When an abused wife finally walks out the door, the decision to leave wasn’t made once — it was made a thousand times. It was made with every kick, every slap, every moment of humiliation, every word of degradation, and every time she was made to feel subhuman. It won’t be just one thing that helps her to form her decision, but the accumulation of many things over the course of time that makes her one day pack her bags, gather the kids, and go. This is what has been happening with black writers in the genre community, and I’m pretty sure, just like the abuser husband, the genre community hasn’t noticed us leaving and will be surprised when they finally realize that we are gone.
In 2000, with the publication of Sheree Renée Thomas’ groundbreaking anthology Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, black writers had “arrived” in the field en masse. It was a shock to the genre system. One many did not see coming (and I wonder if Thomas herself understood the deep impact that her book was going to make.) Suddenly, as with dark matter in the heavens above, the world finally noticed what had always been there — black people writing science fiction and fantasy.
But this moment of the “sudden appearance” of black writers seems to have been misunderstood by many in the larger genre community. Somehow the impression had been left that black writers were asking for something, as in, asking to be let in. This was not the case. Black writers were not asking for anything; we were offering something. What was being offered were our stories, our imaginations, and our participation in the growth and innovation of the field. And, as with most offers, there was limited time to reply. I’m here to inform you that the grace period has ended and our generous offer has now been rescinded.
It is noticeable that the People of Color-only issues of magazines fill to bursting with black talent. So black authors are producing the work, and are willing to submit said work. Kickstarters and other funding mechanisms become not only fully funded but reach stretch goals of thousands and thousands of dollars over designated funding needs, clearly indicating that there is a ready audience for this work. So why are black writers not being seen in regular issues of small market magazines? One must conclude that the problem is with the editorial staffs of these magazines. Whatever they are doing, whether purposefully or not, they are excluding black voices on a regular basis.
This is nothing new for us. We’ve been locked out of plenty of systems before. And our reaction has always been the same: we create our own. Black people have never needed permission to create our own art and stories. Even when we were enslaved and forbidden to learn how to read and write, we did it anyway. And we did it well.
Along with the many black writers who have been self-publishing, we have also been creating conventions, conferences, panel discussions, symposiums, novels, magazines, online groups, anthologies, films, graphic novels and comics, games, and more, all with our blackness front and center. Kickstarter as well as other funding platforms have opened the door for many enterprising creatives to turn their ideas into a reality. There was an opportunity for a fusion of cultures, but the mainstream of the field has made it clear that it is not interested. And so here we are, writing our futures, our stories, unapologetically even as the field chooses to ignore us.
Yet, I feel that there is something different about this moment that we are witnessing and the movement we are creating. Our blackness isn’t simply being taken into account in our work; our blackness is a gravity well. Our blackness, our Afrofuturism, our Afropunk, our Astro-blackness is the massive gravitational pull by which all the elements that surround are held.
Finally, we are seeing visions of ourselves designed by us and for us, as in the upcoming Black Panther movie that is heavily influenced on the Marvel comic series as written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Finally, finally, finally we have some hope of seeing an Africanized world on film in which enslavement and poverty and all the other usual themes the west has made associated with black people not be the focal point. (The very idea scares many, but we are welcoming the film with joy and excitement.) Also other franchises with black people as a focus are being made, such as Netflix’s Luke Cage series and a newly signed HBO deal with Nnedi Okorafor based on her novel Who Fears Death.
One day the mainstream of the field will notice that there is something interesting going on of which they are not a part. It’s is time for these editorial staffs to get their acts together because this party train is moving with or without you. When the groove on this train is popping and they finally decide that they want to join in, for those who ignored us remember how you treated us — because we will. We may let you onboard, but will never let you forget that this is our party and that you will be a guest, so act accordingly. In other words, you will have to “come correct,” or expect a swift and unceremonious exit.
About the Author
Jennifer Marie Brissett is a British-Jamaican American. Her short stories can be found in The Future Fire, Lightspeed Magazine, Terraform, Uncanny Magazine, Warrior Wisewoman 2, APB: Artists against Police Brutality and other publications. Her debut novel Elysium (Aqueduct Press) was a finalist for the Locus Award for Best First Novel, placed on the Honor List for the James Tiptree, Jr Award, and won the Philip K. Dick Special Citation. She currently is putting the final touches on her follow-up novel Eleusis (which is the second book in a planned trilogy.) She lives in NYC.
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