Jul 26, 2016 | essay

Speculative Antiblackness

By

Before I get into the meat of the thing, allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Troy. I am a black man born of black parents, and I’ve been a black man for about thirty years.

I was reared in acute poverty in the U.S. South, and I have deep, formative experiences with structural, race-based violence and discrimination. My existence at these intersections has informed my life and determines how I interact with the world. I am blessed with an overactive imagination that enables me to create worlds and characters that I use to escape the realities of oppression. My struggle with inequality, my rage, grief, and sweat, is normally processed through my imagination’s blender, typed on the page, and sent out into the world in the hope that it can serve as a touchstone for those walk a path similar to my own.

Speculative fiction is a space dedicated to investigating the world with the boundless power of human imaginations like mine, which is why it is so disappointing that a space defined by creating new and different realities is so bound by banal, real-world structural antiblackness and inequality. Short fiction magazines publish science fiction and fantasy stories written by black authors at a rate so low that these authors and their stories are closer to not truly existing at all. Of course, there is data to support this claim, if you’re of the unbelieving sort, but the truth is that I have a better chance of being wrongfully convicted of a crime than I do of selling a piece of short fiction to a major speculative fiction magazine. This is not hyperbole. Look at the numbers. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.

Black authors submit their work to short fiction magazines despite continuous negative messages from society about the value of their work. Editors at these magazines should be thanking black authors for submitting stories, because these stories are the bravest, dopest, deepest work that they will encounter. But antiblack bias and cultural indifference are real, as is the struggle. Instead of providing readers with constant exposure to powerful, brave work from black authors, magazines are content to cycle through the same standard groups of nonblack authors, congratulating themselves when they find a lone black story to include on a table of contents. Numbers don’t lie, and the numbers collected here are damning: black authors are working twice as hard, and their fiction is just as good, but they can’t seem to get their short fiction half as far as other speculative fiction authors. Not even one-fourth as far.

Feelings will not solve this problem. Tears and gnashing of teeth and rhetorical exercises will not change this fact, or these publication rates. If speculative fiction as a space truly desires to be as inclusive as it has claimed, magazines will have to have to be intentional about finding and publishing black authors. Black authors are not storming the gates of short fiction markets, because they don’t feel welcomed by these magazines and the structures that support them, in large part due to their unrelenting, tone-deaf dedication to whiteness. Antiblackness is a constant threat in and to the lives of black people. Speculative fiction markets and spaces have, over and over again, shown themselves willing and able to perpetuate this same antiblackness despite claiming to possess more liberal leanings. Is it any wonder that black people are reluctant to share their work with these markets and spaces when they have to deal with the same antiblack bias there that they experience everywhere else?

A magazine that wants to publish black authors will solicit stories from black authors. A magazine that wants to publish black authors will have a masthead that includes black editors with varying levels of experience in the field and the power to influence the overall tone of the magazine. A magazine that wants to publish black authors will stop using blind submissions as an excuse when reality shows that meritocracy, both in idea and practice, is not free from antiblackness — especially when those with the power to determine merit are not black people. A magazine that wants to publish black authors will track the submission rates of black authors, will heavily publicize stories written by those black authors, and will openly court stories from black authors who are connected to those that they have already published. A magazine that wants to publish black authors will not rely on the lie that black authors don’t exist, when the truth is that black authors exist in spades, and have been sharing their stories with the world for years. Magazines who don’t do some — or all — of these things are lying about their desire to make speculative fiction more inclusive.

An intentional commitment to diversity and inclusion is more than just a diversity statement, more than lip service and navel-gazing. It looks intentional. By not publishing the work of black authors, our community is willingly silencing the voices of some of our most talented contributors, which is limiting the breadth and scope of our collective imaginative power. Speculative fiction cannot claim to be a space that values literature of the imagination when faced with the truth that we are prioritizing the literary imaginations of some people over those of others.

(Read Fireside’s report, editorial, essays, and an interview with N.K. Jemisin.)

About the Author

Troy L. Wiggins is a writer from Memphis, Tennessee. His short fiction has appeared in Griots: Sisters of the Spear, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History, Expanded Horizons, and Memphis Noir.