Felicity Savage’s opinion piece is about diversity in science fiction, although it’s slightly dissonantly titled “What’s the Trouble With Selfies? Speculative Fiction and the Mirror Effect.” She argues that the calls for increased racial and cultural diversity in speculative fiction have resulted in a shallow, PC species of literature, which isn’t really that necessary.
“…the call for diversity is usually interpreted with deadly literal-mindedness as a call for more characters who are female / black / Asian / what have you. Why are we all so keen to see ourselves on the page?”
The first sentence could be interpreted as a stand against the token-izing breed of diversity that pats itself on the back for including a random and insignificant character of color. Ok, cool. But then—why are we all so keen to see ourselves on the page? Savage believes it’s the product of the narcissistic obsession with selfies and seeing our own reflections. I feel differently.
Perhaps diverse worlds and characters are important because literature as a constructive space is fundamental to our definition of human-ness. Or maybe because of the unsubtle psychological damage wrought by literal centuries of reading only white, straight, mostly-male faces. Or maybe because the dominance of white worlds has systematically denied non-white and non-cisgendered people’s very existence, and divorces them from their own identities. Chimamanda Adiche, the brilliant and also out-of-control gorgeous Nigerian author, sums the entire problem in her TED Talk: she says that her first stories had little white children as the heroes, who drank ginger beer and talked about the cloudy weather, because the only literature she’d read was British. There were no stories about upper-middle-class Nigerian girls negotiating complex, modern, and intercultural worlds. She had to write them herself. That process is, I suspect, a little deeper than a teenage girl pouting her lips in the mirror.
But stick with me, because the rabbit hole goes deeper and dumber. Savage next talks about the awkwardness of enacting those politics in the real world:
“Pity the poor black fan who can’t attend a convention without people touching her hair or asking her to teach them about negritude. But also spare a wee drop of compassion for the straight, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered male! He’s lectured on his lack of diversity, told to read more stories about and by people with diverse perspectives–and yet when he tries to approach them in real life, it all too often … doesn’t end well.”
Yes. I always respond super well to calls to pity the straight white male, especially when he’s trying super hard, guys, and nobody seems to like him. First, being white and trying doesn’t automatically earn you secret brownie points that tell people of color to be cool, man. Second, experiencing a tiny, momentary glimpse of racialized dislocation or rejection does not earn you even a “wee drop” of my compassion. As a white person, I enjoy a constant and comfortable majority, wherein thinking about race is an individual choice. It’s not required. It’s easy to see myself as the un-raced default for humankind. I don’t happen to think it should always be that easy for me.
And, finally, the clincher:
“Nothing is gained by mapping our fragmented ethnic and sexual identities onto our fiction with the fidelity of a cellphone camera photo. Well, nothing except approval from the right-thinking crowd, which, I admit, can be quite the headrush.”
Nothing is gained, she claims, except a little left-wing headpatting. And little things, like the potential for a young Nigerian or Nigerian-American to see herself made into a post-apocalyptic heroine in Who Fears Death. Or for a Muslim computer-nerd to see himself in Alif the Unseen. This is not nothing. It’s not selfie-culture. It’s the final frontier for speculative fiction.
 For some reason, she also seems to make a distinction between literary fiction and science fiction. On diversity, she pleas, “But please let’s leave this stuff to lit-fic, shall we? Dissection and interrogation of contemporary identities is exactly what lit-fic does, and it does it well. Speculative fiction does not…” Hey, Ursula LeGuin called. There’s no punchline, she’s just pissed.
 Savage closes the essay with a rather limp argument that the real goal of science fiction is to explore diverse species, which teach us what it means to be human and blur the divisive boundaries of race. This argument skates lightly over the extremely problematic aliens of the early sci-fi era who were basically stand-ins for dehumanized other races, and fails to explain why a non-white character couldn’t be the major representative of humanity dealing with other aliens. White is not the default human.
 I really feel I should have been clearer on my first version of this post that diversity in SFF isn’t just for the readers of color to “see themselves.” It’s also for me, to see people not-myself, because it’s a) really good for me, b) about damn time, and c) often associated with some really thoughtful and intelligent speculative fiction.
 I also failed here to talk about what selfie-culture may or may not be (hint: not meaningless narcissism). Luckily, there are other blog-fish in the sea. Go read Natalie Luhrs’ piece at Radish Reviews.