The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Question about SF

My question is, why aren't more people of color writing in the science fiction field? Chip quit, and Barnes seems to be it. If an editor doesn't know what color you are (or how old or what sex) but judges the story on what they read, then being black ought not to be an impediment. Nobody has ever kicked one my stories or books back and said, "Oops, you got a black guy in it, you have to change that."

What *is* the deal?
Steve Perry
My perspective is that they don't feel invited to the party.  Those who made it in (Octavia, me, Chip) were the ones who could write in a field that almost never featured us as human beings, where movies like "when World's Collide" would show the one ship featuring human beings worth the saving--and they are all white.  Where blacks in SF films often died horribly, often saving white people.  We didn't feel valued, and people don't go where they aren't wanted.  So there weren't many fans, and maybe one out of a thousand fans becomes a pro.  The numbers just weren't there.
And it wasn't purely benign neglect, the "they didn't know any black people."  John Campbell, arguably the most influential SF editor ever, specifically believed blacks were intellectually inferior, and incapable of developing an advanced civilization. He couldn't possibly be the only person who felt that way--just one of the few to go on the record.  SF is very, very conservative socially, and I think the implication in a whole bunch of it is the Campbellian world view--phrased more politely and obliquely. That is certainly what I felt from the moment I walked into a convention.  I just needed the society, needed the common ground, and was willing to put up with the constant, subliminal insult.  the cover of "Streetlethal" being made a white guy was no accident, nothing isolated, nothing remarkable at all.  And you have to grasp that SF is 99% white people and their imaginary friends to realize what was happening here.  Without the early protection of Larry Niven, I doubt very very seriously I would have survived.  Octavia has never made much money in the SF community--it wasn't until the feminists found her, and black women's reading groups found her, that her career really became successful.  And Chip Delaney switched to writing about his sexual orientation because the academic community was more embracing of that, because he was given more welcome there.  And me?  I was just too stubborn and crazy to quit.  And that about covers it. 
I've been alone for so long it hurts.  I never wanted to write about race, or racial issues, but realized that if I didn't , there was no one who would.  So I stepped up, and only time will tell if that was a smart move, career wise. 


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