Editor’s note: The following essay is being presented anonymously. We don’t do this lightly, but we felt that this was a powerful piece that deserved to be read widely, and that the author’s reasons for keeping their name off of it in our current toxic online environment were legitimate and understandable.
This is going to be personal. For me, not for you.
And here’s a precog fuck you to those who do take it personal. You’ll see why I handed out that fuck you soon.
On Tuesday, July 26, Brian J. White, editor and publisher of Fireside Fiction Company, and Cecily Kane, book reviewer and lover of speculative fiction short stories, released a special report on the dearth of short stories published in 2015 by black science fiction and fantasy writers.
According to the report, of the 2,039 original speculative fiction short stories published by 63 magazines in 2015, only 38 were written by black people.
The report has had some legs since being released, and was covered by The Verge and The Guardian, among other outlets. Not surprisingly at all, people lost their fucking minds.
Wait. Let me be more specific: ignorant, racist assholes lost their fucking minds.
Why? Because they’re ignorant, racist assholes.
Okay, wait. That’s not fair. I should back up my claim of them being ignorant, racist assholes.
That’s the sort of thing one does in the art of rhetoric, isn’t it? I mean, one makes a strong, biased statement, and then backs that strong, biased statement with facts, right?
(Can you tell I’m angry? No? Well, I’m pissed off, and it’s not at Mr. White or Ms. Kane, who I mention next.)
Ms. Kane states quite early in her initial analysis of the data regarding black writers, the year 2015, and the speculative stories published then: “The methodology is flawed, as it’s based in self-reported data whenever possible, but such data was not always findable or clear.”
In other words: “Our bad. We did the best we could do at identifying the black people who had science fiction and fantasy short stories published in 2015, but we could only do so much. Not every writer self-identifies, and not all black writers are named Mar’Keese or Sha’Nequa.”
Okay, so maybe Ms. Kane, data-gatherer Ethan Robinson, and actuary Weston Allen didn’t say that, think that, or mean that, especially the last part. But the people in those comment sections who lost their small, closed, narrow minds definitely meant that last part:
I’m sure a story names Hip Hop publishers have a major race problem is coming soon.
On a related note I do have to wonder if there isn’t a severe underrepresentation of sci-fi characters having a ‘white’ name in books from the last decade or two. When was the last time you meet a Bill or Maria as an important character in a sci-fi book?
And yeah, I know: don’t read the comments. But I did for the two news stories linked above. I couldn’t help myself.
I’m black. I write speculative fiction short stories. I take the writing of speculative fiction stories quite seriously. I’ve been doing this for many years, since I got one of those Best Of collections of sci-fi short stories for Christmas.
I can’t remember the name of the anthology now, but it contained stories that won the Hugo or the Nebula, including George R.R. Martin’s Sandkings. I loved that collection. I read it ragged. After reading it the first time, I vowed one day to be nominated for a Hugo or a Nebula.
(I told you this was going to be personal).
So, yeah, I read the comments because I need to know the nasty, repugnant, vile things people are saying about me, a black writer of science fiction and fantasy. I want to prove those things wrong. I need to prove those things wrong.
Is that a messed-up way to approach this and fuel my writing? Probably.
But I will be damned if some witless dipshit in the comments section drools this dreck —
I can’t imagine that their are actually that many black science-fiction writers alive. Seems like a pointless story to me.
— and I don’t say something about it, considering I’m black, I write science fiction, and I’m alive.
I’m calling you out on your bullshit now, uninformed commenter: google “black sci-fi writers”. Search through those page hits. Yes, there are a lot of pages. And yes, you are lazy, shiftless, racist and witless, but if you click through the first three pages, you trifling, knuckle-dragging troglodyte, light will be shed on your dim, simple imagination.
Look at those hits. Black people are in your science fiction, writing your future.
And yet, even though this is a fact and this is happening right now, in the small hours of the night, I doubt myself. I doubt my writing because soft-minded people like that uninformed commenter doubt my existence, which, in turn, questions my presence in the science fiction and fantasy community.
And yeah, I know. Why should I care about what someone like that thinks? Because much of the science fiction and fantasy industry thinks the same way, and has thought that way for some time.
When I was growing up, I didn’t see any science fiction and fantasy stories about black people and black experiences. So I didn’t write them.
Also, when I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone who wrote fiction, science fiction, fantasy or otherwise. I didn’t know anyone who could help me with my writing.
I was a shy kid. I didn’t reach out to friends and family and ask them to read my writing. I didn’t reach out to the online writing groups as I got older. There was no one to tell me, “You can write this. But your writing is shit. Write better.”
But over time, my writing slowly improved (it’s still improving, by the way), and I began submitting my short stories. I didn’t see stories with black people, unless they were crude stereotypes, so my characters were white. Or they were half-black, half-white, and light-skinned with green eyes.
And still, I self-rejected. I wasn’t good enough, I thought. And when I didn’t self-reject, I was editor-rejected.
Which was fine. My stories weren’t good back then. But even worse, they didn’t feel like me. The characters didn’t feel like the ones I should be writing. I believe my stories suffered from that.
But I continued to write bad stories. And then, one day, after reading Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring and Midnight Robber, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower in a succession of wonderful cultural work, I decided to write speculative fiction that felt like me. I decided to write stories that identified me.
These stories were about me. These stories were about where I came from — both physically and culturally. These stories were about black people in the future. These stories dealt with issues I, my children, and we as a people will most likely face in the future.
It’s funny that —
Wait. No, it’s not funny.
It’s disheartening and discouraging that there are some people in the science fiction and fantasy community (let’s be honest; I’m talking about some white people here) who think black people, black issues, and racism won’t or shouldn’t be a part of our future.
You don’t believe me? Here’s one commenter in his own words (because, again, let’s be honest, they’re most likely male) regarding the Fireside report and the news story on it:
The problem appears to be that social justice warriors demand that material address the social issues of today. Yet the whole purpose of SF is to address the problems of tomorrow, which may or may not include continuing racial tensions. They therefore demand changes to material that is artistically incoherent, at best. As such they are destroying art on the altar of political correctness. This is inherently wrong.
Look, I realize that spaceships, ray guns, and Girl Fridays are an essential part of science fiction. Remember, I read that. I liked that. I still like some of that.
But there is no “may or may not” about the future containing racial tensions. Racial tensions are right here, right now, and they’re not going anywhere any time soon.
Let me say that again, so you people in Whitebread, Ohio, or Mayo County, Iowa, hear me loud and clear: racial tensions are a part of tomorrow. Black people are a part of tomorrow. Black speculative fiction is a part of tomorrow.
Now, I know you “social justice warrior slayers” (or whatever you’re calling yourselves) are saying, “Who the fuck is this person? They won’t even put their fucking name on this. The fucking coward.”
You damn right I won’t.
But as for your question, who am I?
I am a black writer who has published more than two dozen speculative fiction short stories.
I am a black writer who, among many others, was published in 2015.
I am a black writer whose stories will be included in a Best Of collection of Hugo or Nebula award winners.
I am the black writer you love to hate.
I was here in 2015. I’m here now.
And I will be here tomorrow.
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