From Geekdom to Freedom

January 18, 2010

NK Jemisin writes about the positive fallout of Racefail – that hashing through those discussions began change in the larger community of sci-fi and fantasy.

I mean, it’s impressive we’ve reached the point where we can have mainstream discussions about the White Savior Trope (mind you, it required magical blue people and not real Indians to spark that… hmm. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, anyone?).

Or that an author might actually get the book cover to reflect the ethnicity of their character – when even literary greats like Ursula Le Guin haven’t been able to for decades upon decades. (Of course, the more money people see in your books, the more they’re eager to control it.)

When the average book sale (in the US, anyway) is 500 or so, maybe realizing that even a fraction of a subgroup (English speaking POC on LJ who heard about the rollcall and participated) is over 1000 potential readers, maybe that whole “assuming only one demographic matters” method isn’t the way to go anymore.

The sentiment I heard, over and over, during all these discussions was, “Why should we care about you people? PROVE that you are worth caring about!”

The ludicrous part of it all is that the onus should be the other way around- “What makes you so special, high and mighty, that you get to NOT care about the rest of the world?”

As much as I’d like to simply attribute the changes to the discussions getting through to people, I think there’s a second, more powerful force at hand. That during these discussions, there’s been a lot of networking among POC – developing groups, organizing, and even publishing houses.

The changes aren’t about a post-racial enlightenment- the changes are that publishing companies, writers, editors, are realizing they’re no longer competing against others just like them, but folks who have a clue, in fact, are light years ahead on this. That screaming, “If you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?!? Go make your own!” was a great way to force others to organize and simply build alternate channels.

The changes we’re seeing, are concessions in the light that, yes, there is a market, and yes, they will leave, just like you asked, and go take their money (which is just as green as the white man’s) elsewhere.

Whereas many of the Failers fear that there’s some kind of boycott at hand, it’s actually much simpler than that – we’re networking and sharing lists of books and authors to support – great stories, great writers, and just don’t have the time or money to waste on second-rate stories, from folks who said they didn’t care about us anyway.

It’s 2010. See you in the future.


  1. I agree except on one point. Forming our own networks — good, yay, ’bout time. But I think there’s some danger in PoC going off to develop our own publishing houses, because those houses must exist within the rest of the publishing industry and the rest of the publishing industry has problems. I think separate houses is what resulted in the dynamic that currently dominates the romance industry — with romances for PoC published differently, marketed differently (to a lesser degree), and aimed solely at PoC as if no white person would ever want to read about us finding love. This happened because the main romance industry was stupid and assumed PoC didn’t read, etc., but regardless of why it happened it’s hurting current PoC authors, who can’t make sales to match their white counterparts unless they can manage to “cross over”. Some black authors (e.g., Millennia Black, though I don’t think she’s allowed to talk about it anymore post-lawsuit) have been forced to write black characters, or had their white characters “blackwashed” on the cover because the publishers assume they can only sell to black readers. That’s a problem too — and I don’t want to see it happen in SFF.

    But everything else you’ve said? Big-time ditto.

    • I agree, though situations like Millenia Black isn’t the result of a POC publishing house doing this- it’s a white publishing house making the concession that the market exists, yet unable to equate POC as “mainstream” or part of society as a whole. Having our own publishing houses and ability to get our stories out not only serves us as a consumer base, but more importantly, serves the in-roads to the full society that currently is being denied, white-washed, or ghetto-ized into sub-genres.

      • Weird, missed this. Sorry.

        But will those PoC publishing houses be able to break out of the “poc interest” bookstore sections? Because that’s the clincher — if the PoC publishers can only promise their authors a PoC audience, then they’re doing their authors (and readers) as much of a disservice as the white publishing houses only trying to market them towards PoC. Most PoC presses I encounter don’t seem any more interested in (or able to) breaking out of the “African American Interest” or “Asian American Interest” or whatever section, than white presses do. It’s the same assumption on both sides: that PoC-written books are a specialty product appealing only to a specialty audience, as evidenced by the fact that the books are coming from specialty publishers. Separate PoC presses reinforce this message.

        Maybe the problem is the bookstores, though honestly I doubt it. Seems to me the bookstores will put a publisher’s books wherever the publisher pays them to put it. So the onus is back on the publisher — and many of the smaller publishers can’t afford to pay for ideal placement. So they end up in the “[ethnic] Interest” section.

        Though I think the PoC presses are beginning to realize this, and some are starting to try and break out of the [ethnic] Interest shelves. I’m watching Verb Noire in SFF, and Tu Publishing in YA/Children’s, to see what will happen.

        • To be sure, it’s one step in the chain, but each step has led to concessions- much more than “sudden enlightenment” of the privileged. I’m not pointing to the step as the end, but a step.

  2. Your post has been included in a Linkspam roundup.

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