Race Fail IV: Or Perhaps We Should Just Shut Up About Race

24 Aug

Hopefully the last. But who knows?

Of all the reactions to the fireside report, the most depressing – and the most predictable – was this one. And it included this quote:

Not surprisingly at all, people lost their fucking minds. Wait. Let me be more specific: ignorant, racist assholes lost their fucking minds. Why? Because they’re ignorant, racist assholes.”

It is a general rule of debate, particularly when dealing with people who learned to debate on the internet, that anyone who plays the race card is:

a) unable to back up their arguments,

b) aware that he/she is unable to back up their arguments

c) trying to appeal to emotion in the hopes of concealing ‘a’ and ‘b.’

It does not work. Well, it can make someone – who is insufficiently immunised to the general level of what passes for debate on the internet – back off in disarray, but it cannot change the cold hard facts on the ground. Indeed, all it really does is force people who want to question not to question, which is no way to actually win an argument.

And while the – unnamed – author of the above rant does try to back up his assertions, it runs into two major problems.

First, the report methodology is so badly flawed that the results are effectively meaningless. This is acknowledged, to some degree, but the authors fail to grasp just how bad this actually is. It is impossible to separate black – or non-white – authors out from the herd with any degree of genuine reliability, thus their conclusions may be completely inaccurate.

Second, the report fails to take any other factors into account. Why were the submissions rejected? Was it the first submission for a particular writer or his tenth? (Or whatever.) Did the writers follow instructions? Were their submissions suited to the anthology? In short, was every factor – apart from race – excluded from the study?

My BS meter started ticking the moment I read the summery. I do have some experience in these matters, as a writer, a slush reader and (to some extent) an editor. As I have noted before, at no point was I ever asked for my race; indeed, I was rarely asked for anything more than contact details, email address and suchlike. I find it highly unlikely that any editor could comb through a batch of submissions and successfully weed out the ones sent in by non-whites, not without excluding a great many white authors too.

In short, I don’t believe there is a problem.

The reason I don’t believe there is a problem, going all the way back to the first article I write on this topic, is that writing skill is not dependent on race or gender or sexual orientation or whatever. I have read and enjoyed books by people from all walks of life – and people about whom I knew nothing. I rarely bother to do anything more than read the back cover of a book before I decide to read it or not – I certainly don’t bother to look up the author just to make sure he fits my preconceptions first. And really, what sort of idiot does?


The bitter irony of this whole affair – and the original Race Fail – is that writing and publishing is a field where racism shouldn’t have any real influence. It is easy, if you happen to own a store and you don’t want any black employees, to make sure that no such people are ever hired. You always interview your staff beforehand, don’t you? But for a publisher? It’s not so easy to make sure that no non-whites get through the door. A writer who is genuinely fearful of being rejected on the grounds of race can easily assume a false identity – and, with all communications over the internet, who’s to know?

(True story – I never met any of my publishers before they purchased and published my books.)

But this article – and the response to it – touches many buttons. And some of them have really been jabbed too many times already.

I think it is fairly safe to say – and studies have confirmed this – that mandatory ‘diversity sensitivity training’ not only heightens awareness of diversity, it makes the problems it sets out to solve worse. People, as this report notes, resent being treated like dull children (particularly when whoever wrote the instruction book really needs some sensitivity training himself <evil grin>). You go into the training thinking of your fellow employees as your friends, your comrades in the struggle to remain sane in the workplace; you go out seeing them as a minefield of triggers, people who can explode (and cost you your job) at any moment. What person wants to risk exposing himself when anything can be taken as a ‘microaggression?’

And you can’t even be told what not to do because the rules keep changing!

Everyone has – or has heard of – a horror story about ‘affirmative action gone mad.’ The lousy employee who cannot be fired, no matter how badly he behaves, because he would claim discrimination and sue the company. Or the total incompetent who was promoted over more qualified people because he met some diversity quota. Or the guy whose violent threats were ignored because of his religion. Or the employee who told an off-colour joke and was summarily sacked.

And in the publishing field, where racism is largely irreverent, it is the sudden demand for non-white authors and non-white characters instead of good authors and well-rounded characters.

All of the above stories might be hugely exaggerated, of course. But the bad ones are the stories people remember.

The problem with most suggestions for ‘diversity’ is that they come across as hugely accusatory. There isn’t a person alive who likes being accused of something, particularly when they know damn well that they’re not that something. Each of the proposed ‘national conversations about race’ start with the assumption, clearly stated or implied, that racism exists and it’s all the fault of white people. No one likes being accused of anything …

… Particularly when, as now, the accused has to defend himself from a charge of racism (and it is impossible to prove a negative) instead of forcing the accuser to prove his guilt.

The point – when it comes to fandom – is that fans should be fans. There should be no such thing as a white Star Trek fan or a black Star Trek fan – just Star Trek fans. Star Trek fans do not, as a general rule, want to attend a conference where all the panels sound off about diversity – they want to attend conferences where they discuss how best to pry Star Trek away from JJ Abram and give it to someone who really understands the series. Diversity merely draws lines between fans, making them hate and suspect one another rather than enjoying their fandom.

Honestly! The whole ‘black stormtrooper’ debate – if it was anything more than a marketing ploy – could have been solved easily with two lines of dialogue.

Poe: You don’t look anything like the guy they used as the clone template.

Finn: They flushed him out of the cloning program. That guy couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.

Just imagine the laughter echoing round the cinema after that!

Look at it this way. You have a nice little Star Trek convention. Then all those Babylon 5 fans want to join, bringing with them panels about why Babylon 5 is completely original and vastly superior to Deep Space Nine. You object to this – on the grounds that you run a Star Trek convention – and they make a fuss about discrimination. All of a sudden, you’re the bad guy. And then fans of Transformers arrive and start a feud over the most important question in their fandom – is there any fate too cruel for whoever wrote the live-action movie? And then three different factions of BSG fans arrive …

… And by this point, you’re no longer a Star Trek convention and pretty much all of your original fans have gone.

It’s not a good analogy. But I think it explains why fans are growing annoyed with diversity.

It’s never easy to balance the need to appeal to old fans and draw in new ones. The Force Awakens, despite its colossal problems, largely manages it. Star Trek 2009 largely failed; Ghostbusters 2016 failed completely. And part of the reason Ghostbusters failed was because it failed to keep the original fans as well as failing to draw in new ones. It’s writers and producers showed utter contempt for the fans and so they moved away.

But really, appeals for ‘diversity’ are even worse. Because the people screaming the loudest for diversity are not the ones paying the bills.

They’re not the ones suffering either. Opinions of affirmative action and positive discrimination tend to go downhill sharply when there is a very real risk that the holder might be affected. It’s poisonous for the very simple reason that merit is perceived to be sorely lacking in anyone who got ahead because of it. And because humans are tribal creatures, one bad experience with someone from another tribe contaminates relationships with the rest of the tribe.

And this is tragic. Because we are all individuals.

Science-fiction does not have a race problem. What it does have is a number of commenters who just won’t shut up about race.

And this is destroying us. Because diversity is largely irrelevant to writing. It doesn’t matter if the latest set of Hugo winners are white or black or bug-eyed monsters from mars – all that matters is that they are good writers. Why talk about the colour of a writer’s skin when you can talk about their work?

‘Racism,’ once again, is being used as a stick to beat people. And people are tired of it.


One of the best pieces of advice I was given, for an ongoing relationship, was to build on the positive rather than dwelling on the negative. And what’s positive about publishing, particularly in this day and age? It can be done without anyone seeing your face, without anyone knowing who you truly are. If you are genuinely concerned about being rejected because you are not a straight white male, give yourself a penname and remain in the background until your books are published.

Rejections happen. Yes, they do; you may just be starting out, you may have made a tiny mistake, you might just be unlucky enough to encounter an editor who has a headache when he reads your work. But do not give up! Keep going, keep learning … don’t stop! And don’t tell yourself it’s futile. We live in an era where people such as myself can make a living merely through publishing on Amazon Kindle. It is not hopeless.

Many of the suggestions put forward by commenters are badly flawed, threatening to divide fandom more rather than bringing it together. Their focus on skin colour rather than merit is laughable, particularly in this industry. All they are doing is poisoning the well.

Writers should be writers, first and foremost. Characters should be characters, first and foremost. Let us concentrate on what unites us …

… And remember, it’s meant to be fun.

22 Responses to “Race Fail IV: Or Perhaps We Should Just Shut Up About Race”

  1. R Godfrey August 24, 2016 at 9:06 am #

    I can testify yo religion being given a pass, the number of times I have seen ranting murderous bigotry get a pass because it was from the bible is unreal, this was real all unbelievers mustndie stuff, but because thr person speaking was christian it got a free pass

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard August 24, 2016 at 2:14 pm #


      • R Godfrey August 24, 2016 at 5:18 pm #

        Happened in the UK, in Bournemouth in fact last year, police just watched the ‘Chrisitan activists’ sound off with really nasty stuff (which I admit made them honest at least) from the bible, I have seen protesters get arrested for far less.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard August 24, 2016 at 5:40 pm #

        1) I have little trust in what you mean by “nasty stuff”.

        2) The last I heard, there is still such a thing as “Freedom Of Speech” in the UK.

      • Stuart the Viking August 25, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

        They probably said something like “Being Gay is immoral” and/or “Gays shouldn’t marry”. In this day of micro-aggression and Triggers, people get all “OMG… thats MURDEROUS BIGOTRY!!!1!”. Of course, the same kind of people give certain extreme factions of Islam a pass for actually throwing gays off the tops of tall buildings (something I REALLY never understood).

        Oh well, I got no dog in this particular fight. My religion accepts anyone and everyone, and quietly says (rather than preaches, cause we got no preachers) to live and let live.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard August 25, 2016 at 4:45 pm #

        Plus, people like him love to ban “Hate Speech” and deserve to be arrested because the State thinks their speech is “Hate Speech”. 👿

      • robert godfrey August 25, 2016 at 5:46 pm #

        They where calling for women in what they defined as skimpy clothes to be raped and then forced to marry the rapist to ‘discipline the stuck up whores’ iirc, for gays to be executed, for anyone leaving a church to be executed.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard August 26, 2016 at 1:02 am #

        They sound as annoying as you but Free Speech Still Applies.

      • robert godfrey August 25, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

        @Stuart, actual microagrressions are things like constantly being asked ‘but where are you REALLY from’ or ‘you are clever for (race)’ things that in and of themselves, once, are just rude, but as constant and from multiple sources cause real harm to self esteem and mental health in general. To see how real just look at the bullied kids who suicide, or go on a shooting spree.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard August 25, 2016 at 10:37 pm #

        You are a Fool.

        I went through HELL until I entered college from Real Bullies not this shitty “microagrressions”.

      • Stuart the Viking August 25, 2016 at 7:42 pm #

        I don’t buy it. First, “You’re very clever for a –insert race here–” isn’t a microaggression. That’s out and out F-ing racism. Even if only said once.

        “Where are you REALLY from?” I’m actually having trouble figuring this one out. Is it like:

        personA: “Where are you REALLY from?”
        personB (who looks to have some ethnic background of some sort): “Springfield, you know, like the Simpsons”.
        personA; “naa… you look weird. Where are you REALLY from?”
        (rinse, repeat)

        Yea. In that context, probably also someone being a racist.

        However, It’s nice (for the sake of your argument) that you pick such obvious examples; however, the reality is that people (especially large Viking people, such as myself) get accused of “microaggression” or “triggering” for things that are much less obvious, and much less intentional.

        Sometimes for just EXISTING…. ask me how I know.

        For another (also personal) example. To some people (actually, a surprising number of people), I am considered a horrible racists a-hole (and micro-aggressor extraordinaire) because I strongly believe that human beings are human beings. White, Black, Green, Yellow, Orange, Blue, Purple… wherever in the world a person is from, from whatever ancestry, from whatever circumstances, creed, religion, sub-group, super-set, manner of pooping, whatever; a human is a human is a human. Got Neanderthal DNA? Human. Lacking in Neanderthal DNA? Human. Can directly trace your ancestors all the way back to the very first Hominid ever (however/wherever, you think that may have happened. I don’t judge. My people used to believe that man sprang forth when a cow licked some ice…) HUMAN! SO, if every person is a human, and we are all fellow humans. NOBODY has a valid excuse to believe themselves better than anyone else; or believe anyone else is lesser than themselves. It’s a very strongly held belief of mine that has gotten me labeled a very bad, micro-aggressing, racist person in some circles (no, nobody has ever been able to coherently explain this to my satisfaction. Feel free to give it a try if you want). Is ok, I gots me some thick skin. I’ll keep on treating people as fellow humans. Which means, if someone behaves like an a-hole, I write them off as an a-hole and move on.

        Oh, and as far as I recall. Most of the kids who have gone on “shooting sprees” were middle class white kids. And from a quick glance at the CDC data (which is what I have time for), so are many/most of the suicides. Which doesn’t really jell with your conclusion. I can, admittedly, have missed something though.

  2. Billy August 24, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    I wrote a Science Fiction book some years ago (way before Amazon) and i sent it out to all the publishers. (Rejected by all- Except the ones wanting money to actually read the manuscript or have me pay money to get the books printed and I guess stacked in the garage)

    Amazon changed everything, now writers don’t have to have a pile of unpublished manuscripts, just upload it on amazon and you are now a published author.
    (You could , I suppose have a picture of a alien as the author, if you wanted.)

    That’s all there is to it.
    (As far as I know)

    I have noticed some of the giant book publishing places are trying to charge 13.00 or more for a book on Amazon and even bringing out the Hardbacks first then (I suppose paperbacks) and a year later kindle editions. Note: When they do that I don’t buy it, unless it is the star diamond of books , which is rarer than rare.

  3. Billy August 24, 2016 at 12:28 pm #

    What really gets me upset , is those writers who have the book on amazon , it says preorder for next year (Or the year after that – or more)

    That is very bad in my view, how do I even know if I will be alive next year ? Or the year after that?

    That is something that should be done away with.

    You have the book finished, it’s ready to go. Now is the time to let people buy it, not two years from now.

    Just my two cents.

  4. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard August 24, 2016 at 2:14 pm #

    Amen Brother Christopher!

  5. Bret Wallach August 24, 2016 at 4:48 pm #

    Chrishanger wrote: “…all that matters is that they are good writers. Why talk about the colour of a writer’s skin when you can talk about their work?”

    Huh. I guess I’m more than a little clueless about what this post and the link is about. I mean I’m just a reader who pokes around Amazon looking for stuff to read and I’m not even sure how publishers are involved anymore. Don’t y’all just stick your stuff up on Amazon and similar sites? Does Amazon reject anything at all, ever? By anyone?

    On the other hand, to me, talking about a writer’s work is also kinda strange to me. Or a bit elitist or something. What I mean is that I don’t seek out “good writers.” I seek out writers whose writing I enjoy reading and I’ve learned there may be limited overlap between such writers and “good” writers. In other words, I’d much rather read a book by an objectively crappy writer that I enjoyed than a book by an objectively fantastic writer that I didn’t like.

    Is Nuttall a good writer? Beats me. I really, really like the Schooled in Magic series and if it’s not my favorite series ever, it’s very close to the tippy top. It really resonates with me and I found the beginning of Past Tense by far the most gripping start of any book I’ve ever read. But I don’t know if the books are any “good.” I simply don’t have the skills to make that determination and I don’t much care. Others can blather on about Chris being a great or poor writer and I’d probably find the discussion interesting but not terribly meaningful.

    On the third hand, if I were a black writer and if screaming racism would help me sell books, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate. Why would I? Do you think it doesn’t help them?

    • Drowe August 24, 2016 at 11:27 pm #

      I agree, the objective quality of a book or an author comes second to the subjective quality. That’s why I don’t particularly care about awards. However, I am more likely to enjoy a book that is written well, than one that is written poorly. There are some objective criteria that can contribute to a good experience, like character development, world building, etc..

  6. bexwhitt August 24, 2016 at 11:39 pm #

    Race (ethnicity really as it’s just genetic racial difference) is only a problem because people insist on making people other. Nature V Nurture have unequally proved in any genetic mix there will be someone who can do the same or better as another ethnic group.

    On the point in hand, people will read what “tickles their fancy” , and you can’t force that.

  7. MarkM August 25, 2016 at 11:54 pm #

    Very nicely done in the 4 articles. Thank you for defending what should not have to be defended in the first place.

  8. David August 27, 2016 at 7:12 am #

    Chris, Unsure how to comment more broadly in your blog, so the following is out of context and goes to a minor infelicity in your list of german words in your Twilight of the Gods series: Unterscharfuehrer – SS rank, roughly equal to Second Lieutenant. is actually an junior NCO (?lance-corporal UK? 2LT equivalent would be untersturnfuehrer. And let me say how much I look forward to Book Three: Ragnarok as well as next in the The Empire’s Corps series. David (one time military (RE then RAE).

    • chrishanger August 28, 2016 at 8:58 pm #

      Bother. I’ll have to try and change that.


  9. shrekgrinch August 29, 2016 at 10:21 pm #

    “a) unable to back up their arguments,

    b) aware that he/she is unable to back up their arguments

    c) trying to appeal to emotion in the hopes of concealing ‘a’ and ‘b.’”

    In other words, SOP for the folks who post content on the Occupied Democrats Facebook page. And when anyone points out the flaws, their comments immediately get deleted.

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