The Fireside #BlackSpecFic 2017 Report is Out

Cecily Kane has been crunching the numbers and scouring the contents pages of short fiction outlets for several months and an updated report on the state of speculative fiction by black writers is out: https://firesidefiction.com/blackspecfic-2017

The original report resulted in a lot of defensive reactions from some editors of magazines. The fact of clear numerical underrepresentation was taken by some sections of short fiction publishing not as a call for people to do better but as an accusation of specific and conscious discrimination*. Those kinds of reactions are missing the point. The new report expresses the issue succinctly:

“The field is segregated, and whether that’s due to variable submission rates, variable acceptance rates, and/or other factors, the data expose a clear instance of structural racism.”

The under-representation of black writers will have many proximate causes but collectively they amount to a systemwide bias. Many of the factors in that bias will be external to fandom specifically and arise out of socioeconomic biases in wider society. BUT that doesn’t remove our moral responsibility to do better.

The good news in the report is that while overall levels of representation are low, they have improved and much of the improvement has been due to new writers being published. Notably several magazines have managed to publish black writers at a rate close to or greater than the proportion of black people in the US population (13%). Those outlets are Apex, Book Smugglers Publishing, Fireside Magazine, Strange Horizons, and Uncanny. In addition to those Fiyah magazine began in 2017, a magazine dedicated to Black speculative fiction.

*[on top of that, of course the Sad and Rabid Puppies reacted in pretty much the way you might expect:

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2016/08/14/the-puppy-axis-returns-guess-what-unites-them/

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2016/08/14/the-puppy-axis-returns-part-2-fireside-and-making-sense-of-it-all/

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2016/08/14/the-puppy-axis-returns-part-3-apparently/

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/the-puppy-axis-returns-cut-to-the-chase-already/

The commanlity between the Sad Pup reaction to the 2015 report (published in 2016) and the reaction from less canine sources was the same confused ideas that if there are racist outcomes then there must be an overt ideological racist and hence that the report was flawed because it hadn’t shown that editors of short fiction outlets were maliciously discriminating against black people. The report, of course, never claimed any such thing.]

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26 comments

  1. Annie

    Unsurprisingly, the reaction to this report has been pretty much the same on the blogs I visit.
    The old canard of ’I don’t care who writes the story, so long as it’s good and those who do care about the race of the author are actually the racist ones.”
    Even people who I would consider to be very liberal are increasingly starting to think this way, and they get quite defensive which makes me wonder why, after all, if they don’t care then why the strong reaction?
    They also tend to posite that we can’t really know how many black authors submitted stories, since there is no way that a magazine could tell the colour of an author unless they first saw a picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • camestrosfelapton

      That’s sad – I mean it isn’t hard to see that there can be barriers to participation that aren’t intentional or malicious but impact some groups more than others. That concept isn’t inherently radical or leftwing.

      Like

      • Annie

        I can see where you’re coming from, and I think in most parts of the world it’s true,but when it comes to America, there are a number of different forces at play.
        I think most people want to believe that America is as they’ve always been told the land of opportunity,, where anyone can achieve their dream if they try hard enough.
        I guess it has something to do with the protestant work ethic, The idea that if you work hard enough, you’ll get what you want whether it’s that white Picket fence or you want to become a millionaire, anything is possible.
        In this formulation then, people who are poor deserve to be because they are lazy, they don’t work hard enough, instead they complain and want handouts from the government.
        Most people can’t understand the very system itself is stacked against some groups because they tend to think from the individual perspective rather than a group one.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Kat Goodwin

    White people are on the top of a white supremacist society and advantaged by that society, particularly through the bias of the society that white people are the best and most good in the society. To maintain that white supremacy reputation as the best and the most good — as individuals who just “happen” to be white and thus magically, inherently great — most white people, even if liberal in their general abstract views, don’t like to be reminded of that white supremacy. Because if they acknowledge that it is a white supremacy society, then they have to deal with that issue and they worry what people will think of them for not previously trying to deal with that issue. And that becomes more important to them than actually dismantling the white supremacy of our society when that white supremacy is pointed out, particularly if it is specifically about areas that involve them personally.

    Social identity and reputation as the superior righteous almost always is seen by those at the top of a hierarchy as more important than the suffering and discrimination of those who are marginalized as the inferior, poor quality people by the society, marginalized in order for there to be a superior righteous group at the top of the hierarchy. We are trained from the time we are very young that we are mostly good, smart, fair, etc., if we are white children and that we are mostly inferior, greedy, and unintelligent, etc. when we are not white children. When you poke the myth of this supremacy and point out its damage and actual results in the society, you get bias defensiveness and rationalizations from those on top and entrenchment in the status quo hierarchy. It’s “soft,” passive bigotry which has a much longer and firmer grip on societies than active and violent bigotry and is harder to shift. (And same with all the other bigotries intersectionally.)

    So when you point out white supremacy bias to white people, they will inevitably pretend that it’s not there and that it is the POC’s fault for the discrimination, that the fact that white people control nearly all the systems, government offices, organizations and businesses, such as magazines for instance, means absolutely nothing in regards to the numbers that show discrimination, etc. Because the important thing to most white people is that the white people are always the superior righteous who have done nothing wrong, or at least, they as an individual white person are such. It’s POC writers who are messing up, they claim, those inferior folks who can’t get it together like the white writers and that’s why there’s a problem. Decades of both active and passive bigotry discriminating against POC authors and particularly always black authors at the bottom of the social hierarchy cannot have affected them and how they run magazines because they are the superior righteous in their persons — they’ve been told that all their lives and so they really resent POC trying to say something different. If they face the numbers Fireside is putting out, then they have to face they’ve been living a lie, a bigoted myth about the world they live in and about their own personal lives.

    This happens to me, this happens to you, to all white people. It takes conscious effort not to engage in the white bias defensiveness we’ve been trained in — to step back and say, well crap, we have to get to work on this. To not treat black people and POC writers trying to change discrimination against them as threatening, angry, scary people who should not be able to criticize the white folk about discrimination in the society — and the power, money and/or social status benefits they get from it. So white people are concerned about POC’s “agenda” (continuing to end discrimination against them,) and their “methods” on that agenda (pointing out discrimination with hard data and personal witness,) and their timetable (ending discrimination as quickly as possible, like right now.)

    White people get very, very worried and concerned about all that. So there will be the usual round of “worry” after this report. But since they can’t disappear the report, and those darn POC won’t go along with discrediting it, some of them are actually going to look at their stats and try to improve things by actively going out and looking for good POC writers they’ve been ignoring or overlooking. If we’re lucky, that is. The ones who dig in and entrench so they can keep their reps as the superior righteous top of the hierarchy (the good people,) they may get worse. Which is why Fireside will keep poking at the myth that the stats are perfectly normal by pointing them out and that they are not normal — they are biased in favor of white people still. Systematic racism has not disappeared in SFF magazines or anywhere else.

    Like

  3. Kat Goodwin

    White people are on the top of a white supremacist society and advantaged by that society, particularly through the bias of the society that white people are the best and most good in the society. To maintain that white supremacy reputation as the best and the most good — as individuals who just “happen” to be white and thus magically, inherently great most of the time — most white people, even if liberal in their general abstract views, don’t like to be reminded of that white supremacy. Because if they acknowledge that it is a white supremacy society, then they have to deal with that issue and they worry what people will think of them for not previously trying to deal with that issue. And that becomes more important to them than actually dismantling the white supremacy of our society when that white supremacy is pointed out, particularly if it is specifically about areas that involve them personally.

    Social identity and reputation as the superior righteous almost always is seen by those at the top of a hierarchy as more important than the suffering and discrimination of those who are marginalized as the inferior, poor quality people by the society, marginalized in order for there to be a superior righteous group at the top of the hierarchy. We are trained from the time we are very young that we are mostly good, smart, fair, etc., if we are white children and that we are mostly inferior, greedy, and unintelligent, etc. when we are not white children. When you poke the myth of this supremacy and point out its damage and actual results in the society, you get bias defensiveness and rationalizations from those on top and entrenchment in the status quo hierarchy. It’s “soft,” passive bigotry which has a much longer and firmer grip on societies than active and violent bigotry and is harder to shift. (And same with all the other bigotries intersectionally.)

    So when you point out white supremacy bias to white people, they will inevitably pretend that it’s not there and that it is the POC’s fault for the discrimination, that the fact that white people control nearly all the systems, government offices, organizations and businesses, such as magazines for instance, means absolutely nothing in regards to the numbers that show discrimination, etc. Because the important thing to most white people is that the white people are always the superior righteous who have done nothing wrong, or at least, they as an individual white person are such. It’s POC writers who are messing up, they claim, those inferior folks who can’t get it together like the white writers and that’s why there’s a problem. Decades of both active and passive bigotry discriminating against POC authors and particularly always black authors at the bottom of the social hierarchy cannot have affected them and how they run magazines because they are the superior righteous in their persons — they’ve been told that all their lives and so they really resent POC trying to say something different. If they face the numbers Fireside is putting out, then they have to face they’ve been living a lie, a bigoted myth about the world they live in and about their own personal attitudes.

    This happens to me, this happens to you, to all white people. It takes conscious effort not to engage in the white bias defensiveness we’ve been trained in — to step back and say, well crap, we have to get to work on this. To not treat black people and POC writers trying to change discrimination against them as threatening, angry, scary people who should not be able to criticize the white folk about discrimination in the society — and the power, money and/or social status benefits they get from it. So white people are concerned about POC’s “agenda” (continuing to end discrimination against them,) and their “methods” on that agenda (pointing out discrimination with hard data and personal witness,) and their timetable (ending discrimination as quickly as possible, like right now.)

    White people get very, very worried and concerned about all that. So there will be the usual round of “worry” after this report. But since they can’t disappear the report, and those darn POC won’t go along with discrediting it, some of them are actually going to look at their stats and try to improve things by actively going out and looking for good POC writers they’ve been ignoring or overlooking. If we’re lucky, that is. The ones who dig in and entrench so they can keep their reps as the superior righteous top of the hierarchy (the good people,) they may get worse. Which is why Fireside will keep poking at the myth that the stats are perfectly normal by pointing them out and that they are not normal — they are biased in favor of white people still. Systematic racism has not disappeared in SFF magazines or anywhere else.

    As for the editors don’t know who is a POC author and who isn’t routine, that’s largely a canard. Stories that don’t center white people come often from POC authors and white editors frequently have biases that make it hard for them to relate to and process those stories. They often believe that the POC characters should be more what they stereotypically think POC should be and other biases come into play. So that affects acceptance rates. And acceptance rates affects admission rates — if POC see a magazine seldom publishes POC authors, a lot of them won’t waste their time submitting there. If white-run magazines don’t make an effort to seek out POC writers, then they have the rep of being a closed shop that isn’t favorable to POC writers. Because POC writers constantly run into clueless and biased white people in the industry. They have the most charming stories of those encounters that will make you want to put your fist through a wall.

    It’s understandable that white people don’t want to hear about all that and think about it, think about the numbers. It’s not pleasant. But POC writers don’t have that option, so they’d like to change things, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jessica

      This so, so hard.
      White people get very, very worried and concerned about all that.

      What we white people need to get very, very worried about is ending this sort of systematic racism by learning that equality is not and never has been a zero-sum game.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Kat Goodwin

        Agreed. But a lot of the white people who don’t see equality as a zero-sum game in viewpoint still get their backs up when discussion of systemic racism comes anywhere near them. The reputation in society they enjoy is because of white supremacy, but they don’t think of it that way — they think they earned it by being a good person. So all they hear is, you’re not really a good person, which the white supremacy society tells them that they should not have to put up with. So even though they are for equality in principle, they are concerned about losing the reputation they’ve enjoyed on top of the hierarchy and being thought of as a bad white person. Or a bad man when it’s sexism. Or a bad hetero cis person when it’s LGBTQ, etc.

        Essentially, they want an opt-out position for themselves in the discussion of systemic bias and bigotry where those speaking out for less discriminatory change in the system don’t include them as part of the problem. They are used to getting an opt-out because society grants them one as one of the top group and thus inherently a good, fair, honest, etc. — superior — person. When they don’t get it, that becomes the panicked position — restoring their rep. To do that, they have to delegitimize criticism and pointing out of discriminatory biases in the system. So then the narrative becomes that white editors are fine; it’s the black writers who are messing up or just not very good compared to the white ones or have a point but are being too angry and extremist about it. They insist that it’s mostly a naturally occurring phenomena, like the weather (and never mind the human climate change stuff.) So they don’t need to do anything or look at anything and the (white supremacist) system is fine.

        The only time we get change is when there seems to be enough people who won’t accept the system is fine argument, who will keep making those at the top uncomfortable about the topic, that they are forced to deal with the issue. That’s why a handful of black authors doing well seems to them a deluge in the market and a preference for black writers, for instance. When you hit about ten percent participation improvement, that then means that the topic of inequality is going to get louder and more regular because there are more people to make the argument, having seen that change is slowly possible and the myth that the hierarchy system is normal does not have to be accepted. Which means fewer and fewer abilities to force an opt-out for those on higher rungs of a hierarchy, especially if you want to keep up the rep of being a good, fair, etc. person. You have to give up the rep you get from the supremacy society in order to actually get decent equality for everybody.

        That’s what has happened/is happening with codes of conduct at conventions. With pronoun usage. With Black Lives Matter. With the tech industry, and so forth. That’s why things are “divisive” and “polarized.” Because the people who are supposed to accept being ground down by the hierarchy refuse to do it to varying degrees and won’t give people on the top passes to opt-out on the issues. So convention organizers have to deal with sexual harassment and their biases about it. And white magazine editors have to deal with POC writers and their biases about them. And white male book reviewers with their biases and so forth. Or they can entrench and go status quo supremacist like ConCarolinas’ organizers did. They can decide that the whole equality complaints thing is a scam meant to steal things from them, the system is fine and they are the victims of vicious character assassination. And some of them can go into active bigotry to defend the system and preserve their social rep, dehumanizing those wanting change on discrimination.

        We all do the bias defensiveness. Sometimes we’re just clueless (see the dog and the lizard parable) because none of what is touching them really touches us and we don’t think about it. The trick is pulling out from it and realizing that an opt-out for us is not productive and not necessary.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jessica

        The worst kind of racist is the kind who doesn’t want to own their racism. You can’t talk to those people.

        Racism ends because of education. Teach kids early enough to see the indoctrination their parents and other authority figures are shoving at them and they’ll become resistant. It’s a generational issue. Slowly, life by life, fewer and fewer people are poisoned by hatred but we cannot think that the battle is being won yet. The Orange shitgibbon and his cronies are proving just how shallowly buried racism has been these past 50 years.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Regular Commenter

        Ironically, for a person who spends a lot of time in a proto-educative capacity, I am not longer sure that “education” is the solution. I think that cultivated empathy (along with radical transformations in the capacity of late-capitalist politics/ society to support the material and mental well-being of all constituents) is probably more likely to get us better results.

        Tromp supporters are often very well-educated people. They’ve seen Sesame Street and live in the same general culture and educational systems as non-racists. Education without empathy is not going to solve anything.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Kat Goodwin

        What we do know, actual interaction with people of other ethnicities, races, sexual orientation, etc. does break down bigotry for a lot of people. It’s much harder to maintain myths of hierarchy and the justifications for harming people based on those myths if the people they are about are right there, refuting them by turning out to be just people. That’s why representation also matters — exposure to a wider range of people in the arts is one of the reasons younger generations are more liberal as they grow up actually seeing a wider reality that isn’t built as much around those myths.

        With racial bigotry, when people of different races/ethnicities are moving into an area slightly more than before, into spaces white people are used to thinking of as white, there is a backlash built around that bias defensiveness, of having to deal with non-white people. That’s why we get all these white people calling the cops on black people. And that’s why we got the Puppies with the Hugos. But when integration progresses, then a lot of white people will retreat on discrimination and bias myths because they just aren’t sustainable.

        Other white people, however, will try to sustain those myths by moving away from the brown people or moving in on areas that are mostly brown people and gentrifying them — shoving brown people out to make mostly white, expensive neighborhoods. Gerrymandering, redlining, isolationism, charter schools, mortgage loan denials, immigration crackdowns, attempts to remove non-white history and literature curriculum, railing against the use of other languages than English, etc. are all attempts by white people to enact segregation and maintain control of the best resources. A majority of Trump’s supporters are well-educated and/or upper middle class. They are trying to cut down interaction and access to resources that would help brown families build wealth — and be able to live in their neighborhoods.

        They may freak out when a brown person they like is suddenly getting deported, or arrested or discriminated against because to their mind the brown person is an “exception” to the prejudiced myths they stick with (they have “black friends.”) That sometimes changes and breaks down bias — when it’s a person hurting and a story close to home. Relatives who came out to their families is one of the things that most got LGBTQ follk marriage equality in various countries. That’s because they aren’t without empathy. They’ve just been told to direct empathy only to certain groups and the occasional “exception” they think “transcends” the familiar hierarchy. But that empathy can go out the window if they think their control over resources as top hierarchy group is threatened.

        Trying to build empathy and increase interaction and presence/representation are all good things that can often work at a personal level. But on the macro level, the thing that most definitely works is if enough people insist loudly and angrily on change to the discrimination hierarchy. At that point, those invested in the hierarchy and/or those who are just experiencing bias defensiveness are forced to back down from those positions in order to maintain a positive social rep. Some of them may do so reluctantly and pay lip service and renege on it whenever the social environmental lets them (such as electing Trump president on a nativist platform.) Others after being bewildered do sincerely want to do the empathetic and civil thing and change their views and behavior. But either way, the system itself gets adjusted forward towards equality.

        Loud and often dangerous challenges to mythic hierarchy do not build empathy in individuals necessarily, but it does build an environment in which people have a social rep motivation to choose empathy and inclusion, leading to more empathy and equality. That environment then becomes normal for young ones, who then don’t understand discriminations of the past because the myths that they are based on have been flushed out at least partially and mainly from the society. They in turn affect their parents, who have to adjust to new, more egalitarian mores, but who can in fact do so, as human beings are quite adaptable. That environment does affect schools, which is why the right is always trying to take over and enforce hierarchy in schools, including by getting rid of public schools that offer opportunities and interactions that would refute the myths the hierarchy is based on.

        This is why you get a lot of contradictions in people who are far right. They have adapted to and accepted some adjustments to more equal structures and beliefs that occur in their lifetimes because that became the environment, thanks to the efforts of the SJWs in the past — and so will assert that they can’t be prejudiced. But they reject others that feel more threatening to them or that are in the process of change and attempt to keep or regain control for security, particularly of resources. And that is why you get contradictions in the behavior of people who are more left leaning and progressive. They have embraced dropping parts of the hierarchy as changing social mores, but with others that more directly relate to them and their social rep, they may fall back on bias defensiveness, at least until that seems no longer workable or effective for them. It’s a continually shifting line and it reacts to a lot of different factors.

        What authoritarians don’t accept is that while you can violently force people to go backwards, away from equality and even into atrocities, you can’t erase the emotional and social effects of equality that people have experienced. Once marginalized people know of a more equal life without the mythic hierarchies, they will keep trying to return to it and improve it. Once they know that others live a more equal life with less mythic hierarchies, they will try to get it in their own. And they will keep trying through all sorts of ways, subtle and loud, over time.

        Like

      • Lurkertype

        I don’t have any sympathy for the brown people who are getting deported/having family members deported who supported/voted for Trump. Their families, yes (esp. kids), but not them. What were they expecting? He said exactly who he was going to throw out.

        I know, they thought “I’m one of the ‘good ones’, he can’t mean ME.” Nope. You all look alike to him.

        Like

      • Jessica

        @Regular Commenter, I’m not speaking of formal, classroom education, I’m speaking of the kind of learning which happens in daily life. Hatreds have to be taught, usually through osmosis and example. Therefore, tolerance and empathy may also be taught through those same methods. That’s the kind of education which defeats racism.

        Like

  4. Kat Goodwin

    Ok, there is something going weird with the comments. It just posted a partial comment that I didn’t post and then the full comment, which I did. You can delete the first one, Camestros. Sorry about that but I don’t know what happened.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lurkertype

    I have no problem admitting that there is such a thing as structural/institutional racism*. That is literally not my doing, it’s been going on for hundreds of years before I was born. I am but a tiny cog in the machine, so there’s not much I can do about it but work on myself and my tiny world.

    The past couple years, white supremacy has even grown. You’d think that would make it easier to realize, but apparently it’s made white people decide they’re not racist as long as they aren’t literally marching with tiki torches and swastikas.

    Also, saying the editors have no idea the authors are black is bogus. The subject matter would tell them. A quick Google/Facebook would tell them. In some cases, the author’s NAME would tell them. I mean, even if I didn’t already know, if I came across “Nnedi Okorafor”, I’d probably guess African ancestry. Just as I’d figure the author was white if his name was “Chad Worthington III”, or Asian if “Henry Chang”.

    *And sexism, and ableism, and…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jenora Feuer

      I’m reminded of a story I heard back in University (which I’ve probably mentioned before, but it was over 25 years ago now) about a college which was dealing with several accusations of racism and sexism in the admissions process, triggered by people doing the usual trick of sending out several C.V.s which differed only by the name, and seeing which ones got accepted.

      So they decided that to do the first pass of admissions via an AI system with a trained neural network that would read the C.V.s and pick ones with the right credentials and per-requisites, eliminating the human bias in the process.

      (Anybody who knows anything about neural networks sees what’s coming next…)

      The problem was, they’d included the names of the applicants in the training data, which meant that the neural network had picked up that if two people had otherwise identical credentials, it should prefer the one with the short, Anglo-Saxon name. Or without the ‘-a’ or ‘-elle’ endings of some female names. So when somebody ran the same test using identical C.V.s with different names, the neural network failed in exactly the same way as the humans whose decisions had been used to train it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dana Lynne

    What makes me sad is the backlash against “identity politics.” It’s part of what Kat is discussing above. Now people are saying that because minority groups banded together and pointed out, loudly, that they are still being discriminated against, that forced white people to band together and point out that they are under attack. And so identity politics is bad and this is the minority groups’ fault. Because we should all only focus on the individual.

    It just makes me want to bang my head against my desk.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bonnie McDaniel

      And so identity politics is bad and this is the minority groups’ fault. Because we should all only focus on the individual.

      This is another variation of what I call “bootstrap bullshit”–the idiotic idea that everybody can pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they just try hard enough. Sorry, that isn’t so, and never has been so throughout the history of this country. But it’s a convenient, modern, hip-sounding way for white people to deny the lingering effects of Jim Crow and perpetuate their privilege.

      Like

      • Jenora Feuer

        Yeah, it’s easy to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when your family had enough money to afford new boots rather than getting old hand-me-downs with straps that break if you tug on them too hard.

        Liked by 1 person

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