Wired Magazine Checks In With NK Jemisin, Again – By Rhiain
WorldCon is upon us once again, and our own Kate Paulk is on scene for the duration of the event to represent the Sad Puppies.
In the meantime, in a brazen attempt to increase traffic to their website in the run-up to MidAmericon II, Wired Magazine recently published a fawning rehash of Nora K Jemisin’s thoughts on a recent brouhaha regarding the “lack of diversity” in SFF magazines. Since Larry Correia already did an exceptional job fisking the original Verge article about said brouhaha, I’ll leave it to you, dear readers, to mosey on over to MHN for the particulars of the, ahem, study commissioned by Fireside Fiction at the center of that controversy regarding the “lack of diversity” in SFF.
In the meantime, Wired Magazine decided to check in with Jemisin regarding The Underrepresentation(!) of Colored Writers Published By SFF Mags – because who better could opine on this Terrible Crisis if not their quotable go-to non-white writer?
The article is essentially a grandiose introduction followed by a string of recent Tweets by Ms. Jemisin, in which she indicates that the uptick in invites to submit work to SFF mags has increased for her personally, and while it’s a nice problem to have, she prefers that SFF mags go beyond recognizable names of non-white SFF writers like herself and find others not so recognizable to invite instead. Where Jemisin derails is here:
13. Here is what I think is happening: The chant against the +10 diversity attack is being spoken again, in the shadowy halls of powah.
14. Somebody says to somebody else, “Whoa, that report was right, we haven’t pub’d anybody black in *years.* What do we do?” Somebody else
15. says, “Yeah, but we can’t just pub *any* black writers. That’s quotas. Quality!” “Oh, I know! We’ll invite [“name” black writers].”
16. That’s how it happens, see. There Can Be Only A Few. The defense-against-diversity attack spell has more names in it now. A *few* more.
17. The front gates are still shut, see. You’re just letting a few more exceptions in the side door.
Do non-white writers consider the SFF magazine market to be the only way to become a published SFF author? Surely not. Doesn’t the indie market, for example, exist as one way among many to open those floodgates, permanently?
Jemisin’s descent into conspiracy notwithstanding, lamenting the paucity of diversity is not a particularly new thought shared by the liberal SFF writerly set amongst themselves. Beyond the flawed tally of white versus non-white writers within the specific niche of SFF magazines, it is instructive that liberal non-white SFF writers view the push for Diversity in their field as tokenism and not as a serious attempt to integrate the current crop of established authors – whatever the hell that’s supposed to accomplish.
The problem with this approach, however, is that one still relies on tallies and quotas of authors and writers by ethnicity, race and/or skin color. However one quantifies Diversity here, relying on melanin count seems counterintuitive and, ultimately, irrelevant to the average reader of SFF.
As Chris Nuttall pointed out in his own blog response to The Verge article, how often do SFF magazine editors check to see if the author of a submission is non-white? More to the point, how often do SFF magazine editors only publish stories by certain authors because of their race and/or skin color?
In her Tweetstorm, Jemisin referenced an article called “Decolonise, not Diversify” by Kavita Bhanot, published late last year. It’s an astounding exercise in logical leaps and assumptions, and again, it emphasizes that any current drive to diversify the current stable of published SFF writers by race/ethnicity is a futile exercise in tokenism. Bhanot writes:
Who are the ‘people’ who are curious about the community that Sharma is writing about, allowing him to ‘benefit’ from his ethnicity? Certainly not the community he is writing about. It is clear in what Sharma says, who his work is directed towards, who he writes for. ‘People’ here equals white people. So much of our writing consciously or unconsciously reproduces this assumption, and subtly reveals internalised white supremacy.
Jemisin echoes this claim with,
20. Decolonization asks, “What are you (markets) doing wrong that black ppl don’t want to submit stories to you? Fix *that* first.”
21. And start with your assumptions that only a few *can* write up to your standards. ‘Cause that’s a f-ing problem.
In a similar vein, Phenderson Djèlí Clark writes,
The burden of change here is on SFF markets not on black writers. I repeat, the burden of change is on SFF markets not black writers. Don’t tell black people to open up their own SFF markets. Don’t say, “well you guys gotta submit more.” If SFF markets want diverse stories, they’re going to have to do more than simply state it and then wait patiently for it to happen. Words and intentions are nice. But without concerted action there’s not going to be much change. SFF markets are going to have to take part in engaged activism to bring in black writers, to increase the submissions of black writers and to publish more black writers. It ain’t gonna happen by osmosis.
But what does he mean when says “engaged activism”? Will this include forsaking the overall quality of a single magazine volume by concentrating more on marketing their magazine to non-white SFF writers and readers? Increasing one’s readership is a worthy goal, but at what cost? As a niche market, who is the target audience of each SFF magazine, and what does increasing submissions by non-white writers entail for that publication’s editors?
How does including non-white editors on one’s mag staff, a point that Jemisin and Clark both explicitly support, guarantee that the ethnic and cultural nuances shine in one’s work – especially if promulgated by a writer who happens to be white? Does this stab at editorial inclusiveness connect the reader to the story and get the writer out of the way so that the reader can engage the work?
Have Jemisin, Bhanot and Clark considered the sociological, not to mention the social, implications of their superficial opinions on diversifying SFF? I have to wonder.
Obviously I disagree, strongly, with many of their conclusions, and I question whether their well-intentioned solutions will actually increase the number of non-white writers willing to submit their work to SFF mags and publishers in general. I do not consider it a negative if non-white writers self-publish their work in their own created spaces. It is both amusing and puzzling that the Publishing Establishment, already liberal, is still viewed as too segregated by some of its own members and too entrenched in its ways to become more diverse. Keep in mind that conservative and libertarian authors are such an outlier that they are not even considered a legitimate demographic by the publishing houses’ gatekeepers and pseudo-analysts. Thus, in policing themselves, and aghast that they’re still found wanting, the ensuing hyperventilating by its more vocal (non-white!) members are cause for the average SFF reader to wonder what the fuss is all about. Or to drink and laugh. Or both. Take your pick.
Many of us SFF readers and indie-published SFF writers are so passionate about the field that we’ve tossed off the burdensome entry requirements imposed by the Publishing Establishment and thrown ourselves into the fray. As mentioned earlier, the indie market has thrown the publishing gates wide open, and whether the Establishment wants to admit it or not, we are here to stay.
Do we care about the skin color of our fellow writers and readers? No – it has no bearing on the stories we read and enjoy. It has no bearing on the stories we write, unless as an inspiration or motivation. Whether the current drive for Diversity will bear the fruit desired by its proponents or vindicate our belief that it’s a non-issue depends on whether the self-appointed gatekeepers will realize that their dictates are being disagreed with by SFF fans like you and me, or outright ignored and dismissed.
But they’re our betters, see – especially us non-white SFF readers who don’t care about tokenism, diversity, or today’s flavor of identity politics. Surely we’ll eventually understand that they’re only looking out for our best interests – or not.