Guest Post: Does it Matter?

by Hal Duncan

“Does it matter that more books don’t address minorities or gender equality?”

Absolutely.

The status quo is segregation. It’s a state of segregation in which black, queer and members of other abject groups are not deemed to belong as main characters. This is the segregation of not being able to sit at the front of the bus. They may be allowed in as an exception if it “serves the plot” (c.f. your reviewer’s expectation of a reason for the character’s gayness.) This is the segregation of being stopped in a white neighborhood and challenged on your purpose in being there. They may be allowed in as Gay Best Friends or Magic Negros in service of the straight, white protagonist. This is the segregation of travelling into a white neighbourhood to work as a cleaner in someone’s house.

It’s segregation for the readers too. They may be able to go to a little corner of the genre where they can find stories that speak direct to them (a gay spec fic mag like Icarus, say.) This is the segregation of the ghetto. While this holds, as much as the abject may appreciate much of the narratives they’re written out of, the constant awareness of their erasure from these narratives is a barrier that prevents full enjoyment, a sign that says, “No Blacks” or “No Gays” (or whatever) that they must choose to ignore. This is the segregation of water fountains at which the abject cannot drink and be refreshed as the non-abject can.

There’s no requirement on an author to engage with the issues of race or sexuality or whatever as subjects; an author’s thematics is their choice. The desire for inclusion is not a politically correct demand for quotas whereby X% of seats at the front of the bus are allotted to the abject, such that some poor old lady who deserves that seat will be forced to stand; that’s a straw man of the committed segregationist. Nor is it a trivial petition for “diversity” that can be met with perfunctory tokenism; that’s a complacent delusion of the unwitting segregationist. It’s a desire for integration, plain and simple — nothing more, nothing less.

•••

Hal Duncan was born in 1971, brought up in a small town in Ayrshire, and now lives in the West End of Glasgow. A member of the Glasgow SF Writers Circle, his first novel, Vellum, won the Spectrum Award and was nominated for the Crawford, Locus, BFS and World Fantasy Awards. As well as the sequel, Ink, he has published a poetry collection, Sonnets For Orpheus, a stand-alone novella, Escape From Hell!, and various short stories in magazines such as Fantasy, Strange Horizons and/Interzone, and anthologies such as Nova Scotia, Logorrhea, and Paper Cities. He writes a regular column for BSC Review, had a musical, Nowhere Town, produced last year by a theatre group in Chicago, and also collaborated with Scottish band Aereogramme on the song “If You Love Me, You’d Destroy Me” for the Ballads of the Book album from Chemikal Underground.

This post originally appeared as a comment at Mark Charan Newton’s blog.

Additional essays on the subject can be found at BCS Review and at Notes from the Geek Show.

55 Responses

  1. Megs

    “The status quo is segregation.”

    Depends on where you grow up, I guess. I’m ethnic. Anyone that knows complexion knows I got a heaps of a lot of Mexican in me and probably some Native American. Anyone that knows hair knows I’ve got a heaps of a lot of Black in me. I NEVER feel like I’m purposefully or even strongly written out just ’cause the main character in a story doesn’t look like me. I couldn’t care less WHAT they look like as long as they’re consistent in their own world of the book. I tend to like books that tend toward other “browner” cultures sometimes, but I actually firmly dislike any book that makes a big deal out of race, ’cause it usually does so by stereotyping. I don’t know white Christian girls with black best friends at their high school that like them ’cause they don’t ask black. I know white and black girls at those schools with the EXACT SAME CULTURE ’cause they grew up in the same area living the same way. I don’t mind black neighborhoods and all that jazz because they DIDN’T grow up the same way. People are people, doesn’t matter the skin color. Does it matter if you exclude the culture? Yes. Does it matter if someone writes about the characters pestering them, regardless of their color? No. And it shouldn’t.

  2. Mishell Baker

    I keep hearing cries about all that’s wrong with the SF&F demographic, but no one has proposed a solution, and there’s a reason for that: there’s nothing to be done with any quickness that isn’t even more offensive than the problem itself.

    Very few writers can write about whatever they’re told to write about. So, what do we do, when an overwhelming number of SF&F writers are straight white males? Trying to write outside your own race/sexuality, even if you’re genuinely inspired to do so, usually gets you raked over the coals by the genuine article. Writing/rejection is terrifying enough without deliberately doing the literary equivalent of speaking badly-accented French in a Parisian restaurant.

    So we write about the things we can write with the ring of authenticity–namely ourselves–and so our books get bought by people like us, who grow up to become writers of stories like ours, etc. etc. This is how the majority stays in power: not so much malice as inertia.

    I think the answer, unsatisfying as it is, is that this has to happen gradually, naturally… the way it already is happening. Chip Delanys and Octavia Butlers beget N. K. Jemisens, David Anthony Durhams, Saladin Ahmeds, etc. Increasing numbers of writers are bringing color and sexual variety to the cultural landscape of SF&F. This widens the demographic that reads fantasy, and therefore widens the demographic of people who write fantasy, and so on. Perhaps the process is too slow to satisfy, but it is happening. Don’t lose heart.

    Trying to shame or even coax current popular authors into changing the subject matter of their fiction seems ill-advised. Art changes as new artists rise to prominence whose experience reflects the changes in the world. It’s already happening.

  3. Eugene

    So, while there are clearly some books with minority main characters, there just aren’t enough, and thus:

    “This is the segregation of not being able to sit at the front of the bus…This is the segregation of being stopped in a white neighborhood and challenged on your purpose in being there…This is the segregation of the ghetto…This is the segregation of water fountains at which the abject cannot drink.”

    As someone from a multi-generation Deep South family, where remnants of that ignominious legacy very much remain today, I think I can state with some authority:

    No. It’s. NOT.

    Lay off the hyperbole, Hal!

  4. Hal Duncan

    Megs: That the situation on the ground is more integrated only points up the segregation in the media, the relative absenting of the abject from protagonist status. YMMV on how important this is to you, of course; I found (and find) that absenting deeply troubling. Your point about making a big deal about race is exactly mine about the marker of deviance “serving the plot” — if we’re accurately reflecting the culture you describe, there’s no reason it should be significant. Ultimately: Does it matter if someone writes about the characters pestering them, regardless of their color? No. Does it matter if certain types of characters never pester writers outside an abject group because the word “hero(ine)” automatically conjures someone white and straight? To me, it does.

    Mishell: It’s not about changing the subject matter. I’ll reiterate: “There’s no requirement on an author to engage with the issues of race or sexuality or whatever as subjects; an author’s thematics is their choice.” Again, assuming that it should be a subject is to expect it to serve the plot. As for the difficulty, if we can write about robots, aliens and people of centuries into the future, it shouldn’t be that hard to write about characters of abject social groups. SF/F is all about a combination of research and imagination, surely; a writer in these genres should have core skills far more suited to the task than many.

    And we need to ask whether it does usually lead to being raked over the coals. I didn’t see this happen with either Mark Newton’s Nights of Villjamur or Richard Morgan’s The Steel Remains. Rather, the former got the challenge I mention above (why is the character gay?) Most negative comments on the homosexuality in the latter came from straight reviewers who found the gay sex too in-your-face — when it’s no more so than the straight sex in Morgan’s other works.

  5. Hal Duncan

    Eugene: I’m talking of this as a remnant of that legacy. Seriously, I’m not bandying that term about lightly. The situation within the publishing industry is mild, but if you want to see this enforced, look to Hollywood, where studios refused to market a romantic comedy, “Falling for Grace,” as a romantic comedy explicitly for the sole reason that it has an Asian-American lead. This renders it an “Asian-American movie,” because the assumption is that white audiences would reject it. That’s a segregation of supply channels for the substance of narrative, solely according to race. It may seem trivial, but isn’t that exactly what segregationists back in the day would have said of separate water fountains? Hey, you only have to cross the street to get your romantic comedy from your very own supply. And it’s only a drink of water when you’re thirsty that we’re talking about.

  6. Mishell Baker

    Regarding “if we can write about robots, aliens and people of centuries into the future, it shouldn’t be that hard to write about characters of abject social groups”: I agree in principle, but robots, aliens, and people from the 35th century don’t tend to write angry letters.

  7. Ignatius McNeill

    Most legitimate complaints are likely to be over stereotyping and assumptions. With a bit of awareness and a diverse beta reader pool, it should be possible to avoid most of those problems fairly easily.

    A white, straight, cisgender man may never be able to understand the life of an African, bisexual, transwoman, but a human can’t truly understand the life of a Cardassian either. If writers are respectful and inclusive, we can live up to the promise of speculative fiction without causing offense.

    Respectful inclusivity alone is a huge deal.

    I’ve been using dice to choose gender and sexuality of characters lately (slightly weighted in favor of underrepresented groups) when it’s not plot-relevant. It’s been a real eye opener for me if nothing else. How many characters have I written as men just because that’s the default?

    When it doesn’t affect the plot, the gender, sexuality, race, etc. of characters doesn’t need to be fussed over. It just needs to be there.

    And can I just point out a pet peeve? Often, when a protagonist’s race is unstated, the character is assumed to be white. Caucasian shouldn’t be the assumed default.

    Thanks for writing this, Hal.

  8. Eugene

    Hal: I readily acknowledge that the movie industry, is considerably worse about this. As you say, the publishing industry is “mild” on this front. There’s really no shortage of black/Israeli/gay/Brazilian/female/etc published writers these days. And they’re getting critical and popular recognition.

    It’s not that there’s no room for improvement in publishing, but it irks me when people come across as if it were still the bad old days. Thankfully, it’s really not. And I agree with Mishell that art will change as the world changes; forcing the former without the latter will always ring false. Some industries just take longer than others to reflect those changes.

    (As a side note, I don’t fully disregard the financial wisdom of Hollywood’s judgment. “Falling for Grace” might well have been a financial failure–for the reasons they claim–and I say that as a white guy married to an Asian woman. Should they make bad financial decisions in service of a social ideal? Are they obliged to represent my minority demographic to the world? Or should they start small, with major Asian characters on TV (as they are doing!), until one day a few years from now, no one even questions an Asian female romantic lead? I think publishing can afford to be a vanguard here because book reading is a personal/private experience, and movie watching is often social/public. Realistically, they need to change at different rates.)

  9. DA Munroe

    Science fiction, in particular, hasn’t necessarily been “white” or “straight.” It’s often simply ignored race and sexuality completely. That’s not the same thing. Now it may have been written by a bunch of straight white males, and therefore have a distinctly “straight white male” feel to it, but that’s unavoidable and also isn’t the same thing as stories about ‘straight white males’.

    If someone is looking for an exploration of identity issues, speculative fiction has been, historically, simply the wrong place to look. But if you want time machines, robots, and spaceships, you’ve come to the right place! When the genre has dealt with such issues (Delany, Aldiss, le Guin etc have all explored the things you say are lacking), my impression is that it has done so well.

  10. Hal Duncan

    DA: Actually, if you look at the “bad old days,” as Eugene puts it, you have Delany’s Nova being knocked back for serialisation by John W. Campbell because he didn’t think the SF audience was ready to deal with a black protagonist. That’s not just ignoring; that’s consciously excluding. As I say, it’s a black character not being allowed to sit at the front of the bus.

    And again, this is not about “looking for an exploration of identity issues.” I reiterate: “There’s no requirement on an author to engage with the issues of race or sexuality or whatever as subjects; an author’s thematics is their choice.”

  11. Hal Duncan

    Eugene: Should they make bad financial decisions in service of a social ideal?

    YMMV, but for my money Hollywood’s financial judgement here is essentially no different from a bar owner who refuses to serve blacks in their main bar, because they believe this will alienate white customers and thereby harm their business — while happily serving them in a small bar down the street. I imagine US law is the same as UK law in deeming that unacceptable; it’s not left up to the pub landlord’s discretion.

    I’m not even remotely suggesting legislation here, mind, but I do see that sort of exercise of discretion in Hollywood as ethically unsustainable. Either the judgement is practically correct and Hollywood is complicit in the discrimination of the general populace, or it’s simply wrong. If its the latter, you have to ask where the idea comes from? Is it a prejudice against the abject that sees them as “risqué” content and/or a classist prejudice that projects prejudice onto the less sophisticated white mass market — i.e. an assumption that the majority audience is “white trash”?

    FWIW, I think it’s simply wrong. If Will Smith can be an action hero without the colour of his skin driving the mob of bigoted redneck proles away from the multiplexes and making “Independence Day” bomb, I doubt Fay Ann Lee as a rom-com heroine would destroy the box office chances of “Falling for Grace.”

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  13. Peter David

    Here’s the problem: The moment that you include black characters, gay characters, characters of any ethnicity or persuasion or, for that matter, gender that isn’t your own, you are opening yourself up to all manner of scrutiny, criticism, scolding, and scorn from various readers with their own particular interest in the subject, declaring very loudly and with mighty vehemence that you have No Damned Business writing about such subjects. They stand ready to shout “Fail!” at the slightest provocation (which bugs the hell out of me if for no other reason than that “fail” isn’t a noun. It just isn’t. Anyone who shouts “fail!” is displaying English Fail(ure). Which is neither here nor there, but I thought I’d mention it.)

    Has it deterred me from trying to present a diversity of characters in my own work? No. Then again, I’m an idiot. But it may well be that there are plenty of writers who simply don’t want to stick their heads into that potential meat grinder of politically correct condemnation and decide they just want to tell their story without the risk of being castigated as racist, sexist or clueless.

    PAD

  14. Tocks Nedlog

    Mr. David, as you yourself noted, the use of “fail” as a noun is simply a shortening of the word “failure”. As for the usage of “fail” as either a transitive verb, intransitive verb or noun may I direct you to the word “run”?

  15. H. K. Enoch

    Hal, I think you have brought up some interesting points, with which I both agree and disagree.

    On the issue of gender and sexuality, I agree with you wholeheartedly. There’s really no reason why women/GLBT shouldn’t be included in literature more often. If they are excluded from the story (i.e., a space navy forbids women from service,) I would at least like to see a reason why–and this is the key–that is germane to the story. For instance, said space navy excludes women because of a belief that the lack of gravity is going to play havoc on their reproductive systems, or something. I can think of a lot of potential plotlines involving the controversy that might result from the controversy tied to to such a policy.

    What I’m saying is, basically, there’s no reason to import current mores into a futuristic or non-earth setting, but the author that does his (okay, or her!) should will take the time to justify what biases he does put in his work.

    Where I nitpick, though, is the area of race. It’s not that I think that sci-fi should be less inclusive, but that many science fiction stories take place in a world where Earth, as we know it today, simply doesn’t exist. Therefore, whatever human races there are in that setting are simply won’t reflect the races and ethnicity-based controversies we have today, because that world has had a different history.

    Speaking as a reader, it’s a huge turnoff to me when I read a book and it appears that the author has basically taken Earth and renamed all of the countries and peoples. To me this always seems a) lazy, because the author hasn’t bothered to flesh out his own world or b) hugely distracting, because the parallels are so thin that thinking of the real-life counterparts distracts from the actual story. I think I’ve heard criticism b more for fantasy–the heroes usually being pale and fareskinned, the minions darker. I couldn’t abide the last Narnia book as an adult, for example, because the enemies (I can’t recall their name) seemed such an intentional parallel to Middle Eastern races.

    I guess again, this is an issue of the author actually doing his work and not, as you would put it, getting lazy and sending people to the back of the bus just because that’s how it’s been done before.

    What I would actually like to see more of is religion brought into science fiction, sort of in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale or A Canticle for Leibowitz. (It doesn’t specifically have to be Christianity, though.) So much of our current events have a religious dimension and I think that sort of interplay can flesh out characters, and entire stories.

  16. Tocks Nedlog

    The question Mr. Duncan poses (or attempts to answer) is: “Does it matter that more books don’t address minorities or gender equality?” Implicit in the question is the need for the status of said characters in these books to — if not “serve the plot” — then at least be addressed (Duncan’s term) beyond a basic description of race/gender/sexual preference. He seems to be treading a line between calling for simple inclusion — e.g. his response in comment #14 where he references John W. Campbell’s refusal to serialize Nova (Duncan’s words: “consciously excluding”) because of its black protagonist; a book, by the way, where the race of the protagonist is decidedly NOT integral to the plot — and a kind of just-below-the-surface call for more investigations of the lives and conflicts faced by these individuals (e.g. “They may be able to go to a little corner of the genre where they can find stories that speak direct to them.”) . . . i.e. plot points.

    The film “Shaft” would never have been hailed as the ground-breaking sensation that it was if it had simply featured an a**-kicking black protagonist in a segregated situation. It was BECAUSE so much of the action took place within the black community (read: plot points) that the audience identified with it. To the other point of Duncan’s line “a little corner of the genre”, the release of “Shaft” by a major studio (MGM) was a momentous occasion. One can certainly be critical of Campbell’s reticence to serialize Nova (Delany was, at that time, THE rising star of the SF world) in his major magazine over economic concerns (according to Delany, Campbell was afraid that Analog would lose readership; he probably should have given his reades more credit) but I personally find it hard to believe that such a situation exists in anywhere near the same proportions today. Perhaps some writers that have had stories rejected over race/gender issues within recent years can chime in on this question.

    Duncan does a pretty good job of presenting his case (although his use of the pejorative term “abject groups” could be seen as more ‘anger’ than ‘analysis’) but seems to run into a roadblock at the end. He takes pains to stress that he is not calling for quotas or the inclusion of minority characters (my preferred term) simply for the sake of diversity — in itself another line-balance between incidental inclusion and the character’s status having some bearing on the plot. But his declarative end statement (“It’s a desire for integration, plain and simple — nothing more, nothing less”) is more straight-forward than it is clear.

    Is he calling for authors to take more chances — to broaden their scope and breadth of references? A couple of the commentors above have detailed the potential pitfalls of this approach, although maybe a writer — especially a SPECULATIVE fiction writer — should be willing to embrace some risks in this area. The authorial adage “write what you know” should be expanded to “write about what interests you”. Similarly, Duncan appears to be challenging editors to be more open-minded. Aagin, I would appreciate more info/input as to what extant such a ‘ghettoization’ policy exists within the SF community TODAY.

  17. Hal Duncan

    Tocks: Just to clarify, the term “abject groups” isn’t pejorative. “Abjection” and “abject” are technical terms (albeit soft sciences rather than physics) for a particular social process and the status of groups subjected to it. There are minority groups that haven’t been subject to that process — WASPs, say — and groups who’ve been subject to that process despite not being in the minority — women, say. The term “abject groups” is just the most accurate taxonomic label here.

    In terms of walking a line between asking for inclusion versus asking for more “investigations of the lives and conflicts faced by these individuals,” I’m not sure how the latter is anything other than… a story. Investigations of the lives and conflicts faced by a protagonist? For sure, that’s what I’m looking for. Conflicts faced with exploding airships, preferably, or a bullwhip and fedora, or lightsaber.

    Now, if writers want to investigate conflicts resulting from colour or sexuality, I’m not going to discourage it. But that’s specifically not what I’m asking for. Indeed, I’m asking for us not to limit ourselves by equating the inclusion of characters with the investigation of such conflicts. The central role of Will Smith in Independence Day doesn’t suddenly mean it has to be about racism in the military. It is however a positive step against the segregation that once excluded blacks from such an action hero role.

    If wording like “address” or “speak direct” is unclear, let me make it as crystal as I can. I’m not talking about books failing to address the concerns of minorities, but simply about them failing to address minorities, period. When I say the abject is looking for stories that speak direct to them, this does not mean stories that speak about them; it means simply what it says — stories that speak to them, stories that don’t not speak to them.

    What exactly does that mean? How does a book “not speak” to the abject? Again: as much as the abject may appreciate much of the narratives they’re written out of, the constant awareness of their erasure from these narratives is a barrier that prevents full enjoyment, a sign that says, “No Blacks” or “No Gays” (or whatever) that they must choose to ignore.

  18. Hal Duncan

    Imagine a kindergarten teacher telling the children in her care a story every afternoon, a story of fabulous adventures by a group of kids in some wonderful Neverland. For characters in this tale there’s a little blond girl, just like one kid in the class, a pigtailed brunette just like another; across all these stories, in fact, the kindergarten teacher cunningly slips in a character based on each of the kids — except for one, the ginger kid.

    In story after story, the blond, the brunette, this kid or that, takes charge in some adventure, plays the hero. In story after story, there’s not even a ginger kid present. Well, except when they’re there as a villain, all het up in unreason with that fiery redhead temper and all. This is because gingers, in this scenario, are an abject social group. This may well be how the ginger kid learns that gingers are an abject social group.

    Initially, the kindergarten teacher excludes the ginger kid from hero status because she herself is prejudiced. Over time, she realises her attitude is unjust, but continues to exclude because the non-ginger kids are, she thinks, not ready for a ginger hero. Still, soon enough, she realises she’s being an apologist for prejudice at best, and so begins telling stories in which the ginger kid plays fiesty sidekick to the protagonist of the hour; that fiery redhead temper is quite useful for comic relief even. Her stories have “diversity” now — via a token ginger kid in a subsidiary role.

    Finally one day, a substitute kindergarten teacher fills in; a redhead herself, she spots the kid at the back looking miserable and tells a story with a ginger kid as the actual hero. The redhead substitute starts filling in regularly, indeed, so eventually we get to the situation where the ginger kid is getting the odd story that speaks to them. Some stories are about the trials and tribulations of being a ginger kid, because the redhead substitute wants to reach out to the ginger kid and maybe give the others a sense of what it’s like. Other stories are not. Why not? Because there’s no reason a story with a ginger kid as protagonist can’t just be a fabulous adventure in some wonderful Neverland, no reason it can’t be about… the importance of honesty, say, or the folly of greed.

    Either way, the ginger kid is only getting stories that speak to them from someone of the same abject group, someone equally Other. This doesn’t change the exclusion, simply compensates for it. The ginger kid is acutely aware that every story not told by the substitute is not for them. The more enjoyable those stories are, the deeper the rub. So when the redheaded substitute suggests the kindergarten teacher tell a story with a ginger kid playing hero, all she’s asking for is the reversal of that exclusion. It doesn’t mean more stories all about the trials and tribulations of being a ginger kid, just the odd story in which the ginger kid is protagonist rather than villain or sidekick.

    Yes, if the kindergarten teacher then tells a story about how this ginger kid learned to overcome their fiery redhead temper, that may not go down well. Clichés are egregious at the best of times, and those that spring up as stereotypes born of abjection will downright infuriate some. It’s up to the kindergarten teacher whether she has the skills to avoid that, the gumption to try, or simply a stubborn integrity that refuses to carry on the exclusion.

  19. Luc Reid

    Here’s the problem: The moment that you include black characters, gay characters, characters of any ethnicity or persuasion or, for that matter, gender that isn’t your own, you are opening yourself up to all manner of scrutiny, criticism, scolding, and scorn from various readers with their own particular interest in the subject, declaring very loudly and with mighty vehemence that you have No Damned Business writing about such subjects.

    1. It does? I write female protagonists all the time, but I have yet to ever be called on it. Maybe I’m just not writing for a wide (and indignant) enough audience?

    2. Even if people object, so what?

    which bugs the hell out of me if for no other reason than that “fail” isn’t a noun. It just isn’t.

    So language doesn’t change? Millions of people can use a word a certain way, but it doesn’t count somehow if the usage differs from what came before?

  20. Peter David

    You keep mentioning Will Smith as an example of an actor who seems to transcend racial barriers. On the other hand, “The Legend of Bagger Vance” was widely slammed for perpetuating the cliche of the Magic Negro. If the Will Smith part had been played by Tom Hanks, it would have been immune from such criticism. Meanwhile if George Lucas had cast Morgan Freeman (for instance) as Obi-Wan Kenobi instead of Alec Guiness, would Lucas have been accused of racial insensitivity?

    Hard to say.

    PAD

  21. Tocks Nedlog

    Mr. Duncan, thank you for your response. I now have a better understanding of your concerns and aims . . . along with more questions. The “barrier” you refer to, is it self-imposed by authors that don’t bother to try inclusion due to a surety — whether imagined or based on experience and/or anecdotal evidence — of rejection? Is there still (in 2011) such a strong climate of editorial timidity along the lines of Campbell’s rejection of Nova? Do more members of abject groups need to be submitting stories? Is it necessary, as implied by some of the commenters above, for a cachet of ‘authenticity’ to exist before editors and publishers will take a chance?

    If so, then this is indeed a sad state of affairs. Of course publishers, like movie studios, are beholden to producing works that will be purchased in significant quantities in order to satisfy the bottom line. To that end they most certainly consult demographic studies of their customer base. However, with more products produced and significantly lower production costs (relatively speaking) it would seem that there would be more room in the book and magazine market for stories with a broader range of reference.

    And, as I wrote before, writers of speculative fiction should be more willing to . . . speculate.

  22. Tocks Nedlog

    George Lucas, of course, WAS accused of racial discrimination/insensitivity in the first Star Wars film, as the voice of James Earl Jones was the only discernable black presence in the entire movie. It is widely thought that Billy Dee Williams was cast as Lando to quiet the controversy.

  23. DA Munroe

    you have Delany’s Nova being knocked back for serialisation by John W. Campbell because he didn’t think the SF audience was ready to deal with a black protagonist.

    I did not know that. So I guess you’ve got a point. But haven’t audience’s sensibilities changed since then anyway – in which case, the market is already solving the problem?

    Incidentally, a couple of people have mentioned that a problem with writing minorities is getting pounced on for not doing it authentically enough. This actually happened to a guy in our short story crit group last month.

  24. Tocks Nedlog

    In his essay “Racism and Science Fiction” Delany posits an interesting and challenging theory:

    “As long as there are only one, two, or a handful of us, however, I presume in a field such as science fiction, where many of its writers come out of the liberal-Jewish tradition, prejudice will most likely remain a slight force—until, say, black writers start to number thirteen, fifteen, twenty percent of the total. At that point, where the competition might be perceived as having some economic heft, chances are we will have as much racism and prejudice here as in any other field. We are still a long way away from such statistics. But we are certainly moving closer.”

    While not necessarily rejecting Duncan’s notion that abject groups reside within their own ghetto — or sub-ghetto inside the broader literary ghetto of science fiction itself — Delany suggests that it will only be when many representatives of abject groups are knocking at the door that the serious rejections will take place. Perhaps this IS what Mr. Duncan is alleging to be the case today.

    As for the incident with Mr. Campbell, Mr. Delany wrote:

    “On February 10 [1967], a month and a half before the March [Nebula] awards, in its partially completed state Nova had been purchased by Doubleday & Co. Three months after the awards banquet, in June, when it was done, with that first Nebula under my belt, I submitted Nova for serialization to the famous sf editor of Analog Magazine, John W. Campbell, Jr. Campbell rejected it, with a note and phone call to my agent explaining that he didn’t feel his readership would be able to relate to a black main character. That was one of my first direct encounters, as a professional writer, with the slippery and always commercialized form of liberal American prejudice: Campbell had nothing against my being black, you understand. (There reputedly exists a letter from him to horror writer Dean Koontz, from only a year or two later, in which Campbell argues in all seriousness that a technologically advanced black civilization is a social and a biological impossibility. . . .). No, perish the thought! Surely there was not a prejudiced bone in his body! It’s just that I had, by pure happenstance, chosen to write about someone whose mother was from Senegal (and whose father was from Norway), and it was the poor benighted readers, out there in America’s heartland, who, in 1967, would be too upset. . . .”

  25. John Brown

    I’ve thought a lot about this post over the last few days and ultimately this type of argument does not motivate me.

    Why?

    Because these types of arguments focus on shoulds and guilt. It’s not about having an illegal immigrant Mexican in my story because she is kick butt and cool. Not because she’s delightful and interesting person. No, I need to have her in there because otherwise I’m oppressing her. Marginalizing her. Reinforcing her prejudiced status. It’s not about writing to my passion.

    Instead, I’m now asked to conform to a set of commandments. I now have a moral checklist from fiction Sinai. For me it’s as deadening as resurrecting the once-common Medieval stricture that all art must be about Christ.

    What if the current batch of projects I’m working on doesn’t include a main character who is a member of one of these abject groups? What if I don’t even consider adding one? According to this argument, if I’ve read it correctly, I’ve done a very bad thing.

    No passion. But there will be police and segregation church ladies.

    Additionally, these shoulds usually focus on a limited set of groups. In this post, it’s a set of groups who have been subjected to a process of abjection, as defined by those who study such things. If a character is not part of that set, well, they’re out of luck, no matter the prejudice and marginalization said character’s group might have experienced.

    Evangelicals, Muslims, rural Southerners, rich city folk, Whites (Haloes and Gringos), Americans—they’ve all experienced prejudice, depending on the immediate dominant cultures about them. But according to these arguments, unless at least a couple of the characters you want to write about meet a specific criteria, you’re still doing wrong.

    So not only do I now have to conform to a checklist, but I have to use the _approved_ checklist.

    Duncan’s fine tale about the ginger haired girl carries more power. In additional to be very helpful in clarifying what he’s asking for, it generates sympathy. At last, some passion. But then I have that rule telling me that nope, can’t write this story or that one because, jeez, it’s been 200,000 words since I included one of the approved groups as a main character.

    Am I the only one that’s turned off by this?

    I think a much better approach is to speak of the delight and interest awaiting an author who writes about a variety of characters. It’s so much more motivating to hear someone voice the electricity they experienced writing about this hilarious Persian or that spunky Korean grandmother or that Cherokee who had awesome basketball skillz. So much more motivating to encourage people to include the variety that strikes _their_ passion, not some approved list. And then to find a way to get it in front of those that would appreciate it, instead of suggesting that every venue should include some appropriate threshold of certain types of characters (remember the article asks for “more,” which presupposes some level being enough).

    Passion.

    This approach feels more like a natural burgeoning, an exuberant sharing. Something I WANT to take part in. Far better than the schoolmarm `tsking me into sitting up straight and eating my daily dose of certified beans (although it’s very difficult, given Hal’s picture that exudes gobs of passion in the great romantic tradition, to make any charge of schoolmarmery stick).

  26. Hal Duncan

    Tocks: The “barrier” you refer to, is it self-imposed by authors that don’t bother to try inclusion due to a surety — whether imagined or based on experience and/or anecdotal evidence — of rejection? Is there still (in 2011) such a strong climate of editorial timidity along the lines of Campbell’s rejection of Nova?

    I can’t speak in terms of race here, but as a queer writer I know of only one market (and a smaller one at that) where the editor has a problem with queer content. I’m glad to say I’ve personally encountered nothing in the way of editorial timidity. Whether writers of non-abject groups would expect to run into problems at that level? From the editors I know, I’d think not. Such a fear would largely suggest to me a personal timidity — a sense that this or that is obviously going to be seen as “risqué” subject matter — actually more comparable to Campbell’s projection of what readers are “ready” for.

    To go back to the kindergarten scenario, we can imagine a period when the teacher’s predecessor simply wasn’t allowed to tell stories about ginger kids. When the redheaded substitute’s predecessor tried, the principal insisted that parents would not accept this (a la Campbell with Delany). There may even have been legislation that bound the principal’s hands. That was then.

    (A reality: In the UK, until the repeal of Section 28 in 2000, you can map “ginger kid” directly to “gay kid”. Under this legislation, local authority money (e.g. school funding) couldn’t go toward “the promotion of homosexuality”. This law was designed specifically to control what went into school libraries, to prevent the dread threat of, one might say, redheaded substitutes seducing nice blonde and brunette kids into wholesale deviance via stories in which ginger kids were the protagonist. (To give you an example of how this functioned practically, my school debating society wasn’t allowed to debate Section 28 because the teacher running it might have been deemed in breach of Section 28. Joseph Heller or what?) The law has been repealed, but only a few years back a US senator proposed virtually the same legislation for his home state. Thankfully, he failed.)

    Those were the bad old days though. Our kindergarten teacher is now not subject to such restrictions. In Hollywood, yes, but in our corner of the publishing industry, no. The reason the kindergarten teacher doesn’t tell stories about ginger kids herself, in fact, is not because there’s resistance, but simply because it’s what she learned as a kid. Her initial prejudice, her fear that the other kids won’t accept a ginger hero, her use of villains and token sidekick characters that fit stereotypes of redheads as fiery-tempered — all of this comes from the stories told to her as a kid. This is another reason why I think it’s important — because as long as that kindergarten teacher continues to exclude the ginger kid, she’s teaching the blonde/brunette kid in her care to do the same when she grows up and becomes a kindergarten teacher.

  27. Hal Duncan

    Tocks: “Do more members of abject groups need to be submitting stories?

    It won’t hurt, but upping the proportion of redheaded substitutes is not the point here. Again: “This doesn’t change the exclusion, simply compensates for it. The ginger kid is acutely aware that every story not told by the substitute is not for them. The more enjoyable those stories are, the deeper the rub.”

    Is it necessary, as implied by some of the commenters above, for a cachet of ‘authenticity’ to exist before editors and publishers will take a chance?

    Categorically, no. This has never been the case. In the bad old days, in fact, inauthentic representations were tacitly encouraged, every stereotype validating the abjection. What I mean is, the kindergarten teacher could tell a story in which the ginger kid was the villain, the kids would love it, and the principal would complement her on how effectively she entertained them — and with a “good moral message” too, not to be a slave to one’s short temper like those ginger kids are. As the principal realises, just like the teacher, that absenting and demonisation is a problem, they see the inauthentic representation in the form of a token sidekick as a solution. The principal, being more likely to be confronted with redhead substitutes and uppity redhead parents arguing for change, may even pressure the kindergarten teacher for inauthentic representations as a political exigency.

    What commenters above are focusing on is not a pressure for authenticity by editors and publishers but a perceived threat of punitive condemnation for inauthentic representations by members of the abject group themselves. As I say: “Yes, if the kindergarten teacher then tells a story about how this ginger kid learned to overcome their fiery redhead temper, that may not go down well. Clichés are egregious at the best of times, and those that spring up as stereotypes born of abjection will downright infuriate some.”

    For such backlashes to take place actually requires editors and publishers to be complacently accepting fiction *without* such authenticity — i.e. stories which unthinkingly utilise ugly clichés, ginger kids as fury-driven villains, fiesty token sidekicks or heroes who “overcome their own temper.” Or at least it requires the fiction to be *perceived* as such by a sufficient number of redheads to make the reaction significant. But then, if a mob of ginger kids are tonguelashing you for an ugly cliché they consider a rank insult, I’d say that’s a fair indication that you’ve not done the best job of excising abjection. Remember that we’re dealing with clichés here. It’s not exactly hard to see writers in an idiom born of the pulps using tropes like the “degenerate race” (c.f. the Skull Island natives in Jackson’s King Kong) simply because they haven’t thought through the import. If you’ve been rampantly insulting out of laziness… when it comes to such criticism? Suck it up, I’d say.

    Unless the fear is of aggressive over-reaction born of the fact that ginger kids — or the equivalent — are so short-tempered they’ll kick off unthinkingly “the moment that you include black characters, gay characters, characters of any ethnicity or persuasion or, for that matter, gender that isn’t your own.” Unless the fear isn’t just that you’re “opening yourself up to all manner of scrutiny, criticism, scolding, and scorn from various readers with their own particular interest in the subject, declaring very loudly and with mighty vehemence that you have No Damned Business writing about such subjects” — i.e. inviting legitimate umbrage if your work strikes the abject group it’s representing as profoundly insulting — but rather that you will *automatically* be subjected to *illegitimate and aggressive* censure by an abject group (or faction of such) that simply can’t see past their subjective over-sensitivity to make the *proper* objective judgement, to see that such accusations are baseless.

    If that *is* your fear — that the ginger kids will go apeshit over the slightest hint of a slight — I’d say it’s worth imagining that ginger kid faced with a kindergarten teacher who constantly paints him as angry villain. Imagine the kid complains and complains until finally she tells a story about a ginger kid overcoming their fiery redhead temper. Exasperated, the kid tells her in no uncertain terms just how the story sucks. “No need to get shirty,” she says. If she told a story like that, she’s not sensitive enough to get why the kid is reacting. And the ginger kid is likely not able to explain it — because you need whole articles and threads like this to get across what it means. So all the kindergarten teacher knows is that she’s tried, she really has, and the ginger kid doesn’t even appreciate the effort. The ginger kid is being unreasonable. That’s how ginger kids are, after all. And the moment she shrugs it off like this, the ginger kid is being faced with that stereotype face-on. The stereotype is actually being applied to dismiss a challenge to the stereotype.

    Imagine a succession of kindergarten teachers doing this until it gets to the point where one starts a story about a ginger kid that starts with them being *terribly irate*. The kid’s anger in the story might be because she stereotypes ginger kids as short-tempered or it might — sod it, it doesn’t matter because right now the ginger kid in class gives a loud harrumph. “Oh, for the love of Cock,” says the ginger kid. “Don’t even bother.” This kindergarten teacher tells the ginger kid they need to keep their temper in check, not to disrupt the class, such behaviour is wholly unreasonable. Some other kid pipes up about how, yeah, the ginger kid is *always* like that, how kindergarten teachers can’t even include redheads in their stories without the crazy ginge going ballistic.

    What are the chances of the ginger kid going ballistic at this point?

    The redhead substitute, who happens to be passing, steps in to to try and explain just how profoundly it affects the ginger kid to be abjected. But, no, says the kindergarten teacher; if the ginger kid is going to be like *that*, she’s better off not even trying.

    As the redhead substitute in this story, I hope I’ve made my position clear. I see that as a tacit acceptance of a state of segregation. Where I’ve described Hollywood’s active enforcement as “ethically unsustainable” however, when it comes to writing something that makes a positive step towards integration, I’ll repeat: “It’s up to the kindergarten teacher whether she has the skills to avoid that, the gumption to try, or simply a stubborn integrity that refuses to carry on the exclusion.”

  28. DA Munroe

    To go back to the kindergarten scenario, we can imagine a period when the teacher’s predecessor simply wasn’t allowed to tell stories about ginger kids.

    Interesting you should raise ‘ginger kids.’ They come in for quite a lot of bullying, harrassment and discrimination, especially in the UK it seems, but there’s really no pushback. But it’s hard to even raise the issue without eliciting smirks, like it’s not “real” discrimination. Like, oh god, what are the PC police worrying about now?

  29. Tocks Nedlog

    Hal, when I entered high school in 1979 (yeesh!) my high school library had a copy of Dhalgren (explicit queer sex and all) on hand. I did not read it at that time, but I did check out and read my first Delany book — Nova, of course! — a year or two later.

    In your last paragraph you seem to be saying that there is a moral imperative for authors to be more inclusive with their choice of protagonist characters — sort of a “if the writers will just choose to write it the editors WILL publish it” philosophy. I see no problem with you encouraging your fellow writers to be more adventurous . . . after all, this IS the genre where adventurous writing is, or should be, accepted the most.

    However, there is a slippery slope involved here, involving the potential castigation of the unadventurous writer — including the member of an abject group that never (or rarely) ventures outside of his/her group.

  30. Hal Duncan

    John: First, let me put paid to the notion that we’re dealing with some limited set of groups, excluding particular minorities. Where this comes from in anything I’ve said, I don’t know, but the term “abjection” is chosen, as explained above to Tocks, precisely because an “abject group” is defined by its being subject to a certain social process. If this term does not limit us to thinking in terms of minorities, it should be obvious that it does not limit us to thinking in terms of *particular* minorities (i.e. and not others.) Nowhere in my arguments do I assert that writers would be wrong to identify certain groups as abject. Muslims and rural Southerners, indeed, would certainly be classed as the abject, *for a start*.

    In fact, there is nothing to say that *any* group privileged in one culture cannot be abject in another, so the only question is whether that process has taken place. This is not a matter of approval by authority, simply of reality. The prejudice and marginalisation of a group, its identification and exclusion from the default/dominant is what renders it abject. Are those groups absented from the narrative or allowed in only as stereotypes? Then most likely they are abject. If a writer is able to look at their culture and discern abjection where conventional wisdom says, “no abjection going on there,” such insight, it should go without saying, is good. Self-evidently, I’d say, the non-abject is likely to be less aware of abjection than the abject. I have no idea how you read into my arguments eve a pointer to some stone-graven decree upon who does not ever qualify as abject.

    To address your main point though, this isn’t an argument designed to motivate by shame. Notice that in the original post there’s not a single injunction to act in a certain way, not a single use of the word “should.” Where I talk of ethical obligation at all it is to explicitly *reject* any reading of the post as a “requirement on an author to engage with the issues of race or sexuality or whatever as subjects.” Have I repeated this enough yet? Again: “an author’s thematics is their choice.” All the post itself does is to argue the reality of the situation, that it is a state of segregation, that it matters as such. For sure, as other commenters have expressed a lack of clarity over what I’m calling for, I’ve tried to provide that clarity, say I’m “looking for” or “asking for” this as opposed to that. But essentially this is just a clarification of what I mean by “desire for integration.”

    Where you say this is not about writing to your passion, I’ll repeat to you what I said to Meg: “Does it matter if someone writes about the characters pestering them, regardless of their color? No. Does it matter if certain types of characters never pester writers outside an abject group because the word “hero(ine)” automatically conjures someone white and straight? To me, it does.”

    To me, that state of segregation is a problem. To me, integration matters. YMMV.

    In terms of achieving that, I have zero interest in offering some path of moral rectitude and pushing people’s shame buttons so they trudge down it. To be honest, I consider both the use of and surrender to moral coercion ethically irresponsible — one being the usurpation of ethical responsibility, the other an abrogation of it. Driving or being driven by the scourge of disapprobation is all fair enough for children and herd animals, but as far as adults are concerned… the nearest I’ve got to a “people should all do X” is that we each have an ethical duty to navigate a path through life using our critical faculties as best we can, informed by empathy, to make it what we believe is ethical. So everything I’ve said here is offered as straight-up *explanation* of the territory.

    I suspect many don’t even believe there’s a problem, many underestimate its significance, and many may even be prone to deny it. Putting it in such basic terms might, I hope, give them a perspective that helps.

  31. Hal Duncan

    John: In terms of Hollywood, I’ll happily argue that active enforcement of segregation is “ethically unsustainable” — because it’s *active enforcement* of an inequity. In other words, I can’t see practically how one can logically posit *active enforcement of inequity* as an ethical act. But note: “I’m not even remotely suggesting legislation here…” See also my explicit rejection of any imperative to engage with abjection as subject matter in itself (as repeated yet again above.) It’s really not accurate to read this as laying down a “set of commandments” when my only broaching of such notions is to reject them outright.

    Similarly, when it comes to the writer’s choice between complicity by inaction and action towards integration (which might well backfire if done lazily or clumsily,) the nearest you’ve got to an ethical judgement is in fact a *practical* judgement that inaction is complicity, that to *not* try is to allow segregation to persist. At no point have I said that a writer absenting the abject is personally “oppressing” the abject. I have in fact deliberately *avoided* such rhetoric of shame and blame. I am not interested in making you feel bad, only in dismantling segregation, achieving integration. To do that, it just helps if you’re aware of the reality as experienced by the abject. How you act on that is up to you.

    If my personal antipathy to moral judgementalism is one reason I’ve been at pains to say only “this is the system we’re dealing with, and this is how it affects the abject,” an equally pressing reason is that I consider such rhetoric *profoundly counter-productive* here. It simply wouldn’t help, in my opinion, if the non-abject has even the slightest reason to feel they are being accused of a *heinous sin* by some self-elected authority.

    Let me lay that fear to rest then. When I say, “asking for,” I mean just that — asking, not demanding. When I say, “looking for,” I mean just that — seeking, not decreeing that it must be so. No “moral checklist” is being proposed. If “the current batch of projects [you're] working on doesn’t include a main character who is a member of one of these abject groups,” it’s entirely your choice to be aware of this or not, to care or not care, to act or not to act. If you “don’t even consider adding one,” this is your choice. All I’m saying is that inaction allows a state of segregation to persist. It is up to you even whether you judge this to be “a very bad thing.”

    Certainly, the word “segregation” is charged, but as I explained to Eugene I’m not bandying it about lightly but using it because the system is fundamentally, as I see it, a *literal* state of segregation in the media — the separation of supply channels here every bit as actual as with water fountains, the effects of exclusion as alienating. For sure, the word “segregation” packs an emotional punch, but if one’s reaction is shock, this is wholly appropriate. Again as I said to Eugene, the apparent triviality of the issue directly parallels the “insignificance” many would have afforded separate water fountains. While exclusion from narrative may seem of little consequence, my point is that it has the exact same *unrecognised* significance as the “minor inconveniences” of segregation. Realisation of this *should* carry all the shock of that word — not *shame* but *shock* — because it means a recognition that segregation is not all done and dusted, yesterday’s problem.

    But again — I have zero interest in offering some shining path out of sin and lashing you along it with a cry of “Shame! Shame!” It is wholly up to you how you respond to the situation.

  32. Hal Duncan

    DA: Part of my point in picking that as example. At first glance, it’s as absurdly arbitrary as discrimination on the basis of tongue-rolling or nostril shape, and so divorced from the usual set of historically persecuted minorities that one could easily wave such a conceit of prejudice off as silliness. But actually there *is* abjection on those grounds, and even that “fiery redhead temper” stereotype. So one only needs to take the smallest step to see how you get from there to a profoundly alienating segregation.

  33. John Brown

    The analogy of the kindergarten is a good one. But there’s one crucial place where it seems not to map to reality, and, therefore, breaks down. Hal, you yourself said it–you’ve only found one editor uncomfortable with stories that include members of one abject group. So there is essentially no teacher limiting the stories about ginger-haired kids. The classroom we actually live in is one where all the kids have to opportunity to tell their own stories or ask that someone who can tell a story that suits them be brought in.

    So it’s not about barriers. You seem to be asking us to take up a cause. Not to write killer stories. Not even to write killer stories that allow folks in these groups to more easily find themselves, feel valued, feel equality.

    If you were asking that, then it seems to me that those of us in such groups could easily write our own stories and publish them in appropriate venues, some mainstream and others more off the beaten path. The call, then, would be for the ginger-haired boy to write his own stories and encourage others like him to do the same. Or to enourage others to write such stories because there’s a hungry market dying for something that speaks to them–and an author who serves that market will be rewarded with appreciation and readership and maybe some dollars to boot.

    But from what I’m reading, that isn’t what you’re asking for. You’re not talking about hungry markets and the venues that serve them.

    You’re asking that we write to change the hearts and minds of those _not_ in these abject groups. You’re asking us to use our fiction politically, to promote a certain attitude among the majority culture towards specific groups. Not all groups that face prejudice. Because while the argument is framed in a way that suggests we don’t want anyone to feel prejudice, the reality is that you’re only talking about certain sets of people, not all who feel estranged from the larger culture they live in. And, in fact, there are groups you’d probably want to exclude from this. Is this accurate?

    BTW, I don’t have problems with idea or cause fiction. I don’t run screaming in horror when fiction tries to “educate.” Les Miserables is a fine story and is very political. I’m just trying to get to the heart of the argument and request.

  34. John Brown

    Hal, we crossed posts.

    I appreciate that you haven’t come out with fire and brimstone. :) And I think it’s good to raise this issue for discussion. But whether it’s with a soft glove or a fist, is not the underlying logic segregation = bad, therefore, If you allow segregation to happen, you’re at least complicit in this bad thing? This is a moral argument. Condemnation, however soft, is a part of it. But you’re right: whether I agree with that condemnation is my own choice.

    I do wonder, however, if it’s ever possible NOT to segregate. Surely, there are groups you do not want to approve of. Groups you do not want authors to include in the ways you’re talking about. Or have I misunderstood?

  35. Hal Duncan

    Tocks: See my comment to John for the extent to which I reject moral imperatives in favour of individual ethical responsibility. I’m saying only that a tacit acceptance of a state of segregation *is* a tacit acceptance of a state of segregation, that a step towards integration is positive, and that refusing to carry on the exclusion regardless of the possible repercussions would constitute “stubborn integrity.”

    That’s just an articulation of practical judgement as regards the situation, of an alternative situation as preferable because it’s more equitable, and of a notion that to willingly risk negative consequences for oneself in order to achieve a more equitable situation for others is an act of integrity. If there’s a slippery slope from that to castigations self-righteous and wrong-headed, this is only to say that there’s a slippery slope from *any* ethical position to such moralistic finger-pointing.

    Essentially, all I’m saying is that the reality is segregation, that the term is applicable here. I’ll happily explain why I think it’s applicable, why I think the alternative should be understood as integration, what exactly it *is* about integration I consider desireable, what exactly it *is* about segregation I consider profoundly unjust. It’s a practical judgement and I wouldn’t expect everyone to agree with me on it. But my point is that I see *no need* to be laying down the moral imperatives. If others are capable of recognising the realities of the situation as I see it, I trust them to apply their own ethical judgement.

  36. Hal Duncan

    John: “So there is essentially no teacher limiting the stories about ginger-haired kids. The classroom we actually live in is one where all the kids have the opportunity to tell their own stories or ask that someone who can tell a story that suits them be brought in.”

    Nope, ‘fraid not. Those kids have to grow up and become kindergarten teachers before they have the opportunity to tell their own stories. They cannot ask for the redhead substitute to be brought in. They can only take what the market offers as and when it is offered. Their request for a story that speaks to them can only be articulated in the same way and on the same level as all the other kids — by shouting, “Me! Me! Me!” when the kindergarten teacher asks who wants to be in the story today. And the point is: they are consistently ignored; they are consistently absented or written in as villains, token sidekicks or the hero who “overcomes their temper.”

    If you want to see the classroom we actually live in as one where all the kids have the opportunity to tell their own stories, sorry, but it’s one where that opportunity still plays out in abjection. So that ginger kid has the opportunity to tell their own story. And? All the other kids freely tell stories that feature their blond, brunette and black-haired friends as heroes. All those characters are floating around that wondrous Neverland, being picked up and used as hero by this kid or that, in a culture of mutual shout-outs that creates a general sense of inclusion… all except for the ginger kid who is always cast by the other kids as villain or token sidekick, or as poor Ginge, the redhead character, struggling against their temper in the stories of a few well-intentioned children here and there. Except for stories told by the ginger kid, all other stories are for all other kids *except the ginger kid*.

    But even this is an idealising artifice. In reality, there *is* a teacher limiting the stories because we are dealing with *professional storytellers*. There is the market, there are those who supply it, and there are those who administer the venues. Where I say I only know of one editor with a problem with queer content, this does not break the analogy by scrapping the teacher. Remember, editorial limitation is the province of the *principal* here. So this is to say I only know of one *principal* who has a problem with *any* teacher — *even redhead substitutes* — telling stories about ginger kids in his school. In the general school culture? What I’m saying is that we *have* lost the principal’s *explicit injunction*, but only that explicit injunction, which is crucially *not required*.

    Why is it not required? The teachers who grew up with the officially-mandated segregation perpetuate it unthinkingly via stories that do not speak to the ginger kid (who appears in them as villain, token sidekick or the hero who “overcomes their temper.”) Except for stories told by the redhead substitute, all other stories are for all other kids *except the ginger kid*. As far as the ginger kid is concerned? Every single day that their teacher is *not* a redhead substitute is another story *not* for them.

    But don’t those ginger kids get stories from somewhere? Yes. The ginger kids do grow up and become kindergarten teachers. They do come in as substitutes and tell the stories that speak to the next ginger kid, inspire them to become kindergarten teachers in turn. This doesn’t change the exclusion, only compensates for it. Every single day that their teacher is *not* a redhead substitute is another story *not* for them.

    But surely those ginger kids can make up stories for themselves? Yes, they can and do. *Outside class* the ginger kids make up stories for themselves precisely because they are denied them in class from all but the occasional redhead substitute. This does not change the situation in class. Every single day that their teacher is *not* a redhead substitute is another story *not* for them.

    None of this changes the fact that the *non-redhead* kindergarten teachers *continue* unthinkingly teaching the ginger kid just how *different* they are by excluding them from protagonist roles, presenting them instead as villains and sidekicks or maybe, once in a while, as a fiesty hero who amazingly manages to rein in that terrible temper. Every single day that their teacher is *not* a redhead substitute is another story *not* for them.

  37. Hal Duncan

    John: “You’re not talking about hungry markets and the venues that serve them.”

    That is *exactly* what I’m talking about. Those kids in the class are a single hungry market for kid’s stories, fabulous adventures in a wondrous Neverland. That ginger kid is part of that market. There is nothing, zero, zip, zilch, nil, nada, nought, *nothing* that offers us a rational reason for segregating the ginger kid out from that market. There is only the fundamental unreason of abjection leading to segregation. There is only the prejudice that leads to absenting that leads to a host of fabulous adventures in a wondrous Neverland that are *all* not-for-the-ginger-kid. There is only the compensation of a distinct group of fabulous adventures in a wondrous Neverland that *are* for-the-ginger-kid.

    (I’m not sure at all what groups you’re so fixed on the idea of me excluding, by the way, as groups I wouldn’t “want to approve of” or that I’d “not want authors to include.” This seems a bizarre reconstruction of a statement that the youngest kid has been locked outside by a drunken abusive father and it would be rather for the best if his older siblings let him in, to ask “But surely there’s one or two of his siblings you’d want to shut out, no?” Um, no, that just sounds like abjecting some other group instead.)

    You say, “it seems to me that those of us in such groups could easily write our own stories and publish them in appropriate venues, some mainstream and others more off the beaten path.” This is to say that surely the ginger kids could grow up, become kindergarten teachers and get work as substitutes in “appropriate” schools. It’s to say that the redhead substitutes telling the occasional story in a “mainstream” school is enough. Or it’s to say, why, those redheads could easily find/create venues which are more “off the beaten path” precisely because they are especially “appropriate” to redheads. In other words it’s to suggest, in this analogy, that we set up a *special school for ginger kids*.

    That is indeed what has happened historically. But that is ginger fiction as a genre, ginger cinema festivals, rom-coms with ginger protagonists being defined by Hollywood as Ginger-American movies. That is segregation. That’s the reality of the markets and the venues. The ginger kids cannot “ask that someone who can tell a story that suits them be brought in.” All they can do is a) rely on the occasional random appearance of a redhead substitute and/or b) sign up to a special summer school just for ginger kids. A summer school that is most likely run on a shoestring. A summer school that still *doesn’t change the exclusion, only compensates for it*.

    If it sounds like, hey, the ginger kid is getting *extra* now, with the stories that speak direct to them coming from their own special school just for ginger kids, remember that this is still compensation. Every single day that their teacher is *not* a redhead substitute is another story *not* for them. Every single story that is *not* for them is their own abjection being shoved down their throat.

    “You’re asking that we write to change the hearts and minds of those _not_ in these abject groups.”

    No, I am not. I’m asking for integration. I’m saying this can only be achieved by those *not* in abject groups ceasing to exclude them from protagonist roles, ceasing to present them as villains and sidekicks or maybe, once in a while, as a fiesty hero who amazingly manages to rein in that terrible temper. I am not asking for us to proselytise via fiction, to agitate politically, to engage actively with the issue at any other level than basic recognition. See my comments to yourself at #36 and Tocks at #40. See my original post, even. “It’s a desire for integration, plain and simple — nothing more, nothing less.”

    Yes, I desire integration. Yes, I think action towards integration follows logically from recognition of segregation (if one assumes empathy.) But no, this is not a moral argument. I reject mores. I operate by my own ethics, and I point blank reject any attempt to recast an evaluation of the situation as a righteous rebuke. That way lies only the counter-rebukes of “thought policing,” — the “political correctness” and “advocating quotas” which I reject upfront and explicitly. That way lies only shitstorms.

    There is no condemnation then, hard or soft. And I’ll just continue to repeat this, you know, in the face of any “buts” and “surelys”. I’m nothing if not tenacious. Yes, a system of segregation is “bad” just as theft is “mean” and lying is “sneaky” and anybody who has anything to do with such is a Terribly Naughty Boy… if one is six years old. I’m presuming no one here is. So they should be able to understand that I can hold a system to be unjust without projecting some indelible stain of mortal sin upon the character of any and all who are complicit in it largely because they were *raised* in it.

    Might someone *impute* condemnation here though? Is it impossible for a blunt evaluation of the situation *not* to be taken by someone as a sweeping blanket imperative on us all to do… something? If so, that is *their* problem, not mine. Such a spurious reading has no bearing on the evaluation, not as a criticism. I’m hardly about to forsake an attempt to communicate the reality of what it is to be abject, the reality of the state of segregation in the media, simply because someone might feel unfairly coerced by even the merest hint that I might maybe possibly think that if I was in their place, well, I don’t know for sure, but I *hope* I would do… something.

  38. John Brown

    Hal,

    Lots more to think about. But I feel you’re being slippery. On the one hand you say you aren’t making a moral argument, which isn’t a bad thing, but then make a moral argument. On the one hand you say you’re not asking for us to act politically, but then make the case for acting politically in this sphere and stop segration, not by promoting alternate venues, but by changing things in specific venues–you want all the stories to be a certain way. I’m not seeing the distinctions. But I can certainly give your posts more thought.

    With regards to groups. I don’t think we’ll ever get away from forming groups around one thing or another. And each group is going to have its value system. And sometimes those values will clash with those in other groups. So, for example, neo-nazi children and adults are marginalized in current US culture. I personally disagree with what they stand for. Are you suggesting this is one of the groups we should bring out of abjection?

    There are a lot of groups like this that are marginalized in the US. Hard core gang bangers, drug users, those perceived to be extreme religionists, pedophiles, serial rapists, etc. I’m guessing you’re not talking about some of these groups. And so it’s not about eliminating all segregation, but a matter of where to draw the line. No matter where it’s drawn some folks aren’t going to like it. Doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it. But my point is that I think it’s impossible to get rid of segregation.

  39. John Brown

    I needed to finish that last thought. So the discussion, which I think is an important one, seems to me to be really about which groups to include and which to exclude. Excluding based on moral reasons or priority, e.g. is it more important to include the Amish who are such a very small part of the population or Latinas? It’s line drawing.

  40. Hal Duncan

    “Lots more to think about. But I feel you’re being slippery. On the one hand you say you aren’t making a moral argument, which isn’t a bad thing, but then make a moral argument.”

    No, I say, “I’m not making a moral argument,” and you don’t get that simply to say, “This is segregation,” *is not a moral argument*.

    Just like, “This is feudalism,” or “This is constitutional monarchy,” or “This is paternalistic meritocracy,” or “This is liberal democracy,” or any number of such statements, it is a judgement of epistemic factuality, not deontic imperative. There is no “should” in any of those statements. If someone might *impute* a “should” because they’re thinking of this political system or that as predeterminedly Evil, *their* inability to separate epistemic fact from deontic imperative is the issue.

    If you saw homosexuality as predeterminedly Evil, would you insist X was “making a moral argument” if they said simply, “Hal Duncan is gay”? Would you argue that since homosexuality = Evil their statement of epistemic fact is *actually* by definition also a statement of deontic imperative: “Hal Duncan should take ex-gay therapy”? You can understand that X might not mean this, right? You can understand that if X was *me*, if *I* was the one saying “Hal Duncan is gay,” this would not be a moral argumment, yes?

    You can understand that X might consider homosexuality a sin but in a *true* Christian ethos (“Judge not lest ye be judged.”) refuse outright to condemn others for *any* sin, yes? Surely you can understand that if they explicitly clarify, “I meant simply that I know Hal Duncan to be gay; I am most decidedly *not* proposing a moral duty for him to do anything other than live his life as he sees fit because it is *abhorrent to my personal ethos* to sit in judgement over anyone,” you would simply be *factually wrong* to insist that they were “making a moral argument.” They are just stating a plain fact as they see it.

    No matter how solid the ideology might be fixed in, say, an environmentalist’s head that cars = Evil, “this is a car,” is not a moral argument, dig?

    Judgement of epistemic fact. Judgement of deontic imperative. The two are different.

  41. Hal Duncan

    “On the one hand you say you’re not asking for us to act politically, but then make the case for acting politically in this sphere and stop segregation…”

    No, I’m asking for people to *stop* acting politically. What I’m saying is that the status quo — segregation — entails writers acting politically, whether they’re aware of it or not. When the kindergarten teachers absent the ginger kid from hero status, or render them as villains, token sidekicks or protagonists in an “overcoming temper” story, this is a political action, regardless of intent.

    What I’m saying is that there’s an essentially more equitable situation — integration — where the kindergarten teachers simply *do not do this*. They do not unthinkingly retell the same “overcoming temper” story. They do not relegate ginger kids to token sidekick roles. They do not chuck them in as stock villains. They do not absent them from protagonist roles. They treat the ginger kids the exact same way they treat the blonde, brunette and black-haired kid. In such a situation, *none* of the stories are political actions in that respect. They are simply stories.

    I’m not asking people to sign up to my cause. I’m asking people to look around them and see that, where they thought they were just walking down the street, in a crowd, actually that crowd is all in step, marching for a cause that I believe most would reject: segregation. They don’t even mean to be marching. The street signs simply directed them into this crowd because those street signs were set up long ago by a generation who *did* believe in that cause and who had the power to decree the street signs to be set up thus. Because it is so easy to be swept into that crowd unawares, I do not judge anyone for ending up in that march. I do not ask them to join the protest lining the streets. All I’m asking for is a *cessation* of that political action, a *removal* of the imposed inequity.

    Another analogy. Imagine a news crew reporting deaths in a series of school shootings. Imagine in most cases, all the casualties were named except for the ginger kids. Whenever the ginger kids *were* named, they were said to have *incited* the shooting with their “red rag to a bull” hair — i.e. cast as villains. Or they were glossed over as “some ginger called X” while all other victims were described in terms of their personal lives — as football captain, cheerleader, spelling bee champion, daughter of the local doctor, son of a congresswoman, and so on — i.e. the ginger kids are treated gesturally, as tokens. Or their personal lives were always “well-loved for their capacity to keep their temper in check”. Every act of reportage in such a manner is a political act, no matter if the news crew is doing it intentionally or not.

    What I’m asking for is not political action except in so far as *thinking* is an action, in so far as *caring* is an action. I’m not asking the news crew to do X, Y or Z for the ginger kids who die in those school shootings because that is necessarily to treat the ginger kids differently, to accept that we must specify “do X, Y or Z for ginger kids” when we wouldn’t have to for blonde, brunette or black-haired kids. It’s not a pro-active political effort I’m asking for in regards ginger kids; actually it’s a simplification, a standardisation, simply to *not* cast them as villains with some random “red rag to a bull” cliché, to *not* gloss over them, to simply give their personal lives as football captains, cheerleaders and so on, just as would be done for every one else.

    You understand that this is how it is with *actual* ginger kids in the news right now, yes? That they are not going to be subjected to the sort of abjection conjured in such a scenario, yes? That this does not constitute some ongoing pro-ginger political activism, yes? It’s just par for the course *non*-political reportage.

    Or now that I’ve cast ginger kids in that abject role are we suddenly incapable of seeing them as normal human beings, suddenly incapable of seeing a situation in which they’re *treated* as normal human beings as *the natural default*, suddenly incapable of seeing that it is not a request for political action to say, “Let’s not segregate them out like that”? Because actually, you know, not segregating ginger kids out like that doesn’t take any effort at all.

  42. Hal Duncan

    “…not by promoting alternate venues, but by changing things in specific venues–you want all the stories to be a certain way.”

    Promoting alternate venues means building more water fountains for the abject. It is not an end to segregation.

    If you’re reading me as saying that I want all the stories to be a certain way, you need to reread everything I’ve said. Let’s take some edited highlights:

    “It’s a state of segregation in which black, queer and members of other abject groups are not deemed to belong as main characters.”

    So, we have a limitation on traits of main characters. And integration would be where black, queer and members of other abject groups *do* belong as main characters. So main characters could have those traits under integration, where segregation says they can’t. So we’re expanding the range of available traits for main characters.

    “They may be allowed in as an exception if it “serves the plot” (c.f. your reviewer’s expectation of a reason for the character’s gayness.)”

    So, we have a limitation on how traits are used if they are allowed in as exceptions. So integration would be where no such limitation is imposed. So traits don’t have to “serve the plot.” So plot doesn’t have to be defined by traits. So we’re expanding the range of plots available whenever traits are allowed in.

    “They may be allowed in as Gay Best Friends or Magic Negros in service of the straight, white protagonist.”

    So, we have a limitation of characters with certain traits to insulting clichés. So integration would be where no such limitation is imposed. So we’re expanding the range of character types available for characters with particular traits.

    “There’s no requirement on an author to engage with the issues of race or sexuality or whatever as subjects; an author’s thematics is their choice.”

    So, authors still get to write about anything they damn well please. In terms of subject matter, thematics, I explicitly reject any notion that I want a greater focus on X, Y or Z. So, there’s absolutely nothing to suggest I want stories to be a certain way.

    I’ll leave it at that. Just reread the rest yourself. And tell me how in the name of Cock you can conceivably read this as advocating a homogenisation of fiction.

  43. John Brown

    “If you’re reading me as saying that I want all the stories to be a certain way . . .”

    You want all stories in all venues to be the same in that they cease to segregate. That’s all I was talking about. Is that not what you’re asking for?

    And you’re right. It’s one thing to label a situation and be done. For example, hey, American fiction is segregated. It is or it isn’t. It’s a question of fact. However, it’s another to say, hey, American fiction is segregated, something we don’t think is good, let’s change it. This is moral. I probably shouldn’t use “political” because it connotes legislation and government policy. But it is moral. And the request made falls into that second category.

    And I don’t have any issues with that. I don’t see anything wrong with making such a request. Or adding the elimination of some segregation as an objective in one’s writing. Furthermore, many who have posted, and probably a lot more who have read your post, support the cause.

    My purpose here isn’t to argue against it. It’s just that there’s something about the approach, even as low key as you’ve presented it, that doesn’t work for me. But I don’t think it’s going to be profitable to explore that here.

    I will say that this is one of the calmer discussions on this matter, and that’s due in large part to how you’ve attempted to explain your position. It’s given me good food for thought. Thanks :)

  44. Hal Duncan

    In terms of groups, actually, in so far as *any* — let me repeat that, ANY — one more time, *ANY* — group is actually abjected, I say this is irrational and dangerous.

    Let me clarify: I mean, in so far as any group is *actually abjected* and not just… um… sorta hated, yanno, cause they’re all neo-nazi and stuff, and like, nobody with any sense of decency is down with that shit, yeah, so we sorta try to avoid them, dude. In other words, there *is* a difference. Being automatically disliked and avoided cause you’re a *fricking tool* is not the same as being abjected.

    But hey, it doesn’t matter, because I can posit the full-on abjection of neo-nazis. Actually, practically speaking, in certain communities where they’re identifiable, they might well be truly abject.

    See, to be abject is to be literally “cast off”. The abject is something that was once, and still is on some level, a part of ourselves. Separated out from us it has become an object of profound revulsion however, subject to irrational disgust, in part because we are *aware* that it is still, on some level, us.

    The concept of abjection applies to a common psychological reaction to bodily substances like blood, shit, piss. It applies to corpses, which were once part of us-as-living-humanity. This is not to say that everyone abjects these particular things, but the reaction is common, wired into our culture even. See any Cronenburg movie.

    The concept of abjection also applies to groups of individuals though. Markers of deviance — in terms of sexuality, skin colour, disability, class, culture, even gender — can be used to identify a group of individuals as a class distinct from the so-called “normative” — where the normative is *not* necessarily the majority or average, the mean, mode or median, simply the *standard*, what is taken as a *default*, a potentially arbitrary baseline from which all else is deviance.

    Think of “white” skin colour. Actually, this is a range of colours — pink, peach, pale tan. And the way we’ve collapsed these to a normative “white,” constructed a notion of “coloured people” (as if people with pink, peach or pale tan skin *weren’t* coloured) is revealing of the relationship between the normative and the groups identified as distinct classes by markers of deviance. The normative is essentially *constructed* in the negation of deviance.

    In terms of skin, white is an entirely *imaginary* absence of “colour”, dig? A normative standard constructed in the negation of deviance. Compare “straight” and “queer” — possibly the purest articulation of the essential non-deviant:deviant relationship.

    Now, once you have a class of people distinguished out in such a way, the group identity of the normative class is basically constructed by the exclusion of members of that non-normative class. Members of that class are no longer recognised as part of the normative community. They are Other. Looking at it from inside the normative community (being a white male and all,) they are part of us that has been cast off, because they’re essentially different. Looking at it from outside (being queer and all,) suddenly we’ve been cast off, kicked away over a purely definitional border, on the basis of a criteria as arbitrary as ginger hair.

    Being cast off like this automatically translates to a projection of wrongness, by the way. Being non-normative equates to being abnormal, aberrant, and in conventional mores that is invariably translated to transgressing the natural order of things. Hence the righteousness of the prejudiced.

    There’s a key feature of abjection, though, that we need to bear in mind so as not to just conflate the profound prejudice and marginalisation here with mere animosity and avoidance. Remember, on a deeper level, the abject *are* just as much Us as the tiny minority of individuals who actually constitute normative in all the various possible dimensions (as opposed to those like me who might be queer but are also white and straight.) To revile and reject the abject entails a degree of confrontation in which we’re all too aware of the aspects of ourselves we recognise in the abject *because* they are, of course, have always been, Us.

    But normative group identity itself rests on the negation of that! They *can’t* be Us! We must abjure them utterly! Abhor them with every fibre of our being! That which reminds us most of ourselves is to be hated most of all! That which we revile in ourselves is to be projected onto them! They must be rendered not just Other, but a cipher embodying *all* that we desire to be expunged from ourselves, all that we desire to believe *already* expunged from ourselves.

    That’s what I’m talking about when I say “abjection.” As much as I call it a distinct social process, it’s also a distinct *semiotic* process. And it should not be conflated with mere animosity and avoidance any more than indoctrination into a cult should be conflated with simply getting to know a social group and doing group activities with them like bowling.

    But I’ll repeat, I don’t see it as inconceivable that neo-nazis would end up abjected. Skinheads with obvious tattoos, say, in the right community could well end up being subject to the process in full, not just reviled and rejected but becoming *ciphers*, a Them that the community constructs its identity in the negation of. For the reasons above, this is irrational. It is also profoundly *dangerous* because that community is projecting its anti-Semitism out onto the neo-nazis. In a true state of abjection, the greatest power of abjection comes from the neurotic denial of traits recognised as shared. (Compare homophobia born of latent desires, whether in skinhead thugs or GOP politicos; it’s not just hypocrisy but wholesale pathology.) That means a community that is in all likelihood *rank* with anti-Semitism even as it reviles the neo-nazis for it.

    So, no, my point is that abjection is not just some woolly-headed notion of not being all warm and fuzzy-wuzzy to certain peeps because we be pigeonholing them as “lawyers” or “nazis” or “men with big noses”. And given what it actually *is*, I will happily say that we shouldn’t, practically speaking, do that to anyone, *not least* neo-nazis. Not if we know what’s good for us.

  45. Hal Duncan

    You want all stories in all venues to be the same in that they cease to segregate. That’s all I was talking about. Is that not what you’re asking for?

    Segregation is a state, not a quality of stories. As a process it’s not enacted by stories but via stories. Like, you don’t achieve integration by ensuring that every single bus actively integrates — i.e. each one has characters of abject groups traveling on it. That’s quotas and tokenism.

    I want the writers — the bus-drivers — to be the same in that *they* cease to segregate by how they allot seats on the buses. Simple as that.

  46. Hal Duncan

    “However, it’s another to say, hey, American fiction is segregated, something we don’t think is good, let’s change it.”

    And yet another to say, American fiction is segregated; this profoundly affects the abject among the readership; their desire for that to be rectified is not to be confused with a demand for coerced thematics or coerced inclusion, or taken as a plea for cursory gestures of acceptance.

    I mean, I appreciate you’re saying that political advocacy is all well and good: “I don’t have any issues with that. I don’t see anything wrong with making such a request.” But even with the rhetoric of “moral checklist” toned-down to “request,” you’re continuing to gloss my “this is how it is” as a moral imperative: “let’s change it.” That’s a directive, an exhortation, a command. So I’ll explain my persnickety adamance that this is not a valid paraphrase.

    My own phrasing above is the entirety of what I’m saying in the post, boiled down by paragraph — just that, and all of it originally in response to Mark Newton’s general “Does this matter?” on his blog, a broad invitation for opinions. By which I mean, seeing that comment isolated out like this as a post on the SFWA blog one might read it as going all Sermon on the Mount, but it’s *not* proselytising a political agenda; it’s born from a firm conviction on my part, sure, but it’s a response that speaks only of the political situation and its more equitable alternative, *what* they constitute. And crucially what a desire for integration does *not* constitute. I was graciously asked if I’d let it be posted here. For sure, I said. I think the three key points are important: that we’re dealing with segregation; that it profoundly affects the abject; that the desire for integration is not what it’s often characterised as.

    That last point is the crux here.

    All else, I’ll stress, has been response to comments along the lines of “But how?” or “But why?” or “But what?” And even in those comments you’ll be hard pushed to find a request that isn’t actually a correction of an assumption that I’m “asking for” X, Y or Z — i.e. it remains only an attempt to articulate exactly what I mean by integration, not to spur people into action. If anything it’s essentially *ripping up* a spurious *projected* agenda that’s one of the key accelerants making discussions like this… generally less civil, shall we say. :)

    Again, that last point is the crux here.

    See, one of the most problematic aspects of that projected agenda is the automatic perception of moral coercion used as a way to strong-arm writers into particular thematics (c.f. Mishell’s comment at #3) or ridiculous strictures of inclusion (c.f. your own first comment.) In a way this very thread serves as proof of the problem, I’d say. That third paragraph of my initial post explicitly rejects the notion that a desire for integration equates to a *dictation* of thematics, and yet the third comment on the thread nevertheless projects a *moral coercion* towards just that. That same third paragraph explicitly rejects the notion that a desire for integration equates to a *dictation* of inclusion via quotas, and yet your own first comment on the thread nevertheless projects a *moral coercion* towards just that.

    So even though I’ve essentially said from the get-go that a desire for integration *isn’t* about authoritative pronouncements on how writers *must* do X or be held politically/morally incorrect, that projected agenda is superimposed and I’m seen as trying to shame writers into lockstep action characterised in *the* most absolutist terms possible — “a set of commandments… a moral checklist from fiction Sinai.” This radically misreads what I’m saying as moral coercion simply by seeing it *as* the very agenda I’m saying is a *spurious projection*.

    That last point is the crux here because that’s the very problem it’s addressing,

    Naturally, your initial reaction in the face of perceived moral coercion is to begrudge such arguments of “shoulds and guilt”: “So not only do I now have to conform to a checklist, but I have to use the _approved_ checklist,” this being an imposition “as deadening as resurrecting the once-common Medieval stricture that all art must be about Christ.” Hardly an unreasonable response. It’s perfectly fair to say, when faced with the flamewar fuel that is moral coercion, “Dude, look at all this gasoline you’re pouring into the discourse, all this shame that’s only going to alienate the people you’re trying to coerce into action.”

    Except… to do so when the person you’re addressing has poured that gasoline down the drain upfront in that third paragraph — no decrees, no quotas — precisely to take it out of the discourse, is really kinda to pour that fuel into the discourse yourself. Because if the projected agenda is an argument of “shoulds and guilt,” so too is the rhetoric of arrant prescriptivism — tablets of stone, moral checklists. When the person who’s saying, “this is the problem, how it affects us,” is faced with a response of, “Guilt-trip! Quotas! Decrees!” aren’t they equally likely to impute a moral condemnation of their purported authoritarian dogmatism? If that dogmatism is a spurious projection, if they’re being rebuked on the basis of an agenda they do not hold, they will most likely see this as abjection in action. And then the whole shithouse goes up in flames. It’s like the ginger kid raises his hand in class each day to ask the kindergarten teacher why he never gets to be hero in her stories, and she scolds him for being so demanding, not waiting his turn… what, is she meant to write him into *every* story as a token sidekick? That’s hardly fair on the other children, is it?

    The incendiary nature of *all* the blaming and shaming in the discourse is why that last point is the crux, why I think it’s crucial to put the whole notion of an agenda constituted of decrees to the torch. That Straw Man needs to be burned and the ashes swept away or every call for integration is going to continue to be heard as a guilt-tripping demand for quotas. And as long as it is, the segregation will remain.

  47. John Brown

    Thanks for taking time to clarify, Hal. :) While your initial posts seem to be very strongly suggesting one reading to me, I think this helps me see your intent better.

    “that we’re dealing with segregation; that it profoundly affects the abject; that the desire for integration is not what it’s often characterised as.”

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  50. K. Tempest Bradford

    Okay, first, someone has an unclosed italics tag up there somewhere. Let’s try this

    Hopefully that is better.

    Anyway, Hal, today you’re my favorite person. Thank you for this post.