Once again on Jemisin-related stuff, giving me an occasion to touch on other things as well.
I have the impression that in the journey toward a more progressive society things are getting very messy, and I’m conflicted between a certain pessimism in observing a decadent society that can only topple on itself, and a very timid optimism about certain healing properties that still exist within society and sometimes seem to also be able to compensate the worst coming out of it.
A lot of this conflict for me is based on the canons that make certain judgements. What defines discrimination, how to recognize it, how to fight it, how to understand and deal with very different and contrasting points of view when things are more blurred. Do you come with absolute certainties or doubts?
I do stop and think. I try to challenge certain points of view, then see my attempts fail making a dent. There’s so much noise and vitriol that it’s impossible to deal with a complex issue.
I do feel I’m being accused directly. But before I turn defensive I once again stop and think. I have my own honesty toward myself, my critical thinking. It’s first and foremost between me and myself, but regardless of my conclusions someone else will look at me and judge me, and decided what I have thought and why. I might be blind to my own racism. I might be dishonest with myself.
What can I do? Should I try defend myself, or defending myself would be just a further proof of being guilty? Should I shut up and just accept I’m a “white male predator” because of my genre and color of skin, those traits written so deep in me that I won’t be able to deal with them or even recognize them?
I feel I can only surrender to these types of arguments, because they are arguments that admit no reply. Should I just submit? Or should I be hypocritically think I’m the exception? The exception to this:
That’s the segment of SFFdom that is generally bewildered by the whole discussion of diversity because Colorblindness™ and I Never Ask What The Gender Of The Writer Is Before I Buy A Book™ even though their personal bookshelves contain 90% white guys.
Yes, I do feel she’s speaking about me. I haven’t checked, but it’s very likely my bookshelf is 90% white guys. I also do claim I don’t care for gender or color of skin when I’m about to look into a book and decide whether to buy it or not. So it’s *me*. I recognize a description of me in those words, and since those words are meant to accuse of an hypocritical stance, then I feel I’m the one being accused of being an hypocrite.
Can I defend myself from that? Tell me what I can do and what I should do. Is there a prescribed reading list so I can begin walking toward the light? Maybe as I white male I can only hope to very partially cleanse my sin, and sins of my fathers? I will always be sullied?
A year or so ago there was some twitter hashtag used to tweet and retween “women in Sci-fi/Fantasy”, with the purpose of showing around those names. Create an awareness to tell potential readers there’s a good but hidden market. Jemisin calls it “the readership’s calls for diversity”. I participated, and it was easy to get 10 names that I thought were good writers people should look into. I still have the list I made (no particular order):
Janny Wurts – Dunnet – Caitlin Kiernan – Jacqueline Carey – JV Jones – Lois McMaster Bujold – N K Jemisin – Kate Elliott – Susanna Clarke – Valente – Robin Hobb – Nnedi Okorafor – Oktavia Butler – Diana Gabaldon – Rasheedah Phillips
The last name specifically is one that isn’t known at all, maybe even Jemisin doesn’t know about her. And it’s something I eventually wanted to bring here on the blog because it’s part of a “movement” called “Black Quantum Futurism” and it’s the very stuff that interests me. A black woman, in the genre, with a political argument, doing stuff that interests me closely. I stumbled on her work because of a very random twitter message from someone I follow, and it lead me to discover something really interesting. This too happened about a year ago.
Same as I did for Jemisin (see the post below where I quoted my forum message), even if I didn’t yet get to read the book(s) to write about at length here on the blog, I did everything I could to show around what I found. To tell people I found something really interesting, at least for me, included with links to Amazon to find the books:
Stuff I randomly spotted on Twitter and instantly proceeded to order (it’s cheap anyway). It’s self-publish stuff, I think, but that increases the curiosity of finding something RARE very few people know and potentially great and also different from everything else out there. Entirely new perspectives. Pioneering!
The two are related, the first is a weird tale that almost looks Danielewsky, it should have a sequel in a couple of months, and boldly claims “Time Travel, Theory & Practice”. There are a few weird schemes and pictures inside, the quality is not good (print quality of the images) but I love looking at convoluted diagrams and tangles of plot and mythology. The second one is some kind of fanzine, just 70-80 pages in a small format, it’s basically the “manifesto” that feeds the first book. I’ll paste here a quote so you understand what we’re dealing with:
[…] The troubling reality of being Black in America. The troubling reality of memory and how it plays a role in our daily lives. What do we chose to remember and what are we trying to forget? What memories are forced upon us and what memories are we forced to forget? What effect do they have over our bodies and psyches? The double conscious that DuBois once prophetically spoke of has transformed into a metafractal of limitless shapes and symmetry within the collective conscious of Black people. What are the dimesions of trauma? Does it work like a satellite routing a collective misery (sadness) to a certain locale? Does its energy participate and reemerge in some other space? How does our trauma affect the cosmos?
Black Quantum Futurism (or BQF) is a new approach to living and experiencing reality by way of the manipulation of space-time in order to see into possible futures, and/or collapse space-time into a desired future in order to bring about that futures reality. This vision and practice derives its facets, tenets, and qualities from quantum physics, futurist traditions, and Black/African cultural traditions of consciousness, time, and space. Inside of the space where these three traditions intersect exists a creative plane that allows for the ability of African-descended people to see into, choose, or create the impending future.
BQF is a new experience of time consciousness that binds modern day physics, ancient African time consciousness, and conceptual notions of futurism. Through Black Quantum Futurism we can increase the “knowability” of the future and the past by treating both modes of time as formally equivalent. This practice develops foresight and hindsight by studying features of time, sources of change, rythms and patterns in larger social patterns, as well as patterns in our personal spheres of experience in order to map out our Black Quantum Futures. Time is change, and to see into the future is merely to anticipate what changes will occur, and what patterns will re-occur. BQF Creatives work to consciously subvert the strict chronological hierarchal characteristic of linear time.
One of the pages is titled: Swahili Conception of Time and Space
Here’s an image of the writer, with Africa-shaped earrings. She basically looks coming straight from The Matrix:
So, it’s Time Travel mythology employed as social activism. A delicious post-modern mix. It’s mythology laid on top of this discourse:
Watch the video because it’s great. I still only just browsed through the two books since I just got them, so can’t really say if what’s in there is actually good. But the premises are more than worth the very small price. I feel like I’m hanging out with the cool people (I’m white and feel I don’t belong, but I still feel it’s cool).
And I also absolutely love this blur of practical mythology, crossing over between fiction and reality, and basically reinvent everything. Even when it’s a failure it’s still exceptional.
Do you see the tone I used? I was excited. Do you see I was trying to get people to participate, even if that call fell dead in the water and people shrug it off? There’s no agenda there. I found something that looks very interesting and so I wanted to share it. EVEN BETTER if it happens to be a black woman writing. (an aside: the movie “Chi-Raq” by Spike Lee is a masterpiece, watch it)
No, I don’t go and don’t accept to go out of my way to look *specifically* for something written by a woman of color. That’s something I respect as a choice, but it’s not my choice and if I made it I’d feel hypocritical. I won’t try to balance my reads to find an ideal ratio of male to woman. I follow my interests, if those interests cross a woman of color, even BETTER. I’m glad. But I really don’t want that to drive my choices.
My impression reading different forums, forums with no agenda beside people loving to discuss the stuff they are passionate about, is that Jemisin won because the book was GOOD. This is what I’m reading. I briefly went to Vox Day blog to read what was the narrative being spun over there, and I even chuckled a bit a this specific quote:
The winners were: black woman, black woman, Asian woman, white woman, none of whom are bestselling or even very well-known authors. This is reliably indicative of increasing irrelevance. It won’t be long before simply being a minority won’t be enough and authors will have to be gay, blind, and crippled just to be nominated.
It’s quite a straw man, but there’s a hint of truth in there. But the important aspect is that Vox Day (beside insulting Jemisin, which is plainly inexcusable no matter what) thinks Jemisin is a “token”. It means she won because of what she represents and not for the quality of her work.
But hey, wait. Because this is one of those rare occasions where she MIGHT have been a token but, call it a coincidence, this is one case where that’s simply NOT TRUE. What I see by reading the forums I usually read is that people with no agenda at all read the book and LOVED it. It’s even a first because in many other occasions the book that won the Hugo wasn’t that much of a favorite. There was more of a disconnect between Hugo voters and general public. Jemisin represents EXCEPTIONALITY for the Hugo, which is why I said the win was predictable (I did predict it, after all) but this time at least a good book ACTUALLY won. Because it wasn’t always the case.
So Vox Day’s thesis is *specifically* wrong this time. It’s this year specifically a case that a good novel won and I see readers celebrate it! It’s not something new because a *black woman* won the Hugo main prize this year, it’s new that a GOOD NOVEL WON based on its own merits instead of just the name on the cover, as it’s usually the case (see Gaiman, this year). The Hugo is all about certain circles, there’s no healthy contamination. It’s a bad prize exactly because it’s so self-referential (but all prizes are, and I really hope we could just get rid of all of them, honestly). This year was an EXCEPTION. A good one. If anything, it’s from this point onward that one should be skeptical, because Jemisin now has a name. She’s not anymore the underdog and won’t represent anymore that side. She has contacts, she is well respected. Beware making her into a totem and proof that the problem is now solved.
But what about me? Jemisin accuses me (indirectly). I wonder, are black women misrepresented because the field is male-dominated, so the market is mostly pointed at males and consequently less women are readers (in the genre) and so less likely to also become writers (though things are definitely changing)? Is it a kind of circular process, like a self-fulfilling prophecy? Is it the publisher that draws this line? In the articles about the recent Hugo victory I saw linked another article by some writer discouraging women to write science fiction, I only gave it a cursory glance but the thesis seems to be that women can’t write action. But what if there’s a little bit of truth there if you correct the otherwise silly angle? What if the thing is not so much that women *can’t* write action, but rather that their preferred styles and themes are more likely oriented elsewhere? Maybe there isn’t an absolute “equality”, and women do write differently and bring to the table a different angle. It’s DIVERSITY that we should TREASURE. And maybe denying that diversity won’t do good to the cause. Because we should bring it out as a quality, instead of hiding it (while still also being wary of turning it into a canon or prejudice). It is different? GOOD!
What I know is that it’s hard for me to find women writers, or black writers, or combinations of those, that write the stuff that might interest me. You know them? BRING THEM ON. I want to know all about them. Every reader who loves reading is constantly waiting for more great things, the struggle is to fish them out in the chaotic sea of publishing. If I haven’t bought and read more books written by women is because I wasn’t able to find them. But that also means you CAN accuse me of having narrow tastes. It might be that I’m far more open to a certain type of diversity, and what I read isn’t branching out enough, that’s a more legitimate accusation than telling me I’m a racist. And maybe Jemisin is the exception, in my case, because she IS writing themes that you wouldn’t as easily find in a novel written by a woman. But I also think that the accusation of not reading books that are diverse enough is so generalized that it will be hard to say where to draw the line. We would once again fall into prescribed reading insanity.
A couple of weeks ago I was reading articles about Jerusalem, by Alan Moore. And in one another big tome was mentioned: Ash: A Secret History. I’ve never heard of it and the more I read reviews and forums posts the more I wanted to have the book in my hands. It’s written by a woman, Mary Gentle. I really wonder why this book never crossed my path and I immediately ordered a copy. But then the UK edition that has all the story in one volume is out of print everywhere, and in the end I had to ordered a used copy through Amazon, so the author won’t see any of that money (but I did get the book and it’s in great condition, yay!).
How do I prove that genre and color of skin don’t stop me, but are actually a positive point, even if it will never be a *decisive* point for me? I have my interests, I have an hard time finding women of color that are excellent writers and that write stuff I’m interested about. My library reflects my interests, not my prejudices (and when I was younger I also dabbed in the “chick lit” genre, that certainly wasn’t a market meant for a male presence). And if I can help to rise awareness about certain writers, I try to do what I can. Recently there was a forum post asking for five favorite fantasy series, I listed just four, because they do something different from the norm, and in my personal third place, after Erikson and Bakker, I put Janny Wurts. She’s not just a writer I recommend, or just a female writer, she’s up there with the very best.
But my library is still very likely 90% white guys. I am still observably guilty.