Quotas in the ToC

I came across a post yesterday telling folks who complain about the lack of gender/racial/etc. balance in anthologies and ‘zines to shut the hell up.  The author has since removed the post and apologized, but the whole thing got me thinking and trying to understand where this reaction comes from.

So imagine you’re a reader, and you’re enjoying your copy of The Year in Zombies, Volume XCVIII, when someone goes online and complains that of the 20 stories in that anthology, only 2 were written by women, and 19 of the authors are white.  Others join in the now-familiar chorus of racism and sexism. But … you were enjoying the anthology! The editor picked good stories!

I can understand feeling defensive.  If you like the book, does that mean these people are accusing you of being racist or sexist?  It probably feels that way.  You might start to wonder what they want to do to fix the problem.  How many women writers would it take to make this book acceptable? How many writers of color have to be added to quiet the anger?

But then, who gets cut out of the book? Does appeasing the anger mean removing that awesome steampunk zombie tale from Whitey McHairychest? Would we lose that delightful alternate history squid zombie story from Paleface Manlyparts?  More importantly, would these great stories be excluded from the book purely based on the race or gender of the author?  Not cool, angry internet mob!  We want good stories, period.  Choosing stories based on race, gender, sexuality, and so on is bull!

I agree.  But I think the problem is that we’re already choosing stories based on these factors–that we’ve been doing it for decades.  When I complain about the latest Mammoth Manthology of Manly SF, I’m not saying I want a quota system to ensure equal representation.  I’m saying I’m tired of the quota that already exists–the one that seems to require a majority of white men in so many ToCs.

Yes, editors should pick the best stories. But if some editors are consistently choosing stories by mostly white and/or male authors, what does this mean? Should we assume that women and nonwhite authors just aren’t good writers? Or does it mean these editors are deliberately and maliciously trying to keep the White Man in power?

I don’t buy either explanation. Sure, there are sexist idiots out there, but I believe most editors choose stories they enjoy, based on what they’ve read.

Looking at my own reading growing up, I read mostly books by white authors. I never deliberately tried to exclude nonwhite writers from my bookshelves; I just read what I was exposed to, and what I enjoyed. Good books all, and if you asked me who my favorite authors were, I’d have given you a list of mostly white folks.

It takes deliberate effort to read outside your learned comfort zone. It takes zero effort to sit back and perpetuate the trend of a certain privileged minority of writers dominating the genre.

If you tell me editors can only buy the stories that are submitted, and only white men are submitting to you for your project, then I’ve got to ask why that is. Places like Strange Horizons and Fantasy Magazine have made conscious efforts to broaden their range of authors, and that’s paid off. Why do you think these other authors are avoiding you and your publication?

I don’t see anyone asking for quotas. Nobody’s saying good stories by white men should be excluded in order to allow minorities into the table of contents. I think the anger comes when good stories by those authors continue to be excluded because some editors don’t make the effort to look beyond work by white men.

Discussion welcome, as always.