Update: Amazing Stories Continues to be anti-Amazing

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This is what white-washing looks like, just for reference.

Editor and head dude of Amazing Stories, Steve Davidson, has made a couple of really, really offensive comments on Savage’s article.  Silvia Moreno-Garcia has already responded thoroughly to one of them, but hey–when you’re combating unsubtle and pervasive racism, it’s the more the merrier, right?

He started by claiming, charmingly, that he’s “honestly surprised at some of the responses this piece has received.”  He concluded with what I think was supposed to be a blanket statement about how great diversity is, but sounded more like a kid’s poster on race from the 1980s, which mentions “black, or brown or yellow or red” people.  Guess what we don’t call Asian people anymore (it’s a color, and it rhymes with ‘mellow’).  Guess what we don’t call Native Americans anymore (rhymes with ‘insanely outdated and offensive term used by bad 1950s Westerns’).

But then, because we’re just really lucky people, he elaborated.  In a second comment.  In fact, have the whole text, so that you don’t have to go back to that pit of primordial ooze to read it:

“I can only go by the facts at hand and my own personal perception: I read the piece, came to the conclusion(s) I previously mentioned and am sensitive enough to the over-riding issue (diversity) that I questioned Ms. Savage about her intent with the piece. I received confirmation that my perception of the intent was on track.

I think it is pretty clear that attacking the intent of diversity is a fool’s errand – at least for a website that publicly states its support for such.

I think that calling into question gratuitous examples of diversity advances a valid argument: stating that a character belongs to a particular minority while not backing that character up with background and characteristics that make them genuine representatives of that minority is, in many respects, gratuitous. The point of featuring non-majority characters is to expand our experience and knowledge, not to make a work more marketable. (And other things, like creating more opportunity, providing good role models, etc)

I, for instance, am bothered by television commercials where it is obvious that some corporate hack somewhere demanded that “one of every kind” be visualized in the commercial. They’re not genuine portrayals, they’re contrived and as such distort. It’s the same thing as rote translating a slogan – without bothering to find out that the rote translation might be slang for something offensive, or have an entirely different colloquial meaning in the native culture. Nuance and detail matter.

I think Ms. Savage’s piece has caused some waves not because the basic concept (which admittedly was not perceived by many) is an incorrect one, but perhaps because the manner of presentation obscured it. What I do know is that I published it because I believed that what I perceived to be its main argument (we don’t want gratuitous diversity) was a decent, thought-provoking one.

I’d like to and will take Ms. Savage’s word that her intent was what I perceived it to be (and as she has stated elsewhere here in the comments): we can certainly argue over technique, the (in-)advisability of playing with fire in a public space, the greater need for clarity when handling such emotionally-laden issues, but I don’t believe, at all, that Ms. Savage intended to suggest that we should drop diversity, or the pursuit of encouraging more of it. I think what she wanted to suggest was that in order for our pursuit of diversity to work and be truly effective, we need to encourage the genuine expression of it.”[1]

I think, out of all of this glorious piece of baffled white privilege, the part I like best is the phrase “gratuitous diversity.”  It’s one of those terms that just encapsulates a whole world view perfectly.  He defines it as instances where authors are just sticking in people of color willy-nilly for liberal brownie points, without making them believable representatives of their race.  As an example, he mentions those annoyingly multicultural commercials where the actors aren’t really diverse.  Let’s sit down and have what Kentuckians call a “cometojesus” talk about that.

For a piece of mainstream literature in any genre to include characters of color is, depressingly, still a conscious act of social and political activism.  If we took a census of SFF worlds, we’d find whole universes that look like a gated community in a Kansas City suburb: blindingly white.  So what, given this imbalance, constitutes gratuitous diversity?

I suspect that gratuitous diversity can be defined as diversity that makes white people suddenly and uncomfortably conscious of their race.  Perhaps the most egregious examples of gratuitous diversity are those instances when characters of color just don’t feel believable to the white reader.  Maybe they’re refusing to conform to the kinds of stereotypical speech patterns and occupations that we expect.[2]  Maybe, OMG guys, they act just like us.  Or maybe, we’re in a SFF universe and the historically specific realities of ethnic identities don’t exist.    

Steve, Felicity: There’s no such thing as gratuitous diversity, or the “brown washing” you seem to fear.[3]  Also, I will no longer be reading, visiting, linking to, or responding to any of Amazing Stories’ content after this post.  I thought it was one of the oldest and most respected science fiction publications in the country; I’ve now realized that it’s a zombified version of a venerable publication, which exists to promote a certain breed of die-hard white-dude science fiction.  We don’t need you.


[1] This isn’t what Savage’s article said.  It said: “WTF, why do brown people keep showing up in my novels. Ew.”  I’m paraphrasing, obviously.  Also, the intent of her article is more or less irrelevant.  If someone says to me, “No offense, but women are just less capable leaders,” the fact that they didn’t intend to offend me doesn’t matter.  And if I didn’t intend to hospitalize them, well, his jaw’s still broken, isn’t it?

[2] It’s like when Chimamanda Adiche was told her characters didn’t seem “authentically African” because they drove cars and had political debates.

[3] He used the phrase in his first comment, in comparison to white-washing book covers. Except that no SF book has ever had its characters portrayed as black or Asian when they were really supposed to be white.  That doesn’t fucking happen.

 

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6 comments

  1. I just choked on my coffee a little bit at that whole “gratuitous diversity” gem. I want to know what the hell he actually thinks a genuine portrayal of minority characters is.

    “We like diversity, really; as long as minority characters know their place and act like our perception of them.” I couldn’t be rolling my eyes any harder right now.

    1. I’ve spent all day trying to figure out what “gratuitous diversity” means, and I’m no closer to an answer. Perhaps my frail, inferior female mind simply can’t comprehend a term of such staggering smartness and rightitude?

    2. njmagas wrote: ‘”We like diversity, really; as long as minority characters know their place and act like our perception of them.”’

      That’s how I read his comments, too. I read that wondering… so does he expect white characters to be “representative” of white people? (And if so… um, WHICH white people? Because–wait for it!–we, too, are many, diverse, and varied.) Or is representing your people only the story burden of the disabled black-Latino-Asian-lesbian in a story, while the straight white male characters can just go freely about their fictional business, being unique individuals, without having to REPRESENT? Does he expect white characters to be “role models,” too… or is that only the rightful story burden of non-white character? And so on.

      But here’s a palate cleanser, for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Daniel José Older wrote a very good, thoughtful essay a few days ago on race in sf/f:
      http://www.apex-magazine.com/another-world-waits-towards-an-anti-oppressive-sff/?fb_action_ids=10200974275179857&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

  2. “Gratuitous diversity” are both English words, but they don’t make sense when put together like that. Particularly on a planet where most of the people aren’t white. Or even male.

    (You see my little cartoon icon here? That’s the actual color of my skin. In mid-summer. I am as white as it is possible for a non-albino person to be.)

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