It’s “International Blog Against Racism Week” again. IBARW was founded by two people of color and four white allies four years ago, after one of the (many) big internet controversies about race and racism. Oyceter has been running it for the last three years. (Thanks!)
I don’t write a lot on Body Impolitic about the science fiction/fandom community to which I devote a lot of my time and effort, but this seems like a good time to mention a few things. The science fiction world is an interesting microcosm of racism and anti-racist work in the larger American society: this past year has been a difficult one, with lots of internet and real-world controversies, lots of anger and pain on all sides, and lots of extremely constructive responses to both individual and institutionalized racism.
In the past few weeks, the Carl Brandon Society , a community of science fiction fans of color and their allies, has taken the unhappy occasion of an uninformed and completely intolerable attack on writer K. Tempest Bradford (the attacker has since apologized, and Tempest has accepted) to issue an excellent open letter to the science fiction community (which is also useful to any other community facing these issues).
1) The use of racial slurs in public discourse is utterly unacceptable, whether as an insult, a provocation, or an attempt at humor. This includes both explicit use of slurs and referencing them via acronyms.
2) Any declaration of a marginalized identity in public is not a fit subject for mockery, contempt, or attack. Stating what, and who, you are is not “card playing.” It is a statement of pride. It is also a statement of fact that often must be made because it has bearing on discussions of race, gender, and social justice.
3) Expressing contempt for ongoing racial and gender discourse is unacceptable. Although particular discussions may become heated or unpleasant, discourse on racism and sexism is an essential part of antiracism and feminist activism and must be respected as such. There is no hard line between discourse and action in activism; contempt of the one too often leads to contempt of the whole.
The Carl Brandon Society assumes in this letter that everyone reading it shares the common goal of racial and gender equity, and general social justice, in all our communities. We hope for a quick end to arguments over whether or not unacceptable forms of debate should be allowable. These arguments obstruct the process of seeking justice for all.
All I can say to the CBS folks, and Tempest, and everyone else who has experienced this or anything like this is. “Word,” and “I’ve got your back.”
Also in the past couple of weeks, writer Justine Larbalestier has gone public about issues with her publisher regarding racial portrayals of her characters on the covers of her books.
Every year at every publishing house, intentionally and unintentionally, there are white-washed covers. Since I’ve told publishing friends how upset I am with my Liar cover, I have been hearing anecdotes from every single house about how hard it is to push through covers with people of colour on them. Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don’t sell. Sales reps have told me that many of their accounts won’t take books with black covers. Booksellers have told me that they can’t give away YAs with black covers. Authors have told me that their books with black covers are frequently not shelved in the same part of the library as other YA—they’re exiled to the Urban Fiction section—and many bookshops simply don’t stock them at all. How welcome is a black teen going to feel in the YA section when all the covers are white? Why would she pick up Liar when it has a cover that so explicitly excludes her?
To put this in context, earlier this year in another controversy, Delux Vivens called for a check-in of people of color who consider themselves to be science fiction fans. At last count, well over 750 separate individuals have checked in … and that’s just folks who are on LiveJournal, clearly a tiny subset of the actual numbers.
The bad news: these battles are still out there, they’re happening all the time, and each time it feels like starting at the beginning all over again. And if I feel that as a white ally, I can only imagine how the people of color who face these things over and over again feel each time a new one starts.
The good news: each time, more allies join the cause, more people catch up to their unearned privilege, more of us have the back of the people of color. Not enough, but more.
(Need some background reading on your own unearned privilege and/or ally work? The world is full of superb resources, but here are two of my favorites: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (sadly, this is from 1988) and How Not to Be Insane When Accused of Racism by Ampersand. There’s lots more out there.)