How Not to Respond to Accusations of Racism, WFC Edition

Content warning for racist advertisements, used as examples.

Oh, Darrel Schweitzer, no.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when Sarah Pinsker pointed out a number of problems with WFC’s proposed programming track? I blogged about it here, and a number of other people weighed in as well. Some of the many complaints included:

  • “Spicy Oriental Zeppelin Stories” as a title for a panel about “unlikely aerial fantastic fiction.”
  • “Little to no acknowledgement of any recent writing in the genre,” per Foz Meadows.
  • Schweitzer’s choice to ignore the feedback he received before the program was published.
  • A panel about “perversely alluring freaks.”
  • The heavy emphasis on dead white men, to the exclusion of so many others.

Well, Schweitzer and a few of his friends have stepped up to set the record straight. It started when Chet Williamson posted on Facebook that “Spicy Oriental Zeppelin Stories,” as a phrase, “is not a racist creation by Darrell Schweitzer.” Despite Google not finding any reference to this phrase, except from Schweitzer himself, Williamson found a painting by Jerome Rozen that used the title in question.

Fair enough. Williamson is correct that this proves Schweitzer did not invent the phrase. Williamson also points out that this supports Schweitzer’s claim of the phrase being “an old in-joke among pulp fans.”

While it’s nice to know Schweitzer didn’t pull that title out of his ass, Williamson’s post misses the bigger problem. This is the World Fantasy Convention, not the Old Pulp Fans Convention. The fact that this may have been an in-joke among a small subset of fandom does not make it an appropriate title at a convention supposedly trying to be about a celebration of worldwide fantasy. Especially since nothing in the panel description justified or indicated any reason for that specific title.

“But there really were ‘Oriental Stories’ and ‘Spicy Zeppelin’ pulp magazines back in the 50s! Why do you want to censor history?”

Nobody, anywhere, is saying we should erase history or pretend these magazines didn’t exist. Just like nobody’s saying we should pretend other forms of racism never happened. But just because ads like these used to be commonplace…

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…doesn’t mean we should post them on the convention walls!

Likewise, just because “Spicy Oriental Zeppelin Stories” was the kind of thing tossed about in the 50s by some fans doesn’t mean we should use it as a panel title in 2016. Especially when said panel, instead of being a discussion about the racism and exoticizing of the past, instead seems to be a celebration of it.

Surprising nobody, Darrell has dismissed people’s anger as “the howls by a few PC ignorami,” complete with supportive comments by mostly white people explaining why everyone else is wrong to be offended. (Note: that Facebook link may not work for everyone.)

So basically, after it was pointed out that Schweitzer’s programming was heavily dominated by old/dead white authors and mostly excluded women, PoC, and works written in the past 30 years, as well as including casual racism and ablism, the defense here is that that one panel title — the title the convention has already changed — was actually okay because it’s a joke from 30 or 40 years ago?

Commenters filled in the rest of the BINGO card with references to the “perpetually outraged,” insistence that Darrell is “one of the good guys” and totally not racist, and pointing to some people of Asian descent who were completely fine with the word “oriental” because they didn’t say anything to some white dude about it.

Here’s Darrell’s full comment I referenced a few paragraphs ago:

“I want to add that despite the howls by a few PC ignorami, the World Fantasy Convention isn’t like that, and is still worth attending. There are a lot of smart and friendly people there. If you encounter the outrage junkies, just ignore them. I hope you will attend. I am chair of programming and confident I have something good in store for you.”

At last, something upon which we can agree. Not in his characterization of the “PC ignorami,” but in his recognition that no, the WFC really isn’t like that. It’s not about trying to be inclusive. It’s not in touch with the amazing fantasy authors working today, or the incredible new works those authors are producing. It’s not interested in authors of color or authors who aren’t men. Darrell Schweitzer’s WFC has no desire to be more welcoming.

If you, like Schweitzer, are interested in clinging desperately to the past, ignoring the present and the future, and pretending Lovecraft is the pinnacle of fantasy literature, then Schweitzer probably does have something good in store for you.

Maybe Darrell Schweitzer is a good guy. I don’t know him. All I have to go by are his choices and his words. His choices in putting this program together suggest he’s got his own narrow interests — which isn’t a problem — but that he’s not willing to try to look beyond them to create a program worthy of the World Fantasy Convention. And his words suggest he doesn’t give a shit about who he hurts and who he excludes.

The fantasy genre is better than this. I hope that one day, the World Fantasy Convention will be better as well.