Are Racism, Sexism, Etc. Still a Problem These Days?

One of the challenges that comes up pretty regularly in conversations about diversity and inclusiveness in SF/F is, “Show me where someone has been told they can’t be a part of fandom because of their race/gender/sexuality/etc.”

The underlying assumptions seem to be that:

  1. There aren’t any such examples, and therefore–
  2. All of this talk about the need for diversity is a made-up problem blown completely out of proportion by a handful of oversensitive souls looking for something to be offended by and/or campaigning for Hugo awards.

I could point to examples of explicit attempts at exclusion, like “Its bitches like you that are ruining SF. Why cant you leave it to men who know what their doing?” But what would that prove? Usually such examples just result in moving the goal posts. People will acknowledge that sure, there are a few cavemen and trolls out there, but go on to explain that most of SF/F is better than that, so why make such a big deal out of those rare and extreme outliers?

It’s true that I’ve rarely seen people explicitly, deliberately, and publicly saying, “Hey, we don’t want women in our genre” or “SF/F stories should only be about white heroes.” And that’s a good thing. Our society has finally reached the point that there can be serious social consequences for a convention that posted a “Whites only” sign at registration, or a publisher that said in their submission guidelines, “LGBT authors need not submit.”

The problem is that so many people think that’s all racism and sexism and homophobia and discrimination are — “Whites only” signs and lynchings and KKK rallies. As long as we don’t have any of those at a convention, what’s the problem? If an event doesn’t turn into Tailhook, then there’s nothing for women to complain about!

If that’s the foundation for your understanding of discrimination and inequality, then I can see how you’d be confused by ongoing conversations about the need to do better. I suspect this is why some people react to such conversations as if they’ve been personally attacked. When I point out that SF/F has a problem with inclusiveness, a fair number of people seem to hear, “The Genre Police are accusing me of being racist/sexist/homophobic/bigoted/etc, and that’s not true at all! Why, I love Martin Luther King, Junior, and I’ve never attended a KKK march!”

So let’s look at a few aspects of inequality and discrimination. Things that aren’t as blatant, and often aren’t deliberate or conscious at all … which makes them much easier to ignore, if you’re not one of the people being hurt. What follows are just a handful of the studies pointing out the larger, less obvious problems we continue to struggle with.

Blind Auditions and Sexism in Symphony Orchestras – “Traditionally, women have been underrepresented in American and European orchestras. Renowned conductors have asserted that female musicians have ‘smaller techniques,’ are more temperamental and are simply unsuitable for orchestras … Using data from the audition records, researchers found that blind auditions increased the probability that a woman would advance from preliminary rounds by 50 percent. The likelihood of a woman’s ultimate selection is increased several fold.”

In other words, judges were significantly more likely to reject a candidate if they knew she was female, based on nothing but the candidate’s gender. But I’d bet you every one of those judges would insist they were only trying to choose the best musicians, and they would be highly affronted if you dared to suggest they were sexist. I trust folks can see the parallels to all-male “Best of” anthologies or male-dominated awards ballots, not to mention editors who insist “They’re only looking for the best stories!”

Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care – “…a consistent body of research demonstrates significant variation in the rates of medical procedures by race, even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable. This research indicates that U.S. racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive even routine medical procedures and experience a lower quality of health services.”

I’m not aware of any hospitals or doctor’s offices that post “Whites only” signs, and yet we’re consistently giving poorer health care to non-white patients based on their race. But I’m sure most of those doctors and nurses would take great offense at the suggestion that they were acting in a racist way. They’d probably insist that they’re colorblind, treating all patients equally.

Gender and the Perception of Knowledge in Political Discussion – “…both men and women perceive women to be less knowledgeable about politics and men to be more knowledgeable, regardless of the actual level of knowledge each discussion partner holds.” Oh look, it’s the Fake Geek Girl thing all over again. How many of those men and women do you think would believe their perceptions were being filtered through a sexist lens?

Experience and Perception of Racial Discrimination – “When asked how much discrimination still exists against Blacks, only 10% of Whites said ‘a lot,’ while 57% of Blacks said ‘a lot’ … sixty-seven percent of Blacks described encountering discrimination and prejudice when applying for jobs, 50% reported incidents during shopping or dining out, and many stated that it was a common occurrence to hear derogatory racial comments.”

In other words, those of us who aren’t on the receiving end of discrimination have a much easier time minimizing it or pretending it’s no longer a problem.

Perception of Conversational Dominance – “…men (and to a lesser degree, women) perceive women as talking more than men when women talk only 30% of the time.  This phenomenon is not limited to Spender’s academic seminar data or to CMC, but rather is a feature of mixed-sex conversation in public settings more generally.”

This phenomenon of distorted perception seems particularly relevant to complaints about non-white/non-male/non-straight/etc. characters and authors “taking over the genre.”

I’m sure someone will point out that none of these studies are directly or specifically about SF/F and fandom, and that’s obviously true. They are, however, about people — about people’s perceptions and actions and biases, many of which are unconscious. Last I checked, SF/F and fandom were made up of people. And we do this stuff too.

Just look at Malinda Lo’s research — she drew on multiple sources to research LGBT representation, and found that, “Less than 1% of YA novels have LGBT characters.” There are accounts of agents and editors asking authors to “straighten” characters. Multiple reports of sexual harassment at conventions and throughout our community. Whitewashed cover art. Racist nastiness toward cosplayers. Gender-specific threats. And so much more that I’m not going to link to, because I could be here all day, and you’re just as capable of using Google as I am.

Twenty years ago, I would have told you I was a nice guy, utterly free of bigotry or prejudice. I would have been wrong. I grew up in this culture. I absorbed a lot of messed-up ideas and assumptions. It took years for me to start to recognize those, and even longer to work on changing them. I’m still doing that work. I probably always will be. I don’t believe that makes me a supervillain. I believe it makes me human.

We’ve got to stop thinking that this is all about mustache-twirling villains in black hats. Look at those studies I linked above. The researchers didn’t collect a sample of wife-beating, gay-bashing Nazis for their studies. These weren’t evil, hateful vindictive supervillains. They were ordinary, random people, most of whom would probably be shocked to learn that they treated others in unequal ways. They were people who had grown up absorbing the discriminatory attitudes and assumptions of their culture.

Very few of these people self-identify as bigots. Very few think of themselves as racist or sexist or homophobic or discriminatory. But they’re part of the problem.

And those people who choose not to see it, because nobody’s burning crosses at conventions or actively campaigning to kick all the women out of SFWA? Who read stories of harassment and discrimination, but dismiss them as people looking for attention? Or make excuses for the perpetrators? Or refuse to believe these things happen without notarized video submitted in triplicate with at least fifty witness signatures? Or who decry the backlash against bigotry as “lynch mobs” and “witch hunts”?

They’re part of the problem too.

“Gypsies” and Other Fantasy Beings

“…Romanies turn up with some frequency — never as charac­ters who happen incidentally also to be Gypsies, but because they are Gypsies, and because they serve a specific purpose. This purpose has, broadly speaking, three manifestations: the Gypsy as liar and thief either of property or (especially) of non-Romani children; the Gypsy as witch or caster of spells; and the Gypsy as romantic figure.”Ian Hancock


The SF/F genre has a particular fascination with “Gypsies.” Maybe it’s the romanticized freedom of the road, the independence of a people who reject the soul-shriveling laws of the civilized world to live however and wherever they choose. Maybe it’s the mysticism, the magic of old Romani women and their curses. Maybe it’s the sex appeal of eager young lasses and virile men. Or maybe it’s just the fashion sense, because scarves and sparklies are cool!

I’m sure most of us recognize that by now, this has become a pretty common trope, even a cliche, in the genre. But hey, they’re fun. They’re part of the history of our genre. And stories never hurt anyone! “Gypsies” are just another fantasy race, like elves and mermaids and dwarves, right? It’s not like we’re talking about real people with real cultures and histories. [/Sarcasm]

  • “The 1997 figure reported by the late Dr Sybil Milton, then senior historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Research Institute in Washington put the number of Romani lives lost by 1945 at ‘between a half and one and a half million.'” (Source)

Have you ever wondered where the term “gypped” came from? Let me put it this way. Saying you got gypped is right up there with saying you got “jewed,” based on the bigoted presumption that those people are all swindlers and cheats and thieves. But it’s not like those stereotypes cause any real harm or damage today, right?

  • “In the Czech Republic, 79% of respondents to a 2003-04 survey said they wouldn’t want Roma as neighbors.” (Source)
  • “[P]olice in Liguria gave out preprinted complaint templates for theft, which included a tickbox labelled ‘gypsies’ i.e. offering theft victims the chance to report Roma as the culprits. No other ethnicity was included on the form.” (Source)
  • Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni responded to a wave of violence against the Roma people with the quote, “That is what happens when Gypsies steal babies.” (Source)
  • Italy’s highest appeals court overthrew the conviction of six people for racially discriminatory propaganda, saying that their aversion to the Roma people, “was not determined by the Gypsy nature of the people discriminated against, but by the fact that all the Gypsies were thieves.” (Emphasis added; Source)

As long as we’re talking, how about a few more examples of prejudice and discrimination?
One of many "Sexy Gypsy" Halloween costumes.

  • “The European Court of Human Rights has affirmed that school segregation of Romani children (in schools for children with disabilities and in separate schools or classes in mainstream schools) constitutes illegal discrimination in judgments against the Czech Republic (2007), Greece (2008) and Croatia (2010). Despite these rulings, educational segregation of Romani children is systemic in many European countries.” (Source)
  • “The [Czech] government expressed its regret to Roma women who were sterilized without their consent but admitted the practice may still be taking place.” (Emphasis added; Source)
  • “[T]he Roma populations face considerable obstacles to the enjoyment of basic rights, notably in the fields of access to health care, housing, education and employment and are often disproportionately affected by poverty. Discrimination and racism, also resulting in violence, remain serious problems throughout the continent, and present a major impediment to the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” (Source)
  • Police recently removed a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl from the Roma family she was with. Because everyone knows those gypsies are child-stealers, right? “DNA tests have proved that a seven-year-old girl taken from a Roma family in Dublin on Monday is their daughter.” (Source)

Well, at least this kind of racism isn’t a problem here in the United States, right?

I’m not saying science fiction and fantasy is full of people who are actively trying to be racist, or deliberately working to continue the kind of hatred and violence and bigotry described above. I suspect a lot of us, especially in the U.S., barely give it a second thought.

We don’t even realize the term “gypsy” is offensive and/or distasteful to many, basically a racial slur.

Overt, deliberate, blatant racism tends to be easier to identify and denounce. I doubt most authors are deliberately trying to base their writing on racist stereotypes, any more than I think costume companies said, “Hey, the world doesn’t have enough racism or sexism yet, so let’s do another line of ‘Sexy Gypsy’ costumes!”

That doesn’t change the fact that we’re buying into the racism. As authors, we’re perpetuating it. We’re reinforcing the stereotypes and teaching our audience that this is what the Roma people are — that they’re magical, hypersexual thieves.

I remarked this past weekend that I love my SF/F geeks, but we’ve got some issues. Our complicitness in ignoring or erasing real people and replacing them with cliche and stereotype is one of them.

We need to do better.

SF/F’s “Colorblindness” and “Genderblindness” in a Single Photo

From time to time, I get a sudden flurry of comments or emails or Tweets (or all of the above) that let me know someone has stumbled onto an old blog post or comment I made, and has decided to tell their friends how Wrong I am about … well, whatever they think I was talking about.

In this case, it’s a comment I made on Twitter two weeks ago, after coming across a photo taken by Kevin Standlee. The pic was captioned as “The annual gathering of past, current, and future Worldcon chairs held at Chicon 7, 2012.

It’s a wonderful picture, and it’s amazing to think of the history gathered together in that room. But as soon as I looked at it, I was struck by the following thought:

I hear people talk about how welcoming fandom is, how the SF/F community accepts everyone, and then I look at this snapshot of our history, and I’m struck by how overwhelmingly white it is, and how the men significantly outnumber the women.

As I said in my very next Tweet, I have nothing but respect and gratitude for the men and women who’ve volunteered to do a tremendous amount of work putting these conventions together. Yet I look at that picture, and … damn, you know?

From the sudden influx of outrage, I’m guessing someone stumbled onto my comment about 48 hours ago, and was Very Upset. Most Upset Indeed!

I’ve broken the incoming unhappiness into four categories, with my thoughts on each.

1. “What about your Best Fan Writer Hugo award that you TOTALLY STOLE with your campaigning, making that category even whiter and manlier than it was before, huh???”

I paraphrased slightly, but that’s basically the first email I saw in my inbox when I got up yesterday morning. I believe the appropriate Internet-style response is, U MAD, BRO? 😉

(ETA: Which is not to say that the lack of diversity in the Best Fan Writer category is not a problem. It is, as I’ve talked about before.)

2. “Maybe women and people of color just don’t want to be Worldcon chairs.”

Similarly, another person talked about how PoC have more important things to worry about, and talked about the “logistics,” emphasizing that running a Worldcon required a lot of time and money.

Um … okay. Do I need to spell out the underlying assumptions about time and money here, or the racism that walks hand in hand with them?

This is also a variant of an argument we’ve heard again and again. “We’d publish more SF by women if more women would bother to submit.” “We’d love to have more non-white panelists, but they just don’t come to the convention.” “If people want to make the genre more diverse, then those people need to stop waiting for someone else to do the work; they should jump in and get involved and make it happen.”

While I’m sure this isn’t what people intend, what I hear in these arguments is that we’ve created a community that isn’t particularly welcoming to nonwhite and nonmale fans and readers and authors.[1. See also, “Fake Geek Girls,” whitewashed cover art, sexist cover poses, the disproportionate number of white, male authors who get reviewed, and a whole host of other statistics and examples.] But working to change that community would be uncomfortable, so we’re not going to do it. We’re already here. Why should we care about making you feel welcome?

You say “those people” don’t want to be a part of this community. I ask why someone would put their time and effort and money and sweat into a community that doesn’t want them.

3. “You don’t understand how Worldcons work!”

Not as well as someone who’s actually run one, no. It would be arrogant as hell for me to claim otherwise.

I do know the cons are run by volunteers. That different groups bid to host them, meaning there is no unified, unchanging Worldcon Committee. I know they’re a hell of a lot of hard work. I know the World Science Fiction Society constitution, rules, and meeting minutes are posted here, and go into a lot more detail about the rules of Worldcon and the Hugos.

I’ll happily admit that I haven’t read every page of those rules, and there are certainly people who know more about how Worldcons work. But then, I wasn’t commenting on the process. I was commenting on the results.

4. “Nobody is telling women and PoC that they can’t run Worldcon or attend conventions or be part of fandom, so your charges of sexism and racism are unfair and spurious.”

This is a very narrow understanding of what racism and sexism are about. It comes up a lot, the idea that real racism and sexism has to be explicit and intentional and blatant. Making blacks sit at the back of the bus is racist. Refusing to let women vote is sexist. But nobody’s saying or doing those things, so we’re not sexist or racist! Yay, us!

You’re right, I’m not personally aware of any recent examples of people explicitly refusing to let women and PoC participate in the convention-planning and conrunning process. [2. I’m not saying it doesn’t or hasn’t happened; only that I’m not aware.]

But there are an awful lot of ways to discriminate against people without being obvious about it. There are ways to hurt people without intending to do so, or even realizing you’ve hurt them. You can tell someone they aren’t welcome here without ever saying a harsh word.

If you’re not the one being hurt, it’s easy to miss it. If you’re not the one being made to feel unwelcome, you may not realize it’s happening at all. But if you only recognize two states of existence, Blatant Racism/Sexism vs. Everything’s Just Fine And Dandy, with nothing in between, then you’re not listening to the voices of a lot of people you’re claiming are welcome in our community. And your refusal to listen is perpetuating the problem.

That’s what colorblindness and genderblindness look like in this context. It doesn’t mean everyone is equally welcome in our community, because they’re not. It means looking at a photograph dominated by white men, and refusing to see anything problematic in our history. It means twisting one rhetorical knot after another to try to justify why this isn’t a real problem, or if it is, it’s not our problem.

It is our problem. It’s my problem and yours. And it’s a problem we’re never going to solve if we can’t get past this knee-jerk defensiveness at the mere suggestion that our community might not be perfect.

Thoroughly Nonracist Nonsense

Synopsis: Weird Tales was planning to publish the first chapter of Victoria Foyt’s Saving the Pearls: Revealing Eden, a novel which editor Marvin Kaye described as a “Thoroughly Non-racist book,” calling it:

…a compelling view of a world that didn’t listen to the warnings of ecologists, and a world that has developed a reverse racism: blacks dominating and detesting not just whites, but latinos and albinos, the few that still survive of the latter are hunted down and slaughtered.[1. Kaye’s original post has since been yanked from the Weird Tales site.]

Revealing Eden is a science fiction novel, which is not what Weird Tales usually published. I.e., Kaye was going out of his way to promote this book, which is totally not racist.

Kaye condemned those who criticized the book as lacking in “wit, wisdom and depth of literary analysis to understand what they read.” I like to think of myself as someone who rolled reasonably well on those stats, so I figured I’d download the sample to my phone and give it a read.

Excerpts from the first chapter are indented. My thoughts are italicized.

EDEN JUMPED at the sound of approaching steps. They must not see.

Black people are “them.” There’s totally nothing racist about setting up a racial us vs. them dichotomy in the very first line of your book.

Eden shot to her feet, her heart racing, as a plump, dark-skinned lab assistant appeared on the other side of the partition. It was only Peach, who wasn’t as cruel as the rest of them.

From the fourth paragraph. Our heroine is named after the garden of paradise, while our heavy and not-quite-as-bad-as-the-rest black woman is named Peach. Totally not racist!

Had Peach forgotten that Eden’s skin only had a dark coating? Maybe she was passing, after all. Wouldn’t that be nice. Eden almost enjoyed pointing out the truth.

Eden wears totally-not-blackface both to protect her from the sun’s radiation and to make herself look beautiful. Also, Peach is apparently an idiot, despite being Eden’s supervisor.

In that quiet, treasured space, [Eden] allowed herself one small but true thought: I hate them.

To sum up so far, we have a white protagonist in a world where black people are cruel, idiot overlords, and she hates them. But maybe the author is going to do some clever and totally-not-racist inversion.

That bitch Ashina was now fifteen minutes late and Eden wanted to take her break. She glanced around the lab, hoping for a sign of the haughty Coal.

Black people are Coals. White people are Pearls. Also, the second Coal we meet is a haughty (uppity?) bitch.

Eden flinched. One of them was touching her. White-hot light exploded in her head. Before she knew it, she blurted out an incendiary racial slur.

“Get your hands off of me, you damn Coal!”

“Coal” is an incendiary racial slur … which our protagonist is constantly using in her narrative. Also, I’m a little curious why the author uses and defends the term in interviews. I’m sure there’s a totally-not-racist reason, though!


I only read the sample, so it’s possible that Foyt manages to use the reversal of traditional U.S. racial dynamics to produce an insightful and important work that goes beyond nasty, bullying, caricatured Coals and the brilliant-but-persecuted Pearls. But the first chapter that I read doesn’t move beyond these simplistic dynamics and one-dimensional portrayals of a heroic white girl in a world dominated by nasty, dull-witted blacks.

And that first chapter is what Marvin Kaye was going out of his way to showcase in Weird Tales, a magazine which had earned a place on the 2010 Hugo ballot under the leadership of former editor Ann VanderMeer. That is what Kaye defended as a Thoroughly Non-racist book.

I’m more than willing to grant that the author probably did not deliberately and intentionally set out to write a book based on racial caricatures and stereotypes, that she intended no offense when she hypersexualized black men or described Eden’s black love interest as a “beast man,” that her premise, which relies on Eden and her white father being smarter than all of the evil blacks, was not meant to be hurtful. I accept that she didn’t try to write a story which takes place in a world almost identical to the paranoid fear-rantings of a lifelong KKK loyalist. (“This is what will happen if you let them darkies take over!”)

If you choose an incredibly narrow definition of racism as intentional, deliberate, fully conscious harm, then an argument could be made for Kaye’s defense of the book.

It would be a very poor argument. And it’s yet another incredibly problematic example of a white man in a position of power standing up and lecturing people of color, in a most condescending fashion, about how they don’t understand what racism is, and that he is declaring this book officially Not Racist.

I see now that Kaye’s piece has been pulled, and the magazine is apologizing for any pain and offense it caused. Kaye is traveling and hasn’t responded yet. While I appreciate the apology from the higher-ups at Weird Tales, I remain highly disturbed that the editor ever thought this was in any way a good idea, that he was so supportive of this novel that he was going out of his way to defend  and support it … up until the Internet landed on his head.

I’m sure Marvin Kaye, like Victoria Foyt, had absolutely no intention of causing harm. But lack of intent doesn’t undo or negate the harm caused by ignorance, and Kaye’s actions have been harmful indeed.

ETA: And it sounds like Kaye and the publisher were told months ago that this was a bad idea. (From Jeff VanderMeer – also includes a screenshot of Kaye’s post.)

ETA x 2: N. K. Jemisin – This is how you destroy something beautiful

Facts II: Reality Strikes Back

This is a follow-up to my Facts Are Cool post, which was a follow-up to John Scalzi’s post on the SWM Setting in the Game of Life. Because sometimes blogging is all recursive and meta and stuff.

My post generated a fair amount of discussion, much of it thoughtful, some of it not so much. My favorite is the individual who tried to argue that the whole post was despicable because trying to attach morality to skin color (which isn’t what anyone was doing) caused the holocaust. Yeah, that comment got banhammered into next week. But there were other comments and arguments I wanted to respond to.

Don’t your facts show that straight/white/male culture is superior? Well, no. The facts are what they are. How you interpret those facts is another matter. You could try to use them to make an argument that straight white men are somehow superior to other groups, but I think that would be a poor argument.

For example, the fact that LGBT youth are up to seven times more likely to attempt suicide — if you think that’s because straight kids are inherently stronger than LGBT kids, as opposed to being due to bullying, threats, and hatred specifically directed at LGBT kids, then you’ve got your blinders on. Likewise, it’s rather absurd to argue that blacks receive longer jail sentences than whites for the same crimes, with the same criminal history and backgrounds, because whites are somehow superior.

Statistics and facts aren’t the be all and end all of the discussion. They’re one part of the discussion. However, it looks to me like the facts tend to support Scalzi’s argument about SWM being an easier setting, at least in my society.

Race is irrelevant. It’s all about class! Nobody said class wasn’t important. The fact that race, gender, and sexual orientation are all factors in the challenges people face (or don’t have to face) doesn’t mean they’re the only factors. Disability. Geography. Education. Lots of things intersect. Life is messy.

Asians have lower dropout rates and are more likely to earn a degree in four years. Shouldn’t we be talking about Asian privilege? The studies I cited showed that Asian/Pacific Islanders had slightly lower dropout rates (by .4%) and were slightly more likely to earn a degree in four years (by 3.5%). Of course, I also pointed out that Asian Americans were more likely to live in poverty (by 3.1%) and were severely underrepresented in Congress. Why the differences? I’m not entirely sure, but I’m going to repeat my previous point: a lot of things intersect. While racism against Asian Americans is still going strong, it’s not the only factor.

I don’t actually know what all of those factors are, but it’s something I plan to read up on and try to understand better.

By focusing on these things, you’re perpetuating the problem! We should be blind to race, gender, orientation, etc! You know what perpetuates a problem? Silence. Not talking about it. Turning our backs, plugging our ears, and pretending it doesn’t exist. As for ignoring race, gender, orientation … there’s a much larger conversation here, but in brief, these things are part of who we are. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations is a good thing, and I’d rather celebrate diversity than ignore it.

Finally, please read this post by Michelle Sagara: Please don’t tell me how I should feel oppressed, thanks. It’s powerful, and addresses a lot of the things that came up during the discussions, things like intersectionality and individual vs. shared experience.


And now, a few more facts. Because as we know, facts are cool.

A study of orchestra auditions found that “blind” auditions, with no way of identifying the gender of the musician, led to a 50% increase of a woman advancing through the preliminary rounds, and increased severalfold the chances of a woman being selected in the final round. To phrase it another way, when the people in charge knew the sex of the musician, they were more likely to favor men over women than when they had to judge by skill alone. (Orchestrating Impartiality. 2000.)

Black offenders spent a longer time in prison awaiting parole compared with white offenders, and the racial and ethnic differences are maintained net of legal and individual demographic and community characteristics.” Note: because the study was restricted to young men, the authors can’t say whether or not the results generalize to female prisoners. (The Role of Race and Ethnicity in Parole Decisions. 2008.)

In 29 states, it’s legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation. (The article refers to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. As of today, that act has not been passed.) (The Rights of Gay Employees. 2009.)

“The majority (73%) of family violence victims were female. Females were 84% of spouse abuse victims and 86% of victims of abuse at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend. While about three-fourths of the victims of family violence were female, about three-fourths of the persons who committed family violence were male.” (Family Violence Statistics from the U. S. Dept. of Justice. 2005.)

A study of how race is portrayed on prime-time TV for ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox found that “significantly more Latino (18%) and African American (9%) characters were portrayed as immoral compared to white (2%) characters … [and] significantly more Latino (18%) and black (9%) characters were viewed as despicable television characters, rather than admired ones, compared to white (3%) characters.” (The Portrayal of Racial Minorities on Prime Time Television. 2010.)

Looking at the world of books, Kate Hart did an in-depth study of YA book covers in 2011. 90% featured a white character. 1.4% featured a Latino/Latina character. 1.4% featured an Asian character. 1.2% featured a black character. 10% featured a character of ambiguous race/ethnicity. Compare that to the census numbers from my previous post: “In the total [U.S.] population, whites make up 66.0%, Hispanics are 15.1%, Blacks are 12.8%, APIA (Asian and Pacific Islander American) are 5.1%, and AIAN (American Indians and Alaskan Natives) are 1.2%.” (Uncovering YA Covers 2011.)

Facts are Cool

After reading John Scalzi’s post on SWM being the lowest difficulty setting in the game of life, and then reading the 800+ comments, I figured I’d join the crowd who decided to write a response. So I’ve dug up some information for those commenters who seemed to completely lose their minds…

I’ve done my best to find reliable, objective sources for all of the following information. Like Scalzi’s post, the following is focused on the United States, though the trends certainly aren’t exclusive to the U.S.

[B]lack males receive [prison] sentences that are approximately 10% longer than comparable white males with those at the top of the sentencing distribution facing even larger disparities.” –Racial Disparity in Federal Criminal Charging and Its Sentencing Consequences, 2012.

The ratio of women’s and men’s median annual earnings was 77.0 for full-time, year-round workers in 2009 … African American women earned on average only 61.9 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Hispanic women earned only 52.9 cents for each dollar earned by white men.” –The Gender Wage Gap: 2009.

Poverty rates in 2009, from Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States (2009).

  • For non-Hispanic Whites: 9.4%
  • For Asians: 12.5%
  • For Blacks: 25.3%

Hate Crimes in 2010, from the U. S. Department of Justice Hate Crime Statistics.

  • Race: 69.8% were motivated by anti-black bias, compared to 18.2% that stemmed from anti-white bias.
  • Religion: 65.4% were anti-Jewish and 13.2% were anti-Islamic.

At birth, the average life expectancy of a white baby in the United States is four years longer than the average life expectancy of a black baby. -U. S. Census Bureau, Life Expectancy by Sex, Age, and Race: 2008.

30.4% of Hispanics, 17% of blacks, and 9.9% of whites do not have health insurance.” –Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly 1 in 5 women in the United States has been raped in her lifetime (18.3%) … Approximately 1 in 71 men in the United States (1.4%) reported having been raped in his lifetime.” –National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2010).

Nearly 1 in 2 women (44.6%) and 1 in 5 men (22.2%) experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape at some point in their lives.” –National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2010).

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth “are nearly one and a half to seven times more likely than non-LGB youth to have reported attempting suicide.” Suicide Risk and Prevention for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth (2008).

39.3% of white first-time, full-time college students complete a degree within four years, compared to 20.4% of black students, 26.4% of Hispanic students, 42.8% of Asian/Pacific Islander students, and 18.8% for Native American students. –National Center for Education Statistics (2010).

The event dropout rate for white high school students in 2007-2008 was 2.8%, compared to 6.7% for black students, 6.0% for Hispanic, 2.4% for Asian/Pacific Islander, and 7.3% for Native American students. –National Center for Education Statistics.

U.S. population vs. representation in Congress. “In the total population, whites make up 66.0%, Hispanics are 15.1%, Blacks are 12.8%, APIA (Asian and Pacific Islander American) are 5.1%, and AIAN (American Indians and Alaskan Natives) are 1.2%. In Congress, whites make up 85.8%, Hispanics are 5.8%, Blacks are 7.5%, APIA are 1.7%, and AIAN are 0.2%. Men are 49% of the total population, while women are 51%. In Congress, men are 82% and women are 18%.” -Ragini Kathail, Race, Gender, and the US Congress (2009).

There are only four openly gay/lesbian members of Congress (0.7%).Congress gets 4th openly gay member (2011).


I could go on, but this seems like enough to present a glimpse of the playing field.

Now, if you say, “I don’t care about race/gender/orientation. I only look at the individual!” these are some of the things you’re looking away from.

If you say, “Why are you attacking straight white men?” then let me reiterate that I’m presenting facts and research. Are you suggesting that reality is attacking straight white men?

If you say, “But I’m a SWM and my life wasn’t easy,” I’ll tell you to take Remedial Logic. Nobody here or in Scalzi’s original post suggested otherwise.

If you say, “Women have it easier because they can use sex!” I’ll probably just ban you for being an idiot.

If you ask, “Well what do you want me to do about it?” then I’ll say I want you to be aware. I want you to recognize the problems. I want you to take some responsibility — not for historical injustices you weren’t personally a part of — but for trying to make this country better for everyone.

My Bigot-Sense is Tingling

Marvel Comics has revealed the identity of the new Ultimate Spider-Man: a half-black, half-Hispanic teen named Miles Morales.

For those of you who believe racism is dead, or that the geek community is somehow accepting and welcoming and open to all, read on…

Larry Doherty of Larry’s Comics responded with the following:

You can see more of Larry’s Tweets and comments at http://graphicpolicy.com/2011/08/01/the-comicmarket-problem/ if you’re feeling masochistic. But don’t worry. Despite his “nigga” Tweet and other comments, Larry assures us that he’s not racist, and these were simply good-natured jokes. (Why can’t you people take a joke?)

Bleeding Cool News rounded up some of the comments on the USA Today article about the new Spider-Man. Please keep in mind that these are comments that weren’t removed for being too offensive. Here are a few:

That’s just dangerous. With spider powers, just think how much stuff he could steal, if he was not so lazy.

What will he say when he runs into a criminal? “Sup Foo? Dis is MY ‘hood!”

Shame on Marvel Comics! This is not diversity; this is a disgrace! Spiderman was Peter Parker, and Peter Parker was white. Create a new character if you want to prove that Marvel Comics is “diverse”. Minorities are typically less than 18% of the population, but they seem to get nearly 100% of the history. Why should white children not have a comic book hero that they can identify with?

That’s right, Marvel comics! Where are all the white heroes? Shame on you for discriminating against us poor, underrepresented white people.

Though I admit I found, “I want to see his birth certificate” amusing.

Click here to read more, if you can stomach it.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated comments. There’s much more out there along similar lines.

Don’t tell me racism is dead. Don’t tell me people are overreacting, or that this shit is just “good-natured joking.” Don’t tell me how the geek community is so much more accepting.

And circling back to Larry’s Comics, does anyone have any recommendations for comics retailers that don’t encourage racism and general douchebaggery?

First World Problems and White Whines

A while ago, somebody on LiveJournal linked to White Whines, one of several sites which collects “first-world problems.” There are certainly some spoiled, privileged, and sometimes humorous posts collected here … but the whole concept bugged me.

Partly, I hate playing Competitive Problems. Yes, it’s important to keep perspective, and to recognize that there are others out there with far more serious problems than mine … but that doesn’t make my problems unimportant. Jay Lake talked about it a bit on his LiveJournal a few months back:

Friend: “Man, I feel lousy. I have a cold.”
Jay: “Man, that sucks. I hope you feel better soon.”
Friend: (embarrassed) “Oh, wait. You have cancer. Never mind.”

Because cancer is the trump card of Competitive Problems. (Okay, now I’m tempted to write the rules of this game. Diabetes gives me a +3 to complain about health problems, but I also lose one point per published book for any writing-related complaints…)

Where was I? Oh, right. What bothers me more than the “Ha ha, your problems aren’t real problems,” attitude (and I will admit I don’t have a ton of sympathy for some of the problems posted), is the whole concept of lableing these things “white people’s problems” and “first world problems.” As it turns out, “third world” isn’t actually shorthand for “Everyone is poor and starving and diseased and waiting for the west to swoop in and save them.” Here, have a few images from third world countries like India, South Africa, Brazil, and Tanzania.

I could write a long-winded post trying to unpack the various problematic assumptions here, but I decided to go a different route instead. Feel free to substitute “first world” and “third world” for white and PoC in my comments below.

Four more modified White Whine images behind the cut…


NewSouth’s “Cleaner” Edition of Twain

Quick announcement: Hey, guess who’s going to be Guest of Honor at Constellation in Nebraska this April!


Publishers Weekly recently reported on NewSouth, a small publisher which will be releasing a new edition of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in which all uses of the word “nigger” and “injun” have been changed.  It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened.  John Wallace released a similarly “cleansed” edition of Huck Finn two decades ago.

There’s a lot to unpack here.  Twain scholar Dr. Alan Gribben, who edited the NewSouth edition, lays out his rationale in the introduction (available online):

Far more controversial than this reuniting of Twain’s boy books will be the editor’s decision to eliminate two racial slurs that have increasingly formed a barrier to these works for teachers, students, and general readers. The editor thus hopes to introduce both books to a wider readership than they can currently enjoy.

In other words, he was worried because the books were already being banned from schools and elsewhere.  His primary goal isn’t necessarily to censor the book, but to circumvent banning by removing the primary point of contention.  He goes on to talk about his personal experiences reading the book, and the pain caused by the repeated and casual use of the word “nigger.”  (Side note: I’ve seen zero discussion of the word “injun” in this context, which bothers me.)

I sympathize with Gribben’s intentions.  And I think the discussion as to whether or not these stories are appropriate for the classroom is a good debate to have.  We can argue that the book provides an opportunity to have a painfully honest discussion about history and race and racism, but how many teachers are truly qualified to moderate such a discussion and make it a positive experience for all students?  I would trust very few of my high school English teachers to do a decent job.

That said, I don’t believe a “cleansed” edition of the book is the answer.  As an author, I don’t want someone else rewriting my books to make them more acceptable.  And Mark Twain isn’t just literature; he’s history.  I have strong misgivings about the way we revise history.  To learn from the past, we have to be willing to look at our flaws and failures, not erase them.

Gribben is passionate about Twain’s work.  My question for him is whether he believes the challenges to this book are appropriate.  If not, then why is he giving in to them?  If so — if schools are teaching these books to students who aren’t ready for them, or are presenting them in ways which are hurtful to students — then is the solution to present a bastardized edition of the text?

We don’t teach Ulysses to fifth graders because they’re not ready for it.  I don’t know exactly when students are ready to tackle the raw and painful racial issues in Twain, but I don’t believe glossing those issues over or pretending they don’t exist is the way to go.  There are so many wonderful, beautiful, powerful books out there … why is it so important that this one be pushed upon students before they’re ready?  Maybe this is a book better taught at the college level instead of high school or junior high.

As a writer, a parent, and a former teacher, I obviously have some strong feelings about all of this.  But like Gribben, I’m a white man up on my soap box about the use of “nigger” and “injun,” which is problematic for a number of reasons.  It’s easy for me to say we should keep those words in the book — neither I nor my family are the ones who’ve been hurt by them.  So if you’ve read this rather long post, then thank you … but please make sure my voice isn’t the only one you’re listening to.

Here are a few of the articles I read as I was trying to sort out my own thoughts and reaction:

Judging the Past Through the Lens of the Present

Today’s rant comes courtesy of debates about Robert Heinlein.  Tor.com has an ongoing discussion about Heinlein and his work, one which has spilled into Twitter and a number of blogs.  Stirring up the anger and ire: claims that Heinlein and/or his work is sexist (possibly racist as well?)

Responses to these claims range from the thoughtful to the religiously righteous.  Fair enough, as the initial accusations probably span that same range.  But I want to focus on two kinds of responses.

1. “[I]t is fallacious to judge deceased writers by the political fads and fashions of the modern era.”  I.e., it’s unfair to judge Heinlein, because his work is “a product of the time.”

Taking that train of thought further, is it unfair to judge the American colonists for the attempted genocide of the Native Americans, because that was just a product of the time?  Is it unfair to condemn slavery, because times were different back then?

Historical context is important.  It’s also good to recognize the lens through which we’re analyzing a text, whether that lens is political, theoretical, or whatever.  And I’m well aware that many countries view the United States’ attitudes toward racism and sexism as a bit wacky.  But to claim that just because your perspective is, like Heinlein’s, grounded in a particular time and culture, it’s therefore invalid and/or fallacious is … well, a little silly.

I can read Tarzan and recognize that views on race were different in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ time.  I can also argue that, given Tarzan’s casual murder of blacks in the jungle, and a text that treats these incidents in precisely the same way as the hunting of animals, there’s racism here.

Is the historical context different than if the book were written today?  Sure.  And I recognize that my own moral framework is far from perfect.  Does that mean I’m not allowed to feel disgust at Tarzan’s joy in killing “savages,” or to talk about the racism in that portrayal?  Give me a break.

2. Then there’s “How dare you call Heinlein sexist?”

There is a valid point here.  As an author, it makes me uncomfortable when people blur the work with the writer.  I’d hate to think of someone reading the goblin books and deciding Jim C. Hines is a closet cannibal, for example.  The work =/= the writer, and I think we need to be aware of that distinction.

Going back to Tarzan, it’s clear that Tarzan never considers blacks as human.  For much of the book, he doesn’t even view himself as human, for that matter.  This is the character’s attitude … but the text never questions this attitude.  Even after Tarzan learns of his own humanity, he never makes the connection that those dark-skinned beasts were people.  The text supports Tarzan’s view, and you can argue that this is due to racism on Burroughs’ part.

But there are those who’ll say “racist” or “sexist” are the nuclear option, nothing but insults intended to destroy the recipient.  If you dare utter those words, you aren’t interested in conversation or discussion; you’re just name-calling, trying to slander poor Burroughs.

…which makes it kind of difficult to talk about issues of race and gender and discrimination and so on.  But then, sometimes I think that’s the point: to shut down discussion.

If you want to examine the distinction between author and work, and to argue for one or the other, then great.  I love debating literature and exploring different interpretations.  On the other hand, if you’re just going to say “Hey, you called Heinlein the S-word!  You can’t do that!!!”, then to me, you’re simply announcing your unwillingness to discuss or listen.

Jim C. Hines