Monday, 22 June 2015

Diversity Panels: In Support of Justina Ireland, Wesley Chu and Kameron Hurley

(Thanks to Michelle from Tales of Yesterday, Debbie from Snuggling on the Sofa, and Caroline Clarke for giving me feedback on below post!)

Partly inspired by tweets I'll quote in a second, and partly by this great Justina Ireland blog post on the subject, I wanted to write a quick blog about diversity panels.

I'm in a slightly emotional state for various reasons at the moment, so this is hitting harder than it normally would, I think, but I'm actually crying tears of frustration here because I generally think of the bookish world as being cool and awesome and then stuff happens which make me realise JUST HOW MUCH PROGRESS NEEDS TO BE MADE.

Wes Chu just tweeted

There was perhaps the biggest collective facepalming my Twitter timeline has seen for a long time. BECAUSE REALLY?! 

Oh, and then Kameron Hurley replied in agreement, saying


It's not like these are minor authors with little to draw people in, after all. Wesley Chu's Time Salvager has been optioned by Michael Bay. Kameron Hurley's Mirror Empire is a huge favourite amongst many SFF fans. If they're being told this, how much hope is there for other people who aren't straight white men? 

I am so frustrated about this because of my own teen years, I think. I grew up in a village with very little racial diversity, and I don't think I actually knew any out LGBT people well enough to talk to until after I'd left sixth form. (I'm reasonably stunned by this, looking back, and maybe I'm having a complete failure of memory caused by my raging at the idiots booking panels, but I think that IS true.)

My first two jobs were both in schools in places where, again, there weren't many non-white students or staff. There were a few, certainly, and everyone at both schools took racism really seriously. But for the most part, the teens there were growing up in the same fairly insular bubble that I was - where the vast majority of people were the same race as me, were hetrosexual and cisgender, appeared neurotypical... basically, not a huge amount of diversity. 

Due to the distance away from big cities, I never went to a big bookish event when I was a teen, and I think this would have been the same for most of the kids I taught. But I KNOW for myself, and I'm fairly sure for them, that if I had have gone, I wouldn't have gone to a 'diverse YA' panel or a 'Race in YA' panel or an 'LGBT YA' panel. And that's (hopefully!) not because I was growing up consciously prejudiced - I don't think I did. I definitely don't think that the amazing students I worked with for many years were prejudiced. 

I just wouldn't really have thought of it. And again, while I may be misjudging them, I don't think they would have done either. And because of this, if it had been a choice between a 'diversity' panel, a 'sci-fi and fantasy' panel, and a 'comedy in YA' panel (to pick examples pretty much at random) then the 'diversity' would have come third for me. The other panels would have been on subjects I loved reading about, I'd have been eager to find out more, and back then, they'd have been more to my tastes than something on a subject I wasn't thinking of. But if I'd gone to one of the other two panels and seen authors from another culture talking about sci-fi/fantasy, or talking about comedy in their books, then I might have thought "Hey, they sound cool! I should read them." And maybe that would have opened my eyes to some diversity. 

Because there are times I feel that I sleepwalked through a large amount of my life in some ways. I know there have been a few authors who've said in the past few weeks that they're incredibly grateful not to have had social media when they was growing up because they'd have said something dumb. And I'm looking at that period of my life and thinking GOOD GRIEF YEAH, I'd have said so many stupid things. I'm vaguely happy with where I am now in my views on things. (Only vaguely, because I have a LOT to learn on numerous topics, but I feel I'm moving in the right direction.) But I'm really hoping that teens growing up today get to the point I'm at now a lot sooner than I did. 

And I think that if we want them to get there, we CAN'T just sit around patting ourselves on the back because "YAY DIVERSITY PANELS!" We CAN'T just look at things like #WeNeedDiverseBooks (which is AMAZING and which I don't want to criticise at all) and say "Hey, all kids need to do is click on this hashtag to get fantastic recommendations." We NEED to make it so that people can discover diverse authors, and books about diverse topics, in all sorts of ways. Not just if they're specifically looking for them. 

If you're trying to compile a list on something, or trying to put together a panel, PLEASE think about how you can include diverse authors. I honestly think that if you give me any topic that isn't incredibly restricted, I could name a diverse author or two (minimum, obviously!) who'd fit into it. And as I said, I have a LONG way to go in many ways - there are people like Justina, Wesley, Kameron, Ellen Oh, Malinda Lo, Dahlia Adler, Katherine Locke, Charlie Morris, Wei Ming Kam, James Dawson, and dozens of others, who could no doubt make the same claim with a lot more certainty. If you're in charge of booking panels and you genuinely can't come up with ANY ideas for diverse authors, then maybe ask someone who can? And if you're an author - especially a heterosexual white male author - maybe if you're asked to be on a panel which seems to be seriously lacking diverse representation, please consider saying something.

Your thoughts, anyone? Leave me a comment. 


  1. I am up too early and losing comments. Thanks for this rant as a writer hanging on by her finger tips for the past 20 (!) years in UK children books this resonates. Often a panel like this will be the only booking I will get. And any booking is better than no bookings at all so you take it. And if you look at a lot of UK events these are definitely the only bookings writers of colour will get. I worry about the future. When I started there were other writers of colour who have stopped writing, we have lost those stories. In the future will new writers get the breaks to develop and further their careers? I'm not sure...

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