laceblade: Dark icon, white spraypaint on bottom with "DA" for Dumbledore's Army. Top text, in caps: We will not obey. (HP: Dumbledore's Army: We will not obey)
laceblade ([personal profile] laceblade) wrote2014-05-23 10:42 pm

Reconciliation Within SF/F

Panelists: NK Jemisin, Eileen Gunn, Andrea D. Hairston, Debbie Notkin, Michi Trota

NK Jemisin’s Guest of Honor speech at Continuum 2013 included a call for a Reconciliation within SF/F. “It is time that we recognized the real history of this genre, and acknowledged the breadth and diversity of its contributors...[I]t’s time we took steps -- some symbolic, some substantive -- to try and correct those errors. I do not mean a simple removal of the barriers that currently exist within the genre and its fandom, though doing that’s certainly the first step. I mean we must no make an active, conscious effort to establish a literature of the imagination which truly belongs to everyone.” What would a Reconciliation look like? How can we start one? How can we grow one?

This is not a transcript! But I tried. I faded a lot toward the end - I need to go to bed ^^;;
ALSO, I suggested this panel. *mic drop*

[personal profile] firecat also did a write-up here, & included a number of links for context.

NK: I am losing my voice, oh, here’s the mic on!
This panel is Reconciliation Within SF/F. I have corralled, well, WisCon corralled people to discuss this with us. I’m going to read the panel description and then we will do introductions. I’m the moderator, by the way. [reads panel description]

DN: Many people know me. Not a writer. Been a seller, editor, fan on the chair of the Tiptree Motherboard, lots and lots of stuff. Saw this panel on the schedule, I checked “please” b/c I thought panel was so exciting. Then Nora asked what we are going to talk about, and I thought I should KNOW what I want to say. I did some research and reading and I’m totally excited to be talking about this topic.

MT: I’m a board member of Chicago Nerd Social Club. I’m not a sf writer YET. Do a lot of writing in creative non-fiction, exploring identity within a lot of SF/F, what that has meant for formation of identity for gender. With Grace. Essay published with Jim Hines’s guest writer series in invisible anthology. Saw this on schedule, really want to be on it. Nora’s speech was something I found extremely inspiring. Idea of getting into nitty gritty and how we can make SF/F more inclusive and talking about how the history has been not so inclusive is really important to do.

EG: I write SF. This is the next step. I was very struck with Nora’s speech, which I read. Been to Australia, know what reconciliation means in Australia, know how much widespread support there is for it. I’ve been part of community that is working for diversity since the sixties. Started out being very small. It’s larger now, and we can move it a step ahead. So the community, the whole community, becomes part of a process. That’s what Reconciliation is. In Australia and here. Move beyond individual people of good intent to entire community and getting them to buy into the process. Nora’s comment to establish a lit. of the imagination in which everyone truly involves far more people. Writers, editors, readers, conventions. It’s a huge thing. And it’s very doable.

AH: They all said what I was going to say! I write novels, essays, plays. Teach at a college. Musical theater. Teach screenwriting and playwriting. Told my students I want their work out in the world. I need to change the world to make a place for all my students and all the people I know who want to write. To me, that’s what SF/F is about. This is a core issue. I want to get at the core issues, and beyond the snark. I want to get beyond snark to building the world we want.

NKJ: Want to note I’m the moderator, and also its subject, which is a bit strange. Going to strange my thought process behind that speech, but other than that won’t talk much. Thoughts on reconciliation have evolved and changed. I will talk more about this in my GOH speech on Sunday. For now, let’s go with what I said last year. For those who didn’t fully understand context, I went to convention in Australia intending to do usual touristy things. Figured I’d see kangaroos and some stuff. But in order to acclimate to the city, I just walked around and visited museums. Went to Melbourne City Museum. While at the museum, one thing that struck me repeatedly was how honest that museum had been about how Australia’s indigenous population had been treated. Until 1970s, classified as fauna - as animals. During the worst of the early colonial period, there were hunts and barbecues. Not kidding about the barbecues. Scalpings, and so on. Not of white people - the indigenous. This was all in their museum. They weren’t holding it back - yeah, it was just that bad. Part of the healing process for coming out of this time was their willingness to acknowledge that. Struck by public meetings - a pause, and a brief acknowledgment of the land they were on, that was stolen, and gave respect to the indigenous people. “We took it, we’re trying to be nice now.” To the degree that you can.
Moment of immense sadness - this would never happen in the US. Same thing happened here except barbecues - the US can barely manage an apology let alone an acknowledgment of just how bad it was. Constantly hear politicians wanting to rebrand and rename what happen. What to call slavery the Triangle.

AH: In Savannah, want to call them the workers instead of slaves. Tourist ride on a boat. This was recently.

NKJ: That was my thought process. If we can’t even acknowledge what happened, of course you can’t move on from it. That was my thought in SF/F. Still not acknowledging a lot of what happening, not acknowledging what’s still happening, nor longterm impact. Genre dominated by white male voices. That wasn’t nature. Start with questions in panel. What would a Reconciliation look like?

EG: I think if you’re really talking about a reconciliation of the literature, you need everybody involved in that. You need the writers, how do you bring them in/get them involved? They have to read one another’s work. White people read white fiction. Black people read black fiction and white fiction. Native Americans, if isolated, could read…? Ways to get into groups and make it cool to read lots of different kinds of literature. The problem here lies with white people reading white people stuff. Problem not with POC. POC do read divergently. I think really that’s where it would start. Readers read divergently, publishers publish things that diverge. Editors buy divergent books. There will be a feedback effect.

AH: As I was thinking about this, thinking about what do I want? I want what EG is talking about. People to read what storytellers offer. To have that be available because when less and less opportunity. We have the Internet and you can find if you know what to look for. Having accessibility means knowing what to look for. We all know a certain set of names, but don’t know another set of names. We’ve got to have access to possibility of reading all those wonderful writers. Asking students when they come, and they don’t know any of the writers I’m about to read. I get them excited and then they are. But then some of them are afraid - take Magic If class, and surprised there are black women writers. I’m standing there - you’re the professor? Then they go wow, this is good. And it doesn’t kill them. I want people to risk themselves. In order to have reconciliation, in order to forgive, in order to move, you have to leap. You’ve gotta leap to it. We have to make risk fun. Like, this is not my comfort zone, I might feel lost the first time I read this book. After ten, my students are all like, “Yeah, we know it all.” But then they want to go out and read and find more. They’re launched. They become fluent. See things they couldn’t see when they read the first piece. By reading, you become a reader. Not before.

EG: Have a plan for that, don’t know how to implement it. Amazon and others include “more like this,” include more with POC. Someone needs to provide them with more books like that. Match up, “If you like this book, you’ll like all these others by people you didn’t think to read.”

NKJ: If I am looking for books on Amazon and looking for Daniel Abraham’s latest, I see my books.

DN: E and A went toward the future. I’m struck by Nora’s speech and reconciliations happening in Australia and South Africa and how they look at the past. In South Africa, acknowledged the land. Didn’t realize it was a thing until just now. When I was listening to Nora just now, thinking about what it would be read if in the beginning of every book/magazine, a boxed statement that said, “This genre is historically white and male. …And so is this book.” Or, “And this book isn’t.” Just an acknowledgmenet of the ground you stand on. Kernel of something in it, worth playing with.

ET: Like the idea of being able to do that. Lots of classes I’ve taken, been SF literature, it’s the same authors over & over without any acknowledgment of why that is, why every time you look through a syllabus, it’s Asimov, Heinlein, Tolkien. Integrating that acknowledgment that the genre has always been more than those authors. There have been WOC, queer authors, it’s not a new thing. It’s actually not something you need to be in a certain mindset to get into. If you love the genre, you’ll love these writers even if you’re not familiar with them. Even going to a bookstore, “If you like George RR Martin, you will like X.” Conscious effort to put a variety of authors on those cards. Doesn’t have to be big gestures. All little things you can make to normalize that the genre is more than straight white male voices with straight white male characters. So when you pick up the book, “Oh, it’s been written by a black woman, it’s still going to be really good because it’s of the genre.”

NKJ: Next question we had talked about was tackling the harm that has been done. A reconciliation takes place after a great harm. In South Africa, it came after apartheid. In Rwanda, after the genocide. In Australia, the genocide and ongoing treatment. After they were taken off the fauna list. Because of the response I’ve gotten on that Reconciliation talk, was there enough harm done in this genre to reckon a reconciliation process? Examples of what and why a reconciliation would be necessary.

ET: Two examples. There was a class I was taking last year, a massive online classes. Talking about gender in comics. Actually fairly new thing to tackle. Male/female sexuality presentation. Several weeks in, looking, and there’s not a single character of color being discussed. None of that. Couple of classmates also POC and I were tweeting at the professor, asking why we’re not discussing them. Giving us the idea that talking about gender in comics defaults to white POV. Her answer boiled down to, talking about gender in comics is already complicated. Talking about race too makes it more complicated. Have to save that until next class. Assumption that talking about race makes something complicated is a huge hump to get over. C2E2 has been good in past couple years in having discussions about diversity and representation. Two panels about diversity in general. One about LGBTQ issues in geek culture. Three about women’s issues in geek culture. None about race. Someone, at least one person, submitted a fantastic panel looking at black women and identity of being a nerd. She was told it’s a great idea, but there were too many fantastic ideas and we couldn’t take it. They had sexual identity, gender identity, diversity in general, and deliberately not looking at race - not doing it on purpose, but it’s like they don’t want to touch that issue b/c it feels complicated or feel uncomfortable spotlighting it. Huge hurdle - how can we talk about how race is an issue in SF/F unless we’re willing to have them in the first place?

NKJ: There’s an historical compartmentalization in marginalization. Fitting in with a panel seen done over and over. Shoving off of those issues into the political - out of the normal center of whatever it is you want to have a conversation about. Assumption that you have a white default & everything else is other. Inherently politicized because of that default. Trying to have a conversation about inclusiveness, who is involved/who is supposed to be here. Impossible to have that convo. People think inclusive means extra, means additional effort.

EG: Assumption that default, that the neutral, that there IS neutral state.

DN: Not using the word scared. Nora, you said we’re never going to have the reconciliation in the US. I hope you’re wrong, but I think you’re right. Amazing to me how frightened most white people are about talking about race, saying the word, admitting people have races. There are ways it’s a completely made up thing, but in daily life it’s terrifying to me how terrified other people are. Maybe too complicated, etc. So scary. For me, I talk about it every chance I get to everybody I can. Only thing I can do to demystify it a bit.

NKJ: Resonating it. Fear comes from a sense of threat. The feeling that if we acknowledge the contributions of these groups we’ve tried to keep out, there’s a question mark and like, profit in there? But it seems to me reasoning of people who are so resistant to having these conversations is that if we admit for example that…

DN: Worked on size acceptance and fat liberation. If you say, “Fat women are beautiful,” huge group of thin women who immediately hear, “You are not beautiful.” That’s a quick example.
NKJ: Part of American thought. Our culture built around idea that THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE group in power. If not white men, society will be taken over, we will grind them all beneath our heel!

AH: There’s rage, too. “I didn’t do anything!” right? I’m not responsible, I didn’t own slaves, I didn’t beat women, .


AH: Systemic and then the individual saying, “I can’t take all of this!” & therefore I won’t deal with any of it.

NKJ: For example: Read only the first Game of Thrones. And I have not followed the TV show, don’t watch much TV. Giving a talk at Brooklyn Museum. Two young black women fans were shaking with rage, I had said something to effect of, “Assumption in epic fantasy that medieval Europe was basically white.” If you say they were a few brown people there, just a few (there were more than a few), medievalPOC blog was instrumental in getting across just how many. Queen Elizabeth tried to get rid of them b/c so many, then she realized she couldn’t b/c so many.
Me as a person who thinks she knows something about history, educated, writes epic fantasy - I didn’t know that! And yet, George RR Martin who describes his series as realistic & constantly defends himself as realistic - two girls upset got into it on his board, said why we see only a few POC and only exist in narrow range of stereotypes? Immediately attacked by fans, and Martin said something vaguely disparaging about the topic. No folks like that back them, they weren’t there.
We see the fantasy population that not only is wedded to false notions of what actually was, but willing to fight you if you try and change it to reality. They will hurt you, they will send you death threats, they will do terrible things. This is an example of the harm we’re talking about. This is violence. This is conceptual violence. Violence being done to our ability to have fun reading epic fantasy. In order to read epic fantasy, have to be willing to swallow a level of white supremacy that I shouldn’t have to swallow. We are so inculcated in the idea that this is the way it has to be that we’re not willing to change.
I’m sorry, I’m talking too much.

ET: I have a hard time understanding why we can’t have those convos. Fans. Writers aren’t perfect. Why can’t we have those conversations about Westeros or the story/we love it, let’s take the story apart and look at how it’s reflecting these problematic tropes. The more we learn, it’s not the way that it works. Defensiveness that comes out is like attacking a person’s essence of who they are b/c of the things that they like as opposed to ideas and the things that they like. Biggest problems in having a reconciliation - our identities are so deeply wedded to the things we’re fans of. If saying something is problematic, interpreted as, “there’s a problem with YOU.” Having those conversations is extraordinarily difficult. Saying someone can still like something & still see there are problems is good.

EG: You are criticizing them as people. They’re closing themselves off to part of reality. Not everybody who reads a writer, but some people who become so identified with the work, they become deeply invested in what that work is about. Then, the way you look at the world is skewed in a way you’re not perceiving reality correctly, you are telling them you’re doing something wrong. You’re right to tell them that, how can a SF writer pretend we live in a white world? We don’t. Won’t live in a white future, too. You’re doing them a favor but might not be perceived that way.

AH: I write historical fantasy. People want to argue with me about what happened in history. V. interesting. In futuristic, had a world only spoken a few language. Someone in US: “My God, how could all those people end up speaking only one language having come from all these other places?” I didn’t even know what to say. I meet them, they’re telling me about it. I asked their credentials/what’s their basis. They said, women didn’t make films. This is just another fantasy. I said more women made films at the turn of the 20th century films than they do. I’m a scholar - I actually wrote a master’s thesis on this. Guy says, “Oh, really?” I say often, I’m a professor of theater at Smith, people don’t acknowledge that. Not taken seriously, what you do is devalued. I constantly have to explain that what I say might be true. I don’t get the benefit of the doubt. We have to start asking who are we questioning and why. Maybe I should do some homework, maybe I should question MYSELF. We’re imbued in reality we grow up in. Before we leap, maybe I should go and check this first. Look that up. Before I say, “This is how it is,” with authority. Yet I get people speaking with authority on things I am an authority IN. I can’t get the kind of secure place to play as an artist because I’m constantly defending my position. I’m not just writing it, I’m defending it. Part of the reconciliation for me would be someone to read my writing and say, “Wow, your paragraphs,” instead of, “How dare you have Native Americans in your fantasy,” you know?

ET: Some of us are more willing and used to questioning our assumptions because that’s how we’re raised, because we have to prove ourselves constantly. We check, we triple check, if I open my mouth and I’m wrong, it’s that much worse. People with privilege, don’t check their sources, doesn’t occur to them. Please check your sources? Check your assumptions about who’s speaking. When you read something & come upon internal “Wait, no, that can’t be right, I need to tell that person they’re wrong.” Stop, think for a second, Google. Then you can go back and talk. Taking five minutes is going to save everybody a huge amount of problems.

DN: Take that a step further and say, “I need to tell that person they’re wrong.” Often, you DON’T need to tell a person they’re wrong. Those kinds of - really? That’s really interesting, what’s your source? If people ask George RR Martin & AH in the same tone of voice - like, “I didn’t know medieval Europe was all white, what’s your source?” That’s a really interesting reconciliatory gesture.

NKJ: Going to questions soon. Wanted to bring up one another example, which is the assumption of expertise or correctness. Thinking, is Daniel Older in here? Anyone affiliated with Long Hidden? Please check my facts on this. I half-watched on Twitter. Long Hidden anthology came out recently, deliberately intended to be unheard voices in SF/F genre. Number of stories in voices and tones and styles that are atypical within the genre. Recently a review of this book in Strange Horizons. Review tossed off in an offhanded sort of way, when people use dialect in fiction, it’s a literary trick. It’s a shame this otherwise great story was damaged by careless use of this trick. Person who wrote that story speaks in this dialect. Whole point was to bring dialects we don’t hear into public sphere. Daniel Jose Older, one of the editors, took exception. Pointed out among other things, the fallacy. Also that dialect permeates American literary canon. James Joyce, Twain, all people lauded. James Baldwin said you can imply it - remember, minstrel shows, darky dialect? If you use it, we don’t want to hear it, seen as minstrel shows. After Baldwin said that, white writers started using this as something against using it. Apex responded with an editorial, working with an author who had dialect, struggled between how much to include to not be accessible. Tobias Buckell did it a certain way. He is now the James Baldwin of SF.

ET: He made an interesting point, about Apex article in general. Ended up not being about the dialect so much as reframing the discussion to be about the editor’s feelings as a white woman trying to do the right thing, and no she wasn’t racist because she was concerned about dialect. Can we not reframe it to be about white tears and feelings? If you want to have a discussion about dialect, keep it framed on what you’re trying to have the discussion about. It’s not about someone’s feelings about not being a good person. It’s not helping or moving the discussion forward. You’re reframing it to be about the privileged view point.

(missed some)

NKJ: How many voices have been policed out of the genre? Could Ancillary Justice have been published a few years ago? (lost entire thread here, sorry.)

EG: Thinking about dialect issue for quite some kind. Both practical POV and a sort of Irish heritage POV. One of most popular writers from 19th/20th writers wrote in dialect. Left-leaning wildly liberal journalist. Wrote fabulous stuff, hilarious funny. Written in Irish dialect. Very difficult to read. Can only be read aloud. I tried to translate it, and found it was impossible to take the words he’s saying and put them into conventionally spelled English. You lose something in doing that. People writing in dialect they can hear, they’re not faking it. They’re hearing something that cannot be told in another way. Not easily translated.

NKJ: What is wrong with asking the reader to be multilingual?

AH: I’m from the theater, I listen to voice. Use not just what’s in the quotes. Nalo Hopkinson, writing the whole narrative in the dialect. The meaning/understanding of the world, the perspectives, the cosmology, are in the [lost] of the words. [more thoughts lost] I think we can go there. You know, a lot of people don’t understand physics, right? When I write that, I don’t get as many complaints. They go there. It’s really distressing me - where we will go. We don’t want to talk about some things, therefore we don’t make an effort. This country in particular, we’re afraid of more than one language. Because it’s about power.

DN: When a white man makes up a dialect out of nowhere, it wins the World Fantasy Award. I’ll leave that adjective out of it…

AUD: Junot Diaz: Motherfuckers will read a book that is one-third Elvish, but write a few sentences in Spanish and we’re taking over.

AUD: Do you think it’d trivialize fantasy to [lost]?

NKJ: People put what they want on to it. I write about things that don’t exist, people assume I was out to get white people in the Inheritance Trilogy. You can’t divorce race in this country.

AUD: Inconvenient truth problem here. If we acknowledge what we’ve done to POC, then we have to do something about it.

AUD Isabel: Asked question about quantifying the harm, trying to talk - has there been sufficient harm to justify reconciliation? I thought about examples. I thought Michi was going to talk about death threats and rape threats. When Andrea talking about having to prove her qualifications, that affects your career, your ability to sell a book, speaking engagements, tenure. These are quantifiable losses. In feminist circles, if a woman makes 75-cents, over her lifetime, that’s X amount of dollars. How can we quantify the harm so that we CAN justify a reconciliation?

NKJ: Any statisticians? Or actuaries? Statistic of women losing money over money, we could say loss to women authors and POC who could not get a slate on Book Con. A chunk of BEA exclusively white and male, and a cat. They now have a diversity panel, yes it’s much better.

AUD: Fascinated by idea of dialect. There are many groups who speak dialects of English but still have to understand/practice standardized English. [Lost some sentences.]

NKJ: Code-switching.

AUD: Trains our brains, trained to hear and understand different kinds of nuances. I don’t really understand what the problem is. A reflection of a reality that we live in. Why would it still be so controversial to use dialect? People do it all the time every day.

AH: My answer is power. Language is power. To say, you can’t speak English and you must speak mine, is about power. My language orders the world, you speak my language because I am in power. Those whose dialect is the standard don’t have to learn anything else. Those who speak two languages are the dumb ones. In the US, how we defined ourselves was partly by power dynamic. Take all Africans and make them speak English, don’t want Spanish people having any kind of foothold, we will define our political reality using culture, which we do all the time. We forget our history. It’s about power.

AUD Ian: Comment is that all I’ve heard about question of framing what the harm does, is always about the harm to people on the downside. Women, POC, whomever. I don’t actually believe that’s accurate, that’s a loser argument in getting white guy who doesn’t care, to care. MLK used to say you can’t keep a man down without staying down with him. Does anybody on panel want to talk about harm to majority position?

DN: Eileen did speak to that in beginning. How much we’ve lost - not just loss of compassion, heart, or whatever. Loss of what we could have read, what we could know. All you need to do is look at Octavia Butler’s books & wonder how many black voices every bit as a good did not have her luck/moment/strength to battle against all the obstacles? How many women, disabled people? I Feel like I’ve lost an enormous amount, personally. Further you are up the privilege chain, the worse it is.

EG: Feel self-conscious thinking about it. Feel very strongly that white people have lost knowledge that POC can bring. The warmth. Enormous number of wonderful interactions that white people - right off, don’t talk to black people, move away from them on the bus? Makes me so unhappy to think about that. The fact is that by that, the active oppressors are losing so much. With a slight shift, they could regain. Could enjoy life so much more.

NKJ: Will briefly say one of the reasons why I hesitate to reframe the argument to what white people/men lose is, they already dominate the conversations.

AUD: From Canada. Bit of a different perspective on reconciliation. In there, it was “reconciliation.” Committee is wrapping up, how many people know that? Not very many. Almost no attention. First Nations saw how superficial it was. At the same time, reconciliation can’t happen until acknowledgement. At the same time, a study on how many First Nation women - how many murdered? Number was shocking to them. What is government doing in response? Nothing. They said we don’t need to do more, we’ve done our reconciliation.

AUD: Just read TNC’s on case of reparations. Would love to see that in SF. People get just the facts, the history, over and over, every time, really loud, no blushing, just no, this is what happened. Why do you think Heinlein is the best? I will tell you why you think Heinlein is the best.

NKJ: In 1st/2nd volumes of Dark Matter, there is an excellent rundown on racial history in science fiction. My mind was blown when I realized WEB DuBois wrote SF.

AUD: TNC wrote piece on reparations. Everyone should read it. About the fear - the majoritarian group has fear that once minority gains power, will act exactly like majority. Fear of revenge, and then fear of justice having vengeful motivation as opposed to just motivation. Sure, days when oh yeah, that would be alright. But need to work towards that. Seriously, read TNC piece.

DN: read “this country needs a better class of racists.”
littlebutfierce: (atla toph armored up)

[personal profile] littlebutfierce 2014-05-24 07:21 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you for posting this!

(& ugh yes, I am so tired of "but let's reframe the discussion to how -ism affects the oppressors too!" -___- )
dolorosa_12: (pagan kidrouk)

[personal profile] dolorosa_12 2014-05-24 10:31 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you for posting this transcript.

It's so fascinating to hear how reconciliation and racism in Australia are perceived by those outside it, although it makes me sad that N.K. Jemisin thinks that even the tiny, baby steps that have been taken in Australia are impossible to contemplate in the US.

intothespin: Drawing of a woman lying down reading by Kate Beaton (Default)

[personal profile] intothespin 2014-05-24 08:05 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you for posting this.
glass_icarus: (fireworks heart)

[personal profile] glass_icarus 2014-05-24 10:20 pm (UTC)(link)
Ohh, thanks so much for posting this!
ein_myria: (Default)

[personal profile] ein_myria 2014-05-25 06:34 am (UTC)(link)
Would you be a dear and save my reading list by putting the wiscon posts under a cut? :)