Monday, October 7, 2013

The Great Diversity Flap

Recently I’ve read a lot of postings on Facebook and Twitter about the lack of, and need for, diversity in science fiction.
Apparently there is a huge flap going on about the makeup of the people who ran the most recent Worldcon in Texas and their choice of panelists, programming and how writers were or were not picked for the awards ballots.  The term I saw thrown about was “old White guys.”
I am tired of “old White guys” being used as a pejorative term.
I am an old White guy and I resent the manner in which the phrase is being used.
I was born white.  I had no choice in that, just like every other person has no choice or control over what race or circumstances they were born into.
And I will not apologize for having survived long enough on this earth to be classified as old.  It sure as hell beats the alternative.
If there is a cabal of “old White guys” running things they aren’t telling me when and where the meetings are being held.  Thus, I have no voice in how things are run or who may be discriminated against or for.
Right up front I want to set the record straight about my own interest in this whole thing.  I have read and collected science fiction since I was fourteen years old.  I have had a tiny bit of success in publishing science fiction.  I have sold exactly two stories and gained membership in SFWA back when a single story sale was sufficient for membership.  I know it isn’t even a blip on the radar of the successful writers in the field, but I’m still proud both sales were to Analog and one of them was reprinted in France; twice.
OK, that’s enough about my circumstances.  It tells you I have at least a small credibility and a long-time interest in science fiction.  An interest I have been trying to pursue again since I was economically downsized from my last fulltime job.
The current howling and ranting frankly scares me and disappoints me. I see a lot of heat and rhetoric being generated about the subject.  I see a lot of finger pointing.  I don’t see too many people advancing solutions to the problem they say exists.
I am sure there are problems in certain areas of science fiction.  Hell, there are problems in all areas of society and science fiction is not a world unto itself.
I saw one post which wondered why in a “forward thinking community” like SF writers these things were happening.
Being able to organize words into a form which communicates a story of enough quality to be published is a unique skill, but that skill does not necessarily confer on the writer a higher moral purpose or superior social conscience.  Look at the example which has been discussed at length of the writer who has written a well received book, but whose social comments have outraged a large part of the community at large.
Holding science fiction writers to a higher standard than the general population just because of their participation in this genre of fiction seems naïve.
I am sure there are people writing science fiction who have been discriminated against for one reason or another.  There are people all over the world who are being discriminated against for a variety of reasons every day.  Being a writer of fiction in this genre conveys no special invulnerability to the foibles of human nature.
There are no doubt racists, misogynists, sexists or whatever “ists” you find offensive in the field of science fiction writers.   There are the same “ists” in the general population.
I doubt there is a person in this world who has not been treated badly and unfairly at some point in their lives.  And if you can point out a person who hasn’t until now, all I can say is that person ought to be thanking God (or whatever higher power they ascribe to) that they have lived a charmed life up until now.
It’s going to happen, folks.  Do I condone it?  No.  Am I against it? Yes.
And you have a right to express your displeasure if you are the person on the receiving end of the mistreatment, but that displeasure should be expressed to the person who is responsible and not broadcast far and wide as a call to arms.
For the most part people who act like a**holes are going to continue acting like a**holes no matter how loud, long or far you yell about your displeasure.  A leopard doesn’t change its’ spots and an a**hole doesn’t reform just because he (generic) is yelled at; in person, in print or electronically.
I am not making light of the fact that exclusion may or may not exist in science fiction.  Discriminating against anyone for any reason is wrong.  I just think it may be hard to do anything substantial about it.
Face it, discrimination exists in almost every facet of life.  Expecting the field of science fiction to be different is unrealistic.  I’ve met some nice people who are science fiction writers.  I haven’t run into any jerks yet.  It may happen and I’ll deal with it.
Essentially I’m asking what can we, as individual writers, or even a group of writers, do about it?  If you are the recipient of the mistreatment you obviously don’t have the power to correct the situation or you would have done it and not written about it (unless you wanted to brag about your own power).  If you are someone else and just object to the treatment of another, unless you are in a position to exercise authority over the offending party there still isn’t much you can effectively do about it.
The first of the two things that scares me about all this rhetoric is that science fiction may be descending into the culture of victimization.
I saw one post where the writer listed 100 works that he considered “diverse/marginalized”.  The author has the right to post such a list, but I wonder if there is a majority of people who would agree with his list or the label of “marginalized”?
And would the authors of those works agree with the label and the implication they are a victim because they were “marginalized”?
To me there seem to be a greater and greater number of people in our society today adopting the label of “victim” and looking for some kind of social or financial redress for what they consider discrimination or a slight to their person.  They want some action by others to relieve their own emotional pain.
As I pointed out above, there probably isn’t a person in the world who hasn’t been treated badly in some way at some point in their lives.  Outside of physical harm or injury it’s probably something you just have to live with.
Publishing snarky diatribes, lacking proper research and verification, or republishing such remarks without firsthand knowledge or experience with the offending event probably will not cure the emotional injuries despite lighting a warm fire of outrage in your own guts.
Protest for principle is fine, but you have to be willing to live with the consequences of your actions.  I wonder how many of the people who have yelled so loudly will gain anything from the action?  And have they damaged their own reputations if they haven’t made a good case for their indignation?
The second thing I fear coming out of all this Internet activity can be summed up in one word.
I have seen one writer talk about how his first story might not have been published if the editor of the publication hadn’t pledged to run a story by one unpublished in each issue of his publication.
How big a step is it before someone proposes publications devote a certain amount of their space to particular minority viewpoints whatever they may be?  How would you like a rejection letter from an editor which read, “Sorry we can’t publish your manuscript.  There are no (                 ) characters in the story”.  Between the brackets insert your underrepresented class or group of choice.
I have never considered the orientation (gender wise, politically, or sexually) of a writer whose work I was reading.  I think I did know at the time I was reading “The Einstein Intersection” that Samuel Delany was black; didn’t make any difference.  It wasn’t until just a couple of months ago that I found out he is also gay.  Did it make any difference in how I viewed the work?
Look, I want to read good writing.  I don’t care who, or what, the author is.  If that old adage was true about how an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters will eventually turn out all the great literature in the world, I would just want to read that quality work.  It wouldn’t matter if the author was not even my species.
Yes, something should be done about bigots and misogynists, but I fear an overreaction which will just hurt writers and the field of science fiction itself.  And until someone comes up with a workable and effective proposal, all the heat and light being generated recently is just a waste of time and energy by authors who would be better off if they spent the time writing.