post-racial

Oh my god. This photo is from the 1930s. The man depicted is a slave. In the 1930s.

From the 1930s

From a book (Slavery By Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon) about a chapter in history I’d never heard of before: slavery after the civil war, continuing until WWII. From the description:

Under laws enacted specifically to intimidate blacks, tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested, hit with outrageous fines, and charged for the costs of their own arrests. With no means to pay these ostensible “debts,” prisoners were sold as forced laborers to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations.

Read about the rest here.

blind men’s bluff

For those of you who have not heard, anthology editor Jonathan Strahan recently announced his final TOC for the upcoming Eclipse Two anthology, published by Night Shade Books. Now, you might have thought that given the brou-ha-ha surrounding the cover of Eclipse One, those associated with the project would now be very sensitive to gender issues and disinclined to repeat the spectacle. Well, apparently not.

The TOC is (as far as I can tell) entirely made up of white men, with one white woman. I’m with ktempest: I find this sort of thing wholly unacceptable. And no, I refuse to look at some sort of long-term trend to confirm bias when it comes to an anthology. Anthologies are books, meant to be consumed as single projects. It’s not like a magazine, with subscribers, a regular production schedule and an expectation of future issues.

I’m re-posting here what I just wrote in the comments section of the original SF Signal announcement:

Jonathan,

So, you have created an anthology of white men and one white woman. The publisher’s copy for Eclipse One reads:

“Set to become a major event on the science fiction and fantasy calendar,Eclipse: New Science Fiction and Fantasy gathers together new science fiction and fantasy stories by the best writers working today.”

This is a general interest anthology. It’s being promoted as some sort of compilation of exciting new talent. And yet, that talent is as race and gender limited as anything that would have been published 30 or 40 years ago. I bet those editors thought they were gender/color blind, too. 13 white men and 1 white woman represent the best writers working today?

Honestly, when the women dropped out, did it occur to you to cast a wider net and ask more women for stories? To open a few more slots from the open call or extend it? To recruit a few of the dramatically underrepresented pool of writers of color (especially female writers of color), very few of whom ever seem to break through to the relative mainstream of our genre?

No one is saying you should accept a story by a woman or a writer of color just because you need to fill a quota. But a solicited anthology is only as good as the writers whose stories you solicit, and judging by this TOC (no matter what unfortunate first-round dropouts you had), you need to broaden your list. Any editor of a magazine or anthology not only considers the internal quality of each story but ALSO their relationship with each other. I hear all the time that a story might get rejected not because it was bad, but because, say, Peter S. Beagle beat you to the unicorn story slot. If you have a preponderance of AI stories, you might reject one you would otherwise have accepted. This type of “not just the quality of the story, but the quality of the market” balancing is an accepted and, indeed, *expected* part of the job of the editor. When Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling put out their fairy tale anthologies, no one wanted to read six sleeping beauty re-tellings, no matter how good they might individually be.

So HOW is it any different to consider another “not just the story quality” valence when weighing the effect of the balance of an anthology? How is it “affirmative action” or “quotas” or any of those other bogeymen to look at your TOC and think, “gee, I seem to have stuffed this with a lot of white guys. My readership might not like that anymore than an anthology with 7 romantic zombie stories, so let me try to balance things a little.”

There are so many excellent women and writers of color working in the field today that I find it astonishing that (when the first round of women dropped out) you could not have solicited several other excellent stories from them to help round out your anthology in all the ways people clearly care about.

Because I’m with Stephanie: I’ve seen enough of these all-male anthologies to last my lifetime.

I’d really appreciate thoughts/comments about this. This sort of thing frustrates me so much I never quite know what to do, but interaction is always good.

I was born a poor black child

“It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin’ on the porch with my family, singin’ and dancin’ down in Mississippi.”
— Steve Martin, The Jerk

So it turns out that some WASPy middle class white girl figured out the whole New York memoir publishing racket (i.e. whatever you do, don’t actually tell the story of your life) and wrote a memoir while sitting in Starbucks about her life growing up as an “original gangsta” in Compton. Luckily for the publisher, after spending hundreds of thousands on the advance and surely a couple million on production and publicity, they “discovered” that this supposed gem of street-wise realism was, in fact, an act of stereotyped racial tourism so egregious they had to pulp the books before they ever got shipped to stores. There was just no way to know, according to the publisher and the agent. The author was just so good at her hoax. That’s the way it always is in these stories, isn’t it? You’d think that after years and years of these hoaxes being discovered that these industry professionals would make a bit more of an effort when some cheesy movie script falls into their laps claiming to be a memoir. I mean, come on, a woman escapes the Holocaust and is raised by wolves? A man leaves rehab and immediately goes to a bar and sticks his nose in a beer to prove he’s manly enough? And at least those are original movie scripts. This woman literally updated the plotline of The Jerk, didn’t realize it was supposed to be an ironic exploration of race relations, and got a publisher to make her rich for it.

Lovely. Well, it’s not like it’s news that racism can still move a few books.

My favorite take on this mess comes from the AlterNet story:

In the world of Internet fan fiction — in which amateur fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other shows imagine new adventures, they have a derisive term, the “Mary Sue Story,” for wish-fulfillment that crosses the line. That’s when a certain kind of fan breaks the rules and makes herself the hero, fascinating everyone, saving the world.

This story, about a white girl who makes black people happy by escaping from their ghetto, is a Mary Sue story about race. And people ought to be upset that it passed for realism.

You should read the whole article, but…

Word.

Get your corporate ladder off my afro!

I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but I just have to blog about this ridiculous incident that has already been commented upon plenty. Read the original American Lawyer article for details, but the outlines of the scandal are straightforward: a blogger for Glamour magazine went to a prestigious law firm to give a presentation, with slides, on the “dos and don’ts of corporate fashion.” Now, this sort of exercise in self-congratulatory conformity would normally make me run straight to my leopard-print Keds and kente cloth do-rag, but in this case, unfortunately, duty calls.

So, this savvy, fashion-conscious blogger put her first slide on the screen. It was of a black woman. With black hair. Okay, you might call her hairstyle an “afro.” Why? Here’s a hint: it has something to do with being of African descent, and having a certain type of hair. And it just so happens that this type of hair looks really good, I mean seriously fucking beautiful, if you let it grow out without any kind of “naturalizer” or “relaxer” or “perm”. Don’t believe me?

Angela Davis Afro

Yeah. It almost gives me the chills.

Continue reading

Racism: Good for business

So, my friend and Village Voice food critic Robert Sietsema has a very interesting article in the Voice this week on the “gourmet” (read: yuppie) grocery delivery service Fresh Direct.

The most interesting of his objections (though they’re all worthy) is this:

It was clear, too, that Fresh Direct was redlining much of the city, refusing to service neighborhoods based on what seemed like race and class considerations. Go to the Fresh Direct website, and the first thing you’re asked for is your zip code. Punch in Cypress Hill, Brooklyn (11208), and the message instantly appears, “Home delivery is not available in your area.” Ditto for Sheepshead Bay (11235), East New York (11207), and Woodside, Queens (11317)—the latter a stone’s throw from Fresh Direct’s Long Island City headquarters. The entire Bronx is snubbed by Fresh Direct—with the exception of its northernmost island of wealth, Riverdale.

Yep, you read that right. The entire Bronx is apparently anathema to business except the part of it most inconveniently located…that also happens to be filthy rich (and free of brown people). Even worse is this:

Other zips are more ambiguous, with Fresh Direct only delivering to certain addresses. In Washington Heights, the computer said Fresh Direct would not deliver to 536 West 175th, a building in a Dominican neighborhood, but it would send a truck to a middle class co-op a few blocks west, 360 Cabrini Boulevard.

I actually went to visit this scorned-upon street in Washington Heights with Robert during the Dominican parade a few weeks ago. A block away, men were dressed in wild, feathered costumes that reminded me of mardi gras in New Orleans, and a local band was playing music right on the sidewalk. People were partner dancing in the streets. It was truly awesome. Now, chances are that most of these residents would disdain the use of some yuppie grocery delivery service as much as Robert does. But is there any reason to suppose that people in this not-quite-as-affluent neighborhood lead any less busy lives and are any less likely to relieve some stress by having their groceries delivered? What, are their dollars less green? This is rank, outrageous racism and it ought to be called out as such. It’s one thing to delimit your delivery area based on travel constraints or by neighborhoods. It’s laughably transparent to claim that you can deliver to an affluent (mostly white) high-rise, but can’t possibly set foot in the Dominican neighborhood three blocks east. How dare they? How is this any different from Dolce and Gabbana or Tiffany’s refusing to service a black or latino customer? That’s illegal. And this ought to be, also.

For all I know, it is. Any lawyers out there? This kind of discriminatory business practice shouldn’t be allowed to continue. I’m of a mind to try to organize some kind of activism about it.