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.


Bridget McKenna said...

Well done, and beautifully stated. Bravo.

Jay O'Connell said...

In your defense, Andy, you're also a very good writer; much of your grand welcome came from that.

As a more mediocre talent, I felt no welcome, not only am I all the things you are, but I'm from the North East, a less suspect region. Neither did I feel excluded of course.

I was just another wannabe. That said, I never had to worry, if my status as a nobody, was because I was GBLTQ or the wrong color or gender. So of course, I benefited from my status.

I knew my anonymity was deserved!

Still I've felt proud, to be in a genre with Octavia Butler, Chip Delany, Alice Sheldon, and All The White Guys Who Look Just Like Me. Well. Some of the regressive white guys who look like me I could do without.

Recent revelations, of systematic sexism and harassment in SF publishing and SFWA, has come as something of a shock, though; I too thought maybe we were better than this, better than the culture at large, being a bunch of geeks, nerds, non-neurotypicals.

So now I wonder, how to deploy my modest talent and minuscule voice to make things a bit better.

I guess we sign Scalzi's thing, need to do that. Write posts like this, I think. I need to write my manic pixie dream girl mea culpa....

David Lomax said...

Nicely written and sincerely humble. Well done. (This coming from yet another dumb white guy who will try to do better.)

Andy Duncan said...

Thanks, Bridget, Jay, and David.

Jay, "less suspect region" is a good phrase! I very occasionally have felt condescended to or pigeonholed for being Southern -- mostly for speaking with such a thick accent -- but only in the mildest ways, nothing comparable to, say, rape threats. And probably less so in SFF than in other fields, for example academe.

Maybe my naivete lingers, but I still think we in SFF _are_ somewhat "better than the culture at large." We just have a ways to go, that's all.

Anonymous said...

*hugs* Well written, Andy. I think it helps, in the darkness, to know there's a beacon of light, and that beacon of light has a drink in hand, and is willing to talk. :)

Lex Alexander said...

I'm almost the opposite of you, Andy: From the flame wars of the '90s on Usenet to FB and blog comments sections today, I have spoken against injustice, indignity and bigotry everywhere I've seen it, and been rewarded for my efforts by having my wisdom, patriotism and sexual orientation by people who are dumber than a box of rocks, who would sell Stinger missiles to Satan and who would screw a snake if they could get someone to hold its head.

And you know what? It has done so little good that I'm just about done and ready to walk away, like a less heroic version of Cincinnatus, not just from online argument but from the whole farking country, because nothing and no one really changes. (Doubt me? Watch us as we start another war we have no business starting.)

How many people does it take to change a mind on the Internet? None, but the mind has to really want to change. Yours wants to. Of course, you're a rare breed. But then I've known that for a long time.

Anonymous said...

I am not part of the SF world. I only know great writing when I read it. Mr. Duncan, your title story "Beluthahatchie" bears witness to insane injustice better than any political manifesto ever could.
"Cause you're the devil," I said. "You could make things a heap worse."
"Now, could I really, John? Could I really?"
That says it all. Thank you. God bless you brother.
Michael Alec Rose