First, please go check out the work Fireside Fiction put in on this.
For our purposes here today I’m gonna use this definition of spec fic from wikipedia:
Speculativefiction is a broad umbrella category of narrative fiction referring to any fiction story that includes elements, settings and characters whose features are created out of human imagination and speculation rather than based on attested reality and everyday life. That encompasses the genres of science fiction, fantasy, science fantasy, horror, alternative history, and magic realism.
If you’ve read me for a while, you know this is an area I love to live and play in. Also, please read this.
My own experiences mirror a lot of those N.K. Jemison talks about. When I was a wee baby writer, I did not allow my Blackness in my work in a lot of ways. From the writing perspective my earliest lessons both overt and not were like so:
- Anything involving Black characters would likely not be “believable” if they weren’t hood caricatures or portraits of racial uplift. That cut across all the genres I like to work in.
- Blackness regardless of subject matter, genre, etc is often treated as a wee tiny box where ALL the Black stories must go.
I’ve talked about this before, but I can’t find all the links. There is a problem when as a writer, you do your due diligence and study the places you are submitting. For me personally if I go back more than 5 or so issues and see no POC or if the masthead headshots are all White men, if the stories are all in one vein under the guise of aesthetics and “goodness” those are not places I’m going to feel welcome.
A problem I (and I’ll venture to guess a lot of POC and especially Black authors) run into every now and then is when White editors are very obviously uncomfortable with Blackness or anything not White centric. Often this isn’t anything blatant, it can be felt in email exchanges where an editor doesn’t understand a phrase that isn’t “proper English”, or suggestions to do certain things (in my case it was an Orisha) more “mainstream”. The suggestion was to change the goddess/Orisha in this story to Aphrodite or, you know, a White one. Being questioned about not italicizing my Spanish. Being questioned about how “unlikely” (in a firmly spec fic story) it would be to have the protagonist be a little Black girl.
The first story I referenced, was published at Expanded Horizons and was my first publication in a spec fic magazine. That story (I just went a looked) was rejected 15 times. There was one nibble of interest, but the editor backed off when I said I would not rewrite to make it a Euro/White story.
The next story isn’t really spec fic (though my inspiration was) but the tiniest bit of unitalicized Spanish made it “difficult for most readers”. (I can’t get to youtube but go there and search Daniel Jose Older and Italicized Spanish, it’s worth it)
The last story (it was Pushcart nominated) was rejected 16 times. The first nibble of interest, I spent about two weeks going back and forth with an editor who couldn’t see or understand how a little Black girl who is a shapeshifter would ever exist in a world where there are shapeshifters. This person also mentioned how my names for my creatures, Children of Apep, Daughter of Sekhmet etc would be too “esoteric” for “most” readers. I actually went back to read the exchange. Yes, references to Egyptian gods/esses as the names of shapeshifters is too “esoteric”. My references to Hyena and Crow were “not really relatable”.
For a lot of years, this is what I had to wade through when submitting so as I’ve mentioned before I just stopped.
This isn’t exclusive to spec-fic. The problem of overwhelming whiteness is one of literature in general. For me, the constancy of the racism in lit has just been exhausting. When I decided to start writing genre fiction again, I again found myself being unable to bear interacting with the community, reading fan stuff etc because shit always gets real racist real quick.
These are many of the reasons why I started self pubbbing my genre fiction. These are many of the reasons I stopped reading genre fiction too.
For the cheap seats. As a White person in a position of power in the lit world, you can’t just say you’re all for inclusion and diversity if you can’t demonstrate it. Words in this matter are useless. You have to act. As I’ve said many times before, you have to be uncomfortable. You have to understand that using Whiteness as the measure for what is “good” is a problem. Even if you don’t mean it.
Understand that there will be things and elements of work that don’t resonate with you and that is okay.
You have to do the work or you’re part of the problem here.
There are SO many easy ways to find authors of color to approach to feature their work, editors you can talk to. It’s not that fucking hard. It is 20 mother fucking 16. You probably have a computer in your pocket.
Listen to what POC have to say.
Read work by POC.
If you are totally into inclusion, be that shit. Don’t just say it. Do it. Do the work.
If you’re a reader. Find the stories and books. Buy them, read them, check them out at the library, talk about them.
As a creator of things, I’d also like to say this.
Stop pretending that the statistics are shocking. Stop it. We all know racism is a real thing and permeates everything. Including literature. Including speculative fiction. Including SF and horror and everything else. Stop. White folks, you are not helpless here. There are tons and tons of articles, stories, etc. written by and about POC so maybe start reading them.
Do the work.
That’s all for now.