Diversity: It’s Complicated

Lots of people talk about diversity these days but, as this famous Media Diversified essay notes, far fewer are willing to do anything about it. What’s more, the word “diversity” contains multitudes of issues. In the LGBT community we know that “diversity” often means “gay white men”. Similar hierarchies occur wherever you look.

Even so, I was shocked to see this article from Fireside Fiction that did the equivalent of a VIDA count for SF&F by black people. By “black” they don’t mean “people of color”, because that term includes a smorgasbord of ethnic identities. I’m not entirely sure what they do mean, but I have taken in to mean people of black African descent. The numbers are stark. Out of 2,039 stories published in magazines in 2015, only 38 were by black people. All of that talk about Afrofuturism, and we still only manage 2% of our fiction from a group that makes up 13.2% of the US population.

Of course the first thing I did was to take a look at Clarkesworld to see how we (I still think of the magazine as “we”) were doing. The detailed stats from the Fireside survey can be found here. In 2015 Clarkesworld apparently only published one story by a black writer. I’m assuming they mean this one. That’s out of a total of 56 stories.

I then did my own count. I did the last 12 months because that was quicker. I counted named authors rather than stories. And I counted non-black people of color too. The results I got were 58 white, 2 black and 21 other PoC.

This shows you one of the reasons why diversity is hard. On the one hand Clarkesworld has almost 40% PoC writers. Thanks to the deal with China it has at least one Chinese writer in every issue, plus some Asian-American writers. It has also had writers from Singapore, Malaysia, the Lebanon and Thailand. And yet it still does poorly where African and Afro-American writers are concerned.

The reasons for this, and the poor showing by just about every other magazine in the field, are complex. We don’t know what submission rates look like. A lot of the stories that Clarkesworld publishes are reprints and older stories may be more skewed white. It certainly isn’t that Neil doesn’t care. He wouldn’t have so many international writers (and artists) if diversity wasn’t important to him. But you do keep having to watch what you are doing, and ask if there is anything you are missing.

With that in mind, I note that I can still count on the fingers of one hand the SF&F authors I know of who have connections to the native peoples of places outside Africa whose populations Europeans have decimated. By this I mean native peoples from all over the Americas, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia and Polynesia, the Sami and so on.

Diversity is hard. So we need to try harder.