writing rengeek magpie mind

December 2014

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real magic can never be made by offering up someone else's liver.

Please read this linked post before proceeding. This post has been closed to new comments.

As this is an open letter, I believe it deserves an open response:

You're right.

You're pretty much right categorically and without exception, and I'm sorry to have mislead you for a moment into believing I think anything different. I will say that the book of mine you threw across the room is, in part, actually intended to address the point you make about it, but I obviously failed for you as a reader in doing so, and I'm sorry.

That racism serves a story is never an excuse, especially if the racism is unexamined. There's a fine line to walk, of course, because it's also racist to make people of color sacrosanct in fiction. The only long-term solution I am aware of is saturation: getting enough characters of color out there that each one stops being special by virtue of their color.

When I said that sometimes it helps to write as if somebody "happens to have" a particular background, what I meant was not that anything else is the default. I meant that the character needs to be a person first, rather than being a stereotype or a token. A person, in other words, not an archetype or a stereotype or a role. 

It's a hard thing to talk about, to explain, and we've seen enough evidence already this week that the same words can sound very different to different people.

My intention really is not to earn brownie points. It is, hopefully, to do something about your pain and lack, and my own pain and lack, and the pain and lack of my friends and family and random strangers on the street.

If I check in with friends to see if I'm making mistakes, it's because I would rather be part of the solution than part of the problem, and obviously I'm not doing it well enough yet.

ETA: Think VERY CAREFULLY before you comment on this post. And make damned sure you are being both polite and respectful of others when you do. Or I will close comments.

Oz has spoken.


deepad's essay, here, is also excellent.



(I do wish people would stop assuming I'm straight.)

Comments

Re: Seems an overreaction

I worked at Borders for while.

Delaney, Butler, Durham, Buckell - all in scifi/fantasy.

Obama - in politics.

I'm sure there were more, but I don't really know what authors are white or black or whatever until I meet them, so I couldn't say. If they were only shelved in the black studies section, they were shelved by employees who were doing it wrong.

Re: Seems an overreaction

Depends on where you go, actually. It's not the most consistent thing. I've seen it done differently in different Borders in the same city. I am, by the way, talking about the African-American Literature shelf, not Black Studies. (Barack Obama's bio in Black Studies actually would make more sense to me, although I agree Politics is the best place for it.)

Example, early 2008, New York -- one Uptown actually double-shelved Butler both in the African-American Literature section AND in sci-fi fantasy (which, frankly, is awesome -- more exposure! -- but also costly, I would think), while during the same week, a flagship store in Midtown had Barack Obama's stuff under "New in African-American Interest" and Octavia Butler's last book, "Fledgling," on the special Af-Am Lit shelf, but not in sci-fi.

This same flagship store that, back in 2008 when I asked about it, had also put L.A. Banks on the special shelf, last week Friday (I check a lot) had her back on the horror shelf alongside Laurell K. Hamilton. (In contrast, her Vampire Huntress novels are consistently shelved in SF/Fantasy in B&N.) This weekend at a Borders in D.C., the books I mentioned above, but NOT the Obama book (I guess that wouldn't make financial sense anymore :-D) were indeed all on the special shelf.

I have never been able to find a Buckell physically in a Borders, although he is available for special order.(They're going through some difficult stuff at the moment, and I understand that shelf-space allotment is a tricky and pricey business -- and, heh heh, that the store does not revolve around my timing.) Delany, however, is always in SF/Fantasy, interestingly enough.

When were you at Borders? Because this is a relatively recent thing, I think. It certainly wasn't happening in the mid-90s when Borders first started really booming. (It was actually lobbied for partially by African-Americans in publishing, who have praised it as, for example, something for black children to look on with pride. The bad flip side, however, is that it is exclusionary marketing and limits an author's audience.) I do agree that they are "doing it wrong," but not of their own volition, according to the managers I asked, and I was not the first one who had brought it to their attention -- they encouraged me to write letters. Literature is literature and should not be segregated (especially when no other ethnic group's fiction is split off in this way).

(I do hope the conflating of Baldwin's fiction and nonfiction on the "AA Literature" shelf was just a staff error. I haven't checked back on that one.)