The Intersection: Let’s Talk Double Standards

13 Jul

These days there’s a great deal of discussion about what Diversity means (hint: it doesn’t mean cultural appropriation), why we should or shouldn’t have it, and who is permitted to engage in it. This is, despite the contention and disruption in the community, a very good thing. Change doesn’t happen unless we actively engage it—particularly when the problem in question (systemic bias) is complex and multi-layered. Let me emphasize this again: the issue of diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy is a complex one. In my experience, it requires extensive self-awareness, a willingness to endure uncomfortable situations and discussions without defensiveness, the ability to understand that a larger, implied context is a factor in communication, and a great deal of humility.

Systemic oppression isn’t an easy problem to resolve. Humanity has been struggling with it since the first human being grabbed leadership of a group and declared another group the enemy. If it were as simple as say, one group “getting over it” or “waiting until the old people die off, carrying their offensive beliefs with them,” it would’ve been resolved generations ago.

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Newsflash: if you’re a member of the groups[1] at the top of the socio-economic power structure, the lion’s share of responsibility for dismantling the system of oppression is ultimately yours. The groups at the top of the pyramid have more power to do something about the situation than do those at the bottom tiers. However, simply having the white savior ride in on a gallant steed isn’t the answer either. Everyone internalizes oppression. Everyone on every side of the equation. To borrow a quote from Jim Morrison, no one here gets out alive. That’s why it’s so important as creators to examine your work as closely as possible. Oppression has been around for so long—has built up so much energy behind it over time—that it doesn’t take much to contribute to its continuance. The mere indication that change isn’t possible will strengthen the system. Even though most people don’t want to be the person who actively contributes to oppression,[2] every one of us has been. Yes, including me.

Recently, I glimpsed a discussion about diversity in YA and how authors of color were being judged by a much harsher standard regarding the diversity in their work than white writers. Don’t act shocked. Even authors who happen to be white women (like myself) get judged this way. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been told that I shouldn’t write so many male characters and that I need to write more like a woman because I’m female. I’m constantly being told that my work isn’t progressive or feminist enough. I’m always being questioned in this regard. Meanwhile, the literary, comic, and entertainment world continue to insist that stories about men are more important, more worthy, more “profitable.” When critics and readers insist that marginalized groups only write about marginalized groups and work about marginalized groups isn’t given a chance to succeed, what does this effectively say?

This no-win situation is the bog standard programmed reaction to the system of oppression—this idea that the oppressed are entirely responsible for the changes that will benefit them. Because “bootstraps” or “I did it without help. You can too. You’re just not working hard enough.” or any number of other selfish insensitive comments. That’s ludicrous. If your attitude is that it doesn’t affect you, therefore it isn’t your problem, you are, in fact, a big part of the problem. In addition, the trouble with the stance that everything can be solved by a White Savior™ is that only the White Savior gets credit, and when only the White Savior gets credit the system of inequality is upheld. And when it comes to creative endeavors marketed for profit this means that only the White Savior makes money. We have a word for that and it’s not a pretty one.[3]

That’s why white authors need to do more than merely write about persons of color. That’s the bare minimum. We also need to contribute to programs which support writers of color. We must make space in the writing community and the fan community. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s for the future of our communities. Because if you think the way things are is going to last forever, you’re not only dead wrong…

You’re not a forward-thinker either.

And one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about SF is the fact that so many of us look to the future and want it to be a shiny, happy place. Let’s make this happen. Let’s feed the right damned wolf, shall we?


[1] Let’s be honest. This is about more than just CIS White Dudes. This is about white women too. And because there is such thing as intersectionality, you can be a part of the top of the structure and the lower levels of that structure at exactly the same time. Being a member of an oppressed group on one axis (say, economic status or religion) does not get you off the hook regarding your privilege. It isn’t that simple.

[2] Yes, there are people who do. They’re assholes.

[3] Cultural appropriation, for fuck’s sake.

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