those who do most of the attacking, for any anthology to exclude work by certain minorities, but it's also wrong to try to resolve that by paying more attention to it.

    How exactly is the issue supposed to be resolved if you can be attacked for doing it either way? It is unrealistic to think, on the one hand, that someone is a sexist bastard, but also to think, on the other, that it's possible for them to change by flipping a switch. People who hold biases, or even people who don't hold them, but are perceived to hold them due to something they've done (though most of the time it's inconclusive unless they so clearly indicate they are biased), cannot flip a switch. It doesn't work that way. Biases have to be worked through, step by step.

    That's why I think we need a chillpill on this whole issue. We need to start talking about it seriously, not through the lens of anger and bitterness over perceived racist or sexist behavior. I think that method of communication is over with.

  9. I don't quite understand-- WHO attacked which men for adding women to their TOCs?

    I mean, I know that Patrick attacked Strahan, and has apologised both to him *and* the women that his speculations had as a side note insulted...

    But I have not really seen any women complaining about Strahan's TOC.

    And sure some women who have been clamoring for a feast get pissy when offered a single bone. I do, I totally admit it. But there's an overall average yanno? If there had already been decades of egalitarian editing, the manymany instances of all-white-male TOCs that happen right now wouldn't poke me in my bruises quite so hard.

  10. There was the Strahan deal some time ago, then all the PoC stuff involving Elizabeth Bear getting stabbed by all sorts of people, then Bradley (Angry Black Woman, I think), who, while certainly for what seemed to be good reasons, went, on occasion, into a fair amount of angry rants (hence the name, I suppose), and now recently went on a rant about the Mindblowing SF list, which didn't contain any women.

    And then there are all those who have followed in the wake of the big names, some of which have since made names of themselves, etc.

    A lot of people complained about Strahan, though, not just for the PoC issue, but the gender issue as well. And any time he tried to explain himself, he got stabbed some more.

    So, it's all sort of continuing, over and over, and I don't really see the use of it. As an editor, if someone were to say "oh, I'm sad there aren't any women writers in that issue" I'd probably go "you know, you're right. Let's see what happens next." But I know for a fact that I would not respond well to someone calling me a sexist bastard for not having enough women, or a racist for not having any PoCs (the latter one would piss me off more because I literally have no control over PoC issues; it's not exactly obvious what race someone is by their name).

    In fact, the more friendly tone might make me look back at all the submissions I got to see what percentage were definitively women, and to share that information with everyone.

    But maybe I'm just an idealist and think that more level-headed discussions of serious, contentious issues is the best approach...

  11. Yes, there was the Strahan deal.

    And he's done something very good as a result, and he will get many cookies-- if he continues to pick fewer known white males in favor of lesser known writers who sometimes turn out to be colored-- he will be eating four-layer Bavarian tortes.

    Yes, there was the E.Bear episode. That was when some people of color pointed out some things that, because of their lifetime experiences, made them jumpy to read-- and they got accused of being reverse racists by a number of white men.

    Yes, there's the Angry Black Woman. She's angry, she says so. She is not the be-all and end-all for all black women, or white women, or black people in general. I sincerely hope you don't figure her to be the only woman, or black person that is speaking. That would make me sad.

    See, it doesn't only make me sad when I see one more book published without any acknowledgment that I exist; it pisses me the hell off.

    And I spent decades being sad about it. It really is not coincidental that the decade I got really pissed off- is the decade that finally saw some changes.

    Trust me-- you were not around in the 70's and 80's, but I was.

    Me, I can let go of my anger pretty quickly, although I am seeing some parallels here; You seem to be saying; "Call me a bigot and I will act like one, and then you'll be sorry!' I know damn well that I am saying; "You wanna tell me I have no right to act angry? I'm gonna be angry all over your sorry ass!"

    Funny old world, ain't it?

    Anyway, if you really want some of these very angry people to stop yelling, you might try the honeyed approach yourself. remember, they think they have a genuine grievance. You might try showing you understand it, and showing that youy are willing to speak up and advocate on this (as you agree) Very important subject.

    it really isn't "damned if you do damned if you don't; it's more like "damned because you never did, damned because I really don't trust you yet." It's a provisional damnation.

  12. "Me, I can let go of my anger pretty quickly, although I am seeing some parallels here; You seem to be saying; "Call me a bigot and I will act like one, and then you'll be sorry!' I know damn well that I am saying; "You wanna tell me I have no right to act angry? I'm gonna be angry all over your sorry ass!""

    The difference here is that I'll ignore you, which is the exact opposite of what you want. The people who get angry and bitter about these issues are the people I ignore. The people I listen to are the ones who are interested enough in affecting change to act like like the issue deserves more than sensationalist "I was there, you weren't" nonsense. Those arguments don't work precisely because they try to function on exclusionary principles. I have to give you credence because you were there and I wasn't, or because I wasn't born with a vagina. That, in effect, means you want me to treat you differently, because you are another sex, or another race. I refuse to treat people differently based on sex or gender. I will yell at a black man just as I will yell at a white man, or a white woman, or a black woman, or whatever.

    Maybe that is the difference here and why I don't understand the necessity for anger and sensationalism. I don't view people as different except insofar as their personalities warrant it, even if I may hold some personal biases; I treat people as human beings, and when human beings behave in a way that is not what I consider to be civil, then I ignore them, or call them out on it.

    The argument now seems to be: "Well, I don't have to act like an adult until you come kiss my toes." That's not a good way to get me or people like me to listen with anything but amusing curiosity. I'd rather listen to the people who already are taking a level-headed approach to all this.

    You have every right to be angry, but being angry is a choice. I'm not angry. I just want people to chill out and start acting like all this really matters. Right now, the screaming people feel too much like radical politicians than anything worth giving serious attention.

  13. Hmm.

    I think you need to re-read what you have just written, very, very very-very carefully. Like REALLY READ what you've just written.

    I'll wait over here with amusing curiosity until you're finished.

    One thing for you to remember; as an editor, you only have the power of the reputation that the sales of your recent product bestow upon you. It's mighty precarious.

    This is not you dictating terms to dependent underlings; this is you understanding that your demographics are changing. Or.. not understanding that.

  14. I know what I wrote. I see where misreading can be done, but misreading has been done about most anything I've written on a controversial topic. People with pre-set opinions tend to gloss over the finer points.

    I actually am pretty satisfied with the demographics for the work I edit. It's got a built-in fanbase, which won't be changing any time soon.

  15. you just can't believe that this person whom you are engaging is worth your effort, huh? Talk about a pre-set opinion!

    You know, I've been honestly trying to belly up to your challenge to "speak like an adult."

    I find that you are not doing such a good job of that yourself.

    There are some issues we could explore, both objectively and subjectively -- but only if you want to do so. I promise good faith, let me know.

  16. Stella, if you wanted to make it clear that you're interested in objective, honest, and perhaps subjective discussion of these issues, you wouldn't have done the following:

    a) Take a "God did it" style argument to indicate why I can't talk about these issues except in the style and tone you have pre-defined. Just because I have not had your experience does not mean that I cannot imagine or even adequately take to task the issues at hand. Saying "I was there, you weren't" is essentially telling me that you don't have anything to say to my arguments. It's a "God did it," a way to put the entire discussion in a position where I can't saying anything else, because I just didn't go through whatever you went through.

    b) Told me that what you're saying is "You wanna tell me I have no right to act angry? I'm gonna be angry all over your ass!" If that's what you're saying, then clearly you are not interested in discussing this issue in a civil or even adult tone. You want to be angry. That's your choice, and I'm not particularly interested in having discussions about issues of racism or sexism with people who cannot see past their own anger to set it aside long enough to come to a better understanding of what is at stake. Anger, for me, is a last resort, a form of social or verbal terrorism, because it essentially says "I cannot persuade you with rhetoric, so I'm going to scare you into doing what I want." Perhaps that sort of behavior was acceptable in the 70s and 80s, or earlier during the initial women's rights movements, but we are in a society now that is capable, and educated enough, to be able to listen and think outside of radical modes of communication.

    The reality here is that you have made it clear that you want to be angry. That's fine. If that's what you want to do, I can't stop you. I can criticize you for it, and rightly so, and I can even ignore you. That's my choice. But you've said nothing here, thus far, about actually talking about the issues. You've argued with me and justified your anger (or tried to), but what has been accomplished? Nothing. We're continuing to address the gender/race issue through your mode of communication, which is one that, I'm sorry to say, is counterproductive.

    Is there an issue? Yes, in some form or another, but it's one far more complex than what seems to be said across the blogosphere. It's a collective, human issue, one that hints at the flaws in our design. It is too simplistic to automatically assume the worst in people just because they didn't meet the demands of certain individuals. Social utopias do not exist for a reason.

    So, if you are, in fact, interested in objective/subjective discussion of gender/race issues within the publishing spectrum of SF/F, then let's talk about it in a manner conducive to learning.

    And, to reiterate, I am not saying that anyone should shut up about these issues. Not at all. Just change the tone so we can do something about it.

  17. you are currently being victimized by the old moving goalposts game.

    There are, as you've pointed out, folks who want to discuss the issue and then there are folks who want to try and 'make points' because they've got an axe to grind.

    Follow your own advice and stop engaging the latter.

  18. LOL!

    Do you realise that you've been ignoring my points over and over again, in favor of being angry?

    You've been throwing this fit for over a week, and I hereby arbitrarily demand that you speak reasonably from now on.

  19. Crotchety: Very true. But, the comments are made on my blog, I feel the need to address them, lest I become the faceless wonder of WISB, if such a thing were to exist. Point taken, though.

    Stella: I'm not angry. Never was. A little irritated, sure, but far from angry. The fun thing about learning to be a writer is that you either have to learn how to take criticism, or turn into one of those Adams/Reardon fellows who allows criticism to consume them.

    But, not angry. Not a bit. But if you think I've ignored your points, you can certainly reiterate them. I don't see how I missed anything, though. I've been speaking quite reasonably through this whole thing.

  20. Are you sure you're not angry?

    Because you sound, to me, rather unreasonably so.

    Let me throw your challenge back at you; you find my points and show me where you've replied to them.

  21. Stella: Yup, completely un-angry. A little frustrated, sure, but far from angry.

    And no, I'm not going to play games with you. If those points were ignored and you find them important enough, you can restate them, but I have no interest in playing hide and seek with you. Discussion and debate I will do; playing fetch I will not.

  22. Well, there you go then!

    You are not angry, and you won't play fetch, but I am angry and I must play fetch.

    Can you see how confrontational you are being?

  23. Stella: I've reiterated my argument and main point as relayed in the original article numerous times, without argument, because I felt it important to make clear what I was saying. Some people have misunderstood what I said, for various reasons. I have no problem with reiterating what may have been misunderstood or ignored. I also am not asking you to go re-read what I have said here. If you didn't understand something, then I can clarify. If you missed something, I can say so. Not that hard.

    If the point you were trying to make is really as important as you want me to think, then it should follow that reiterating said point would not require any excessive work on your part. No fetching is required for you to say "oh, my original point was yadda yadda."

    No confrontation necessary whatsoever. You've entered into this with a confrontational approach by essentially telling me to play the part of the dog. Not to mention that you've already said that you're angry. I, however, am not.

    And now we're back to the original point of the post all this is a part of. Chillpills are needed.

  24. it's an interesting and telling disconnect.

    Both of us see very clearly the same faults in the other's discourse, and insist that the the other is the one misreading. Both of us claim we have attempted in good faith to answer the other's points and the other person is the one who is misreading.

  25. The difference is that I am very willing to reiterate when necessary, or clarify, and you seem resistant to that notion.