Some carefully honed thoughts about diversity inspired by the recent Tor books kerfuffle.
So this is the third time I’ve attempted to write this piece, and each time I feel like I’ve stepped on a landmine. My simple proposition is this: it’s more important than ever that publishers promote diversity among their authors because I, as a lazy and undisciplined reader, spend almost no effort in identifying or researching the author of a book. I simply choose books that have been well received by others, which gives me confidence that it will be well received by me as well.
The first problem is that I’m just about 99% certain that every author I’ve read this year (excluding short stories) has been a white male. That’s not a massive problem: white men can write books as good as anyone else (though you could certainly argue that they maybe don’t have to try as hard).
The much bigger problem is that this is almost exactly the same argument put forward by the sad/rabid puppies: “we don’t want false diversity in the Hugos, we just want books to be awarded on their merit.” http://io9.com/the-hugo-awards-were-always-political-now-theyre-only-1695721604 Of course they don’t say that their judgment of merit is a specific determination based entirely on their own measure of what is ‘good’. They also don’t seem at all shameless that one of their tactics in the Good Fight Against False Diversity is to bulk-nominate books from a single publishing house or author.
And this is one of the challenges presented by this particular breed of cultural warrior: they will take what appears to be a perfectly reasonable argument and co-opt it, the end result being that reasonable people are forced out of using perfectly reasonable arguments because in these sorts of binary culture wars you’re ‘either with them or against them’. It’s a form of semantic thievery that the far right are extremely good at (partly, I snarkily suggest, because they typically fail the test of coming up with any substantive arguments of their own.)
But let’s revisit my original position: I don’t care who writes the books I read; I only care that they’re good books. As a reader this is perfectly acceptable: my only responsibility here is to find a book that I will enjoy reading enough to make it to the last page. As a reader I’m perfectly happy with delegating this responsibility to publishers: you make good books available for me to read, and preferably from a diverse range of authors because I’m too lazy to get on top of that shit myself.
However, as a member of human society this position is in no way acceptable. Books/stories (as I believe I’ve written passionately about before) are a means to expand our viewpoint beyond our limited, individual horizons. They are a means to hear different voices, to imagine different experiences, to feel a range of emotions that might be absent from our everyday lives. No one would want to read a book about their own life, but many of us avoid straying too far from the edges of our ‘comfort zones’. If we only read books written by people just like ourselves, no matter how imaginative they might be, we only ever get a distillation of life through the eyes of someone mostly similar to us. In other words, we get a viewpoint that we are already largely capable of providing ourselves. It’s when we lock ourselves into these comfort zones that the rot begins to set in; hopefully none of us will ever end up becoming a sad/rabid puppy, or—shudder—a gamergater, but we can be sure that those people dwell in comfort zones whose diameters range in the millimetres.
We have control over our comfort zones, we have control over the (vicarious) experiences that we partake in as well as those we share with others. We have control over the media we consume. What we don’t have, even though the tide is inexorably turning, is complete control over what media we have access to and this is where I come back to my original proposition.
Creators and publishers: we dine at your table, keep us well fed, keep us coming back for more and never forget that oranges are not the only fruit.
(footnote – if you’re still wondering what the sad/rabid puppies thing is, here’s a pretty good narrative)