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aruna
09-07-2013, 12:06 AM
http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2013/sep/06/science-fiction-racism-sexism-discrimination


Why are most SF authors straight, white western men? Science fiction writers can't ignore the diversity that exists on planet Earth.
Science fiction loves a good paradox. Here's one for you: how can a genre that dreams up alien cultures and mythic races in such minute detail seemingly ignore the ethnic, religious, gender and sexual diversity right here on the home planet, here in the real world?

Don't ask me -- I hardly ever read the genre, but good question.

ETA: that said: the only SF novelist I have ever met in RL is black: Steve Barnes (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20058.Steven_Barnes)

We met at a story conference in Palm Springs, 2002, and chatted a while about the lack of diversity in novels.

Yorkist
09-07-2013, 12:18 AM
Good article.

This is only tangentially related (the article mentioned Buffy), but I had a thought about Joss Whedon's Firefly recently. The worldbuilding is so good - for those of you who haven't seen it, it's set in the far future after space colonization, and the clothes, culture, and vocabulary are a mixture of American and Chinese - which makes a lot of sense, because those are the two largest cultural powerhouses today, right? So you have Chinese curse words, outfits that consist of cowboy boots with mandarin-inspired* blouses, stuff like that.

Yet, of the eight or so main members of the cast and crew, there's one PoC (Shepherd, who is black), and not a single Chinese or even vaguely Chinese-American person. And, to my recollection, when the show was live/had recently come out on dvd/everyone was watching it again because of the Serenity movie, neither I nor anyone else in my social circle even noticed this disparity.

My social circle is made up primarily of people with master's and PhD's in literature and history! We should be doing better than this, y'all.

*Or is it chinoserie? I dunno.

slhuang
09-07-2013, 12:19 AM
The subtitle is actually wildly misleading, as pointed out by Mary Robinette Kowal:

http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/why-doesnt-the-guardians-article-about-diversity-interview-any-non-male-authors/

But I'm glad the story hit The Guardian anyway, because diversity is something SFF has huge problems with. Representing diverse casts in books; publishing and promoting diverse authors; dealing with accessibility problems, with harassment problems --

I'm not sure how much worse we are than other genres (or if we are), but there is a problem.

I highly recommend reading the original #DiversityInSFF (https://twitter.com/search?q=%23DiversityInSFF&src=tyah) tag that spurred the Guardian article. It's a LOT of diverse people in the SFF community speaking up through the unfiltered medium of Twitter. Lots of good stuff there.

Amadan
09-07-2013, 12:26 AM
The problem I have with that article is that no numbers are given. I question the implicit premise that the ranks of SF&F authors are more white male than other genres.

Mysteries, thrillers, horror, litfic - how many non-white/men are there in those genres?

Romance authors are obviously mostly women, but I'll bet by and large the demographic is very, very white.

I also know of lots of recent SF&F with non-white, non-male protagonists. Not the majority, but they are not the unicorns they once might have been. Again, I'd challenge critics to compare the ratio of non-white dudes figuring prominently in horror novels, mysteries, thrillers, or anything outside romance. And count the number of non-white women as romance MCs.

I even question the premise that any author nowadays "ignores" diversity in SF&F. I can't remember the last time I read a recently-published SF novel that didn't have at least a couple of characters who were not white. Even the notoriously conservative SF authors usually have non-white characters among the good guys (and usually a couple of women - always beautiful, always wish fulfillment characters, but they exist).

Now, you could argue that this frequently amounts to tokenism. And you could also argue that many representations of non-white guys are less than edifying. (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle included a token black guy as one of the heroes in 1977's Lucifer's Hammer, but that book was hardly a beacon of inclusiveness...)

But I confess that "SF&F is all white dudes all the time!" is a chant makes me suspicious that the person chanting it hasn't actually read any SF&F published since 1970.

slhuang
09-07-2013, 12:33 AM
Yet, of the eight or so main members of the cast and crew, there's one PoC (Shepherd, who is black), and not a single Chinese or even vaguely Chinese-American person. And, to my recollection, when the show was live/had recently come out on dvd/everyone was watching it again because of the Serenity movie, neither I nor anyone else in my social circle even noticed this disparity.

My social circle is made up primarily of people with master's and PhD's in literature and history! We should be doing better than this, y'all.


Oh, Firefly bugs me no end because of this. I've seen it discussed a LOT -- probably because of the company I keep; I'm in the intersection of Total Nerd and Representation In Media Is Super Important (just guess what my Twitter feed was like after the latest Doctor Who casting news ;)).

People often discuss the Firefly thing with a little bit of discomfort, because there are so many other things we want to love about Firefly. It's like criticizing the lack of women in Pacific Rim -- you see it done with a little bit of a wince, because Mako Mori was so cool. But yeah, Firefly has been frowned on quite a bit for this.

Here's xkcd on it:

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/well.png

(Quick note, Zoe was also a POC, and Morena Baccarin is from Brazil. Does not invalidate your point.)

slhuang
09-07-2013, 12:40 AM
The problem I have with that article is that no numbers are given. I question the implicit premise that the ranks of SF&F authors are more white male than other genres.


Probably not -- see the link to MRK I linked above. That's not actually the major problem that's being discussed in-genre, though; the article is somewhat misrepresentative. (And it shouldn't be the major problem discussed -- after all, it doesn't matter if we're more white/male than other genres . . . it's not about comparing to other genres; it's about fixing the shit going on in our own house.)

Amadan
09-07-2013, 12:52 AM
I find Mary Robinette Kowal's earnestness ironic given that her most prominent fantasy novel is basically Jane Austen fanfic with some blindingly caucasian protagonists...

So her problem with the Guardian article is "Wait, there are white women in SF&F too!"

John Scalzi and Mary Robinette Kowal and Jim Hines & co. are very nice (very white) people promoting diversity while writing books that are mostly about white people.

In all honesty, I am not sure how to "fix" this short of promoting authors you like. It's not like you can make the people who buy books buy more diversely-written books, and the mainstream SF&F audience (like all others) will read books recommended because they're good, but "And it also has non-white MCs!" is at best a neutral value for most.

Yorkist
09-07-2013, 12:55 AM
Oh, Firefly bugs me no end because of this.

(Quick note, Zoe was also a POC, and Morena Baccarin is from Brazil. Does not invalidate your point.)

Whoops, duh. Sorry, I'm still a bit "color-blind." Trying to pay more attention, but it's been many, many moons since I watched Firefly.

But yeah, no Asians! Gah, it burns.

Cranky1
09-07-2013, 01:03 AM
That's generally why I dismiss 'color-blind' theory. I believe it subversively advocates that whiteness = default status. If a character isn't described as being minority, then we revert to the default status - the character is white.

I was reading the #DiversityinSFF and, funny enough, the other hashtag that was trending was #WhyDoBlackPeople.

slhuang
09-07-2013, 01:10 AM
So her problem with the Guardian article is "Wait, there are white women in SF&F too!"

John Scalzi and Mary Robinette Kowal and Jim Hines & co. are very nice (very white) people promoting diversity while writing books that are mostly about white people.

I've not read MRK so can't speak to the demographics in her work, but I read her point as, "Diverse authors DO exist; the greatest problem is unequal treatment/promotion." I don't totally agree with everything that goes along with that thesis, but I think that unequal treatment/promotion are perhaps the bigger problems, and I disliked the Guardian's subtitle for erasing the many good diverse authors who do currently write SFF (what if they had framed it as, "Why do queer, female, POC, or non-Western scifi writers still face barriers in a field that thinks about the future?" rather than claiming that the field is all straight/white/male/Western?). Ugh. Too many problems tangled together.

I think you're right though that in order to "fix" any of this it will take a cultural shift, which is far easier said than done. I do tend to think talking about it helps push at that cultural shift, though. Ever so slowly. A grain of sand and all that. (I may be stupidly optimistic.)

Yorkist
09-07-2013, 01:12 AM
Cranky, I don't disagree. It's just that I have to tweak the default setting of my brain to consciously pay attention.

Also, I didn't enjoy Firefly all that much; like Whedon's previous shows much better (Angel was my fave by far). But I think it's at least good that the diversity of his casts increased over time (even if there were no Asians in a half-Asian universe, which %$#@).

Polenth
09-07-2013, 02:13 AM
I've not read MRK so can't speak to the demographics in her work, but I read her point as, "Diverse authors DO exist; the greatest problem is unequal treatment/promotion." I don't totally agree with everything that goes along with that thesis, but I think that unequal treatment/promotion are perhaps the bigger problems, and I disliked the Guardian's subtitle for erasing the many good diverse authors who do currently write SFF (what if they had framed it as, "Why do queer, female, POC, or non-Western scifi writers still face barriers in a field that thinks about the future?" rather than claiming that the field is all straight/white/male/Western?). Ugh. Too many problems tangled together.

Watching diversity discussions shows this in action, as more works recommended contain marginalised characters than are written by marginalised authors. So people are more likely to recommend a book with a black lead if a white person wrote it. Or a book with many women characters if a man wrote it.

A side issue of this is that people from privileged groups are also more likely to self-promote in things like the Twitter tag, because this culture has told them they have every right to do so. Their words are the most important. So again, it tends to be books containing marginalised characters, but not written by marginalised authors.

The result is such discussions often involve people saying they want to read work by a wider range of authors, but those authors aren't actually making it into the tag (or getting much attention if they do). It creates the impression the Guardian got - that marginalised authors don't exist.

(Which I tried to get around by making this list of authors (http://blog.polenthblake.com/2013/09/100-diverse-speculative-authors.html), should anyone need some more reading.)

Cranky1
09-07-2013, 02:22 AM
On the subject of whitewashing, I stumbled across this article and its petition. There is a movie about Egyptian gods, but it seems the entire cast may be white. http://politicalblindspot.com/the-gods-of-egypt-film-to-feature-all-white-cast/

Amadan
09-07-2013, 02:43 AM
Watching diversity discussions shows this in action, as more works recommended contain marginalised characters than are written by marginalised authors. So people are more likely to recommend a book with a black lead if a white person wrote it. Or a book with many women characters if a man wrote it.

I wonder how true this is. The corollary to that claim is that people will actively avoid recommending books with a black lead written by a black person, or a book with many women characters if a woman wrote it, when they would recommend a book with a black lead if a white person wrote it, or a book with many women characters if a man wrote it.

I'm sure there are people for whom that is true, but I am skeptical that there are many of them. It seems to me that if someone is willing to read a book with black or women main characters in the first place, it's unlikely they'll balk if the book was actually written by a black person/woman.

That there are more works recommended containing marginalized characters than there are works by marginalized authors would seem to be a function of there being fewer marginalized authors.

benbradley
09-07-2013, 02:55 AM
Why are most SF authors straight, white western men wearing pocket protectors and glasses?
Why not compete the stereotype? :D

For what it's worth, I think pocket protectors were a thing of the 60s and earlier decades, and went out in the 70s with slide rules (but then I've never heard of anyone who collects pocket protectors), but yes, the images of scientists and engineers of earlier generations (and the characteristics of those in such roles) persist.

Wait, where were we...

Science fiction writers can't ignore the diversity that exists on planet Earth. Science fiction loves a good paradox. Here's one for you: how can a genre that dreams up alien cultures and mythic races in such minute detail seemingly ignore the ethnic, religious, gender and sexual diversity right here on the home planet, here in the real world?While there's no doubt truth to that, there's also exceptions. Even in movies and TV, SF has been forward in representing minorities as equals (Look at the original Star Trek cast - read Nichelle Nichols' book "Uhura" about, among other things, meeting MLK Jr (http://spinoff.comicbookresources.com/2013/03/20/tv-legends-revealed-mlk-kept-nichols-from-quitting-star-trek/) - the book mentions a reason she wanted to leave the show that this article doesn't). I recall an African-American character in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" (he would actually have been "African-American-Lunan").

There's also this, a story I heard about perhaps in the 80s that happened in perhaps the 50s or 60s that I write about here:
http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=6547544#post6547544
But my point is that diversity HAS been a part of SF (even it it wasn't a large part) at times when diversity was far from a "mainstream" idea. The article still has a point that there's not MORE diversity in current SF, but I just wanted to give SF its due.

I was reading the #DiversityinSFF and, funny enough, the other hashtag that was trending was #WhyDoBlackPeople.I've been on Twitter a good bit, and I've noticed a lot of race-based stuff in trending Twitter hashtags in general (and a lot of boyfriend/girlfriend/sexual stuff too), so that hashtag may not be unusual. I don't know why that is, maybe people feel freer to discuss such issues there.

milkweed
09-07-2013, 02:58 AM
Watching diversity discussions shows this in action, as more works recommended contain marginalised characters than are written by marginalised authors. So people are more likely to recommend a book with a black lead if a white person wrote it. Or a book with many women characters if a man wrote it.

A side issue of this is that people from privileged groups are also more likely to self-promote in things like the Twitter tag, because this culture has told them they have every right to do so. Their words are the most important. So again, it tends to be books containing marginalised characters, but not written by marginalised authors.

The result is such discussions often involve people saying they want to read work by a wider range of authors, but those authors aren't actually making it into the tag (or getting much attention if they do). It creates the impression the Guardian got - that marginalised authors don't exist.

(Which I tried to get around by making this list of authors (http://blog.polenthblake.com/2013/09/100-diverse-speculative-authors.html), should anyone need some more reading.)

your link doesn't work

I'm still trying to wrap my brainstem around what you wrote. If I'm understanding this correctly the only way I can get someone to read my book is to claim to be a white straight male, preferably christian?

Hogwash!

I'm half white (pink actually) and half mi'kmaq and am a woman, it doesn't stop me from writing and it doesn't stop me from reading all sorts of SciFi or any other types of fiction (once again I've murdered grammar and punctuation!:evil).

For me it all comes down to is it a compelling story? If not then I don't read the book/story. I could care less who wrote the book/story, all I care about is if it is interesting!

Rachel Udin
09-07-2013, 03:28 AM
It's the complimented for writing a minority group if you're not of that minority, but ignored if you are... I think she's getting with that since we've gone over it a few times.

James D. Macdonald
09-07-2013, 04:13 AM
A big part of the problem is this: how would you know, just from looking at the spine of the book, that Greg van Eekhout is a brown-skinned Indonesian? Author photos are rare in SFF hardbacks and almost unknown in paperbacks.

I've read and enjoyed books by Samuel R. "Chip" Delany since the 'sixties. It wasn't until I met him in person that I found out he's black. (It wasn't until some time later that I learned he's gay.) He won his first Nebula and Hugo awards in the 'sixties. And he had clearly black characters.

Heinlein had several non-white main characters: Friday is black, Podkayne is Maori, Johnny (in Starship Troopers) is Filipino, Manny and the Prof (in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) are Hispanic, and several other characters are, explicitly and implicitly in his various books, of various non-white races.

So that's real old-school, traditional in SF.

Amadan
09-07-2013, 04:42 AM
It's the complimented for writing a minority group if you're not of that minority, but ignored if you are... I think she's getting with that since we've gone over it a few times.

Yes, I understood what she was saying, thank you.


Heinlein had several non-white main characters: Friday is black, Podkayne is Maori, Johnny (in Starship Troopers) is Filipino, Manny and the Prof (in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) are Hispanic, and several other characters are, explicitly and implicitly in his various books, of various non-white races.

So that's real old-school, traditional in SF.

Whoa really? Friday is black? The races of the other characters I remember - I usually do notice when authors drop clues or say outright what someone's ethnicity is - but I totally do not remember that. (It has been about 20 years since I read it.)

Polenth
09-07-2013, 05:10 AM
I'm still trying to wrap my brainstem around what you wrote. If I'm understanding this correctly the only way I can get someone to read my book is to claim to be a white straight male, preferably christian?

It's not that absolutely no one will read what you've written. Nor does it mean you won't be one of those who breaks out in a big way. What it means is that publishing stats are very skewed and don't represent the demographics of the general population. This isn't something that happens by chance. It happens because society has a lot of prejudices, publishing is part of that society and so opportunities aren't equal for everyone.

The same thing is reflected in online discussions, because the people having those discussions are part of the same society too.

Really, I'd hope this sub-forum could get beyond the basic discussion of having to show that prejudice and discrimination are real things.


I've read and enjoyed books by Samuel R. "Chip" Delany since the 'sixties. It wasn't until I met him in person that I found out he's black. (It wasn't until some time later that I learned he's gay.) He won his first Nebula and Hugo awards in the 'sixties. And he had clearly black characters.

In Samuel Delany's own words (http://www.nyrsf.com/racism-and-science-fiction-.html):

"Three months after the awards banquet, in June, when it was done, with that first Nebula under my belt, I submitted Nova for serialization to the famous sf editor of Analog Magazine, John W. Campbell, Jr. Campbell rejected it, with a note and phone call to my agent explaining that he didnít feel his readership would be able to relate to a black main character. That was one of my first direct encounters, as a professional writer, with the slippery and always commercialized form of liberal American prejudice: Campbell had nothing against my being black, you understand. (There reputedly exists a letter from him to horror writer Dean Koontz, from only a year or two later, in which Campbell argues in all seriousness that a technologically advanced black civilization is a social and a biological impossibility. . . .). No, perish the thought! Surely there was not a prejudiced bone in his body! Itís just that I had, by pure happenstance, chosen to write about someone whose mother was from Senegal (and whose father was from Norway), and it was the poor benighted readers, out there in Americaís heartland, who, in 1967, would be too upset. . . ."

That you didn't know he was black, and it didn't change your view of his stories, doesn't mean prejudice wasn't a problem for him. It doesn't mean those sorts of issues are all in the past. And it doesn't mean people are activity plotting to discriminate, because often, it carries on simply because people have never noticed it or challenged it.

He succeeded despite the racism. Not because there wasn't any.

Amadan
09-07-2013, 05:37 AM
Really, I'd hope this sub-forum could get beyond the basic discussion of having to show that prejudice and discrimination are real things.

No one is disputing that prejudice and discrimination are real things.

But I question the degree to which the publishing industry today is actively (intentionally or otherwise) filtering out marginal voices. Samuel Delaney's experiences, 47 years ago, are very real, and no doubt there are still some John Campbells in the publishing industry today. But I think it is not accurate to say it is still 1967.

James D. Macdonald
09-07-2013, 07:06 AM
Whoa really? Friday is black? The races of the other characters I remember - I usually do notice when authors drop clues or say outright what someone's ethnicity is - but I totally do not remember that. (It has been about 20 years since I read it.)

Yeah. It was kinda disguised by the publisher putting a blonde on the cover.

Amadan
09-07-2013, 07:09 AM
Yeah. It was kinda disguised by the publisher putting a blonde on the cover.

Possibly the worst case of white-washing ever. Though a close second is every single cover for Alexei Panshin's Rite of Passage. (In the book: Mia Havero is explicitly described as having very dark skin. All the covers: pretty white girl.)

Lyra Jean
09-07-2013, 07:18 AM
Good article.

This is only tangentially related (the article mentioned Buffy), but I had a thought about Joss Whedon's Firefly recently. The worldbuilding is so good - for those of you who haven't seen it, it's set in the far future after space colonization, and the clothes, culture, and vocabulary are a mixture of American and Chinese - which makes a lot of sense, because those are the two largest cultural powerhouses today, right? So you have Chinese curse words, outfits that consist of cowboy boots with mandarin-inspired* blouses, stuff like that.

Yet, of the eight or so main members of the cast and crew, there's one PoC (Shepherd, who is black), and not a single Chinese or even vaguely Chinese-American person. And, to my recollection, when the show was live/had recently come out on dvd/everyone was watching it again because of the Serenity movie, neither I nor anyone else in my social circle even noticed this disparity.

My social circle is made up primarily of people with master's and PhD's in literature and history! We should be doing better than this, y'all.

*Or is it chinoserie? I dunno.

Gina Torres is Hispanic. Grrr! I can't remember their names but Mal is making a deal with some Chinese twins when River Tam goes crazy from the subliminal message.

The antagonist is also POC.

Lyra Jean
09-07-2013, 07:30 AM
One of my favorite novels, it's starting to fall apart now, is "Moving Mars" by Greg Bear. I think I counted three or four white people and half of them were antagonists.

The MC is an Indian (from India ethnicity) and she married into a Polynesian/Asian ethnic family. They all live on Mars of course. I have no idea what Greg Bear looks like.

I just looked him up and apparently he is white. But it's still an awesome book.

So does anyone have book suggestions for books that are written by PoC about PoC? I would love to read some. Almost everything I've read that dealt with PoC was literary and set in a ghetto.

Yorkist
09-07-2013, 07:41 AM
Gina Torres is Hispanic. Grrr! I can't remember their names but Mal is making a deal with some Chinese twins when River Tam goes crazy from the subliminal message.

The antagonist is also POC.

Oh yeah, the antagonist in the last couple of episodes or the movie was a PoC. (Can't remember which is which. Maybe it's both. Again, was never really into Firefly; my show was Angel.) True. Zoey and Innara were PoC's.

I don't want to derail the thread topic with my dipshittery. Look, I made an error in my post about the PoC ratio in Firefly, but the actual point was how the entire worldbuilding was based on a half-Asian half-American universe and there were almost zero Asian or even vaguely half-Asian or Asian-American looking characters, and no recurring characters of that description at all. It kind of stuck out, and made the story background look rather silly.

benbradley
09-07-2013, 07:59 AM
...
So does anyone have book suggestions for books that are written by PoC about PoC? I would love to read some. Almost everything I've read that dealt with PoC was literary and set in a ghetto.
Octavia Butler's "Parable of The Sower" was mentioned recently on AW, but it must have been in some other thread. It's a rather dystopian thing and has undertones of "creating a new religion," but I enjoyed it anyway:
http://www.amazon.com/Parable-Sower-Octavia-E-Butler/dp/0446675504

Lyra Jean
09-07-2013, 08:11 AM
I read something by her a few months ago. Kindred. It was interesting.

Yorkist
09-07-2013, 08:13 AM
Octavia Butler's "Parable of The Sower" was mentioned recently on AW, but it must have been in some other thread. It's a rather dystopian thing and has undertones of "creating a new religion," but I enjoyed it anyway:
http://www.amazon.com/Parable-Sower-Octavia-E-Butler/dp/0446675504

That was probably me, for I mention it about once every three days. I love that book.