My Diversity In SFF thoughts: Not easily solved.

It took me a while to organize my thoughts and to sort them out. But finally, with the September rain outside my window, I have my opinions concerning the Diversity In SFF thing in Twitter and how it has not worked in the favor of people it was supposed to help.

Aliette de Bodard has written about it. Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and Sofia Somatar have written about it. They have clearly articulated the issues within this noble-seeming hashtag (yes, it started as a Twitter hash tag, didn’t it?).

As Lavie Tidhar has tweeted, it is easy to start a hashtag on Twitter. Just type in #DiversityInSFF and voila, you have a conversation thread whereby people could easily pitch in.

That was it: people could have easily pitch in, add their voices, become points of learning for people and reinforce certain topics/issues.

Yet, for people who have witnessed the ramifications of Racefail and countless Fails throughout the years, issues that have been discussed to death are not learnt. I find it being repeated, reinforced, rehashed and repeated again, and people still keep saying that they are ‘learning’.

A lesson is not learnt if you have to teach it about five times.

Forgive me. I work as a teacher and when I repeat a lesson, to reinforce certain concepts or skills, it is to further and deepen understanding of the concepts and skills. But for Diversity In SFF, it is just another Subject 101 again. People have not clearly learnt and understood.

Then, the TOR blog post came up and my headache grew into a migraine. It has conveniently forgotten about people it was supposed to help. To tell the truth, I wasn’t surprised by the clearly UK (white) perspective regarding race and visibility. I get the feeling that white Americans and British people are still grappling with the concept of race. To them, privilege hides everything and gives them a pass in issues so complicated for disentangling and dismantling. Their word means everything. They push their way through. And suddenly, lessons become unravelled and we find ourselves repeating stuff again.

Are they listening?

Are they listening to POC, women, LBGT and other minority groups? Are they listening to people with disabilities?

Are they?

Why are they still uppity and arrogant when it comes to writing fiction with people of color and minority groups? Why do they – outsiders – think that they could write stories about insiders without being questioned?

Why are POC authors still being scrutinized for ‘authenticity’ while white authors easily get away from the whole interrogation business?

And why are POC authors expected to provide a tourist experience to white readers? What are we supposed to do?

What I took away from the whole Diversity In SFF problem (yes, it is a problem) is this: it is still an uphill battle for POC and minority group writers. It is also much easier for male POC authors. That’s another issue altogether: the problem of race and gender in publishing.

A question I want to ask my readers: What are you going to do about this?

1. Many ‘international SF’ authors write in English. That’s right. We write in English, our first language. To assume that international SF means ‘translated SF’ is erroneous and narrow-minded.
2. When it comes to ‘authenticity’, do white people assume that international SF should be written in English or translated into English?
3. English is an imperialist language. But as international SF writers, are we short-changing ourselves then?

11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. seantheblogonaut
    Sep 15, 2013 @ 07:40:25

    Things I as a western Cis white male are:

    1. Listen to the spokespeople of the groups that are disadvantaged
    2. Promote or let them speak for themselves before attempting to post as an “expert” or someone who has a level of understanding
    3. Shoulder some of the teaching – you can’t get away from 101 stuff if you are fighting against the dominant culture but you can give those on the frontlines a break


  2. khaalidah (@khaalidah)
    Sep 15, 2013 @ 08:31:11

    As a woman, a Muslim, and African American it is important to me that I be able to read the kinds of books that are in some way inclusive of me and my POV. You can imagine how difficult that is. So, slowly but surely I write those books. At forty-three I can discern for myself (usually) literature that is truly inclusive, but my children aren’t in that position. I’m fact, being enthusiastic members of this ever expanding global community, they aren’t always willing to note there may still be a problem. I write for them. I think we teach by doing more so than by setting out the sign post. Keep it going Joyce. Write for my children and yours.


    • jolantru
      Sep 15, 2013 @ 12:48:28

      Indeed, Khaalidah, I am writing for my girls (and hopefully, their children). My older girl reads what I write: for that, I am truly grateful and thankful.

      And I do agree that we teach by doing more – walking the talk. 🙂


  3. Nando
    Sep 15, 2013 @ 13:43:36

    Love this post, well written. I’ve been reading the recent articles on diversity in SFF as well and in my opinion, the solution is to have more diverse authors writing. I know, easier said than done, especially with the publishing gatekeepers making things even more difficult for our worlds to be shown. The struggle must still continue no matter how often we have to reteach these basic lessons.


    • jolantru
      Sep 16, 2013 @ 13:07:10

      Sometimes, I think that the publishing gatekeepers are the problem. Meanwhile, our struggle continues. Not sure for how long we have to continue teaching these basic lessons.

      If racial diversity is still seen as something of an eggshells-issue, there is a problem.


  4. Polenth Blake (@Polenth)
    Sep 16, 2013 @ 10:16:08

    Diverse authors are a start, but it becomes a closed system if we’re the only ones buying and promoting each other’s work. Getting known outside that circle is the real struggle (and one I don’t have any easy answers for).


  5. Vanades
    Sep 16, 2013 @ 23:04:28

    To add to your edit 1. Many international writers write in English where English is their second or even third language. They write in English which is not the same as translating. I write in both English and German and I work as a translator. When I write in English I think in English, same when I write in German. When I translate I look at the English original and then think about how to best transfer the text into German. Totally different mind-set.

    I also know I’m not the only one who writes in two languages.

    English-speaking countries, especially the US don’t publish that many translations, especially not when it comes to genre-fiction like SF, at least when compared to for example Germany which seems to publish more translated SF than that written by German writers. If I were looking for international SF that was not written in English I would probably look for the German translation, not an English one. But that also depends on the country of origin of the writer.

    I know that ever since racefail I try to look even more that I did before for writers who don’t necessarily fit the mold of white, male, straight US/UK-writer whether its writers writing in English or translations. The French for example publish some really amazing SF and Fantasy-comics.

    It is still an up-hill battle but I can see minor changes happening, especially with ebooks and indie-publishing gaining more traction. I see many very diverse writers in the self-publishing communities writing and publishing their books and not books the gatekeepers consider publishable.

    I’m also still thinking about what I can do to help diverse writers become more known. I can understand fully well how exhausting that battle is, especially when it feels as if one has to repeat the same thing again and again. I get a miniscule taste of it everytime I have to explain that ‘Yes, I write about vampires and no, they aren’t emo and whiny. They are more likely to tear off someone’s head than share their feelings.”

    I’m very glad that Nora Jemisin shared the link to your blog-entry today because this way I found another interesting writer :-). I just picked up “Wolf at the Door” which sounds very interesting :-).


    • jolantru
      Sep 17, 2013 @ 06:18:39

      Hi Vanades,

      Glad you bought Wolf At The Door! 🙂

      I agree that the French publish awesome SFF comics. Saw them before when I visited Paris and was like blown away.

      I think there are many writers who translate. I wish I could translate – but my Mandarin Chinese isn’t that competent enough to.

      As for helping diverse writers, we have to go beyond the creation of a system where we support each other, but to promote to the larger audience/eco-system.

      Thank you so much for your thoughts!


  6. Trackback: A few disjointed thoughts on other cultures and diversity in SFF | Aliette de Bodard

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