The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Irritation at Loscon

I have to admit to a conversation at Loscon that irritated me. It was with an old friend, a very nice, good guy with whom a cross word has never passed. In discussing Heinlein's FARNHAM'S FREEHOLD, and my extreme disappointment that (possibly) the most prominent Black character in all of Mr. Heinlein's work is a traitor to his friends who joins the (black) cannibals, the subject of my disappointment with racial and social issues in SF came up. You see, science fiction fans consider their field to be progressive in these areas, and I think they couldn't be more wrong. Progressive racially? That word "progressive" assumes a baseline against which to measure "progress". Well...shall we try three? Society in general, literature in general, the sciences in general...let's throw in another. Genre literature in general. Well, how does it measure up?
1) what percentage of lead or secondary characters in SF are black?
2) What percentage of characters depicted on covers are black?
3) what percentage of fans are black?
4) what percentage of authors are black?

Gee. It seems to me that no matter which way you slice it, the percentage is way below statistical representation in general population, representation in the sciences, or in literature in general. Maybe there are more black characters in SF than in, say, Romance novels, but does anyone think that was what my friend meant? He back-pedaled, suggesting that perhaps they were in the books, but just not described. I find this so insulting that I almost lost my temper. Not described? Can anyone think of a good reason for this? I asked him if he'd ever read an SF story where someone described a consumer product produced in Sub-Saharan Africa, no matter how far in the future such a story was set. After some thining, he mentioned a product designed in North Africa, and produced in "colonized" states to the south. Wow. Great. I mentioned that, according to two very well respected SF authors, the most powerful and influential editor in the history of the SF field would refused to publish stories dealing with advanced African civilizations, believing that Africans were not mentally capable of such a thing. My friend in essence called these distinguished writers liars. It is so sad. Racism isn't evil, although some manefestations of it certainly are. It is natural, inborn (to a degree), and must be carefully guarded against and risen above. We've demonized it to such a degree that we feel pain to associate it with the things we love. I love the SF field, but the complete exclusion of people who looked like me form the ranks of the brilliant and brave depicted inits pages caused me more pain than I can possibly tell you. More on this another time. I forgive my friend, as I have so often in the past.. I'm not sure I can keep forgiving indefinitely, however.


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