Saturday, August 24, 2013

On inclusion in SFF

In the nearly 20 years I have been active in SFF, I repeatedly have told hundreds of aspiring writers – undergraduates, Clarion and Clarion West classes, workshoppers all over the place – that SFF is a welcoming field, that newcomers find ready encouragement and support from everyone: Grand Masters, best-selling authors, booksellers, editors, publishers, convention organizers, you name it. I have said that with all sincerity, believing it a universal truth, because that’s how it seemed to me from the get-go.

I now realize, in hindsight, that the happy situation I was describing all those years was not, in fact, universal. Countless students, colleagues, friends and, yes, loved ones have pointed out to me all along – directly and indirectly, gently and bluntly, by word and by example – that things were easier for me in SFF because I so well fit the expected SFF stereotype: straight white male highly educated English speaker and so forth and so on ad infinitum, right down the line. Those who presented differently had different experiences. This should have been obvious to me, as a rational and, indeed, professional observer of humanity, but it wasn’t, and I resisted seeing it, hearing it, knowing it.

That was bad enough. Worse was my habit, whenever fights broke out in the field over how women were being treated, or how people of color were being treated, or how blinkered we supposed visionaries were being, of (in effect) picking up my drink and quietly walking away and finding other people to talk to. I would stay out of it. Wherever my sympathies and conscience lay, I was content to let other people fight the battles and suffer the consequences. I was even proud of the fact that I did not speak out on these things, that I did not “get involved,” that I “got along with everybody.”

In short, I needed a brick upside the head. In a speech in Australia this summer, my friend and colleague Nora Jemisin finally supplied the brick.

Nora is talking about me, you see, when she talks about “the great unmeasured mass of enablers,” the people who, confronted by hatred and prejudice and irrationality, “say nothing in response,” the people who often “simply don’t notice” the prejudice on the march all around. And you know what? She’s right. In her stinging but accurate description, I recognize myself.

Nora’s right, too, when she suggests that SFF folks should “speak out about their misconceptions and mistakes, and make a commitment to doing better.”

Back in July, Nora’s speech moved me to try to write a manifesto, something on which I could collect signatures, maybe among fellow Nebula Award winners. Several friends and colleagues humored me and tried to help me with this, but it kept falling apart in my hands. I’m no good at manifestoes. So this is just from me, and about only me:

I am so busted.

I am sorry for my cluelessness.

I will do better.