March 9th, 2009

Big Damn Heroes

Something I've not seen in the blogosphere, perhaps because it was local to california

Last week I took a business trip to San Diego. I don't own a TV at home so while staying at a hotel I tend to turn the TV on. Last week one of the things I watched on TV was a Febuary 17 realsports piece about how a young black man, Robbie Tolan, was shot on December 31 in Bellaire by a police officer, right in front of his parents, in front of their home, after police officers followed Tolan home after allegedly having run his plates and mistakenly (the plate number was entered incorrectly) found him to be driving a stolen car. Robbie was unarmed, lying on the ground, when he was shot. According to him and his parents he had risen slightly from a prone position and called out to protest his mother's being shoved against the garage after his parents came out of their home to speak to the officers. His father was being detained up against a car by the other officer at the time. Robbie survived the near-fatal shooting though apparently the bullet will remain lodged in his liver (it entered through his chest and passed through a lung on the way there). Now, he and his parents are still waiting for results of an investigation into the shooting.

It was heart-wrenching to hear his parents tell the story of what happened, including that they were detained by the police in separate cars and not allowed to go with their son to the hospital when the ambulance came. Robert and Marion Tolan have lived in Bellaire for some 15 years. They are the only black family living in their neighborhood. A former baseball player, Bobbie Tolan is well known in the area. When the came out their front door in their pajamas on new year's eve they had no expectation that they or their son would face lethal force. They expected to be able to clear things up through discussion. That seems like a reasonable expectation to me.

Houston news coverage of this story indicates the Bellaire police department is researching their stopped car cases to look for evidence of racial profiling. The policeman who shot Tolan had a history of citations for things like using too much force. I'll be interested to see what the city investigation concludes about the incident.

However we work on race in this country in the next few years, I hope we can find a number of real and lasting ways to try and make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen any more. It's not just about race, of course, it's also about having a society that reacts strongly to evidence of police violence and abuse of power. I was saddened to watch the report on this case and to search for it afterwards in the news online and see so little coverage and so little discussion.
Big Damn Heroes

What would a diverse SFWA look like?

We're in science fiction and fantasy here, right? the genre of speculation? Let's do an exercise in imagination.

(I know people who actually participated in RaceFail '09 are licking their wounds right now, but I wanted to throw this thought out there.)

The SFWA web site says nothing about diversity. It says nothing about minorities, or people of color, or women or GLBT authors. None of the subcommittees directly address isues having to do with these groups.

SFWA is undergoing an internal restructuring, and their website is being redesigned as well. If you are a SFWA member (or have considered becoming one), and you want SFWA to welcome minority authors and feel that their peers value their membership, how would you want SFWA to do that? Please feel free to comment here, please contact SFWA (email SFWA secretary Mary Robinette Kowal, secretary at, and please pass it on.

ETA: temporarily Friends-locking this post at a request from Mary (explanation pending- she was in a rush and dropped me a quick email asking if I could hold off on blogging it). It may be that she/SFWA was already working on something and hoped to reveal it internally from SFWA before we appeared to request it, I don't know. Knowing how I have always hated being asked to do something just before I was going to do it anyway, thus being robbed of the appearance of initiative, I will ask people to hold off on re-blogging this for the moment in case that's what's going on.

EATA: ok, Mary commented below and I'm unlocking this post.
Brian and Anne

Because I said I would give more context

a post explaining the context of a couple other posts recently...

There was this thing. At least, most of us are hoping it is accurate to use the word "was" because it seemed a rather toxic thing, such that it was easy to look at from the outside and dismiss as LJ Drama, or "a bag full of angry cats" or some other thing that apparently made various people who did not read it choose not to read it and some people congratulate themselves on the wisdom of staying far, far, away.

There are a couple names for it, but the one I've heard most often is RaceFail '09. There is a short summary here, and a linkety guide here including a link to a timeline and another summary of events (she calls it "Writing The Other/Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM '09" which is more descriptive in some ways, but doesn't have the short quick impression of total morass 'o doom that "RaceFail '09" does). Another comment people should read before diving in, with a lightly shorter link list, is here.

And yes, somewhere in there is evidence that there are certainly people who believe SF (as a written industry, and as a fandom) is not a safe place for people of color. Now, of course, many people will just point at RaceFail '09 itself to prove that point. I don't know how many people will listen to them. I know fandom is certainly both wider and deeper than this particular debate. I also know it is distinctly lacking in characters of color in writing by white people, authors and editors of color in the industry, and fans of color at literary sf cons. There are a few, but not enough.

(apparently there was another discussion last year that was slightly more sane. I remember reading Bear's post on it at the time, but otherwise didn't see much of it. )

If you are going to read any of it, I also recommend you read this essay on the definition of racism and also google "race theory" or "critical race theory" so as to avoid having the "what the heck are you people talking about and why are you mangling this corner of English so no one can talk to each other sensibly on this subject?" reaction in public the first time (like I did).

I have not read it all yet, but I plan to explore further, since the short summary (and other comments I've received) indicate "there have been many interesting and thoughtful posts by fans of color" and those are of interest to me. I hope to post a guide pointing to those later.

In the meantime, one thing some people point to as a positive !fail coming out of this is the creation of a new small press called Verb Noire. They are taking donations now to help them get started.