So, it's Martin Luther King week. And as such, it's an opportunity to discuss the topic of diversity in fiction. That's something I've had to stop and take a deep breath about before I started typing a bunch of words about. For once, I decided to think about something first... then type.
Once, in my youth, I took a college history class in which I had to, among other things, write a story from the POV of a young black girl in the south during Dr King's, I have a dream, speech.
Doing so was an opportunity for me watch the speech in its entirety for the first time, not just the famous part, and to do some research into the cultural and political scene of the country of the time. I interviewed an elderly gentleman that was a young man during the 60's, and told me his personal experiences. They horrified me to the core.
People are so mean. I couldn't understand how someone that went through so much suffering could still be such a well adjusted, happy man. For folks like me, people who most closely associate the world and its attitudes with the 80's going forward (despite living through most of the 70's, I don't think I had an awareness of much of the larger world until the 80's), it was a disturbing to think that the world was a radically different place only 20 years prior.
What happened, I think, is that white folks stood around, looked at each other, and said, "Well, I guess we don't get to racist anymore," and then carried on. And so the violent, aggressive, openly hostile acts of racism mostly stopped.
But just because you no longer have the freedom to tie a man to the bumper of your car and drag him down the road until he dies any longer, didn't change the underlying superiority complex a lot of people dealt with at the time. It just made racism a bit more... well, passive.
People who were denied education, training, access to information, whatever else you can imagine, were now told the world wasn't racist anymore, but that they didn't have the proper education, training, or experience to take on the jobs they were applying for. So, we have to give those jobs to white people now. Again, not racist, they swear it isn't.
And on and on it went. So today, when people look at diversity in SF&F it isn't just about race, it's about gender too. Well, it turns out that SF&F has traditionally been a equal opportunity discriminator. It used to be the case that a woman wanting to write in genre had write under a male pen name to be taken seriously. James Tiptree jr, for example, one of the greatest SF writers of all time, was, after all, secretly, a lady named Alice.
I, for one, and happy that all that is behind us. And as I've always considered myself a pretty forward thinking fella. I guess that means you'd be able to see that in my reading choices too. To prove it, I took a picture of my tbr pile here in my office.
Aside for a few things there, it's mostly books I'm intending to read*. The LOTR dvd's are there because my wife put them there, no explanation given. The graphic novels are mostly already read. But the books there, that's what I wanted to look at. How many there are written by minorities and women?
Well, I took some numbers down. Here they are:
Number of books: 102
Fiction Books: 95
SF&F Books: 92
Number of SF&F Books Written by Women: 5
Huh... That doesn't speak so well to me, does it? It's long since been discussed that the SF&F community is underrepresented by women and minorities. But this is stunning. I pulled one of those books off my shelf because the author had initials listed as their author name, and I wasn't sure of the gender. I saw the photo here on the back page.
So, I guess it's probably not a woman. Unless the cat wrote the book, and the man is just there because he had to hold the cat.
So, as a reader, it's up to me to seek out a more diverse set of authors to read from. I will read more. I've heard amazing things about Nnedi Okarafor, Samuel Delany, and the deceased Octavia E. Butler.
As a writer, I pledge to do better. To make sure my characters are more diverse. Because the whole world isn't a bunch of middle aged white dudes. And that means not just making someone as a stand in for a whole ethnic community either, I mean to have characters that are well rounded individuals that just happen to not be white dudes. I need to start expanding those horizons, so to speak.
The complaint I've heard, and disheartens me the most, is that some US minorities have dismissed SF&F out of hand because it's perceived as a white man's club. Who knows what child that could have been of of the great contributors of all time to the field decided that they weren't allowed to because it was a place they weren't welcome.
*In my defense, my kindle tbr pile is much better. That the bulk of my physical books are from traditional publishers, and mostly from the big 5, probably has something to do with that disparity. Although I still take it upon myself as being ultimately responsible for what I read.