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.