Yesterday afternoon, Twitter called my attention to the following comment on a listserv of SF/F conrunners:
“Instead of insulting us, [Hines] could be using whatever influence he has in social media to help recruit more PoC into our circles. They need to know they’d probably be much more welcome here than they might be elsewhere. (After all, many of us would love to befriend extra terrestrials or anthromorphs.)”
I’m told that others on the listserv quickly pointed out how messed-up it was to compare people of color to aliens and monsters, and that the individual apologized, so I don’t want to spend much time rehashing that part of the comment. I doubt it was deliberately intended to be racist or offensive. But I think it’s worth emphasizing that this kind of unintentional and unthinking hurtfulness is, in my opinion, a big part of our problem.
I did post a snarky and sarcastic comment on Twitter in response to that “recruiting” comment:
Knock, knock. “Hello, I’ve come to spread the good news about fandom, where we love aliens, monsters, and even PoC!”
For the record, I consider myself part of fandom. I love our community. I love the friends I’ve made here. I love this part of my life. But I’m not going to ignore the serious problems we continue to struggle with when it comes to sexism and racism and inclusiveness and so on. And when individuals made racist remarks, or conventions botch their handling of sexual harassment, or another convention chair congratulates themselves on their “colorblindness” when their convention is 97% white, I’m going to keep pointing that out.
On Twitter, I was accused of driving people from SF/F fandom, and making our community look bad. I admit to being rather baffled by this. I thought things like conrunners making ignorant racist remarks were what made the rest of us look bad, not the acknowledgement and criticism of such remarks.
This bugs me a lot. It resonates with the dynamics I’ve seen in abusive families, where the most serious crime isn’t the abuse, but talking about the abuse outside of the family. So yeah, this hits a big old button for me.
Then there’s the complaint that I’m not using my “influence” to recruit other groups into fandom. Which got me thinking more seriously about the suggestion that hey, maybe I should work to try bring more diverse fans into fandom.
I’m sorry, but what the hell do you think I’ve been trying to do???
There are a lot of ways to try to make fandom and conventions more welcoming, and to try to encourage others to join our community. Which do you think is actually going to make people feel wanted — comparing them to aliens and monsters, or publicly denouncing the people who make such ignorant and hurtful remarks? You’ve got voices in fandom saying black people don’t come to cons because those people don’t like SF/F. Then you’ve got voices in fandom saying, “That’s racist bullshit, we don’t all believe that, and we as a community need to do better.”
I know which category I’d prefer to belong to.
Some of the ways I see to try to build a more welcoming community include:
- Listening to people who feel excluded or unwelcome, and acknowledging their experiences.
- Challenging racist and sexist statements. Even the “unintentional” ones. Both online and in person.
- Encouraging conventions to take steps to be more actively welcoming and inclusive and safe.
- Examining my own racism, sexism, homophobia, and general ignorance, and trying to learn to do better.
- Acknowledging when I screw up.
- Publicly acknowledging and applauding the conventions and people who get it right. (Example: Readercon’s follow-up to their sexual harassment screw-up. Yes, the initial response was a mess. But their follow-up should be a model to conventions everywhere.)
- Using my platform as a moderately well-known fantasy author to encourage others to recognize and push back against sexism, racism, homophobia, and so on.
I’m not asking for cookies, and I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always get it right. I’ve messed up plenty of times. But yeah, my goal is, in fact, to make fandom a more welcoming place, and help it become a community that a broader range of people will choose to be a part of. Not by going door-to-door so I can drag a token black woman to my local con, but by trying to address the underlying problems making so many people feel unwelcome.
You know what isn’t going to encourage people to be a part of fandom?
- Pretending we don’t have any problems, and that things like our “colorblindness” and “genderblindness” have resulted in a utopia where all groups feel welcome.
- Using our own privileged experiences to invalidate the lived experiences of others. (“Well, as a 39-year-old white dude, I haven’t experienced any sexism or racism in fandom…)
- Continuing to make the same mistakes again and again. (How many times do we have to talk about conventions failing to address accessibility or create harassment policies?)
- Reacting to criticism with an aggressively defensive “Us vs. Them” response.
- Worrying more about burying/denying/minimizing evidence of racism or sexism or harassment than about the fact that these things keep happening in the first place.
- Dismissing criticism as ignorance and maliciousness (which provides a convenient excuse to ignore said criticism).
- Pointing to what progress we’ve made to shut down discussion of the work we still have to do.
I’m rather fond of this quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.“
There are a lot of good people trying to make fandom a better and more welcoming place. Some of them are on that listserv I mentioned in the beginning, where I’m told there has been some good and productive conversation lately. I’ve worked with some great people at cons and on panels. I’ve linked to some of them online. These are folks I believe are working to bring a broader range of people into fandom. Not by dragging or ordering them to attend, but by trying to acknowledge and fix our flaws, and to reshape fandom into a thing more people yearn to be a part of.