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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Racist/Sexist Editors: Still Bad Even If They’re Not

So, apparently if you’re an editor and you don’t publish enough women or people of color in an anthology or magazine, but it’s because your slush pile contained primarily white males, you’re still a sexist or racist bastard. At least, that’s what oldcharliebrown says. It seems that no matter what, even if you have a legitimate excuse, if you don’t publish enough women or people of color, you’re a sexist or racist bastard. Period. No argument. That’s it. Because if your slush pile didn’t have enough women or people of color in it, then you, the editor, clearly didn’t spend enough time “reaching out.”

Well I’m calling bullshit.

Blaming editors like this is like blaming a police officer in another county for not stopping a drunk driver from driving into a tree. Sound frakked up? That’s because it is. It makes no logical sense. I’m not saying that there aren’t sexist/racist editors out there, but the idea that an editor can only work with what is submitted to him or her is 100% true. The whole idea of “reaching out” is neither here nor there. Whether you “reach out” or not does not suddenly make you a sexist/racist bastard—not by a long shot.

The fact that some people are still actively condemning editors even when they are not at fault suggests a mindset that is quite disturbing to me. It’s almost as if some people want editors to be sexist/racist bastards so we have someone to blame for the disparity in minority representation in SF/F. I don’t honestly think there is anyone to blame for this except culture. There are probably dozens of reasons why there are not a lot of women or people of color in the SF/F community, and that long list does not include dozens of different ways to say “racist” or “sexist.” Sometimes racism/sexism is responsible; sometimes it’s not.

Let’s not forget that historically speaking, science fiction (and publishing in general) has been a masculine enterprise, or that there seems to be far more people of color writing about issues such as colonialism/imperialism than there are about space ships or magic swords. That’s not to say that there aren’t women who write science fiction (there are quite a few, many of them damn good ones) or people of color who write SF/F (there are a few that I can name off the top of my head, though, to be fair, there could be more that none of us know about because names rarely indicate someone’s skin color). What I’m saying is that there very well may be other factors influencing the percentage of women and people of color in slush piles that have nothing to do directly with editors working today (editors in the past, yes, but today, not so much, with exception). But, then, you have to wonder how anyone knows how many people of color are in those slush piles in the first place if names are not good indicators of skin color…editors do not typically ask for one’s skin color (though a name can indicate sex, but that’s not always a sure thing, particularly if you’re dealing with writers from countries with non-English names like India or China). What needs to be done is for all aspects of the community to reach out, not just editors. History is working against women and people of color, and there’s no reason why we cannot circumvent historical tradition. But, history also does not make editors today sexist or racist bastards just because they do not publish enough women or people of color. If we want to talk about racist/sexist bastards, then we need to go back in time and point a finger at the people who dominated the publishing industry in the first place, and then at society, who played the race and gender game for centuries.

The point of all of this is that, yes, it is a viable excuse to say that the reason for gender/race disparities in your work is due to a low percentage of women or people of color in the slush pile. That’s a perfectly acceptable excuse, and whether or not an editor should spend time reaching out is an entirely different argument. I think the problem is that people need someone to blame, and why not an editor? They have their hand on the big button, after all. But there’s more at work here than just an editor. This is a community problem and there are no individuals that can be blamed.

That is all.

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