On failing to keep up with Racefail

As I’ve not been reading blogs regularly over the past year of my new full time employment plus second-graduate-degree-taking schedule (I sometimes have very little time left in the day for eating and sleeping, it seems), I have remained ignorant of a great blogosphere debate that had been going on for what seems like it may be a month or two?  Only in the past day or two, as friends have e-mailed and people whose blogs I do try to keep up with from time to time have been talking about this thing that has been named Racefail, have I slowly (and admittedly, reluctantly–but only due, again, to my aforementioned time constraints) turned in the direction of the blogs where all of this apparently went down.  I haven’t read through all of it, to be honest.  There are weeks of posts and comments within posts.  It would be nice if there were a Cliff’s Notes edition to get the gist of the thing. (This is the closest I’ve come to finding that. Not notes so much as links to the occurrence in semi-chronological order?) But what it does seem to boil down to is that the problem of a very homogenous SF world of fandom and writers and editors and the like became a battleground issue.  It’s always been an issue.  If you look at the SF shelves in bookstores, there are few people of color represented on those shelves.  It’s a very white world.  It’s also very male.  It’s also increasingly very middle class and up (but that’s literature in general).  It’s also very heteronormative.  In other words, SF, despite calling itself the literature of ideas, is kind of clueless in terms of diversity, but more importantly in terms of its non-response as a community to the requests of those who feel outside the circle of normal to be let in.  

I’m not sure where people can go to with all of this after it’s come to such a frenzied and very personal place, and a lot of people have been hurt by it in various ways.  It seems now that the major players have gone back to their corners, more talk is going to come out of it.  But what are some things that people can actually do other than talk?  Talk is good.  It’s really good.  But as a local community activist here in my own hometown community, which has a plethora of these same issues at stake in its social structure, I know that the purpose of talk should lead to action of some sort.  A variety of actions.  Whether you’re a fan or a writer or an editor or a publisher, I think one of the things that can be done is to figure out what you, in your particular position, have the ability to do to help enact change.

For example, while editing the new volume of Interfictions, Delia and I were very purposeful in our desires for a balanced table of contents.  When you start trying to balance all of the various identity categories that exist, it does become a bit of a challenge, but luckily we were presented with great writing from people coming from a variety of backgrounds.  Men, women, people of color, LGBT writers, people of varying classes, ages, etc, and people of varying nationalities.  If we didn’t consciously seek to bring all of these variations together, the title of the anthology, which does refer to a kind of writing that is, at heart, seeking to refuse homogeneity in a variety of forms, wouldn’t reflect the anthology’s purpose.  This was one thing I felt I was able to do as an editor, and was grateful for the chance to do it when Delia asked me to be her partner in that endeavor.

There are other ways.  Some people can respond to it as an editor, or a writer in their writing, some people can continue an ongoing discussion in a blog or a blog community, some will be able to actually, hopefully, bring more work by people of color (in this case) into the public sphere.  Everyone has something they can do, if they want to, and that’s the thing needed if change is what any sort of community wishes to make happen.  And the community should also support the idea that not everyone can all do the same thing, and that it’s best for people to do what they can.  That’s a strength, to have people working at the desired change from a variety of angles.  Assess what you can do from your position in a community, and then do it.  And then perhaps these very obvious deficiencies in the SF community (or any kind of community) can begin to really change.

Otherwise, this same argument will only be set up to recycle for years to come.

Oh, wow, just found this, which seems exactly like the sort of thing that is a great response to all of this.

I’m looking forward (though also a little frightened) to searching through this tangled web of blog posts, and finding out more.

9 responses

  1. Pingback: Journey into Links « Torque Control

  2. Thank you so much for posting on this! I’ve been following it since January, obsessively so (though I do have a lot more free time than you, and I certainly do NOT hold it against anyone who has just heard about it for not knowing about it from the start). There are some spectacularly powerful, oftentimes painful, essays and posts in there by people of color in SF/F fandom, particularly , , , , and many many others (you’ll find them in ‘s links, too).

    It’s been really wonderful to see the response of support from pro writers, and I’m happy to see yours in particular as you’ll be doing a Q&A with the bookstore I work at next month! Also, I’ve been meaning to pick up Interfictions, and now you’ve given me a good push in that direction.

    • Gretchen, thanks for the kind words. And I hope you enjoy my book if you read it for the bookstore’s book club event. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

      And I hope you enjoy Interfictions. If you enjoy the first volume, I can guarantee that you’ll like the second volume about ten times more. It’s wonderful, and I can’t wait to see it in print next autumn, so you can see for yourself the breadth of authors we’ve brought together, and the breadth of different kinds of stories.

      I’ve been running through the variety of posts you’ve mentioned. It’s really heartbreaking and amazing. I can’t say that I’m surprised. I understand this sort of feeling in my own way, and see it from the perspective of a local community that is feeling its way forward to integration (it’s still a very segregated region in the U.S., and the damage for such homogeneity, though some many don’t realize it, goes in all directions, though of course those at the focal point of such segregation are the ones in the direct line of fire). I’m glad to see this has come to such a head, though of course also disappointed that it has had to arrive at this point in such sad circumstances.

  3. errr… I guess your comment form doesn’t like my LJ user code. I meant to cite LJ users deepad, bossymarmalade, nojojojo, shewhohashope, ktempest, oyceter, and many many others as having written some marvelous and often heartbreaking posts.

    • Thanks for the link to the summaries, Rose! And I’m hoping that positive action will come out of this. It will mean people will have to take the lead to take this in particular directions, rather than getting stuck in talk mode, which can be difficult. But if the energy from the talk can be harnessed, amazing things can be accomplished. I’ve seen it happen here in a place that has been devastated by financial disaster due to global capitalism (which often disregards human beings, whole communities, in favor of profit numbers). Fantastic change can occur if people involve themselves beyond voicing and take the energy from the voicing and begin to build new structures out of those voices. The structures are important for permanent change to occur.

  4. I just spent 10 minutes googling “railface 09” and wondering why nothing was coming up if it’s such a big deal.

    railface. I had no idea what it could possibly mean. I guess it means I’m dyslexic.

  5. So far, the actions I’ve seen have been:

    A real attempt to make Wiscon PoC-friendly

    A writing-PoC teach in on Skalzi’s blog (although the comments are a morass)

    A new press: Verb Noir, now taking submissions from writers of colour, as well as LGTB writers and disabled writers.

    Donations to the Carl Brandon society

    racism101, a livejournal community for clueless white folks to educate one another

    50_books_poc, a livejournal community for recommending books

    Writers paying attention, listening and vowing to play their part, like here.

    More thoughtful essays which are a good read, a) if you can find them and b) if you have the time. I suspect an anthology of essays is going to happen eventually.

    So there’s a lot of good happening out of RaceFail 09. Take heart!

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