I remember Dad saying, how come you never see anybody like that in the stories you like? And I remember answering, maybe they didn't have black people back then. He said there's always been black people. I said but black people can't be wizards and space people and they can't fight evil, so they can't be in the story. When he didn't say anything back I turned around. He was in full recline mode in his chair and he was very still, looking at me. He didn't say anything else.
At the time, Nalo Hopkinson wrote a response indicating her own experience was similar
I've struggled to try to put my similar experience growing up into words, but I often end up circling around it, because it just hurts too much. Thanks for digging deeper. (And the first time I found a black science fiction writer, I burst into tears, too. I was twenty-two.)
Pam wrote a followup re: The Shame of Earthsea a couple weeks after the essay was published, which included a link to that comment by Nalo. She came back two years later to point out that This is related - a response to the cultural appropriation discussion at Wiscon that year, where, she said,
What I'm seeing in many of these discussions rolling around is a lot of basic artist chest thumping, folks standing on the mountaintop proclaiming their right to explore the whole of the world in their works, and irritation that anyone suggest otherwise. I'm seeing lots of yeah man, right on in response and can't help but to notice that a lot of these folks are so busy celebrating themselves that they've cheered right past the root problem. This issue of cultural appropriation and representation is not about validating you as One Of The Good Guys, nor is it about denying an artist the right to harvest from many fields during the Quest.
It's about the fact that for all your proclaiming of I Can, nine times out of ten? You Don't.
Bonus question! Cast your eye upon the creations of our geek tribe and explain why it is as a whole so very monotone; compare that to the acts of Missing The Point on display throughout the current dust-up, and justify. Your answer to this one will comprise 98% of your grade.
If you didn't go read the whole Shame essay linked to at the top, I suggest you aim to do so when you have time. Yes, it's long, but it's worthwhile.
So. That was 3 years ago.
Pam Noles has been active in the Carl Brandon Society, which was founded at WisCon in 1999, partly due to a response to an article written by Samuel R. Delany, "Racism in Science Fiction," published in The New York Review of Science Fiction the year before (Vol. 10, Issue 12, Aug. 1998).
That article was reprinted in Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, edited by Sheree R. Thomas in 2000. If you want to read it, why not get the book? It's a good book.
That was all roughly ten years ago.
I have been oblivious, for those ten years, of the fact that the society exists. This feels strange to me, given how many conversations I have had over the years about the paucity of POC in the genre. I have been talking, but I have not been looking for other people who were also talking about it, or for ways to institute change.
Now I am looking, and I am listening, and I am reading (history, and racism research and discussion in and out of the genre, and SF by POC). I'm also planning to attend WisCon this year. Because if ten years of active work on this topic only got this genre as far as it is today, we're not trying hard enough. I don't know who all "we" is, but I have decided it includes me. At least, I'm going to try harder, and see if that achieves anything.