Saturday, September 17, 2011

Shameless Angry Black Woman Repost

I love the Angry Black Woman blog for a number of reasons. The post linked here is a gem from the archives about potential ways to improve diversity among speculative fiction markets.

(I think the kind of underlying question is: "Do you believe diversity in genre fiction is a goal worth expending effort toward?" Obviously Angry Black Woman thinks yes, and I agree, but I think the other side is less "Eeek, diversity makes me terribly uncomfortable!" and more "eh, it SOUNDS nice, but wouldn't that take more work from me?" So really it's not just do you agree in principle, but are you willing to work for it?)


  1. Meh, I tried to post a long response several times, but it won't take it, due to size. Even tried to break it up but no good.

    I disagree with almost the whole thing. I am sure that doesn't surprise you.

  2. We do seem to have an established pattern about these things. Can I hit you up for it in an e-mail?

  3. Done, sent to you both. Have at it.

  4. I'm not sure that it is worth the effort, because the reader is going to put their interpretation on the writer's words. I'll give you an example using one of your stories that I critiqued years ago.

    I can't remember the name of the story, but I vividly remember the description of the MC's hair. It was like snakes writhing around her head or shoulders. You were describing a black woman with dreadlocks. I saw a white woman with Shirley Temple curls.

    It is not politically correct, but the truth is unless the author specifically states the character is some other race, then I see the character as white. And it can't be done obliquely as you did in the story I mentioned above. It has to be spelled out: Asian, African-American, Pacific Islander, Arab, etc. If the author says brown skin, I think tan. If they say olive skin, I think Mediterranean.

    And that isn't because I'm a racist. It's because most of the people I know in the real world are European Americans. I bring my reality into the books that I read. My reality is someone with brown skin is probably tanned not African-American. Someone with olive skin is probably Italian not Asian, unless the story is set in LA or in graduate school, then I see Asian not Italian. (Most of my classmates in Grad School were Chinese. I knew a lot of Koreans when I lived in LA.)

    Names can help identify the character's nationality. I'm not going to mistake someone named Jackie Chan for an Italian nor someone named Al Giordino for an Asian. (Though of course they could be.) But most fantasy writers use made up names so that clue is missing for someone like me.

    And really unless race or nationality is an issue in the story, then I don't think it should be a big deal. It doesn't matter to me whether the MC is black, white, or purple with pink polka dots. What does matter is that I can understand and relate to the character and that I care what happens to them.

    I think that the best story to illustrate how stupid prejudice is is The Sneeches by Dr. Seuss. It should be required reading in first grade. :)

  5. found the passage!

    "She wore stacks of furs, even inside, to keep out the cold that her southern skin had never learned to abide. The ash tattoos on her face glowed against her dark features; the long, thick snakes of her hair were tipped with gold. Her strange idols hung around her neck, and she smiled, already a little drunk."

    Man, I wish I'd known you thought so at the time. The fact that she was the only black person he'd ever met, and then he went home into her culture to meet her family and had to deal with her culture where he was the outsider (racially, culturally, religiously, and gender wise) was... kind of the whole story. He was actually the only speaking character in that who was white.

    I think that aspect of it is kind of out of my control as an author. I've never actually polled, but I think that one got through for most people, and I don't think that's sufficient reason not to try, even if doesn't land 100% of the time with 100% of the people. You know?

  6. Yes! That's it. This is what I love about your work. I read that five years ago and I still remember it. Your prose sticks in my mind. It's the mark of a great storyteller.

    Actually, your response to my comment at the time clued me in to her being african-american. I felt so stupid for not seeing her that way. I got that she was different from him and that he had to deal with those differences which is why I didn't say anything until now.

    Their story is a universal truth not just one of white meets black. They would have the same struggle if one was latin american and one was asian, or Wasp northerner and Irish Catholic southerner, or Norwegian and Italian, or purple with pink polka dots and yellow with green stripes.

    I think that you can be more effective in pointing out the issues of prejudice if you don't use identifiable races. The Sneeches is so effective in pointing out how ridiculous it is for someone to feel superior to another because of they way they look (with a star on their belly or not) that anyone of any race can read it and say "Yeah, that's silly." The reader isn't bringing their cultural prejudice to the table.

    Furthermore, if the author doesn't specifically say what color the character's skin is then the reader can paint it any color that they want. We're all the same inside. Unless prejudice has significantly shaped who the character is then the color of their skin is irrelevant to who they are.

  7. Here, since I was hard on you, maybe this will help: