It’s like trying to find Waldo

Happened across a post yesterday about the Center for the Study of Science Fiction’s summer workshops for short story and novel writers. The short story workshop is mainly taught by James Gunn. The workshop group is collectively called the “Young Guns”. Now, take a look at the pictures on the workshop’s website. Notice something? (I mean, other than the fact that the majority of the people do not qualify for the label of ‘Young’.)

26 Responses

  1. Do people think that Black people – or other people of color, for that matter – just aren’t interested in sci-fi? Or are they just not interested in us?

  2. What’s up with that?

    Angel, us white folk don’t normally think about it at all. That those pictures aren’t inviting you in would completely surprise them.

    It would be an interesting exercise to Photoshop all those people black and see how many whites sign up, though.

    Hope this doesn’t double up. I got an error the first time.

  3. I would ask two questions here:

    1) Are you saying that there aren’t enough black people in science fiction or are you saying that this particular workshop is biased? (or both?)

    2) If the latter, I would then ask how this particular workshop chooses its classmates. Aren’t most of them via email/snailmail manuscript submissions, and doesn’t that remove or at least minimize the race issue? (E.g. it is difficult to tell someone’s race by their name.)

    Just my white-ass $0.02.

  4. I think she was just making an observation.

  5. No Matt, what I’m saying is: Damn, those Young Guns are the Whitest Whites that ever Whited.

    What I’m saying is: How is it that in the past 5 years of this workshop there have been nothing but white participants? That indicates to me that the workshop isn’t actively seeking out writers of color. It isn’t a question of letting writers in because they’re non-white, but by soliciting a reasonable number of applicants who are non-white, they’re bound to accept some. That’s what Clarion does.

    I was reading something by Chip Delany – probably one of the letters in “On Writing” – where he talked about teaching workshops. Whenever he participates as a pro/teacher he always asks if the workshop has done all it can to attract students of color. Making sure they know about it, for one thing, and indicating that folks of color are encouraged to apply and will be welcome in the workshop.

    A thing that many people don’t understand is that sometimes folks of color need to be told this stuff because, to us, it isn’t a given.

    What I’m saying is: Looking at those pictures I certainly don’t feel that workshop is incredibly inclusive. I don’t feel like that is a place I want to go, no matter the benefits.

    That’s probably not your reaction. But I invite you to think about why that might be.

  6. Angel, us white folk don’t normally think about it at all. That those pictures aren’t inviting you in would completely surprise them.

    And that’s a problem. That goes back to the issue of white privilege. As a beneficiary…

    *[You] can if [you] wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

    *[You] can go home from most meetings of organizations [you] belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.

    *[You] can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, [you] can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.

    *[Your] culture gives [you] little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.

    *[You] can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.

    By the way, I’m using “you” in the general sense.

  7. Tempest, you say, “A thing that many people don’t understand is that sometimes folks of color need to be told this stuff because, to us, it isn’t a given.”

    Again, this is my ignorant, privileged, white-ass talking, but I’m Jewish, which is perhaps not as obviously a minority target as being Black (for one thing, no one knows my birth faith when I enter a room), but — I’m not asking the workshop to reach out to Jews before I consider joining them. (I admit, if everyone had a giant cross and it was based in Alabama I might have reservations — but then again I went to college in the Bible Belt and was asked repeatedly on my way to classes if I knew what Jesus did for ME. It made me have occasional reservations about revealing my faith.)

    Anyway, why is it important for this workshop to reach out to people of color as opposed to (or included with) reaching out to all people interested in SF? The general assumption here, I think, is that people of color are less likely to hear about it on their own, is this correct?

    Apologies in advance for my level of ignorance of these issues.

  8. “Hey everyone, I’ve noticed something about this community. There aren’t any people of color here. I’m not saying or implying that this community is hostile to people of color or that anyone here is racist or wants this community to be exclusive to white people. But I think diverse communities – especially those with explicit common goals (e.g. sci-fi writing) are more vibrant and effective than homogenous communities. So next year, instead of not thinking about this or just hoping that we end up with a diverse group, could we take a few simple steps (as simple as a handful of google searches) to make sure we advertise our endeavors to a diverse group of people?”

    it’s the least anyone SHOULD do, it’s not that hard, and it matters.

    M.Kressel – i think of it this way, if you’ll indulge me: what if, through circumstances beyond our control or knowledge, people of color who are interested in sci-fi are not being reached by the current information infrastructure? what if? why not try? why not make a good-faith effort to make sure that people of color with sci-fi interests are reached? why not put yourself (general “you”) in a position to say, with more certainty, that you tried? also, what if i’m right (in this example)? what if, next year, the community is more diverse, and in turn, more vibrant? aren’t the cumulative effects of definitively reaching more people worth the effort? isn’t the potential return on the simple efforts worth trying? that’s how i try to see issues like this.

  9. It’s only important for workshops to reach out to writers of color if they wish to include writers of color in the workshop. If they don’t wish to include, then they won’t worry about it. If they do wish to include, they will worry about it. And since this is not 1963 and there don’t appear to be any preople of color in those photos at all, I can only assume they don’t really want any people of color to show up. they may not actively try to keep them out, but it doesn’t seem like they care too much to make any of them feel welcome.

    Though you are Jewish, Matt, I’m sure there is nothing uncomfortable about walking into a room full of white people for you. It doesn’t make you uneasy. You probably don’t even notice that it IS a room full of white people. To you, it’s just people. Not so for everyone.

    Add to that any perception that said room full of white people tends toward sexism, say, or racism; but not crazy, full-on KK racism, but the kind of subtle, social racism we often talk about here. Why would I go into that room? Someone had better give me a good reason.

    Also, you say ‘reach out to all people who love sf’ as if that’s easy or something. tell me, how many black SF fans do you know? I bet you can count them on your fingers, maybe fingers and toes. When you go to cons, is it really, really easy to know who every black person is at the con by the end of the first day? Yeah. Now, would it surprise you to know there are TONS of black SF fans you have no clue about? They don’t go to cons, they don’t hang out on the major message boards, if they have LJs, they aren’t in the communities that most white SF fans populate. They even have their own con.

    Why? Because they do not feel that the SF community at large is a very inclusive one. (and they wouldn’t be wrong) Between all the whitey mcwhite protagonists in books, movies, and TV and the heinlein coloreds walking right behind them, it’s really not a stretch to feel the SF community isn’t really all that interested in people of color.

    If a workshop is really interested in reaching out to *all* people interested in SF, then they have to make sure they post information about it where *all* SF readers might find it. And that sometimes means making a particular effort to find where the writers of color are because, as I said, it’s not always in the obvious places.

  10. Well, for Sybil’s, I tried to post information about it in every venue I knew of or could find via google. I’m sure there are many places I missed. If there are one or more venues where I can appeal to a broader spectrum of writers for the next issue, I’m all for it. Point me in the right direction.

  11. I have to tell you, when I was an english teacher, I tried very hard to get my African American students to acquire a taste for Science Fiction. The absolute truth is that the pervading youth culture and whatever else is going on in these kids’ lives is telling them that sci-fi is ‘cooorrrrn-y’ and ‘gay’. (That’s what they said to me, consistently.) They don’t seem to have any interest in anything but sports, romance and gangsta stuff because the African American community, with which I’m in contact daily, is not trying very hard to open them to other venues of entertainment nor genres of literature. Someone in your community needs to admit that sometimes, just sometimes, Black children’s parents aren’t trying hard enough to get them to think about ‘other stuff’. This is not because they’re Black, really – it’s because the media has successfully begun the process of putting those Amerikan-style blinders on the African American community. This has the effect of keeping people in a certain small place. It’s certainly worked on white people. However, sci-fi was already a staple by the time the media acquired the kind of intellectually numbing power it has today. Big commercial media has begun its work on African Americans, and they most of all cannot afford this. African Americans succeeded best when they were aggressive about encountering new things and busted through. Feeling shy because most of the existing audience someplace is white isn’t going to help bust the block. If you’re going to assume you’re unwelcome you’re always going to think you’re unwelcome.

  12. “If you’re going to assume you’re unwelcome you’re always going to think you’re unwelcome”?? It’s not at all the same thing, but I work in a job where occasionally I walk into a room for a meeting and I’m the only woman present. And you *are* unwelcome, because up till that moment all the men haven’t noticed that they were all ‘men’, they thought they were all ‘people’. And now they have to wonder, where are the women, and why weren’t there any women here before…

    It’s not the responsibility of the woman to educate the men; it’s not the responsibility of the angry black woman to educate the white guys. You see you’re part of a monoculture and you go “hey, what happened?”

    And do something about it.

  13. What Wendy said.

    And also, who the hell said I was ‘shy’? You seem to be a white person, so I’ll go ahead and assume that for now. And I’ll say to you what i said to Matt: You do not know what it feels like, as a person of color, to walk into a room full of white people. So don’t even try to belittle my experience by reducing it to ‘shyness’. Anyone who knows me knows I ain’t shy. It doesn’t mean I’m always comfortable.

    And, you know what, my assumptions about not being welcome someplace are usually spot on because they’re based on experience. It’s really easy to read people when they’re blatant about how they are, too. Would you purposefully walk into the middle of a fist fight just so someone somewhere wouldn’t call you shy?

    Goddamn, that’s just a dumb statement to make.

    And furthermore (!) there are deeper reasons for black people (or any people of color) not to like SF. They may not be able to articulate them all the time (or they may not want to articulate them to YOU) but a lot of it has to do with us just not seeing ourselves reflected in most SF. When your students say SF is corny, they’re probably reacting to the highly unbelievable black characters they encounter. Give them good and interesting black characters – say Sisko from DS9 – and you wouldn’t hear that argument. And no one is going to call any Octavia Butler book ‘gay’.

    Just what kind of SF were you trying to get them to read? Did it have characters of color in it? Was it written by people of color? If it was that same old and tired golden age crap then, yeah, I’m going to have to agree with them: corny and gay.

  14. Y’know, aside from Sisko and Uhura, I can’t remember any SF character played by a Black actor that didn’t have to wear extra make-up or props and portray an alien. (or in Geordi’s case, a man who was Black *and* blind!) Thereby further excluding themselves from the rest of the cast.

    ABW: The only book I’ve read of Ms. Butler’s so far is “Wild Seed”. I like her writing style, but I didn’t particularly care for the story. Got any other suggestions?

  15. ST:Enterprise had a black navigator, kind of like a grown-up version of the kid from Galaxy Quest. Battlestar Galactica‘s regular cast has one black regular, petty officer Duala, and one recurring minor character I can think of, a preacher lady whose name I can’t remember. (They had a really promising black fighter pilot turn up in one episode, but it turned out to be one of those annoying, non-plot-advancing one-offs, and as far as I know he hasn’t turned up again, though I haven’t watched most of the current season since.)

    SF film has a certain number of black characters, though rarely the lead unless it’s Will Smith.

    They’re tokens, but they’re there if you look for them.

    Tempest, which “their own con” are you talking about? And is it as much fun (or even half as much fun) as WisCon?

  16. Guess we better get busy writing some more diverse SF! *grin*

    It’s funny, because in my first novel (which is SF) one of the major characters is a black man. I didn’t plan it that way, he just told me he was black. So I’ve run with it. I’ve just taken him the same as anyone else, a human being who happens to be black. Now I’m hoping I’m portraying him accurately. *eyeshift*

  17. I am a black female science fiction artist and when I go to conventions I am practically a superstar to the young girls. They are so ecited to not only see a woman but a woman of color signing posters in their midst. Honestly they talk talk about it and ask questions.

    At first it was weird, not so much because of race but (sorry fellas) the guys go nuts when there are women about at many of those cons, really–I have never felt more female.

    Thing is I know what you mean about characters of color with any substance. I have been hoping to find a writer to collaborate with on a black woman character some day.

    I have been uncomfortable as an artsit many times going intially because of race but later because I have never been hit on so much in my life. It’s flattering but tiring.

    I guess I am saying I totally understand, but well, people aren’t gonna make an effort to reach out to other ethnic groups ot religious groups-we just have to take it on oursleves to go. If we wait for them-it will not happen. As you said, I just don’t think it crosses their minds, not for any malicious reasons, they just aren’t in the same mindset as minority groups.

    Peace Liv

  18. OK excuse my typos…doh!

  19. David,

    I knew someone was going to ask me that question and I’ll be damned if I can find the name of it. It’s a fairly new con, one i hadn’t heard of until last year. I considered going, but money kept me from it. I’ll see if i can find it for you.

    oh wait, no…. what i should say is: I’m not allowed to tell you because you’re a white man.

  20. […] this is why, as ABW lamented in her last post on the subject, the literary face of the SF genre is so incredibly white. It’s why I get That Look, and That […]

  21. I’m sorry for responding to an insanely old post… I was going through the archives and it caught my attention. Anyway, the comments sparked a question in my mind. ABW, you wrote:

    “You do not know what it feels like, as a person of color, to walk into a room full of white people. So don’t even try to belittle my experience by reducing it to ’shyness’. Anyone who knows me knows I ain’t shy. It doesn’t mean I’m always comfortable.”

    This has absolutely nothing to do with the original topic btw, and I apologize for that. Anyway, I’m interested in your thoughts on what the best thing to do is when you see that situation. Which is to say, I teach introductory writing at a large university in which most of the students in my classes are white. When I do have a person of color in my class, it’s probably just one person. And I do think those students tend to be isolated, very shy.

    What do you think I can do about this? I’m a grad assistant, bottom of the ladder as far as the school hierarchy goes, so I have no control whatsoever in who enrolls in my classes. I can determine the material we read and I try to be inclusive (we have a textbook, but I also assign separate readings on race and gender since the textbook only addresses gender a little bit, and doesn’t bring up race at all). I have individual conferences with every student over the course of the semester, which I think helps. But the isolation is palpable.

    So as a sort of general question. What can we, as white (or mostly white) instructors do to make the space more comfortable for our black students?

  22. Ico,

    If I can offer a suggestion as a fellow educator — I suspect this isn’t a problem of one classroom. It’s probably endemic in the university. (It’s telling that your course textbook contains no content on race and little on gender.) If so, then the only real thing you can do to help ease the isolation of SoCs in your class is to *get more of them there.*

    You need to remember that you’re not a “lowly grad assistant”. You’re a student of the school; your tuition pays people’s salaries. That means you, and your fellow students, have a great deal of potential power if you choose to use it. University administrations listen when students start agitating about something, so you should start agitating for a more diverse campus. This doesn’t necessarily require an Affirmative Action policy; it could just be that your university isn’t advertising itself toward potential students of color, etc. Or it could be that students of color are being admitted, but not supported enough to stay; see if you can find out the school’s retention rate by race. This isn’t something you need to do alone, either; see if you can get the graduate students’ association on your campus involved. Or maybe join forces with the ethnic orgs on your campus. You’ve all got a vested interest in having a diverse student body, after all.

  23. Thank you for the suggestions! I will ask around and see what I can learn and do.

    This isn’t just a problem for my students, but for me, too. It would be nice if we could have a class session focusing on the Black Arts movement, and actually have some Black voices. Race comes up in the grad literature classes a lot — which I think is a good thing, our reading selections are very diverse — but the only voices in our class that are actually represented are white liberal ones. And that’s a problem.

  24. I’m thinking you probably need some Latin@ and Asian and Native American, and GLBT and female and non-traditionally-aged and varied-ability and poor and foreign-born and… well, everybody. “Diverse” is a lot more than just black. But black is good too. =)

  25. The absence of black students is particularly noticeable because we read a lot of black literature, and because the few minorities we’ve had have been Latina, lesbian… not one black student or graduate professor in the entire English department.

    But actually, now that you mention it that’s problematic in itself, isn’t it? I keep thinking of our literary selection as diverse because we have a fair number of women and black authors, but it actually isn’t that diverse. I’ve taken a lot of literature courses between my undergrad and graduate education (granted the undergrad was at a different university), and I don’t know a darned thing about Native American literature, Latin@ literature…

    I’ll bring it up. I’m sure I can get the lit instructor to incorporate more diverse material; she’s pretty open to such discussion. Actually diversifying the student body, on the other hand, will be a bit more challenging… I’ll start asking questions and poking around next week.

  26. Thank you for the comments, by the way, and for being around. =) I feel poked into doing something now.

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