Readercon 27 just ended and I am trying to convince myself not to write this.
Here’s the thing, I love Readercon. My first year (Readercon 22) was a bit rough since I knew no one IRL (and precious few folks virtually), but it had enough substance and just enough fluff to hook me into returning every year (except last year, which I couldn’t swing for a variety of boring, mundane reasons).
The con has evolved a lot in those six years. It had a fairly major harassment fail that prompted it to revamp its safety policies and procedures so wholly it has become a model for other cons. The panels steadily grew more inclusive, and some even focused entirely on underrepresented groups (in 2014, the Thursday open programming track included a Latinx SFF panel, for example). Last year — in a welcome admission that even the intellectually predisposed need moments of bodily abandon — a dance party was added to the mix.
All of which is to say, that this year should have been great. And, in some ways it was. I spent time with a lot of wonderful people. The audience for my solo reading was fantastically supportive and appreciative. The new venue had better food, more lobby space and offered free wifi in private as well as public spaces.
But in ways that really matter to me, Readercon 27 wasn’t great at all.
There were more all-white panels than I remember from previous years. Microaggressions toward people of color became macro and played out in front of rooms full of people, and for the first time in my Readercon experience I came away from panels shaking my head at the stunningly unrepentant arrogance of members of the SFF community.
Others can speak to the panels they attended or were part of (the Readercon twitter timeline is full of incisive comment — I particularly suggest @ANerdCalledRage), I will stick to the worst of the ones I myself witnessed and have since been stewing about.
Beyond Strong Female Characters
This was a complete shitshow. Sorry, but there is no other way to describe it.
Within seconds of starting, the leader of the panel, Ellen Kushner, silenced Mikki Kendall (the one Black panelist) as she was speaking about the trope of the Strong Black Woman.
When Kendall gave pop culture examples of the Strong Black Woman trope, Kushner demanded literary ones in a move that was 50 percent gaslighting and 100 percent intellectual hubris.
Instead of actually grappling fully and honestly with the trope, Kushner asked for a show of hands from the audience from those who had heard of the Strong Black Woman trope and those who had read N.K. Jemisin, and seeing many hands, dismissed the need to speak further about it, or the way a Black American author has addressed it in her work.
“Well, that was graduate level comment,” Kushner said to Kendall at one point, in a comment so wincingly condescending it hurt me, as an audience member, just to hear it come out of her mouth.
Kushner is someone who, at my first Readercon, held a reading so spectacularly wonderful it still lives vividly in my memory. I’ve always liked her work; I’ve always admired her talent. But … but … I will never be able to unhear this comment and the disgraceful stereotype it plays to.
Because of Kushner’s antipathy toward Kendall, the other panel members — Delia Sherman (Kushner’s wife), Kat Howard and Natalie Luhrs (all white-appearing folks) — got a lot more time to address the topic at hand than Kendall did. At the end there was time for only a few audience questions. Thankfully, Readercon’s Emily Wagner directed her question to Kendall, and so gave her some time to speak without constraint … but it was way too little and way too late.
The panel was real time proof that the online discussion of white feminism’s exclusion and dismissal of the concerns of women of color, particularly Black women, is sadly on point.
Blue Collar SF
I don’t actually know the name of the leader of this panel but not too long into the panel, the words “too many chiefs, not enough ‘injuns’” came unabashedly out of his mouth. My friends Ezzy Guerrero Languzzi (a Mexican-American writer who has been attending Readercon for the past five years) and Kay Holt (one of the publishers of Crossed Genres) got up and left right then. I’m sure others did too.
I did not, I stayed — because it’s hard to look away from an accident, and also because I am eternally hopeful that clueless leaders will experience a corrective from their co-panelists (all of them, at this panel, white-appearing).
After some time of bemoaning the lack of blue collar protagonists (the leader listed some five or six books he remembered with blue collar protags, and Bud Sparhawk spoke about his own blue collar characters) I thought we were finally going to broach the complexities of depicting blue collar protagonists of color when Marissa Lingen brought up intersectionality.
But I ended up feeling both disappointed and let down by the partiality of her plea to remember women are blue collar workers too.
Fran Wilde did mention a writer of color — Nisi Shawl and her steampunk novel Everfair (which will launch in September) — but as in the previously described panel, it was too little and too late.
Oh, and again, the leader of this panel made the point that books, not media or pop culture, were the acceptable references and subjects for analysis at Readercon. I’m not sure why this point was being made over and over again by leaders of panels this year in a way I don’t remember from previous years — is it about “making Readercon great again”? (Yes, that is a very intentional choice of words.) But, no matter its intent, it really sticks in my craw, as all such “purist” pleas do.
The panels I was on
Two of the panels I was on, Cozy Dystopia (about Harry Potter’s dystopian elements) and Fantastical Dystopia were inexplicably programmed one right after the other. They were pretty white (I’m a white-appearing Latina), which I think is bizarre given the ongoing discussion about erasure of people of color from post-apocalyptic worlds and dystopian literary constructs.
Cozy Dystopia was a great panel, thanks in part to Kenneth Schneyer’s leadership and his willingness to broach every we issue raised, no matter how fractious or complicated.
Fantastical Dystopia, on the other hand, was really quite awful. I took on the role of leader the day before, and consequently hadn’t organized it — and it showed. I truly value everyone’s contributions under less than optimal conditions, but things never meshed for us. On the other hand, at least nothing “outright barbarous” (to, fittingly, quote George Orwell) was said or enacted by any panelist — which reportedly happened at other panels on dystopia and apocalyptic fiction.
The third panel I was on — Who Gets to Tell My Story? — was terrific. The panelists were, without exception, great and it ended up being led by Julia Starkey, because Mikki Kendall (the scheduled leader) thought she was going to be late. Kendall actually arrived just as the panel started, and the session was lively and dynamic. This was the Readercon I remembered and loved so much.
I don’t know for a fact if the panel composition was less diverse this year, but it sure seemed that way to me, and much of what happened during panels felt like a huge step backward because of it. The tweets I’ve seen about The Apocalypse Is Already Here; It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed and other panels I did not attend, seem to confirm that others felt that way too.
Where to go from here
Because I love Readercon, I hope the folks in charge find a way to look at what failed this year and why, and to understand what it might have meant to the first-time attendee of color in the audience.
I think this deserves as much thoughtful discussion as what took place during the harassment situation from years ago. I’m thinking that in-depth conversations with Mikki Kendall and Vandana Singh (if they are willing) and other folks who might have been subjected to public macro- and microaggressions are in order before next year’s planning begins.
Also, attendees of color should be invited to give their suggestions and recommendations to ensure that Readercon doesn’t garner — further? — a reputation as an unfriendly con for PoCs to attend.
There is an opportunity here for Readercon leaders to do better and to confront the damage done this year head-on. To paraphrase Dolores Huerta and conflate several of my favorite quotes from her: Every minute is a chance to change the world …now get off the sidewalk and march into history.
Updated 7/12/16 at 4:34: The leader of the Blue Collar SF panel was Allen Steele, per the comment on this post by one of his co-panelists.
Updated 7/11/16 at 2:38 p.m. to correct title of panel about which I’ve seen tweeted complaints.
34 thoughts on “Readercon 27: Confronting the fails”
Boy, old friend, I wish I knew all of the words you know 🙂 Your writer con sounds scary to this old gringa. I’m trying to learn all of the new kinds of writing, flash fiction, etc., but am lost. Help? Love, Martha
Thank you, Sabrina. I’m the program chair at Readercon. There’s a lot of things going on behind the scenes that contributed to the problems you’re talking about, and a lot of it is just slow progress in dealing with an ongoing problem, which is quite simply that I don’t have enough PoC and especially WoC panelists. We’re getting there, but we’re still at the point where a few of my regular panelists not attending for scheduling conflicts unbalances the whole thing, which is not a good place to be in. In addition, the move to the new hotel threw off my schedule, which means I was even more dreadfully behind than usual, so I wasn’t as careful with some of this as I should have been. I tell you this not to excuse it but to say that I can pretty clearly see where I fell down on the job and am working to make sure it doesn’t happen next year. I am truly and deeply sorry for the pain caused by some of the comments made by panelists this year, and I’m thinking a lot about how to address it. I’ll also want to personally encourage PoC to apply to be panelists for next year, and to submit panel ideas. I’m out running errands but I’ll come back and drop some links when I get home in a bit. Thanks again for doing this, I know it wasn’t easy but I appreciate it a lot. Making change is hard, and having these discussions publicly actually makes it easier for me to do necessary things. Thank you for caring about Readercon and believing we can do better!
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Ok! I’m back with links and info for anyone looking for it! Nearly everything I want to share is here: http://readercon.org/program.htm but I also realize that page is really dense, so more specifically within that page is:
A form to suggest yourself or someone else as a future panelist: http://readercon.org/program/application.htm
If you do suggest someone else, possibly run it by them just so they aren’t surprised.
A form to suggest panel ideas: http://www.readercon.org/program/suggestion.htm this is here and open all year round. I’m going to poke at it soon and see if I can get it to send confirmations when you fill it out, just so you know your idea was received, but if you don’t see one right away don’t worry, I almost certainly got it. You can do this as many times as you like, whenever you like. I especially encourage you to do it now while you’re still thinking about the panels you saw this year, because any part of the conversation that made you go “ooh I wish they’d talk more about that!” is a potential panel for next year! You can also tell me your dream panelist line-up, with the caveat that sometimes those people just won’t be interested in being on it, which is maybe 74% of why the panels end up looking the way they do, with another 11% being scheduling conflicts.
If anyone wants to talk to me directly firstname.lastname@example.org goes to me, and I’m @emilytheslayer on twitter. I hit the subscribe button on this post and will do my best to answer any questions posted for me here as well, with the note that I expect to be asleep a lot over the next couple of days.
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“The Apocalypse Is Already Here; It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed” really went off the rails. Early into the discussion, Vandana Singh remarked that few Americans have personal experience with colonialism. At this point the panel was disrupted by @ANerdCalledRage who took umbrage with this statement. She went on to berate Dr. Singh and the other panelists, and later took to twitter to heap racial abuse on the moderator.
Claiming the mantle of justice does not lift the critic above reproach. These are not our values.
Please forgive me the this use of a pseudonym: I’m concerned about retaliation
Sabrina, thank you for your comments, I’ll continue to try to do better/more/sooner on every panel in the future.
As a gentle suggestion, Emily; if ReaderCon really wants to encourage PoC panelists, and if that’s a priority for them, perhaps they might set aside some funds for it? WisCon flew me out, when I was a broke graduate student, and would never have thought to attend otherwise (or been able to). I then attended for the next two decades on my own dime.
I’ll also acknowledge here that ReaderCon has invited me to be on programming for the last few years, reaching out to me directly, and it’s mostly been the press of other commitments that has made it not possible; I do think about it every year. But perhaps that highlights the issue — newer-to-genre PoC panelists are disproportionality likely to be affected by lack of funds (given intersectionality), and established PoC panelists are likely to be heavily committed and less available.
So if you want to draw from either group, you may need to make extra effort — which probably means funding. I went to AnomalyCon last year, not because steampunk is so much my thing, or because I have a strong interest in visiting Denver — I made time in my schedule because they offered to pay my expenses.
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It’s definitely one of the things I’m considering, and will bring up with the concom! As it is now when we send out the invitations we ask at the end that anyone with financial difficulties get in touch, and mostly what we try to do is comp their hotel room for at least some of the time they’re there. We did this for Shveta Thakrar a few years ago (she ended up not using it but that’s irrelevant at the moment). We have flown out one or two people who weren’t the GoHs in the past, so it’s definitely possible, but complicated, obviously. Thanks for saying it Mary Anne! It’s a good idea.
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Before I say anything else, I fully and unreservedly apologize for the statement quoted by T. Q Doyle. I actually don’t recall making that statement so baldly, but clearly I must have done, and I can’t imagine that I didn’t put it in context (of white America, not Americans in general). If I didn’t, a second apology is in order. I don’t hold any grudge against the young woman who spoke up, and in fact salute her right to articulate her anger. I did look for her afterward because I hadn’t heard her very clearly (she was near the back of the room), and because I need new glasses I couldn’t see her clearly either. I asked around for her and looked around myopically the rest of the afternoon but could not locate her. I wanted to request some moment of her time to understand her statement and give space for her anger.
For clarity’s sake let me state where I stand on the issue of BLM, which clearly my words did not convey. I am painfully aware of what is happening to Black Americans in this country. I am aware of the great debt I owe to the civil rights movement for enabling someone like me to live in America – without the courage and sacrifice of black leaders, it would not have been possible. In SF specifically I owe a debt to black writers such as Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Nisi Shawl, Andrea Hairston, Nnedi Okorafor and N. K. Jemisin, to name a few. But I am still learning – from reading, and talking to Black Americans, including my academic colleagues and my black students (about whom I incessantly worry), and taking part in the country’s first Black Lives Matter interdisciplinary teach in held at my university just this past spring, along with some 90+ other professors. (That, by the way, was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had). In addition I am engaging also with understanding the oppression currently being meted out to Native peoples and those on the lowest rugs of the caste ladder in my country, where the government has launched what is essentially a war on these peoples – and what I am learning here about the experience of oppression, the exercise of courage and resistance from African Americans — is informing and enriching my understanding of issues half a world away. Here I find that intersectionality has been key, as I have experienced both discrimination (a brown woman writer living in the US) and privilege (an upper caste citizen in India). I am stating all this to say that while I am certainly not immune from error, I am deeply committed to continuing to learn.
I have been meaning to write a long essay on all this on my blog, and I will try to do that soon. But for the sake of clarity let me try to put my statement in context (my interlocutor did say she came in late and might have missed a few things that were said to set the stage for the discussion; however I clearly needed to spell things out better):
My take on the apocalypse is that it is here and now, but those in positions of privilege are blind to it. Large sections of the world’s population are under siege, from socio-economic inequalities to climate change (which exacerbates everything), all of which affect PoC disproportionately. For example it is hard for the average white American to understand the situation of the Bangladeshis in the mangrove forests of the Bay of Bengal, from where 13 million people need to be moved due to sea level rise. The experience of African Americans during Katrina is another key example of how a human-caused climate crisis can disproportionately affect the oppressed, due to racist and colonialist policies that determine where and how they live, and how quickly or not they get help.
Right before the apocalypse panel there was one about Colonization and Exoplanets. I was the sole PoC on the panel and there were perhaps a couple in the audience. I made a statement about colonization (as occupation and as the experience of second class citizens in the First world) and the unexamined use of the term in the context of humans going to other planets, which led to a contentious but (from some quarters) also supportive discussion. I have to admit that I was really nervous during this panel, and I walked into the apocalypse panel right afterward with my head still spinning. The discussion, however, was necessary. Unless we engage with these issues, how will we change things? So I’d like to make a couple of suggestions for future Readercons.
a) It would be good to have a safe space set aside for PoC to talk to each other, resolve misunderstandings and simply air their experiences, anger, sorrow, or inspired ideas. There are many of us from different backgrounds and experiences, and we can learn from and about each other. Perhaps such a session could have a part II to allow for a dialogue with the wider community. It might have led to a chance for Ellen Kushner to understand where Mikki Kendall was coming from. (While I agree that it is tedious and wearisome for PoCs to go around educating people with color privilege, every transformed person helps change the culture for everyone. As for those not willing to learn, well, we don’t have to waste our time with them).
b) Perhaps it might be good to have a regular session on diversity 101 (with a better title though) for interested white people (and people with other forms of privilege such as cis gender) to gather with representatives of those communities to discuss the issues and to learn the basics. I know and I agree that people of privilege should do the hard work of learning about the experiences of the Other, but if we start them off on that journey it might be a good way to get to the culture change we want. I do know that the BLM teach in at my university was hugely validating for our black students, and a transformative experience for many white students, all of which is helping change the feel of the campus. And I personally owe a huge debt to my LGBT friends back in my thirties who very kindly helped clueless me understand their world, which changed me and has helped change the people around me too.
To my young interlocutor, if you are reading this – I acknowledge your pain and sorrow. I apologize. And I’d love to talk some more, if you are willing.
hi, Vandana, i am Teri Clarke. we met and spoke briefly several times at ReaderCon. (it was such a pleasure that i hope to repeat soon!) i know the young lady who spoke up at the panel. she primarily is reachable through Twitter, by the handle mentioned above. i think this piece of the discussion is a bit more complex than was able to be explored, especially considering the previous bad blood from other panels, resulting in this explosion. i would love to discuss the nuances of this all some time. i hope to keep in touch with you.
Teri! Wonderful to hear from you! I just found your card and will send you an email. You are right as to the complexity of the discussion. Yes, yes, yes, to a discussion. Unfortunately I am not active on twitter. But would love to catch up next time you are in town.
Sabrina, I particularly want to apologize for not finding a way to call out Allen’s “too many chiefs” comment in the moment. I was honestly shocked enough that he said it that I was taken off guard, but practicing saying, “WOW, NO,” when shocked by something like that instead of saying nothing is a quick and easy fix that at least makes a start towards changing the tone of discourse. It’s impossible for anyone outside one’s own head to know the difference between “I am okay with this” and “I cannot believe he just said that, I am trying to recover.”
Which is not to say that we shouldn’t have made more inroads into discussing race as well as the other aspects of intersectionality–indeed we should have. I can add to the list of things I am disappointed that I missed or did not spend more time on: globalization and the Third World. Sexuality as distinct from gender: being queer and working class is a very different experience (/set of experiences) from being queer and upper class, with different cultural expectations and markers. But race loomed large in the flaws in that very flawed panel, and I’m sorry for my part in that.
You don’t owe anyone an apology. I was able to hear @ANerdCalledRage very clearly: The comments she directed your way were hateful and contemptuous. As an Indian woman, she thought you had no right to speak your mind. Your perspective was invalid because it wasn’t her own. She wanted you to shut up. Tearing down another woman of color like this is farcical.
You couldn’t find her afterward because she stormed out following her tirade and took to Twitter to slander the moderator as a white supremacist. What do we do when hecklers don’t flatter our sensibilities? How would we react to someone getting on Twitter to deride a panelist with the slur de jour? We would show them the door.
Let’s not confuse the speaker with the struggle. The fight may be righteous, but the fighters are sinners. Unless we recognize this we’ll continue to see adherents of barely distinguishable ideologies ripping each other apart. Bigotry knows no bounds of creed, color, or culture. We become part of the problem when we excuse one person’s racist abuse of others because we agree with their ideology.
Will I be at Readercon next year? Probably not.
@T.C. Doyle So I’m over at @ANerdCalledRage’s twitter, and I cannot for the life of me find anything like what you’ve described as “racial abuse” or calling anyone a white supremacist. Could you point us to these? Or to the “slur de jour” you mention there as well?
Having read the relevant tweets myself, it appears @ANerdCalledRage was reacting to something said in response to Vandana, not to what Vandana said.
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If you think “white supremacist” is just the slur de jour and that noticing whiteness constitutes “heaping racial abuse” upon someone, then I’m not sure I can believe you don’t have a massive axe to grind here.
You seem to want everyone to believe that ANerdCalledRage was behaving in a racist fashion towards Dr. Singh, but this does not seem to be backed up by her memories of the event, the record of the tweets, or the testimony of anyone else who was there. This tweet even suggests that the remark that touched off her remarks was made by the moderator, not Dr. Singh, and since Dr. Singh doesn’t remember having made it, that seems perfectly likely.
If you’ll forgive me, the impression I have is that you’re very upset about how the white moderator was spoken to and spoken of, but you’re willing to use Dr. Singh’s presence there to give your comments the fig leaf of standing up for a woman of color.
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In defence of the Readercon programming group, I’d note that they make a heroic effort to include anyone in the panels who asks to be included and who has any valid reason for wanting to be on a panel. This is why panels have grown to 5 members instead of the more practical 3 or 4 panelists. (Speaking here from personal experience.) If you feel that any group you self-identify with, or any other group, is under-represented, reach out to them and suggest that they contact the program committee to (i) propose a topic and great panelists for that topic or (ii) to be included in any topic. Or contact the committee yourself to propose speakers. I’ve done this a few times and been pleasantly surprised at how responsive they are.
Re. Ellen Kushner, I have no particular opinion other than to note that I’ve talked to and paneled with Mikki Kendall. Haven’t read her own blog about this past Readercon (work crush after escaping to the convention and now returning to reality), but I have a hard time imagining that she suffers fools gladly. On the contrary, I’ve seen her grab the reigns from the nominal moderator and direct the conversation in her own preferred direction. She’s no shrinking violet. It’s one of the things I like about her, and why I actively seek out her panels at conventions. (Of course, she may also have just been overwhelmed trying to keep her shit together, post-Dallas and the past few months.)
Re. book-centric thinking: That’s the raison d’être of Readercon, and it’s what the audience expects. That’s not to say that panelists exclude other media (e.g., TV), but rather that they do their damnedest to start with books and keep going with books so long as it’s productive.
A few years back, I wrote to the program committee to point out that much though I love panels on “the other”, many “other” authors were being pigeonholed into speaking only about their otherness. I pointed out that this was in its own way a form of soft racism because it ignored them as authors and artists. My suggestion was that for every panel they were asked to serve on as “others”, they also be given an opportunity to serve on a panel of their own choice purely as “authors”. The goal isn’t to be colorblind, but rather to recognize them as people and artists, not solely as “representatives of the other”. Both are important aspects of who they are and why they belong to our community, and both should be honored. So in some small way, I may be responsible for biasing some of the conversation in that direction.
One final note: I enjoyed your participation in the panels that I attended. I hope you’ll be back next year and show the flag for whatever causes you feel passionate about. The way to get those causes into the public eye is to… get those causes into the public eye so they can be seen and debated.
I was on that Apocalypse is Unevenly Distributed panel, and have spent a bit of time this morning pursuing it, and I just wanted to point out this tweet from @anerdcalledrage:
Strongly suggests she was not in fact calling out @vsingsblog but siding with her against the panel moderator’s reaction.
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Thanks, T. Q. Doyle, Nicasio Reed, Mike Allen, Michael J. DeLuca, for your input. T. Q. Doyle, let’s pause before we call anyone ‘sinners.’ This is a time to listen to each other. We can’t form judgments on the basis of one, or three comments we might have heard. You support the movement – great. But that means you – and all of us – need to (in the words of civil rights attorney Fania Davis, “roll up our sleeves and do the messy, challenging, but hopeful work of creating transformed relationships and structures leading us into new futures.” Doing the work of racial justice is WORK. I don’t know your background, national or ethnic. But those of us who want to be true allies are going to get hurt, called out, derided, challenged, and pushed outside our comfort zones. This is small stuff compared to what black Americans have to go through. We are also going to learn and change. Whether you come to the next Readercon is up to you, but do consider the possibility that the journey is worth it.
Mike and Michael, thanks for clarifying.
For my black fellow writers – with all that’s going on in the streets of America — I know I can’t pretend to know how you feel. Although I have experienced racism in America, I haven’t had to carry the weight of of your history, including the terror of losing a loved one to systemic police violence. I do worry about my black students. I want to let you know that for what it’s worth, I am willing to do the work to understand (to the extent I can) and to act. I don’t think we can ever completely stand in the shoes of anyone else. Intersectionality can help, if we employ it to connect and not compare, but it only goes so far. The best tool we have is the imagination, and even that is an imperfect thing (which is why some of us write fiction, don’t we? to come as close as possible to being in a different skin?). In any case I owe you all a huge debt for helping me learn and perhaps give back a little toward the “new futures” that Fania Davis mentions. May you and yours be safe, may you thrive, may your words and visions be read, heard and seen, loud and bright and strong.
I don’t know Paul Park other than from a panel or two, but I don’t get the impression he’s a white supremacist. My rule of thumb is to suspect blindness to privilege before outright bigotry (unless it’s overt hate of course). We need to call each other out on privilege. Which is why it would be great if Readercon would consider some special accommodations (such as I mentioned in my previous comment) to facilitate PoC discussion spaces and learning opportunities for allies. I am deeply saddened by divisions and unneccesary fragmentations even among progressives, that I’ve noticed as a relative outsider to the community. We are a microcosm of the larger society (even if not particularly representative of it). We are SF writers in the 21st century living the apocalypse to different degrees and extents, writing about the Other in some way or form. We should be wiser.
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At one point during those early moments in Strong Black Female Characters, Kushner replied to Kendall’s observation with “Really?” and then said something like, “Now I’m going through all the fiction I can think of to see if there are white heroines to whom that trope applies.” Which is . . . problematic, when someone responds to an insight about black women with #NotJustBlackWomen
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Vandana, I always enjoy your thoughts on panels and it’s nice to see them so warmly and sensibly expressed here too.
I hate that there’s a necessity for “safe space” for anyone, and hope we can work towards the day when it’s no longer necessary. But until that day comes, the bottom line is that we must listen intently and with good faith to the group(s) that express a fear or a need: it’s the only way to learn things we cannot learn from within the safety of our own group. As psychologist George Miller notes, “To understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of.” It’s not so hard to understand what POC and WOC are saying. You just have to try.
Thanks, Geoff, Josh, Alexandra, for writing. I’d like to turn the focus to Readercon and what we can do collectively to make the experience a positive one for PoC, and by extension for the community at large. The internet is not a good medium for deciphering people’s intent and motivation – critique T. Q. Doyle’s words as much as you want, but as to his/her internal motivation – who knows? There’s not enough data to ascribe intent, (although sufficient to indicate common confusions such as the notion of reverse bigotry) which is why face to face dialogue is preferable before one passes judgment. I don’t know T. Q. Doyle but I can think of five different fictional scenarios of their state of mind/ internal story that could have led to them writing what they did. So yes, critique the words by all means, display evidence to the contrary, examine the rhetoric — but let’s hold judgment of the human being, pending more data. I’d rather think about collective ways of facilitating safe spaces, inter-racial dialogues and real cultural shifts for Readercon. Emily Wagner’s receptivity and the fact that Ellen Kushner has apologized to Mikki Kendall means we can move forward.
I am no expert in this sort of thing, people, but I’ve found a few links useful. Starting with a basic intro to #BLM, http://blacklivesmatter.com/about/ and advice as to how to be a good ally if you are white, with an explication of the difference between racism and prejudice https://blackmillennials.com/2014/10/16/how-to-be-a-white-ally/
I also include here pointers for those from the Indian subcontinent (known as ‘desi’ in some of our languages)
and a strident and necessary article calling out racism and prejudice among Indian Americans against blacks (thereby establishing that I am not a disinterested foreigner, I am implicated)
and finally civil rights attorney Fania Davis’ inspiring article.
We write science fiction and fantasy. In some way or another our work is rooted in the here and now, and part of our delight and responsibility (at least as some see it, myself included) is to imagine alternatives to the way things are. This is a deeply revolutionary aspect of spec fic. We can only aspire to do this well if we are aware of the shades, layers, complexities and perspectives inherent in the crucial current issues of our times. How can Readercon make room for such dialogues and discussions, beyond the panel/ readings format?
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I was the moderator in the panel on the uneven distribution of the apocalypse. It’s hard to reconstruct these things without a transcript, but as I remember, the distinction I was trying to make was between white colonialism as a direct form of exploitation during the 19th and first half of the 20th century, and the indirect, neo-colonialist form that persists now, which requires the participation of local groups. I do not believe that this has turned white colonialism into something more benign, or that the problem belongs in the long-ago, or that white people now are somehow absolved, but rather that it requires a different type of critique. I certainly did not mean to challenge anyone who has been hurt by the very real persistence of white power structures, or take away from their experience, but merely to suggest that those power structures are evolving.
My wishlist for panelists I’d love to hear speak/read at Readercon (caveat:I know a number of these folks live pretty far from Boston):
Guadalupe García McCall
Darcie Little Badger
Richard Van Camp
And, yeah, I’d love to hear big names like Junot Diaz and N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor too…
I’d also love to see at least one panel focused on art, and I’d love to hear from folks like:
I’d LOVE to have those people at Readercon! I will once again clear my throat loudly and point at this: http://readercon.org/program/application.htm and say that any of them you know, try to convince them to fill it out so I have their contact info and won’t forget when things start getting hectic next year. A couple of them are already on the list and just couldn’t come for various reasons this year.
We usually do end up having at least one art-focused panel, and I’d love to have some of the artists you’re mentioning too! Since we don’t have an art show I think some artists would rather skip us because they can’t sell their work easily, which is pretty understandable. Thanks for the idea Sabrina!
I wonder if artists could sell at their publishers’ booths? Like John Jennings and Keef Cross are published by Rosarium; Teresa Martinez and Adam Paquette have done work for Crossed Genres; Tran Nguyen has done work for Tor.com, etc.
I wouldn’t stop them if the publishers went for it. 🙂
I realize the utter futility of coming in now to suggest that you are, in fact, the very essence of toxic hatred. You have to be the most racist and bigoted writer I have run across today and I spent a lot of time on Turkey today.
Too many chiefs, not enough indians” came from the navy where the senior enlisted were Chief Petty Officers. Sometimes a problem would crop up and one would find oneself with half a dozen chiefs cradling their coffee cups looking at the crisis and nobody junior to actually do something about it. Just so you have a visual before you go all digitally toxic again, imagine, half a dozen chiefs standing along the rail back aft watch as the (crap, fuel oil, lube oil, JP5) flow unrestrained into the sea and each of them settles back a little on his/her feet, sips from the mug and says, “that appears to be a problem.”
“Yep,” says the Chief Engineman, “looks like an Electrical Problem”
“Yep,” says the Chief Electrician, “looks like a Machinist Mate Problem”
“Yep,” says the Chief Hull Technician, “looks like a Airedale problem.”
“Yep,” says the Chief Machinist Mate, “looks like an ‘A Gang’ problem”
and yet none of them would step in to actually fix said problem.
Used to see it all the time. The “indians” here were the E5 Petty Officers who actually do things. Sometimes, there would be a gathering of Chiefs and no E5s which was the worst nightmare for Chief Engineers.
Reading these comments has been an amazing experience. The way people engaged, explained, allowed, apologised. If all the world could work as hard at overcoming differences, resolving conflicts, we would be in a much better place.
Thank you for the post, and thanks to all who gave a live stream example of what we should aspire to be: people who listen to and work with each other. That’s the way we fight.
I echo what Trixie just said. Thanks to Paul Park for clarifying, and to Sabrina for that wonderful list! What a marvelously rich discussion! I am going to take Emily’s offer seriously and post some suggestions for panels going forward.
On a related topic (Geoff commented on this too): we need to have more PoC presence on panels not directly or obviously connected to PoC issues. I was on one about space colonization and exoplanets and made a statement on the need to examine the casual use of the ‘c’ word in the context of space exploration, which not only carries troublesome historical baggage but also is shorthand for a problematic paradigm that should not be exported unthinkingly into space. While I seem to have taken some of the panelists by surprise on what was expected to be a sciency discussion, others were immediately willing to listen and overall the discussion was intense and hopefully clarifying for those who were new to it. We did go on to the cool sciency stuff and the real issues around going into space for long periods but I think that setting the deeper historical context beforehand was (at least in my opinion) enriching.
One of the things that came out of another conversation I had with a very promising young writer, Haris Durrani, was about science itself, and its historical origins in a certain context (Europe, in the time of Galileo, then Newton on). What if the sciences or proto-sciences of other cultures had developed after all, instead of the vagaries of history extinguishing them? How might these alternate sciences be different or similar to what we know as science today, both with regard to principles and applications? How might SF be enriched by exploring such what-if scenarios?
That’s only one of four possible panels I am going to suggest for Readercon. I do hope there will be others willing to submit their ideas.
Yay! That is all SUPER THRILLING to me! And yeah, completely agreed about having PoC on non “diversity” panels. I just want all the conversations to get broader and deeper and also for the PoC panelists to have *fun* and not feel like they’re stuck on a certain track of panels. I think there’s almost a perception from white audience members that if there’s a PoC panelist the “original” topic won’t get discussed because now it’s going to be all about race. But dang, so much in our world *is* about race, let’s get that perspective in there and make the conversation go further!
I would *love* to be on a panel at ReaderCon. Given the current state of my finances, though, and my state legislature’s attempts to “starve the beast” when it comes to education, I am still at least a year away from being able to swing out-of-state travel. Hopefully when the time comes, ReaderCon will want me!