bell hooks, in Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations, writes:
any progressive political movement grows and matures only to the degree that it passionately welcomes and encourages, in theory and practice, diversity of opinion, new ideas, critical exchange and dissent.
There is a particular reel of images that sticks in my mind. It is one filled with upheavals, eruptions, and tidal waves. Speeded up, we see the surface of a barren planet as it undergoes rapid changes that end in a landscape that is fecund and rich—beautiful in its variety and the diversity of its spaces.
As I think of this, I think of this process we are undergoing. I think of how upheavals and eruptions must happen in order for us to reach that place where all of us have space to speak our words and share our stories.
I feel that it is necessary to reflect on the spaces we occupy and the space we wish to create for future generations. It is also necessary to consider carefully what will happen to the spaces we leave behind if we choose to vacate them. Creating space for ourselves always involves a certain amount of struggle and these spaces we now occupy have been won at a certain cost.
Because I am a writer of color, I cannot help but think of those courageous writers and artists of color who have made space so that even though it isn’t easy, there is now more room for me to create, to write, to imagine, and to be published. Because I am a woman, I acknowledge the work of the women who have gone before me and I recognize how the path these writers took was not an easy one.
While I have only met this generation and some of the generation of writers before me, I am aware of the courage needed to engage a field that was even more overwhelmingly white and male than it is today.
When you make yourself visible, you make yourself more vulnerable. What can be more visible than one dark face in a sea of white faces?
Not so long ago, I read a response to a story that was published in Strange Horizons. In it, the reader complains about the number of lesbian stories Strange Horizons has been publishing. (For the interested, the story is “The Clover still Grows Wild in Wawanosh” by Kelly Rose Pflug-Back.)
I remember reading this remark and wondering how the reader approaches stories and what was it that compelled the reader to post such a response.
We don't simply write words on the Internet. While some people will say they write without thinking (God help us then for there must be so many words that exist without thought in the world), the words we write often come from that place where truth comes from.
Online, our words remain on record and these words say something about us.
Stories are as diverse and complex as the people who write and create them and that this particular story depicts the love between women is only one aspect of it. What engages me the most is the story's humanity and the writer's ability to draw a response from the reader.
This reader’s response to the story is important too because that response forces us to think about the way we look at stories.
Why do I think this way about this story? What was it that drove me to respond in that way?
If we take the time to reflect critically on our responses to stories, we might be able to see and understand more.
Do we push away from the story because we don't like reading about people who are not like us? Must a story always contain people who are like us? And if I experience difficulty in reading this story, where does that difficulty come from?
It is a kind of self-examination that requires us to be critical of ourselves—not something everyone enjoys. I believe that examining and dissecting our responses and acknowledging our own biases and failures will turn us into better readers and more thoughtful individuals and writers.
Not so long ago, I had a conversation with a white Dutch friend who couldn't understand why it was necessary for me to speak out about racism and cultural appropriation. Why couldn’t I just let people write whatever they wanted to write? Was it necessary for me to speak out?
"And I don't really like science fiction," she said to me. "It's not my kind of story and it just doesn't appeal to me."
This statement followed a questioning of my choice to write when I had children. The judgment being this: since I was busy writing, I had no time to take care of the children I chose to have.
This closed-mindedness, this pre-judgement of the work even before it has been read—this utter rejection of an intrinsic part of myself renders me mute.
Can I even begin to speak to a person about the things that matter when that person has not stopped to think and examine their own biases?
I use this conversation as an allegory of the ways in which hegemony strives to silence the voices of those who have spoken from the margins for a very long time. And I think of this conversation as I ponder the word Reconciliation as brought forward by N. K. Jemisin in her GOH speech.
I wonder how there can be a reconciliation in SF if hegemony fails to recognize, acknowledge, and welcome the work and contribution, not only of women in SF, but also the work of women of color, the work of non-Western writers, and the work of those of us who identify as LGBTQ.
It is easy for someone who belongs to hegemony to say that it's only about the writing. It’s easy to say, “We only look for the best work.” Such a stance fails to acknowledge how we are constantly struggling to be heard and to be recognized as equal.
How many times have the voices of those from the margins been dismissed? Why, when we speak of the accomplishments of women in SF, do people feel the need to comment on gender or physical appearance? What is it that causes us to question the SF created by people coming from outside of Western hegemony? And why must women constantly defend the place they occupy as writers of science fiction?
“It can’t possibly be SF because it has women and emotions.”
“But there were no people of color during that time in history.”
“Oh, I see, you are racist against whites.”
“Oh, I see, you are misandrist.”
We recognize these statements for what they are—attempts to shut down critical conversations—and we refuse to just let it go and let it be.
It is encouraging that writers and creators are speaking openly about concerns regarding representation in SF. It is heartening that we don’t shirk from tackling issues of race, gender, and cultural appropriation.
It is good to hear the voices of our colleagues in the field as they say that it is no longer acceptable to dismiss the voices of those who have been consistently excluded from the “old boys' club”.
Speaking out always comes with an element of fear. It comes with an element of risk. But if we want to get to where we want to be, we can’t allow fear to stand in our way.
As Audre Lorde said: “The work is bigger than our fear.”
I’ve been told that SF is the province of adventurers and I see SF as the realm of progressive thought. That I look at the genre and the responses to it with a critical eye doesn’t mean I don’t love it. It is because I love that I look with a critical eye. After all, this is where we play, where we experiment, where we explore, and where we can imagine everything we want to imagine.
It would be a pity if we became entrenched in "how it has always been" or "as it was so shall it ever be". Where's the adventure in that?