Monday, August 1, 2016

Spec Fic's Systemic Racism & What To Do About It

Text: Out of 2,039 stories published in 2015, 38 were written by black authors.
Speculative fiction can be a gateway for aspiring authors, above and beyond getting a pay-day or seeing your work in the SF/F anthology of your choice. It can also be the first step to greater access to agents, a fanbase, novel deals and more. Over the past few years, there has been an increased push for publishing a diversity of voices, but in a recent study, Fireside Fiction outlines that out of all of the speculative fiction stories that were published last year, only 1.9 percent of those stories were written by black authors. To put those odds in perspective, they do some math to point out that:
...the probability of the 1.9% average occurring by random chance is 3.21x 10^-76, or
For comparison’s sake, the odds of winning the New Jersey Pick Six lottery are 7.15x 10^-08, or 0.00000714%
Author Mikki Kendall wrote in a companion essay, "Opportunities Lost", that it's not a matter of talent or lack of stories, but a lack of initiative on the part of publishers:

Race matters at every step of the publishing process. Including who gets out of the slush pile and onto the page. The myth that Black people don’t read science fiction or fantasy has been thoroughly debunked. And despite any claims to the contrary, Black writers of speculative fiction have been producing amazing work since the genre’s inception. The real problem isn’t one of a lack of stories or a lack of talented writers, the problem is a lack of outlets willing to publish stories that don’t center white characters.
New York Times best-selling author Tobias S. Buckwell points out that this lopsided figure doesn't even reflect the current makeup of the United States in his essay "Boldly Going Nowhere":
I don’t remember the first time I was told there were plenty of diverse writers in the field, and had the same few names repeated to me over and over again... the same four names—“Hopkinson, Butler, Delany, Barnes”—as a list of writers of color when I would point out the whiteness of the science fiction field. With some 1,500–2,000 members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, in order for our field to just match the demographics of the USA that meant SFWA should have had at least 150–200 African-American writers because twelve percent of the US population was African-American. 
To match the U.S.A’s demographics, there should be about 200 members of SFWA who would choose African-American on a census bureau questionnaire. 90 who would choose Asian-American. 18 Native-American. 54 like me, who would choose two or more races on the census questionnaire.Basically, every time you go see a bunch of writers, in person or in print, about 30% of them should be something other than white. Just to reflect demographics.
Fireside Fiction is not above pointing out that they have failed at this goal as well, but editor Brian White posted an editorial that, among other things, showed he was willing to put his money where his mouth is:
  • We’re working with the developer of our submissions system to add in an optional, anonymous form for people to self-report their demographic information when they submit to Fireside. This way, we can take a much closer look at what is going on in our submissions pile.
  • We are going to change our submissions process. Once a year, we will still have one big submission period open to everyone. But several other times a year, we will have targeted submissions windows, each targeted toward a specific marginalized group. So black writers, writers of color generally, LGBTQA writers, women, writers with disabilities, etc. We’re still working out the details on this, but all the dates will be publicized well ahead of time, so that people who don’t have the leisure time to whip up a submission on short notice can get their work ready. 
  • We also want to hear from the black writing and publishing community about what else we could do better. You can email me directly at or talk to us on Twitter.

Readers, what else do you think can be done to fix this problem in spec fic? Sound off in the comments below.

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