Sunday, September 2, 2012

White Space: A Black "Ghetto Nerd" Reflects on His Experience at Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention

Last week, I attended Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention which was held here in Chicago. I was able to do this because of the monies donated by the readers and friends of We Are Respectable Negroes. I would like to reiterate my thanks for their kindness and generosity.

As a ghetto nerd, I come to conventions with a set of assumptions which are based upon previous experiences. I also try to be open minded as each convention or gathering has its own particular personality and vibe. There are many different subcultures and hobbies among those who are self-described geeks and nerds. Consequently, I try to experience each space on its own merits. 

Our personhood is defined by many things. For example, as a person of color and a member of the working class--one who is also a sci-fi, comic book, space fantasy, pro-wrestling loving, child of the hip hop generation who studies and teaches about race and cultural politics in the United States--my critical gaze is informed by those life experiences, hobbies, habits, and interests.

By extension, I cannot help but view Chicon 7 through that lens.

In all, I was very much impressed by the sense of comradery, friendship, and warmth that the attendees of the conference showed one another. I was also very much impressed by how accessible the writers, guests of honor, and other featured attendees were towards their fans. Chicon 7 had a vibe that was supportive of science fiction as an artistic and intellectual project first, and where ego was secondary to these broader goals. And based upon the quality of the questions asked during the panels I attended, there are some pretty smart folks among sci-fi fandom. For an author to impress such a public, he or she had sure be bringing their best game.

However, all was not perfect (is it ever?). I chatted with some sci-fi writers and attendees at Chicon 7 who shared with me their concerns about the dynamics surrounding race, identity, inclusion, and fandom. I also attended the panels which explicitly dealt with questions of marginalization, inclusion, and diversity in science fiction literature and fan culture.

In the interest of parsimony, and because I cannot resist any reference to Clint Eastwood given his empty chair agitprop stunt at the Tea Party GOP convention last week, let’s work through the good, the bad, and the ugly of Chicon 7 as I experienced it.

The Good.

1. The willingness of the attendees to make suggestions about books to total strangers, share personal insights, and to be invested in the success of the event was impressive. There were folks there who had attended many World Science Fiction Conventions in the past and Chicon 7 was a reunion to be celebrated. This was their “geek prom.” The attendees reveled in this fact.

2. The major authors who volunteered their time on panels where they gave advice on the craft of writing and breaking into the business were invaluable. I got a sense that these established figures were legitimately interested in the success of the journeyman writers with whom they spoke.

3. There was a general sense that much more can be done to make science fiction a more inclusive space. The organizers of the event actually scheduled panels on this very problem. This is a type of introspection that should be encouraged among majority white, geek and nerd culture--and its gatekeepers and fans.

4. I have a new favorite quote: "when A.I. comes into existence it will be smart enough to hide from us." This is a brilliant, insightful, and scary observation.

The Bad

1. While there was a willingness to entertain some basic questions about what sci-fi is doing wrong in regards to challenging the normality of (male and heterosexual) Whiteness that still governs the genre, as well as events such as Chicon 7, there were only a few panels on race, gender, or sexuality. Out of the many dozens of offerings, I counted four that directly dealt with these issues. Of this small number, only two directly and critically engaged questions of race and representation in science fiction. The other panels were meditations on how science fiction could be more “inclusive,” or where a reader can find books that feature folks who are not “white, heterosexual, and male.”

There were also no panels that took the inclusion of people of color as a given and not as an outlier or a problematic. Alternatively, there were no panels that interrogated issues of whiteness, power, and canon in science fiction. Given that science fiction has historically solved the “race question” by writing people of color out of the frame (or making us into robots and aliens as metaphors for talking about "the race problem") this was a glaring oversight.

People of color (as well as others) are marginalized within the science fiction community. Science fiction would be greatly improved as a genre if these other voices were foregrounded--and put in leadership positions at high profile events such as Chicon 7.

2. Visible discomfort and upsetness. There were several moments when issues surrounding race, gender, sexuality (or questions about white privilege) in science fiction were introduced by a panelist—or troublemakers like me—and the eye rolling annoyance by a good number of white men in the audience was readily apparent. Their responses to these questions and interventions were always polite; however, the energy suggested that these subjects were problems for “those people,” and not the “good” and “forward thinking” white people who are into science fiction. As is my common refrain: racism is not an opinion; the lie of post-racial "colorblind" America is that discussing race makes one a "racist." This is perverse and backward thinking. Unfortunately, such wrongheadedness is common place--even at a science fiction convention.

3. It is a bad look when a group of white folks get up and walk out of a panel on steam punk—a very white imaginary where colonialism and imperialism as global systems are conveniently white-washed—because they do not want to have their fantasy derailed or challenged. 

4. I would also suggest that white folks who want to write about the “Other” not refer to themselves as “just a white boy” while they then proceed to talk about “Native American Cultures.” There was, is, and are no uniform “Native American cultures.” 

Moreover, using the phrase “white boy” is a dishonest and insincerely self-effacing act because it is a way of giving yourself permission to be a racist, and also to exercise privilege, as you “didn’t know any better and only had good intentions.” My suggestion for this dilemma is to write good characters, live a little bit, and get to know different types of people…who don’t all look like you.

5. Like a ghost, Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege” always makes an appearance when race and white privilege are discussed by otherwise well-meaning white people who are somewhat aware of these issues. Please people, I am begging you, stop mentioning that damn essay: deferring to white people’s expertise when talking about racism is itself an act of white privilege and white supremacy. Start with Du Bois, and other people of color before you become giddy with the “discovery” of white privilege. Black and brown folks were doing it better, first, and many years before the Invisible Knapsack of Privilege first circulated on these Internets.

John Scalzi’s great blog post on white male privilege was also enthusiastically mentioned in the same panel (he was at Chicon 7 so the allusion was a timely one). Be warned: it will at some point usurp McIntosh’s work. And yes, I would offer the same critiques about its use by white anti-racists as I did McIntosh's essay.

White people who want to be serious anti-racists need to go to the source, the well-spring, and not those white activists who are at the other end of the river.

6. It is also funny--at least to my eyes--how well-intentioned white anti-racists can be simultaneously invested in fighting oppression and 1) only have white people on their panel(s) and 2) privilege the experiences, voices, feelings, and complaints of white people in a room where there are black and brown folks present. We are all embedded in systems of domination, subordination, power, privilege, and authority. Even those white folks who are trying to win the good fight need to be aware of their own assumptions, and how their behaviors often reproduce the very systems they are ostensibly fighting against.

If sister Jane Elliot, a stomp down, ride or die, white woman had been present, she would have cussed the whole room out. 

7. Scheduling one of the few panels on issues of diversity and representation in science fiction opposite of The Carl Brandon Society Awards is just an epic scheduling failure.

8. Panels are usually only as good as the moderator/discussant allows them to be. If you would rather be giving a paper (instead of serving as a moderator) please do so. That choice is much more preferable than you talking over the panelists, answering every question you pose to them, and generally trying to use the panel as a chance to get your own shine on. Also, as a moderator, please try to get a sense of how the audience is responding to the discussion. In addition, please realize that your own very narrow set of interests may not be shared by those on the panel or in the audience. Let your guests do their thing while you provide some direction and conduct the orchestra.

The Ugly

1. In a major city such as Chicago, I counted twenty or so non-white attendees at the conference. Of those who were on panels, I would guess that there were 5 or so people of color. There were some 6 thousand people at Chicon 7. The organizers have to do better.

2. To the guy who sat in on the panel about Science Fiction and Philosophy. Ayn Rand is not a great writer. Nor is she a particularly insightful thinker. Please stop mentioning her with such worshipful glee—Rand was a hypocrite who did not live her own libertarian principles as she died sucking on the government tit.

3. There was lots of white male bravado, triumphalism, and an exaggerated sense of confidence that science fiction was “their” space, on display at Chicon 7. Quite a few white male panelists slipped effortlessly between an unqualified “we” and “us” when talking about science fiction, questions of morality and ethics, identity, "moral and social relativism," and justice. This was also common among the audience members. You are not “us.” Please stop deploying the universal “I.” Many of the questions and comments were also uncritically Eurocentric. Folks need to get into the second half of the 20th century…never mind the 21st.

4. It is also troubling that when questions about adding more people of color and women to the finalist lists for certain awards, and as invited guests for the event were broached with the planning committee, that the myth of meritocracy reared its ugly head. There are many folks working in science fiction who are not white and male. They are also doing work that is at least as good as the white men who dominate the field. 

The phrase “qualified” minority or female job candidate is so pernicious because it presumes that all white men are competent. I do not believe that the planners of Chicon 7 acted out of malice; white privilege and other systems of inequality are made real through taken for granted assumptions about who should be included and who ought to be naturally excluded. Unfortunately, those assumptions are rarely challenged.

****

Ultimately, Chicon 7 is an embodiment of the social cleavages, struggles, and challenges of the larger culture and dominant society. The whiteness of the convention, and by extension that of mainstream science fiction more generally, is striking because the genre is supposed to be so progressive.

Yes, Chicon 7 was a great event. Yes, it was fun to see folks who are often on the sidelines of what is considered “normal” in mainstream society get their chance to shine for a few days. But Chicon 7, and science fiction as a genre and as a community, still has a good amount of work to do regarding matters of inclusion and diversity.

29 comments:

Your driver said...

They are far from perfect but if you are in San Francisco visit Borderlands Books on Valencia Street. They are very friendly to unconventional science fiction fans and writers. They give a lot of space to writings by queer feminist and non white writers. In fact they once told me that those writers were the most important people in Science Fiction. If nothing else they earned my eternal gratitude for introducing me to Nalo Hopkinson.

http://www.borderlands-books.com/index.html

Anne said...

Thanks for this post! I wrote about some of my efforts to get panels on race issues into the Renovation (2010 Worldcon) program from *inside* the programming department in the latest issue of Journey Planet (large .pdf).

It is of course a vicious cycle - the major convention planners don't invite many fans and authors of color to be on the program because they don't know them (you), thus ensuring that the next group of planners still doesn't know them, while also harming the experience of the few such as yourself who do take the leap and attend.

Convention planners are (rightfully) averse to putting forth panels on these issues that are made up of all white folks, but when you take into account the scarcity of known non-white participants, combined with the fact that many of them are already burned out on talking (to white people) about these issues, combined with the usual challenge of handling scheduling requirements and conflicts, this all gets even less likely. (I'm not excusing it, just commenting on the pattern I observed. We had at least one more panel I was really pushing for at Renovation that they just couldn't make fly for these reasons).

#7 in Bad was, however, an epic fail, just as you say. That's just, well, it's worse than sad.

I'm glad you had a group of people who financed your attendance. Anyone who wants to similarly support fans of color, or who needs support to attend a convention, should check out Con or Bust. I didn't mention this in my article, but I paid out of pocket for a membership for one of my panelists for Renovation, because it was that or have two race-related panels I was building get struck from the program for lack of participants of color.

Even if you can't attend them, I encourage you to suggest panels and panelists to future cons, and to volunteer to be on panels yourself if you're willing to do that. Program departments aren't always receptive, but a short bio in a contact note can work wonders in telling people who you are. (This goes for other readers as well as the Original Author.)

The publicity departments of cons can also use nudges as to how to market their cons to a diversity of readers. If you'd like to help, don't hesitate to ask them to send you flyers or posters to put out at your school or at other gathering places that white smofs (who mostly stay at home and absolutely suck at doing outreach) don't get out to or know exist.

Helen Bushnell said...

I was not aware that people of color and women were automatically considered to be outside of the mainstream.

chaunceydevega said...

@YD. I love San Fran. I will check out the spot you suggested. Did you attend the con this year? Your thoughts?

@Anne. That is how colorblind racism works isn't it? We go with who we know? In a society that is extremely segregated, and where many of us want to reinforce a comfortable status quo, that choice is an easy one, no? White supremacy in 2012 isn't about sheets, hoods, and murderous cops (only), it is about how seemingly "race neutral" practices reinforce racial inequality all the while allowing for fictions such as "reverse racism."

@Helen. Not to you or me. But to the "public," editors, press, and gatekeepers, the answer is yes.

Comrade Physioprof said...

I have extremely little contact with the science fiction community, but based on what I have seen going on in the atheism and skepticism communities, none of this surprises me at all. The pattern in those (overlapping) communities has been that when the complete unfettered dominance of white dudes to both set substantive agendas and control the allocation of material and intellectual resouces is challenged, many of those white dudes go ballistic at the threat to their privilege. And they attempt to cloak this obvious power ploy in the rhetoric of "we are an atheism community, not a social justice community, and we are rightly focused on atheism, so if you want to talk about social justice, go somewhere else". Of course, as I have learned here and elsewhere, this is nothing but a reflection of the white dude racial and gender frame and the assumption that white dude hegemony is neutral and attempts to discuss it are some sort of special pleading.

Thrasher said...

Interesting which is why I love hip-hop genre themes do much where Black genius and creativity is not encumbered by whiteness and it's pathologies...

I am so self possessed now as Black man in this culture even when I read good sci-fi now I insert and overlay my Blackness into the words and arc of the tale.

Thrasher said...

I even pushback on term like nerd.. Lol lol

Anonymous said...

CD-You are one of my favorite writers. Your pithy is refreshing.

Black Sage said...

But Chicon 7, and science fiction as a genre and as a community, still has a good amount of work to do regarding matters of inclusion and diversity. – ChaunceyD

I still watch science fiction movies every now and then. Star Trek, Logan’s Run and Battlestar Galactica are my most favorites. However, while I was a teenager, I always wondered what is supposed to happen to Blacks and minorities in a post apocalyptic or futuristic world? Blacks were either non-existent in sci-fi movies or relegated to some minimalist casting role walking into the abyss of a hallway adorned with strobe lights on a spaceship.

Based on Chauncey’s experience at Chicon 7, the collective psychology of Whites in a post apocalyptic or futuristic world, appear to be very much consistent with that of today and already past behavioral patterns and themes. That is, we own this space, whatever it may be, either usurping the land of native peoples or being a commander on a craft in outer space, simply because of their White skin. Indeed, a very sick logic!

On another level, the absenteeism of Blacks and minorities in sci-fi movies also lends to the notion from a White perspective that, we’ve finally gotten rid of the radical minorities who refused to conform to White domination.

I’m quite curious as to what methods that are either being proposed or imagined within the confines of depraved minded Whites.

Marty Hale-Evans said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post. There's much to think over and consider here.

Since you asked those who run cons to not make assumptions and to go to the source, perhaps you'll let me ask you a few questions in absolute sincerity. I happen to be a white woman, and I help organize a con; I've actually worked as an organizer of two different cons about different subjects, but the dynamics have been the same. It's always bothering me that we have as little diversity as we do in the community we serve, and I've tried to work to increase it. I've designed and scheduled multiple panels about inclusiveness, women and minority issues, how more and less privileged people (of various forms of privilege) can make contact and communicate, and similar topics. I like to think I've avoided many of the pitfalls you mentioned, although probably not all of them.

However, I run into a few walls when I try to do this, and I'm not sure how to proceed. Most of them have to do with tokenism and trying to avoid it - how do I make a point of inviting people of color to be on panels without inviting accusations of tokenism, or of assuming they're interested in representing people of color? Similarly, how do I outreach to minority communities when my event is still so predominantly white without those communities viewing me with suspicion and accusing me of "just wanting to salve my conscience," or simply being naive or clueless? Is there any good way to approach someone and say "well, yes, you may feel a little out of place at this event as it is, and some people might be clueless, but I'd really like your help in changing this world"?

I've been in all these situations before. I know that it's not the responsibility of anyone else to educate me or be on my panels. I know that many people have good reason for their suspicions and that it's important for me to be respectful and patient. I know that it could be very rude to go "recruiting" in communities that aren't my own because I want the diversity. And I really AM NOT trying to blame the victim. I really do care about these problems, and I'd really like to help solve them, and yes, I also know that good intentions are not enough. Most of all I REALLY DO want to talk to, and hear from, people who aren't like myself, and I want to make sure my events are places where everyone can comfortably come together and communicate about things that matter.

But at this point, I really don't know what to do to make that happen. I feel that if I recruit panelists who are people of color for panels where it's relevant, I'm told it's disrespectful to pursue them simply because of their minority membership; if I respectfully wait for them to express an interest themselves, I'm told I don't do enough to get minorities involved. This is not about my frustration, however, even though I am frustrated - I would really just appreciate any advice you can offer on how to improve the situation. Thank you very much, for any help you can give and for your cogent analysis in your blog post!

Comrade Physioprof said...

I've designed and scheduled multiple panels about inclusiveness, women and minority issues, how more and less privileged people (of various forms of privilege) can make contact and communicate, and similar topics.

I feel that if I recruit panelists who are people of color for panels where it's relevant, I'm told it's disrespectful to pursue them simply because of their minority membership; if I respectfully wait for them to express an interest themselves, I'm told I don't do enough to get minorities involved.

These two sentences embody what is highly problematic about your approach and why it is not working: the assumption that white dudes are normal and neutral, and anyone else requires special panels "about" them and that people other than white dudes are only "relevant" to these special panels.

You must have a program committee for your convention. How about appointing people who aren't white dudes to the program committee?

Tom said...

Yeah, Marty, be persistent & friendly about inviting some nerds of color onto the top committee, give them the same right to be nutso that the rest of the community has traditionally exercised, and I think these things will start to sort out.

It's astonishing that the Sci Fi community, of all groups, still can't seem to take a gamble on that futuristic experiment. ( Which I hasten to point out can be done right here on Earth at very low cost to the taxpayer. )

Tom said...

And, Marty, re tokenism, I would maybe just say openly "yeah, we recognize there are voiceless (or voice-reduced) sub-communities and we wanna start inviting those folks to be represented better."

What the heck, the US Senate was set up with an element of tokenism, nobody thought Rhode Islanders were smarter than New Yorkers, it was a representation thing. As de Tocqueville said, you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.

Anonymous said...

Several decades ago, I read a rollicking romp of an sf novel, saving the world from some dire threat, after which I was troubled that something was deeply wrong with it. It took me a while to compute, but in the whole thing, there was not even one character, or mention, of the female side of the human race. Why did it take me so long to realize this lack, when I am female? Chauncey, did you notice what proportion of Chicon7 attendees were female (of any color)? And to the other Anne, do you strive to have female panellists well represented on panels that don't have as their priority female issues? If you take it for granted that they will be on panels that don't touch on gender etc, then the same should be true of any and all panellists invited - I would hope they'd be represented on 'top' panels, then perhaps on 'social issues' panels as well.

Beyond The Political Spectrum said...

Am I sorry that I didn't get the chance to get back to my hometown to fellowship with fellow sci-fi-fans!

Thrasher said...

Comrade

Super insight !

Erin Lale said...

I agree with the above post that women (and minorities, and gays, and whoever you think might be under-represented) should be on panels with 'normal' content, not just on panels about that community. This year I was on a panel about indie publishing at a regional convention (LepreCon) and there were about a dozen people on the panel, and I was the only woman. As it happened, I was also the only person there who worked for a publishing company; all the men on the panel were self-published authors. At one point I found myself defending my inclusion in the panel because the others panelists challenged the idea that any publishing company is independent. It was an odd experience. I felt physically outnumbered just because they were men, but the issue had nothing to do with gender (I don't think anyway.)

Black Sage said...

@Comrade,

that's a brilliant response to Marty's questions. Your reply is correctly in line with the old adage: "how do you expect to solve a problem, if you keep doing the same thing that hasn't worked in the past?"

Anne Gray said...

Marty,
I completely agree with Comrade Physioprof. Recruit people from under-represented groups because you are interested in what they can contribute to the whole convention, then treat them as whole people when including them in programming. Take time to get to know who they are, what they do, and what they are interested in, and be open to new suggestions.

Don't put women or minorities in a ghetto by only thinking they are relevant to issues panels. If you haven't read Samuel R Delany's essay on Racism in Science fiction, look it up; I believe NYRSF put it online. He talks about how everyone put him and Octavia Butler together on panels even though their writing was totally different in style and content; don't do that.

If you go to the Carl Brandon Society wiki, you will see there are many awesome writers of color; advocate bringing some in as guests. If you can demonstrate that you honor the authors, artists, actors, etc, fans who look like them will be less likely to think you are condescending to them when you invite them to join in as well.

Anne Gray said...

@Anonymous - if you click on the Journey Planet link above, you'll find my essay was one of many directed at the question of "gender equity" on panels (all panels, on all topics). I'm for it.

Marty Hale-Evans said...

Thank you all for your input. In fact, I don't assume the things you're assuming I assume. :-> I was talking specifically about those panels because those are the ones where it seems to be a question, not for me, but for people I try to put in the panels. I push to include those panels not to "ghettoize" them, but to feature them, *because* of the assumptions we're all trying to fight about what is "normal" con programming. I recruit everybody for all panels, but I want to make sure there's a particular space where these things are highlighted, to improve their visibility to people who would otherwise not question the status-quo paneling. It seems to be hard to get this across, though (and the assumptions here about my motives show it). In fact, putting such panels in the programming is a remedy to a specific criticism that Chauncey made above ("...there were only a few panels on race, gender, or sexuality. Out of the many dozens of offerings, I counted four that directly dealt with these issues.").

In any case, I was specifically talking about the case where I've tried to highlight a panel to address a situation - let's say racial or gender assumptions in fantasy writing - and foster dialog about that. To me, and apparently to a lot of you, it's pretty important to have people of various races or genders on such a panel to take part in the conversation. Obviously it would be absurd for the panel to happen in such a way that a bunch of people who aren't affected talk about it. The problem I'm facing is how to approach good panelists for such a conversation without being accused of tokenism - recruiting someone because of their race, orientation, etc. To me, it makes sense to do so in that situation if I want to try to respectfully include diversity on that podium, but it seems to be easily misunderstood. I think Tom may be right, though, that it's sometimes OK to just say "yes, we are working on improving diversity because we think that's a good thing to do."

When I talked about trying to outreach into communities who are underrepresented at cons, I was indeed talking about inviting them for what they can contribute to the whole con, not just the "special" panels. However, there are a lot of assumptions on both sides; the pushback I get is the assumption that the con can't be relevant to people in those communities. (I get that from the people in those communities, just to be clear.) I don't know how to go to a community where I'm not really a member (and can never actually be a real member) trying to talk about how much I want to diversify an event that's currently pretty homogeneous, because people who aren't the ones already going to it look at it and decide it's not for them. It feels like a catch-22. I would love to have more diversity on programming, I'd love to get to know diverse participants and be open to their new suggestions, but I don't know how to attract them in the first place and get them involved so I can.

We have had guests of honor who are people of color, and we often have people of color teaching our writer's workshop (Nisi Shawl, for example). It doesn't seem to help so far, but it's a good thing to make sure we keep an eye on, so thanks for that suggestion and the links to more resources.

Again, thanks in general for the feedback and ideas - much appreciated.

Anne Gray said...

@Marty I am looking forward to seeing Chauncey's ideas on this, but yeah, I think what Tom said is spot on.

Beyond that, if you are already including black authors as guests and running your writer's workshop, I would examine your publicity. Does your website have pictures of these people on it? Do your fliers?

Historically, sf con pubs tend to favor text over everything and if illustrations, usually illustrations that have no black people in them. How do yours rate on that count?

FSJL said...

As someone who was there, is a fan of colour, and wishes he had met you (I've enjoyed your postings on OpenSalon for a while now), I want to endorse much of what you say. I find fandom as a whole quite welcoming of minority views, though Randroids are a pain in the bum. I agree that there needs to be more openness to underrepresented minorities (as there has been to groups that are more visible now than they have been in the past such as the poly community and gays).

Comrade Physioprof said...

I would love to have more diversity on programming, I'd love to get to know diverse participants and be open to their new suggestions, but I don't know how to attract them in the first place and get them involved so I can.

This is an issue that has been studied in depth, and the way you achieve greater diversity in general in to increase the diversity of leadership and decisionmaking. What proportion of your program committee is people who aren't white dudes? If it is low, then increase it. I bet you anything if you invited the host of this blogge to serve on your program committee for next year, he'd do it!

chaunceydevega said...

@Comrade. The white racial frame is a foundational concept. It has high levels of explanatory power and is also accurate, as well as reproducible.

@Black. Check out the books Black Space and also Race in American Science Fiction.

@Marty. I think you have a solid range of advice here. I also appreciate your honest sharing. I would approach this like any other matter. People don't like being used. That is true period of all folks. I would also do some research and see who is out there, professional groups, academics, and other sci fi/geek/nerd communities. I always preface my requests with a complement, and honest inquiry or statement--hey we are organizing this event and want to make sure we get all of the best people--and an invite to spread the wealth--hey, if you can't do x, do you know other folks who may be interested?

yes, it can be tedious. but, i am self-interested and by broadening your recruitment efforts you all look better...and that improves the quality of the event and who is included.

@Anne. Thanks for sharing those links. I learned something today.

@FSJL. I wish we had met. I had a chance to do one of those beer and author deals but passed on it because no one would have showed up, and what is worse than an empty room ;)

@Erin. the wonderful assumptions of white male superiority on all things. oftentimes its owners get very upset when you are more accomplished, confident, and competent than they are.

i was on three panels. one's moderator was a good guy but clueless about managing a room. the folks were hungry for a great show and dialogue and he wouldn't let us deliver it. not to be too conceited, but i know my gifts and would have brought it for real. of course, i was not asked to be the moderator.

The second panel's moderator was a nice guy with no weight. how he got to be the moderator when there were at least two people on the panel who were much more accomplished than he was, and he wanted to run with them instead of playing traffic cop, is beyond me. again, both white men who probably thought none of their shortcomings would reflect on white men generally. privilege is great to have.

@Mia. Share some stories or insight please.

oyceter said...

Thank you for your post! I'm disappointed but not very surprised that Chicon 7 sounds a lot like my first few SF/F con experiences, in which whiteness is the presumed norm.

Wiscon, the con I usually go to, has been slowly improving among a lot of fail. Much of it is because how fans of color have started to get more attention when they talk about these issues. I like the programming suggestions in the comments a lot. I've also found that the aforementioned Con or Bust helped a great with the number of fans of color at Wiscon especially in 2009.

Another tip for programmers would be expanding the idea of who counts as a "good" panelist. I've noticed that cons such as Readercon which usually want publishing credentials or some level of "knownness" for panelists tend to have whiter panels, largely due to the general whiteness of SF/F publishing in general. There are a lot of good up-and-coming writers of color in the field (not to mention established people like Hopkinson and Delany of course), but many of the ones I know have only recently gone from short stories to novels. There are also a lot of very intelligent fans of color out there who have been on many excellent panels I've seen at Wiscon. I also think including more anime and manga in the programming attracts much more diverse panelists and participants, since the anime/manga fandom is much younger and also much, much more diverse than the current SF/F book fandom.

Anne Gray said...

@CD of course you are right that the situation I faced with Renovation is exactly the way "colorblind" institutionalized racism perpetuates. I even received the classic colorblind sf comment from one of the program team members, along the lines of "I never know if authors are white, black, or green." I never intend to work with him again.

I also think as white fans and especially as conrunners it out to be possible to create some programming that is self-directed on race issues education and doesn't require people of color in the room to help us fix ourselves. We tried to do something like that at one wiscon with a discussion group on how to be better Allies but it got majorly interrupted by someone asking for clarrification on terms and not getting the answers despite repeated attempts by multiple people to explain, and generally by ignorance about racefail '09 that some tried to address. Still, there were some solid conclusions on how to be supportive to fans of color who are in uncomfortable situations or have white fen demanding they take the time to educate them.

I think it might work better as a workshop where people sign up in advance and commit to reading a set of reference work beforehand, which would be essays by authors and fans of color (like, say, this one). Our own inability to bring people of color into the room live is also an issue, but should not continue to be used as an excuse for the ongoing ignorance of the white fannish and especially the regional conrunning communities.

SabrinaBee said...

interesting. I hardly pay attention to science fiction but, interesting the politics involved in even that.

kT FitzSimmons said...

I am on the programming "braintrust" team for LoneStarCon next year. I don't know what would be good topics regarding races & otherness for the program but I would love to hear hour suggestions and present them to the rest of the program staff. Also the names of people (fans, pros) to be on those panels and especially those who would be good moderators (I also have seen moderators who "hog" the conversation).

Please feel free to contact me.

kT FitzSimmons