I haven’t posted about the ongoing SFWA controversy in depth because I looked at the initial outcry, and the immediate response of some SFWA members, who stood up in the Forum* to say, “This has to change,” and I thought we were making progress. Over the course of a couple of days, the President made a statement, the previous editor stepped down, and a task force was formed to revise the Bulletin into a publication we could be proud of. I felt that if I publicly agitated for change the way that I was doing so privately, it would further distract from all of the great work that SFWA has done and is doing, and it would imply that the matter wasn’t being handled internally–and that wouldn’t have been true.
I’m proud of the changes we’ve made lately, which include not only moving to a higher standard of both content and writing in our official publication, but also creating guidelines for the official @SFWAauthors Twitter feed (which reposts member blogs), expanding the volunteer database, creating an archive project to collect historical materials, and more. I’m happy to see dozens of people step up and say, “I’ll help make this better,” by offering suggestions, volunteering their time, and being part of the discussion. I am most satisfied that when I stood up and took on tasks that needed doing–I answered questions about editing and magazine management even as the discussion turned to defending the old and attacking the new, I asked for volunteers for the next phase of the Bulletin, created and curated a list of those names and suggestions for the task force, and I wrote the first draft of a diversity statement for the Board to consider–there were people who didn’t just leave me to do it on my own, as I’ve seen in other organizations. Rachel Swirsky supported my efforts, Jim C. Hines ran his red pen over the diversity statement to help cut it down to a more manageable size, Cat Rambo and Mary Robinette Kowal stepped in to keep the conversation calm when it threatened to get negative, and a dozen people emailed me privately to encourage, ask questions, and offer their own opinions. I appreciate all of that.
But I was wrong when I thought I could do my part quietly, and things would get better from there.
For every good thing we’ve done to improve SFWA this month, there is another jackass trying to take it away. In our private space (which cannot be quoted from) I’ve had certain people not just disagree with me but were deeply offended that I would dare to tell them things must change, even when I’m saying that based on the obvious outpouring of sentiment from members and non-members alike. I’m allowed to express an opinion, sure, but I’m not well known enough, not “Big Name” enough, to decide anything. I’ve been told I must want something, that I’m only complaining about the previous iteration of the Bulletin because I wanted the old editor fired so I can take her job. I’ve been accused of being involved in a plot of force out the old guard of SFWA. I’ve been dismissed for being a woman, because that fact somehow explains away my opinions as emotional, and therefore ignorable.
I’ve gotten emails about how I don’t understand real sexism, because I wasn’t around in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s.** How if I were the editor, I would have made exactly the same choices, because otherwise I’d have lost my job. (Fact time: No, I would have edited the material presented to me in a professional way, even if it meant losing my job. Because, standards, that’s why. Also, according to those in charge at SFWA, the idea that they’d have policed the Bulletin in a sexist and/or racist way is a totally unfounded rumor, and they’re working to prevent anything like that from happening.) I’ve been told I was making a fuss just to get attention, as if there’s nothing else about me anyone else would pay attention to. I’ve gotten emails telling me to shut the fuck up, telling me that I’m nothing and no one and need to go away while I still can, before I make too much noise, get too much attention, and then I’ll see what happens to women like me.
Because I commented in a private discussion about the need for stricter editorial standards. And did so while being a woman.
But at least I wasn’t making those comments in public, for the most part. And at least I wasn’t doing so while black. Because then this would happen:
Jemisin has it wrong; it is not that I, and others, do not view her as human, (although genetic science presently suggests that we are not equally homo sapiens sapiens), it is that we simply do not view her as being fully civilized for the obvious historical reason that she is not.
those self-defense laws have been put in place to let whites defend their lives and their property from people, like her, who are half-savages engaged in attacking them.
there is no evidence to be found anywhere on the planet that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support from those white males. If one considers that it took my English and German ancestors more than one thousand years to become fully civilized after their first contact with advanced Greco-Roman civilization, it should be patently obvious that it is illogical to imagine, let alone insist, that Africans have somehow managed to do the same in less than half the time at a greater geographic distance. These things take time.
Jemisin clearly does not understand that her dishonest call for “reconciliation” and even more diversity within SF/F is tantamount to a call for its decline into irrelevance.
All courtesy of Theodore Beale, writing as Vox Day. For those who don’t know, Beale is an active member of SFWA, and even ran for President this year. Though he repeatedly says things like women are ruining SF, except for those few who write like men, or women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, or women should be ignored entirely if they’re not attractive, not to mention his views on people of color (as evidenced above, and elsewhere in his public site), he still managed to get roughly 10% of the vote.
That’s the genre community for you, right there. But we ignore trolls like him, right? That’s what I’ve been seeing all day. Ignore him. Ignore his post. Don’t read the comments. Stay off the Internet for an hour until the unpleasantness passes.
You know what? Fuck that. Go read his post (it’s linked above). Read the comments. See the vile things that get said out in the open in 2013. See what happens when we speak up about it. Don’t hide your head in the sand and pretend it’s happening to someone else and you don’t need to worry about it. Hey, I’m white, what do I care, right? No, it doesn’t work that way. Nothing gets better when we pretend everything is at acceptable levels of okay.
Yeah, maybe it’s giving the trolls attention for a few minutes, and maybe people like Beale revel in the muck they create. But on the other hand, that’s a convenient excuse to ignore it, isn’t it? You can tell yourself you’re doing the right thing by taking away Beale’s power over five minutes of your time, but you’re also saying that you’re not willing to spend five minutes to find out how NK Jemisin is being attacked, how women and PoC are being characterized and treated in the genre community, and you’re not willing to get angry for five minutes.
But if we don’t get angry, what will motivate us to do anything about it? We can wish that things were different, but the truth remains:
Wishing never changed a damn thing.
Note: the wonderful Amal El-Mohtar posted a reasoned, polite, letter to SFWA, calling for Beale’s expulsion, and current President John Scalzi is matching funds for people donating to the Carl Brandon Society, or the Octavia E. Butler memorial scholarship.
ETA: Today and tomorrow, I’m donating 100% of the sales of Dagan Books ebooks to the Carl Brandon Society. See the list of books here.
* the private discussion board for SFWA members.
** For the record, I’ve been involved in the genre community since I moved to San Francisco at 18–that would be in 1991. I’ve been a fan of SF (never was much of a fantasy reader) and horror since I was a little girl. I read the Grand Masters of science fiction when I was a kid; I’ve got paperbacks of Heinlein’s work–all of his work–on my shelf now. So, I’m not someone who doesn’t appreciate or know the founding works of American SF. I went to cons and parties with some of those guys, 20 years ago, and if you want to know what sexism was like in genre in the 90s, I can tell you. I’m not coming to genre in 2013 with no knowledge of what happened before. I’m coming to it, well aware of its past, and willing to be here anyway.