Aug 3, 2017 | #Blackspecfic

Diversity Doesn’t Just Happen

By

Edited by Mikki Kendall

My family is interracial, so we made a conscious decision to live our lives as intentionally diverse as possible. This undergirds our thinking when it comes to picking a neighborhood to live in, schools to attend, a church to join, and the circle of friends we let speak into our lives. Diversity has never been about setting quotas for who we hang out with, but about not missing out on the richness of the people around us. Diversity is about different voices, different worldviews, and different stories. But diversity doesn’t just happen.

My big fear after last year’s report was that there might be a few cosmetic changes followed by several rounds of congratulatory back-patting. Or that markets would reach out more often to established POC writers,1 we would see a bump in visibility, then things would fall back to the status quo.

I saw several things that made me hopeful that perhaps the door might be opening to let real change in:

POC one-off projects. The various People of Colo(u)r Destroy projects, frankly, would have fallen into an example of a cosmetic change except for two things: one, there have now been a series of them; and two, such projects have continued into 2017.

I still remember when Brandon Massey launched the horror anthology series, Dark Dreams. He faced all sorts of pushback from folks who “recognized racism when they saw it” and derided this “brand of segregation” and “affirmative action writing.” The quiet insinuation was that the final product must be inferior or else these writers would have gotten their stories into other markets. Of course those criticisms came from a place of fear of someone else cutting into an already shrinking pie, rather than being seen as someone trying to bake a bigger one. While my heart wants to believe that people are more enlightened now, they are delivering to the demand an under-served and changing marketplace. The bottom line is that such one offs, just like with the Dark Dreams series, are profitable.

Unintended ripple effects. Do you know what more diverse stories lead to in the age of podcasted stories? Literally more diverse voices. Markets have had to reach out to POC voice talent in order to produce audio of these stories.

Fiyah Magazine. I’d love to see more markets by POC, which puts a lot of pressure on Fiyah Magazine to succeed, but also on consumers to support it. Another reason why markets such as Fiyah are so important is because they are another answer to the questions of “whose stories get told and who gets to tell them?”

But opening the door to change is not enough. We have to crash though the door in order to ensure that real change, real diversity, occurs. Because diversity doesn’t just happen. Only last year I got into a bit of a shouting match with an editor proudly proclaiming defending the lack of diversity in his anthology. He was “all about the story” and “can only judge the stories [he] receives.” I couldn’t help but think that such an editor was a combination of:

  • Lazy (because, seriously, how hard is it to reach out to people?)
  • Not widely read (they may be all about the story … of a certain kind)
  • Unwelcoming (anyone can submit, just ignore my hostility to you people)
  • Without a very diverse circle of friends/influence (besides that one example they trot out during these discussions)

Which leads me to suggest:

1. Diversify your editorial staff. Wanting more diverse voices is great and all, but when those stories are received, someone on the editorial side has to be able to “get” those stories, understand them in such a way to edit them and then market them. Such staff diversification is an easy way to have an editorial team with wider reading experiences and a broader base of contacts.

2. Reach out to writers. Writers aren’t stupid. They talk. Looking at Fiyah Magazine’s follow-up report from last year, the number-one way writers heard about markets wasn’t The Grinder or Duotrope, it was word of mouth. Writers realize how hostile the market can be (Exhibit A: the “story only” judging editor), so if POC aren’t submitting to a given market, there’s probably a reason. The sense that said market might not care about our stories. Sticking a “POC wanted” sign up is a good first step, but actually reaching out is better. If you want to see more stories from POC, rather than just announce it on your site where it is easy and safe for you — plus depends on people coming to you — try to reach out to where they are. There are many POC writer groups on Facebook and across the Internet. There’s something about the extra effort of reaching out to marginalized folks to signal that yours is a truly welcoming market.

3. Solicit and listen to feedback. This is part of reaching out, but I wanted to emphasize the importance of this. Again, if POC writers aren’t submitting to a market, there’s at the very least a perception issue about that market. It doesn’t hurt to engage people where they are and do some market research at the same time. This again signals that said market is open and builds their readership at the same time.

It is not easy to talk about issues of race, especially when it strikes so close to where we live. It involves developing thick skins to have tough conversations. It involves stepping back from a place of privilege. It involves a posture of non-defensiveness. For our family, we decided that a lack of diversity was a lazy way to live life. It was what happened if we did nothing. Diversity doesn’t just happen. It requires a commitment to put in the work. It begins by simply being conscious of our surroundings. It’s too soon to tell if we’re seeing change that will stick, but I’m hopeful.

About the author

A community organizer and teacher, his work has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, Weird Tales, Apex Magazine, Asimov’s, Cemetery Dance, Black Static, and many more. Some of his stories have been collected in The Voices of Martyrs. He wrote the urban fantasy trilogy, The Knights of Breton Court. He co-authored the play Finding Home: Indiana at 200. His novellas include Buffalo Soldier, I Can Transform You, Orgy of Souls, Bleed with Me, and Devil’s Marionette. He is the co-editor of Dark Faith, Dark Faith: Invocations, Streets of Shadows, and People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror. Learn more about him at MauriceBroaddus.com.

  1. FULL DISCLOSURE: I was a co-editor for Nightmare Magazine’s POC Destroy Horror issue. I am the new reprints editor for Apex Magazine. I have well over a dozen stories and essays coming out over the next few months. 

Help us keep this conversation going

We spent around $1,700 paying the various people involved in producing the 2016 #BlackSpecFic report and its accompanying essays. This type of work is a core part of our mission, and it is only possible due to your direct support.

You can make a one-time contribution, or become one of our recurring monthly backers, but either way, your cash will go toward helping us ensure a bright future for a thriving, sustainable field.