Last year when I was approached to write about the #BlackSpecFic report, the numbers weren’t really a surprise. I have a pretty good ratio for submission vs. publication. I also have a social media footprint that makes it hard to ignore me. This year when I agreed to work on the project as an editor I wanted to broaden other writers’ platforms in the same way that I have expanded mine over the years. As an editor on this project and others, I went out of my way to reach out to new writers. That list includes De Ana Jones, who sold her first story to me for Hidden Youth, the anthology I co-edited with Chesya Burke. Now, lest you think this means that the road to being invited this year was working with me, I’ve never worked with Maurice Broaddus or Jennifer Marie Brissett. I admire their work, admire the trajectory of their careers. And I wanted to get responses from writers who were coming at this from all levels.
One of the things that is harder to see when you’re talking about so few Black writers being published is that even though we all write under the broad umbrella of speculative fiction, we don’t tell the same stories. As an editor for any publication, it’s not just a question of saying you’re committed to diversity, it’s actually being willing not only to explicitly invite Black writers in, but also to step outside your comfort zone. If you claim that you can’t find the kinds of stories that fit your vision from Black writers? You’re lying to yourself. And while I would never presume to know what you’re thinking, perhaps you should examine your unconscious biases. Ask yourself why you think that there are no Black writers creating stories that you want to read. Special issues are fine, are in fact necessary, but putting out a good magazine or anthology includes being willing to read and publish stories that challenge your expectations year round.
As you read the report, as you read the reactions to the report, you might find the process uncomfortable, might even feel insulted or attacked by the conclusions. That’s not a flaw in the the report, it’s a hard but necessary part of fixing the problem. There’s a reason the writers I chose aren’t the type to mince words, or to coddle those who know better, but continue to refuse to do better. It’s easy to say that things are getting better as long as you ignore that better than zero isn’t exactly a high bar. This report isn’t a demand to publish despite quality, it’s a demand that you learn to accurately judge quality. A story that doesn’t center whiteness, that doesn’t follow the parameters laid out by white male writers 30 years ago isn’t a bad story. It’s just a new story.
Challenge yourself, challenge your readers, challenge the genre to understand that intent doesn’t trump impact. It doesn’t matter whether or not editors intend to engage an anti-Black lens in their reading, what does matter is that they aren’t publishing Black voices and the genre suffers for it. Love the genre? Embrace writers from all backgrounds, not just the familiar or comforting ones.
I’ve used the word challenge a lot, that isn’t a lack of creativity. That’s an actual request that you do the work. It’s going to be hard, sometimes unpleasant and ultimately still rewarding. There will be obstacles, missteps, you will get tired, sometimes you will even get hurt. Then you will get up and try again. That’s the advice we all give writers right? Hold editors to the same standard and watch this genre that we all love flourish.
About the author
Mikki Kendall aspires to be an over-educated loudmouth with deep pockets. Failing that she manages to be a periodic cyborg who masquerades as a person with a spouse, kids, and all the trappings of quasi respectability. Once gainfully employed by an unnamed agency, she now invests her time in writing, wrangling jackasses on the internet, and telling people to go straight to hell. Raised by a family of cutthroat sarcastic assassins with magic powers, her obsession with history has led to her publishing weird stories, and articles about every serious issue under the sun. Her nonfiction work has appeared in the Washington Post, Time, and a host of other outlets. Her fiction work includes comics, and short stories are available via Revelator Magazine, Torquere Press, and online.
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