Now that Lightspeed Magazine has published its ultra-successful issues featuring stories by women and queers (who “destroyed” genres like fantasy and science fiction), it’s the turn of people of color. And the latest update in the Kickstarter for People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction is a must-read. [Full disclosure: I was featured in Women Destroy Science Fiction.]
Nisi Shawl, author of Writing the Other and Filter House as well as a forthcoming Steampunk novel set in the Belgian Congo called Everfair, just posted a brilliant essay on the People of Colo(ur) Destroy Science Fiction Kickstarter page, in which she talks about going to a big speculative fiction event and asking, “Why am I the only black person here?”
Logistical reasons aside, there was another, deeper cause for the absence of POC. L. Timmel Duchamp touched on it in her remarks on the panel on publishing when talking about popular culture’s awakening SF sensibility. This awakening is ambiguous in its effects; though it can render SF accessible to mass audiences, it can also privilege mainstream narratives, imposing them on a formerly marginalized genre and the marginalized voices seeking representation there. As Duchamp noted in her blog post about the symposium, “intelligibility is neither obvious nor ‘natural’ . . . Some stories are simply invisible to those who don’t venture outside mainstream culture.”
What happens when a story is unintelligible? It’s labeled worthless, weak, ineffective. It is rejected, unpublished, unsupported. Sometimes, as in the real-life case of Professor Steve Locke, a different and more easily accepted story is substituted. Police stopped Locke in the street and detained him because he “fit the description” of the burglar who had broken into a woman’s nearby home. Writing about the incident (bit.ly/1m3sk3R), Locke points out that, despite a lack of physical mistreatment, the encounter infuriated him. The violence he experienced was done to his personal narrative, the story each of us tells ourselves about who we are. This personal narrative is how we make sense of the world.
This is a fantastic way of explaining the importance of inclusiveness: We are all made out of stories, and when one person’s stories are erased, it’s easy to get downgraded as a person, in the “real” world. The whole essay is brilliant and well worth reading.